Calexit leader ex­its move­ment, lives in Rus­sia

Se­ces­sion group re­born with­out ties to Moscow

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Calexit move­ment was thrown into tur­moil this week af­ter the leader of the se­ces­sion ref­er­en­dum ef­fort to split Cal­i­for­nia from the U.S. him­self split — to Rus­sia. But to oth­ers, the dream of an in­de­pen­dent Cal­i­for­nia is go­ing nowhere.

Louis J. Marinelli, head of Yes Cal­i­for­nia, an­nounced Mon­day he would dis­band the group and with­draw the pro­posed bal­lot ini­tia­tive as a re­sult of his de­ci­sion to “make Rus­sia my new home” af­ter mov­ing last year to Yeka­ter­in­burg, along with his Rus­sian wife, to teach English.

Pick­ing up where Mr. Marinelli left off is the Cal­i­for­nia Free­dom Coali­tion, or­ga­nized a month ago by se­ces­sion sup­port­ers leery of Yes Cal­i­for­nia’s Rus­sian ties, which plans to in­tro­duce its own in­de­pen­dence bal­lot mea­sure aimed at the Novem­ber 2018 bal­lot.

Steve Gon­za­les, a CFC board mem­ber who lives in San Jose, stressed that the newly formed group is lo­cally sourced and has no Moscow con­nec­tions.

“We’re not do­ing any­thing na­tion­ally. The only thing we would do is help other states, but we’re not ask­ing for out­side money,” said Mr. Gon­za­les. “We are ac­cept­ing noth­ing from out­side of the coun­try. Any­thing from out of state will be scru­ti­nized by the board of di­rec­tors.”

As a re­sult, he said he’s con­fi­dent the coali­tion can meet its goal of $3 mil­lion to hire pro­fes­sional sig­na­ture-gath­er­ers for its an­tic­i­pated bal­lot cam­paign, un­like Yes Cal­i­for­nia, which was us­ing volunteers and strug­gling to raise funds amid the ru­mors of Rus­sian in­flu­ence.

“The money’s com­ing in. We have sev­eral peo­ple who have said, ‘We’ll do match­ing funds.’ We be­lieve we can eas­ily, eas­ily bring in $3 mil­lion,” said Mr. Gon­za­les. “We have a very strong con­nec­tion with groups north of San Francisco in Marin County who have pledged money as­sum­ing Louis has noth­ing to do with this.”

Af­ter launch­ing Yes Cal­i­for­nia with a splash in 2015, Mr. Marinelli had come un­der scru­tiny for his seem­ingly cozy re­la­tion­ship with Moscow, in par­tic­u­lar the Anti-Glob­al­iza­tion Move­ment of Rus­sia, which helped him open a Cal­i­for­nia “em­bassy” in Moscow in De­cem­ber.

The Krem­lin-backed pro-sep­a­ratist group also pro­vided him with of­fice space and paid for like­minded sep­a­ratists to at­tend a con­fer­ence in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to a Dec. 13 re­port by KQED-FM, a Cal­i­for­nia public ra­dio sta­tion.

Other Cal­i­for­nia in­de­pen­dence ad­vo­cates were alarmed by the re­ports. The Cal­i­for­nia Na­tional Party, which seeks recog­ni­tion as a third party, blasted Yes Cal­i­for­nia in a Jan. 21 press re­lease as a “Rus­sian pup­pet or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Busi­ness In­sider re­ported.

The Cal­i­for­nia Na­tional Party, whose slo­gan is #freethe­bear, a ref­er­ence to the state flag, em­pha­sized that it is “en­tirely un­af­fected” by Yes Cal­i­for­nia’s dis­so­lu­tion since “we are — and have al­ways been — a to­tally sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

“Our grass­roots move­ment is funded en­tirely by dona­tions from our mem­bers and our en­tire lead­er­ship team lives and works in Cal­i­for­nia,” said the party in a Mon­day state­ment.

Yes Cal­i­for­nia had de­nied re­ports of Rus­sian com­plic­ity, say­ing that the cam­paign “has never met with or re­ceived ma­te­rial or fi­nan­cial sup­port of any kind from any Rus­sian govern­ment of­fi­cial.”

“In Septem­ber 2016, the pres­i­dent of Yes Cal­i­for­nia was in­vited to at­tend and speak at a con­fer­ence on the right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in Moscow which was held at the Ritz Carl­ton,” said Yes Cal­i­for­nia in an ear­lier state­ment. “The hosts of this con­fer­ence paid for travel ex­penses to Rus­sia for the guests they in­vited to this con­fer­ence. The host of this con­fer­ence did re­ceive a small grant from the Rus­sian govern­ment.”

Ques­tions about Mr. Marinelli’s al­le­giances have swirled for months. While Yes Cal­i­for­nia had framed the bal­lot mea­sure as a lib­eral back­lash to a na­tion that had moved to the right of Cal­i­for­nia, Mr. Marinelli pre­vi­ously worked for the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mar­riage, which op­poses same-sex unions.

Mr. Marinelli also raised eye­brows by ac­knowl­edg­ing that he had voted for Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber af­ter sup­port­ing Ver­mont Sen. Bernard San­ders in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, telling Na­tional Re­view that, “I couldn’t vote for Hil­lary [Clin­ton].”

In Jan­uary, Yes Cal­i­for­nia launched a pe­ti­tion drive to col­lect the 585,407 valid sig­na­tures needed by July 25 for a ref­er­en­dum to re­peal the sec­tion of the Cal­i­for­nia Con­sti­tu­tion call­ing the state an “in­sep­a­ra­ble part of the United States.”

Un­der the plan, the 2018 ref­er­en­dum would be fol­lowed by a sec­ond ini­tia­tive on the 2019 bal­lot ask­ing vot­ers “if Cal­i­for­nia should be a sep­a­rate na­tion.”

Mr. Gon­za­les said his coali­tion plans to push for just one bal­lot mea­sure, and that the lan­guage would be re­leased in the next few months. He also said the group will pur­sue other av­enues, such as or­ga­niz­ing worker strikes.

“The fed­eral govern­ment is ad­ver­sar­ial to­ward Cal­i­for­nia, and we are sick of it,” said Mr. Gon­za­les. “And this group will use what­ever peace­ful means, if it’s a ref­er­en­dum, if it’s lob­by­ing, if it’s march­ing, [and] we have other ideas to dis­rupt the econ­omy as well.”

In his state­ment, Mr. Marinelli said he had planned to re­turn to “oc­cu­pied Cal­i­for­nia” even­tu­ally, even though “I do not wish to live un­der the Amer­i­can flag,” but that “I have found in Rus­sia a new hap­pi­ness.”

“Con­se­quently, if the peo­ple of Rus­sia would be so kind as to wel­come me here on a per­ma­nent ba­sis, I in­tend to make Rus­sia my new home,” he said.

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