- A leader of California’s oldest and largest independence movement, Louis Marinelli, said he would “welcome vocal support” from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
- Assange began tweeting about CalExit last month, as he was ramping up his support for Catalonia’s secession referendum
- Marinelli’s embrace of Assange risks widening the rift between Yes California and another major separatist group, the California National Party
The cofounder of the California separatist group Yes California said in an interview Monday that the group welcomes “the vocal support” of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who recently began tweeting about the California independence campaign known as “Calexit.”
“Ultimately the Calexit vote and its preceding debate will be up to Californians to decide but we welcome the vocal support of Julian Assange, as we would for any individual with the courage to stand up against and defy the powers that be in order to affect positive change in this world,” said Louis Marinelli, the cofounder. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”
Marinelli, a 31-year-old activist, announced in a 1,600-word statement on Monday that he would return to California after spending just over a year in Russia’s fourth-largest city, Yekaterinburg, with his wife Anastasia.
Marinelli spearheaded the Calexit campaign for nearly two years before deciding to settle in Russia permanently in April. He withdrew his petition for a referendum at that point in favour of the “new happiness” he’d found in Yekaterinburg.
The organisation relaunched in August, this time as “a movement” rather than a political action committee, Marinelli said Monday. It also has a new president: cofounder Marcus Ruiz Evans, who previously served as the organisation’s vice president.
Evans closed the Moscow “embassy” Marinelli had established in December, calling it “a distraction, a point of contention, and a source of division among supporters of California independence.”
In his statement on Monday, Marinelli claimed it was never really an embassy at all.
“I hyped it up, printed a vinyl banner, and called it an embassy — that was a mistake,” he wrote.
Marinelli characterised the initiative differently back in December, telling Business Insider that the “Embassy of the Independent Republic of California” was part of the group’s outreach to countries that were likely to recognise and support California’s independence.
He described Russia’s Anti-Globalization Movement — far-right Russian nationalists who enjoy Kremlin support while promoting secessionist movements in Europe and the United States — as a “partner,” and said Yes California aimed to “rock the boat and ruffle feathers.”
Now, Marinelli says he “never sought to have Russia as a partner in the Calexit campaign in the first place.”
“Pursuing their recognition of our independence after the fact is not endorsing our Calexit campaign,” he said.
The link among Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and Russia has always been murky. The US intelligence community believes the three worked together to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, while Assange has staunchly denied that Russia was its source for hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
But as journalist and Russia researcher Casey Michel has written, the Kremlin has not exactly been an unbiased observer of Western independence movements. Marinelli’s former “partner,” the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, issued a statement last month supporting Catalonia’s secession push.
Assange turned his attention to Spain around the same time, becoming the de-facto international spokesman for Catalan separatism.
He taught young Catalans how to use encrypted chat apps and evade detection from federal police ahead of the October 1 independence referendum, and he used his Twitter account to relentlessly pump out a pro-separatist narrative aimed at villainizing the Spanish central government and celebrating Catalan nationalism.
It’s not clear whether the government would recognise such a plebiscite as legitimate. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after President Donald Trump won the election found that 32% of Californians said they would support independence (another 15.5% said they “don’t know”).
Asked if he’d “welcome” it if Assange took similarly aggressive measures in support of the Calexit campaign, Marinelli said: “While I stand by my previous statement about Julian Assange and his vocal support for California Independence, the spokesperson for this campaign should be a Californian.”
He added, however, that if Assange “has constructive criticism then we should be welcoming constructive criticism and feedback and suggestions on how to run a better campaign.”
He also said he was “appreciative” of anyone willing to expose what he perceives as corruption within the national Democratic and Republican parties, which he called “criminal” organisations.
‘If supporters of CalExit love what Assange is saying, I can’t control that’
The group’s current president, meanwhile, said he is “not a super big fan of Julian Assange.”
“I will never coordinate with Assange on CalExit — ever,” Marcus Ruiz Evans said in an interview on Monday. But he said he’s “cool with anybody who’s not a racist saying that members of a democracy should have the right to discuss and vote on issues” that affect them.
He added that he can’t control who Assange tries to appeal to, and whether he succeeds.
“There are four separate CalExit groups,” Evans said. “I’m part of the oldest and largest one, as is Louis [Marinelli]. The other three don’t have Louis on their team and kind of reject him. But because the movement is an idea, no one really has control. If supporters of CalExit love what Assange is saying, I cant control that.”
Marinelli said on Monday that he wants to “make peace between each of the separatist California Independence groups out there” and “build a big umbrella” that could more effectively campaign for a CalExit.
But it’s not clear whether those groups, like the California National Party and the California Freedom Coalition, want anything to do with either Marinelli or Assange.
California National Party secretary Timothy Irvine told Business Insider in a statement that CNP “has no interest in receiving support from foreign groups, foreign nationals, criminals, or generally incompetent and unsavoury individuals.”
Irvine added that the CNP is “democratically and transparently run by, paid for, and dedicated to serving Californians,” and had been “productive” since Marinelli departed California, at which point he was banned from the CNP.
“CNP will not work with, and will refuse support from or association with, individuals who have a track record of political incompetence, of alienating Californians, or of putting their own private interests above the public good of Californians,” Irvine said.
The CFC declined to comment.
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