- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A group pushing for California to secede from the United States is turning to Iran for help.

YesCalifornia wants to open an outpost in Tehran to develop Iranian support for its “Calexit” campaign, similar to its previous effort in Moscow.

The group’s president, Marcus Ruiz Evans, published a video saying that a future California nation would depart from U.S. policies on Iranian enrichment of uranium, the development of nuclear power in Iran, and the status of Israel among other issues.

“If the people of Iran let it be known that California could gain international recognition upon declaring independence, that would set a fire in California like the world has never seen before,” Mr. Evans said in the video.

Mr. Evans’ advocacy trended on Twitter Monday under the topic “Calexit” as many users appearing to be based in Iran posted messages of support for the campaign.

Despite his efforts, political analysts do not foresee California seceding as it would require the approval of the California State Legislature and Congress and ratification by other states.

Mr. Evans told The Washington Times that foreign attention helps his group achieve credibility, beyond the support it has attracted on the far-right and far-left. Mr. Evans said Russian recognition of YesCalifornia proved fruitful.

“Boy, did that give our movement lots of money and members,” he said.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. Evans’ group was planning to telephonically attend a conference this month held in a militarized portion of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk, where separatists would meet and discuss how to create a new international dynamic. Previous meetings were reportedly held in Moscow and sponsored by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia.

“So people going, ‘Why are they talking to Iran? Why are they going to the conference in Donetsk?’ It’s because we’re filing an initiative in August that will be available for Californians the day after [President] Trump is reelected to secede,” Mr. Evans said. “And we have found that we get a lot of attention, and fair attention, when we go global.”

Foreign policy experts question the motivation and legality of the group’s efforts. The Center for International Policy’s Ben Freeman, who studies foreign government influence in the U.S., said YesCalifornia needs to better explain its advocacy efforts or risk breaking the law.

“It’s odd, to say the least, for any political entity to seek out Moscow and Tehran as their first foreign allies,” Mr. Freeman said. “And I see at least two potential issues here: The first is the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for private citizens to ‘influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government.’ The second is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires those engaging in lobbying and other political activities in the U.S. at the ‘request’ of a foreign power to register with the Department of Justice.”

Mr. Evans said he is confident that his group is operating lawfully and the “embassy cultural centers” he is trying to open would be used to promote better relations for minorities, including for LGBTQ persons in Russia and for religious minorities in Iran.

“We’re not doing anything wrong,” he said.

The Sacramento Bee disagrees. The leading newspaper in California’s capital ripped Mr. Evans’ outreach to Iran in a column published by the paper’s editorial board Monday.

“While many Iranians seem to be supporting the [Calexit] idea now, we can’t be certain about who is actually behind the trend,” the editorial said. “Foreign enemies of the U.S. like to push the idea of California secession because they think it can help to widen the divisions in American society. Unfortunately for these faraway trolls, their intelligence on California politics seems laughably weak.”

YesCalifornia is not the only group supporting the Golden State’s secession. The California Freedom Coalition was formed in 2017 by secession supporters who were skeptical of YesCalifornia’s Russian ties.

Mr. Evans said his public Iranian outreach came after his discussions with an economic adviser to the Iranian government, Seyed Jebraily. He said the two men hit it off discussing their shared animosity for the U.S. government.

“This is the same thing that I said to Seyed and as I said in the video: Californians were told by their media, California is only special because of America,” Mr. Evans said. “If you leave, no one’s going to know who you are. No one’s going to recognize you. No one will do business. … And in the Calexit movement we knew that was not true.”

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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