Undoubtedly, the first image one conjures up when looking into American secessionism is the Confederacy during the American Civil War. That’s for good reason considering they are the only secessionists to have dramatically altered the path of US history. However, America has been full of many other secessionist groups. Some of the more well-known movements are the Second Vermont Republic, Cascadia, and the Lakotah Republic. One secession movement in particular rise among the rest as one of the oddest. That secession movement is the Alaskan Independence Party.
Originally formed in 1973 by Joe Vogler and officially recognized by the Alaska state government in 1984, this party has had a much larger role in Alaskan politics for last 40 some years than one would expect from a secession party. With 17,118 registered voters as of July 3, 2018, the Alaskan Independence Party is remarkably the third largest party in the state behind the Republicans and Democrats. Even the Libertarian party, which usually does particularly well in Alaska comparatively to other states only has 7,422 registered voters. Now, one may say, “voters are nice and all, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t win.” It’s a fair point, but the fact of the matter is, the Alaskan Independence Party actually did win. It was only once, granted, but a secessionist party winning at all is remarkable.
It was the gubernatorial election of 1990 and the Republican primaries led to the nomination of Arliss Sturgulewski who was controversial among the more conservative Republicans due to her stances on such things as abortion and capital punishment. So, Walter Hickel, who had previously been the 2nd governor of Alaska, was urged to run on the Alaskan Independence ticket to have a better conservative option. He would win the election with about 40% of the vote. While he agreed with the Alaskan Independence Party on a great many issues, he was one of the main proponents of Alaskan statehood back in the 1950s, and so disagreed with them on the secession issue. So, it may be a bit disingenuous to say Alaska really elected the secessionist party to power since their candidate didn’t even support the issue, and even went back to the Republican party near the end of his term. Still, the fact they got elected at all is incredible.
Secessionism isn’t a very substantive ideology, since one can be right wing or left wing, the only real uniting factor being their desire to secede. So, when it comes to the ideology of the Alaskan Independence Party, they are generally a big-tent for the Right. It combines Conservative, Right Populist, and Libertarian beliefs. Some of their platform includes privatization of most government industries and government land, school choice, defense of the traditional family, and the abolition of state property taxes. The abolition of property taxes especially makes me laugh considering it is the only statewide tax in Alaska, and we have one of the lowest tax burdens in the US, but they just want to lower it even more. One rather strange facet of the party is that most of the members aren’t advocating for secession anymore. This was because of a state judicial case Kohlhaas v. State. That case was caused by a push by the party to add a secession question on the ballots. The Alaska Supreme Court determined this was unconstitutional and the party begrudgingly accepted it. As such, a large portion of the party’s members now simply advocate for Alaska at large, and are just a state’s rights party.
There hasn’t been much from the party in recent years, but they received national attention during the presidential election of 2008 where they were maligned by the media. The reason for this was because Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate and her husband both had, for a time, been registered members of the Alaskan Independence Party. She had even talked to the party via video call during one of their conventions while governor of Alaska. The media jumped on this called Palin unamerican for being associated at one time with a secessionist party. It isn’t a surprise then, that they disingenuously ignored the shift in the party away from secession after 2006 and portrayed the party as being as radical as its’ founder Joe Vogler. Regardless, it’s unlikely this revelation really changed the minds of many Americans during that election, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Now having mentioned the eccentric founder of the party, Joe Vogler, I might as well talk about his bizarre life and death. Originally born in Kansas in 1913, Joe Vogler moved to Fairbanks, Alaska and adopted it as his home in 1942. He had moved reportedly out of a disdain for then president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He would eventually form the Alaskan Independence Party in 1973. The main justification he had for forming the party was his firm belief that the 1958 referendum Alaskans voted on to become a state did not include independence like many other territories had been allowed by the US already. He is well known for his, well, let’s say interesting comments on Alaska and disdain for the American government. He is reported as having said both, “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions,” and “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag. I’ll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home.” probably the strangest part of Vogler’s life was, ironically, his death. He had been sponsored by Iran to speak to the UN on behalf of Alaskan independence. However, just weeks before, he went missing. A man, Manfried West, claimed to have murdered Vogler during an illegal plastic explosive sale gone bad. He later, however, recanted his confession as being a lie. Vogler’s body was later found and West imprisoned. Lynette Clark, the current party chair, fervently believes Vogler was executed by the US government to avoid the embarrassment of Vogler talking to the UN about Alaskan independence.
Needless to say, the Alaskan Independence Party has had quite the colorful history and has thoroughly shaped more Alaskan history then one would expect from a simple secessionist party. I believe one of the primary reasons for this is Alaska’s geography. Alaska is a large piece of land and quite isolated from the rest of the US. As such, people living there have a very independent spirit separate from most other Americans. Not to mention also that the Federal government owns approximately 70% of Alaskan land, so it makes sense that people would want to use that land for themselves instead of some government politicians thousands of miles away. Alaskan independence is unlikely to occur anytime soon, but I’m certain the Alaskan Independence Party will be here to stay for the long haul.
Written by : @emperor_maximillian_of_mexico