Calexit: the new anti-American fixation of Iranian hardliners

On Twitter, where hundreds of Iranian accounts have been rooting for #Calexit lately, one user wrote, “Dear people of California: our country (Iran) wants your independence, and we are ready to help you in any way we can.”

Four decades after the Islamic Revolution was birthed, more Iranians are emerging critical of the state’s stringent, uncompromising anti-American rhetoric and tend to be skeptical of the rationale behind the authorities’ insistence on continuously fanning the flames of hostility with the United States.

Critics have pointed to the high costs of this unwarranted ideological brinkmanship for the Islamic Republic while underlining its waning traction among the younger, middle-class Iranians for whom the definition of national interest takes on pragmatic overtones spurred by a genuine desire to be integrated with the international community and redeem their country from an entrenched isolation.

It is true that there are voices coming out of Iran demanding a new beginning with the United States, urging that the grievances that have been accumulated over these taxing years are addressed. This change, however is cropping up in a climate that is very harsh for advocates of reform.

However, ultraconservatives and hardliners who barely have any genuine understanding of the world beyond Iran’s borders or how diplomacy works continue to hold the upper hand in Iran’s complicated power institutions, including the media and propaganda conglomerates that routinely bombard the Iranian population with misinformation about the pros and cons of relations with the United States.

This vocal squad has got its own orthodox preferences for how Iran’s foreign relations should be crafted, and is bent on indoctrinating a nation of 80 million with its worldview. A telling example is the bizarre invitation by Ahmad Naderi, a conservative Iranian MP, who asked the other lawmakers to stand up and chant Death to America “out of respect” for the anti-racism protest movement in the United States following the death of George Floyd in an open session of the parliament on June 8.

Hardliners in Iran are opposed to any sort of negotiations and connections between Iran and the United States. There is no logic behind this demurral. It is only political stubbornness. But they don’t shy away from taking the lead in engaging with the American people in ways they deem principled and “revolutionary.”

In recent weeks, a plethora of videos and messages have been posted by young Iranian hardliners on social media expressing solidarity with the “people of California” in their purported quest to declare independence from the United States. And media organizations close to IRGC are whipping up the “Calexit” campaign, exuberantly prophesizing the disintegration of the United States with California seceding.

On Twitter, where hundreds of Iran-originated accounts have been rooting for #Calexit lately, one user wrote, “Dear people of California: our country (Iran) wants your independence, and we are ready to help you in any way we can.”

It’s unclear what the ultimate motive is. Some of those behind these accounts may be trying ways to frame their exclusive narrative of what Iran-U.S. relations should look like or embarking on a rapprochement campaign with the American public after 40 years of futilely vilifying the United States. Alternatively, they may be on a mission to spread misinformation aimed at dividing the American public and weakening the U.S.

Calexit and Iran

Yes California” is a political action committee founded in 2015 with the aim of championing California as a country independent from the U.S. The founder of the campaign is Louis J. Marinelli, a 34-year-old American political activist living in Russia. One of his core arguments was that California is more progressive than the rest of the union, and this, according to him, speaks to the larger social and political divides between the state and the country, making California’s withdrawal imperative.

During Marinelli’s term as the president of the PAC, Yes California forged close ties with the Kremlin, but denied receiving financial support from Russia. The group has been credited with being one of the initiatives that Moscow has bolstered up in order to sow divisions in the West.

Marinelli launched a virtual embassy and cultural center for Yes California in Moscow when he was running it. But shortly after replacing Marinelli as the president, Marcus Ruiz Evans dismantled the makeshift embassy, citing its unpopularity among many members of the movement — which has been described by many academics, scholars and media commentators as a fringe group which doesn’t hold any credibility in the mainstream American politics.

In 2016 U.S. presidential polls, Marinelli voted for Donald Trump, but his movement actually grew out of the consternation shared by a group of Californians who were disillusioned with Trump’s ascendancy to presidency, and this is perhaps one of the paradoxes of the newly-founded ensemble’s ideological foundations

In September 2016, Marinelli attended the Dialogue of Nations conference, hosted in Moscow by the Anti-Globalist Movement of Russia. The forum was a gathering of Western separatists opposed to globalization, funded by a grant totaling 3.5 million rubles ($54,000) dispensed by the National Charity Foundation, which operates under the patronage of Vladimir Putin. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are among the honorary members of the movement.

References to the “Calexit” portmanteau became popular after Trump’s election, and since November 2016, the Russian troll farms have been promoting it on social media. More recently, Iranian hardliners have joined them in hyping up the separatist thrust online, posting tweets vouching for Iran-California unity, highlighting the socioeconomic problems of the United States, and offering solidarity video messages in flawed English, which Yes California’s handle has jubilantly retweeted.

Incidently, there is no official legal basis for a U.S. state to withdraw from the union. In the Texas v. White case in 1869, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot secede. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates how a state can be admitted to the United States. However, there is no provision for the reverse. The only conceivable mechanism for any state to secede would be through the amendment of the constitution. Any such amendment must be approved by two-thirds of each branch of the Congress or backed by “two-thirds of states at a specially-formed constitutional convention.” Subsequently, the amendment should be ratified by 38 out of the 50 states.

Many of those Iranians who are now pleading for California’s independence are certainly not acquainted with the political dynamics of the United States. The fact that the secession of states is not constitutionally feasible might be also of trivial importance to them.

They are merely following the diktat of a handful of opinionated, radical pundits who believe it is possible to undermine the global standing and hegemony of the United States through buoying up a fringe movement. For some of them, also, weighing in on “Calexit” and sending solidarity messages is a matter of initiating a conversation with the American public, but in a way that doesn’t bust their taboo, which is official diplomatic relations between the two countries. And for many of them, lauding the independence of California is a new pathway to proliferating anti-American sentiments, yet in a more diplomatic manner.

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