Louis Marinelli is the leader and co-founder of “Yes, California.” But the public face of the #CalExit movement also presents many political contradictions.
A soft-spoken teacher who openly admits he voted for Donald Trump, and who once worked as a grassroots activist opposing same-sex marriage, Marinelli’s hero is President John F. Kennedy, but he worked to elect George W. Bush in 2004 after his first choice, Democrat John Edwards, dropped out.
Born in New York, Marinelli fell in love with California at first sight, and considers San Diego his home — even though he is currently living in Yekaterinburg, Russia with his wife. Most recently, he ran for California State Assembly against San Diego’s Lorena Gonzalez, garnering strong support from those opposed to California’s forced vaccination law — but from very few others. Predictably, he lost the primary to the well-financed incumbent.
The #CalExit movement gained tremendous momentum with Trump’s win in November. “Yes, California” T-shirts, which Marinelli couldn’t give away last June, the Los Angeles Times reported, became a symbol of the anti-Trump “resistance.”
In many ways, Marinelli is hard to pin down. A political chameleon, he is all over the ideological map. Explaining his Bush vote to the Times, he claims he was seduced by Fox News Channel: “That channel is highly manipulative … It turned me into your typical conservative ideologue.”
He blames the Federal tax bite for California’s failed infrastructure, not Governor. Jerry Brown. Considering the Pledge of Allegiance to be indoctrination, Marinelli became the champion of the far-left, communist leaning California National Party during his Assembly campaign, but has since broken with them over irreconcilable differences.
Marinelli agreed to talk to Breitbart News, answering 10 questions (unedited except for spelling and font) via email from Russia.
Breitbart News: Why are you in Russia?
Marinelli: I am in Russia because I am by profession a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) and that career began in Russia in 2007 and I have travelled back forth between the United States and Russia taking different teaching positions in various Russian and American/Californian cities. Last year when the cost of rent kept rising without any improvement in services or living conditions, my wife and I decided to move. Between jobs and apartments, and with the prospect of her being able to return home to Russia to see her parents for the first time in five years, we decided to go together and I secured employment there in order to support ourselves during what was supposed to be an extended, but temporary visit before we signed a new lease and I secured new employment in California.
Things being as they are and nothing related to the government can just work as expected, her ability to travel back to Russia never materialized. However, by this time I had already provided our intent to vacate our apartment, we had already sold the majority of our property, and I had already signed an employment contract to begin teaching in Yekaterinburg. Our application to adjust her status to that of a permanent resident was delayed because the USCIS (by their own admission) were prioritizing applications for citizenship prior to the election, so that newly naturalized citizens could vote. So our application was delayed beyond the originally-provided timeline we were working on, and depending on. So long story short, she couldn’t go (yet) but I had to go or forfeit my teaching position overseas. So, I went to Russia and she stayed in California living with friends for what was supposed to be a month or two, until after the election, when we expected to complete her adjustment of status which would allow her to leave the country and return without a new visa.
Breitbart News: What is your vision for a new independent California nation?
Marinelli: I believe in making the world a better place. I believe California can play a big role in that mission. I envision a California much like the country that our founding fathers envisioned – a country where all are treated equally under the law; a country that provides for the common defense, promotes the general welfare of its people, and a country that secures our liberty from foreign and domestic threats. This campaign is at its heart a very American campaign, if by “American” we mean the America that was originally established and in a time period when its Constitution was actually followed. I probably sound like a conservative here, but I consider myself a progressive. To me being progressive is about using the collective power of the people to help those who can’t help themselves. I believe it is in the nature of Californians to help others and that is the kind of independent nation I envision – a nation that ensures everyone healthcare and education regardless of their ability to pay, a nation that protections its citizens from corporate exploitation and political corruption rooted in campaign finance, a nation that prioritizes the domestic needs of its people, their quality of life and cost of living, over its foreign agenda. These are areas where I see the United States lacking, or outright doing the opposite, and I want to establish California as a country so we can go in a different direction on these points, as well as others. Donald Trump believes in an America First philosophy and I believe in a California First philosophy.
Breitbart News. What exactly drove you to push #CalExit in the first place?
Marinelli: The dysfunction in Washington. But the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was Congress’ inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2014 after the Senate passed it and the president promised to sign it. Even a majority of the House of Representatives would have voted for it if it were brought up to a vote. But partisan political games held that vote up and that directly impacted my family and my marriage. It exerted a tremendous amount of stress on my relationship when the woman I brought here from another country couldn’t work, study, or really do much more than sit around the house all day because of the political situation in my country. More specifically, I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it is to support a family in San Diego on one income. Could we have found a way for my wife to work illegally? Perhaps. But we weren’t interested in violating immigration laws. She came to this country legally and her visa expired before we were able to get married. She is not a criminal, although many on the right would label her as such, and so she wasn’t about to go break the law by working illegally.
At the same time, on this side of the border, California was doing things to embrace our undocumented population. We had things like AB60 which allowed for undocumented immigrants to get a driver license, for example. Other legislation was passed to help undocumented immigrants live as normal of a life as possible in California while the Americans were doing the opposite, while the American people were largely spewing pretty hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric. Those forces combined, a push and a pull, is what caused me to change my allegiance from Washington to Sacramento.
Breitbart News: Constitutional law experts have claimed there is no protocol for leaving the union — and that it will be either by “Constitutional Amendment or Revolution.” If secession is the ultimate goal of #CalExit, do you see a realistic pathway toward secession? Please describe the specific steps.
Marinelli: Yes. There is no reference to secession in the US Constitution so again at risk of sounding like a conservative, that power is a power reserved to the people, or to the states via the Tenth Amendment. I am a big supporter of the Tenth Amendment. Now as for these law experts – they have only provided their opinions but law experts provide their opinions in a court of law everyday only to be rejected by the courts. Ultimately this will be something determined by judges, not law experts giving their opinion on cable news networks and the only valid legal opinion to this day, as you referred to, comes from the 1869 Texas v. White where it was declared that unilateral secession was illegal but possible only through revolution or by consent of the states. The thing is that “consent of the states” has never been legally defined. Some interpret that as constitutional amendment levels of consent, others could argue that a majority of the states constitutions consent. That is something the courts will have to decide.
We take the position that in 1850 Congress passed an Act which required only a majority to pass. A section of that Act admitted California as a state. I can’t think of any legal precedent or practice whereby an Act could be passed by a simple majority yet require a supermajority in order to be repealed. I could be dead wrong on that, as I am not a legal expert, but it seems that we could get this done with a simple majority. So we will pursue that route. We will also pursue the route of international law, specifically, the UN Charter which grants non-self-governing territories the right to self-determination. There is a legal argument to be made, considering California’s history and its path to statehood, that could grant us rights under international law to determine our own destiny and since the Constitution declares that treaties are the supreme law of the land in the United States, the UN Charter (which was a treaty) is also the supreme law of the land in the United States and we intend to invoke that Charter in the pursuance of our right to self-determination.
Ultimately, like most social movements, our campaign will move forward with every option on the table at our disposal in pursuance of our goals. In the end, however, the courts will decide – just as, for example, the issue of marriage equality was decided by the courts after decades of struggling for equal protection under the laws for LGBT citizens. Since this issue was last decided in 1869 – a time of Dred Scott – I think its time for the issue to be revisited and reheard in the 21st Century. Why should we be forced to live according to a legal opinion of a panel of judges that have been not among the living for more than a Century? Let’s decide for ourselves what is and what is not legally permissible.
Breitbart News: Let’s assume that California succeeds in seceding from the US. How would it survive economically if millions of productive taxpaying citizens who don’t agree with secession leave, taking all that tax revenue with them? And you know that a huge number of “conservatives” at the very least would leave, but so might a lot of others concerned about anarchy or security, or just being American.
Marinelli: Granted many people who are patriotic to the stars and stripes may pick up and leave. However, many disenfranchised moderates and “liberals” from other blue states I’m sure would love to come be a part of a great new progressive republic on the western shores of North America. I know this as fact because I get fan mail to this effect quite often. However, I disagree with your term “millions”… I don’t think “millions” would migrate out of California because of secession and I likewise don’t believe “millions” would immigrate TO California from the other states.
I do believe, however, that an independent California can reorganize itself in such a way where conservatives might think twice before relocating. An independent California is going to empower local government through the establishment of “states” of California (our current counties). These states will have their own governors, legislatures, etc., and function much like a U.S. state in the Union does today. This will end the problem of Bay Area and LA Area urban liberals controlling policy across all of California. That means inland and northern counties will not have the same gun laws and regulations that exist in the Bay Area, for example.
And our plan to reorganize the Legislature into a system of proportional party representation means that conservative voters in liberal urban areas like San Francisco can feel better voting and more represented because their votes will be tallied together with conservative voters from the Central Valley and from the Far North whereas right now a conservative voter in the Bay Area essentially has no representation in Sacramento. Our new reorganized system of representation will provide more Californians with better representation AND allow for third parties to thrive and coalition governments to form. These are big differences that contrast pretty strongly against the one party rule (in a two-party system) we see in Sacramento today.
Breitbart News: You’re also likely to see the U.S. government pitch a fight over “Federally owned land.” (And almost 50% of California is claimed by the federal government.) How would you resolve that question without going to war with the most powerful nation on earth, who would definitely contest the loss of all the military installations all over California’s coastline? How would the new nation build a credible military when California has a perpetual budget deficit?
Marinelli: After we establish a mandate of the people for independence (via the vote), we will be in a position to negotiate these and other issues with the Americans. Much of the federally-owned properties in California are not tax-producing so if they were to stubbornly hold onto them without California’s massive taxpaying population of an independent California, it would be a losing venture for them. It behooves them to transfer the lands to the State of California to be managed by Californians. These are issues, ultimately, that will be decided in the future after we establish a mandate for independence and that is what our campaign is about.
This is one area where we differ from the California National Party, a so-called political party. They are not a political party until they qualify as such and until they do they are just a Facebook group with nothing to actively do in pursuit of independence. This group, which is mostly comprised of Internet trolls, believe in a strategy of approaching Washington to negotiate a Californian withdrawal from the Union. Their naivety is astonishing. Even our campaign has an uphill battle in front of us but at least when we go to Washington to discuss California’s withdrawal from the Union we’ll have a mandate of the people of California behind us. That will give us the leverage we need to demand that the Americans come to the table to at least negotiate. The CNP on the other hand think they can just send a delegation to Washington and say “let’s talk about California independence” and that pitch is never going to work. They won’t be laughed out of the room because they’ll never make it in the room in the first place.
As for military installations. Our campaign is not about taking control of the US military bases. We seek instead to sign military base agreements with the Americans whereas they can keep their installations and personnel in California if they pay a lease – just like they do in scores of other countries around the world. Again, we differ with the CNP in this regard and in an important way. Not only does Yes California support military base agreements in order to keep US military installations in California in the Americans’ hands, but we explicitly reject the use of force in our campaign to achieve our campaign objectives. The CNP on the other hand have begun planning how to take US military bases by force. These people, frankly speaking, subscribe to the philosophies of radical and autocratic leftists. One of their key officers supports the death penalty for white collar crimes, another has a portrait of Mao on his wall. Collectively they have little respect for due process, they operate their group without respect to the organization’s bylaws, and back to the topic of military installations, they have even drawn up plans for taking control of them by force if necessary. That is a failed policy we reject and want nothing to do with at Yes California. That is how South Carolina started the Civil War and our plans at Yes California have been carefully laid out in order to avoid sparking civil war.
Breitbart News: There have been reports in the media that you are working with Russian “far right” nationalist groups that are seeking to break up or disrupt the United States. Is this true?
Marinelli: We at Yes California are willing to partner with any group that supports Californian independence – when our goals are aligned. This non-governmental group in Russia, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, supports our right to self-determination and we work with them on that agenda item. We have nothing to do with them on any other of their agendas. I equate it to the United States of America working with the Saudi Arabians on certain areas of policy and strategic importance even though that country has miles of progress to make on basic human rights issues. The point being this: just because we disagree with a particular entity on one or several issues, it doesn’t mean we can’t work together on the issues where we find common ground and Yes California and Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia have found common ground on the issue of California’s self-determination rights.
Breitbart News: There have been media reports that the FBI is investigating you as a result of these connections. Is that one of the reasons why you are staying in Russia?
Marinelli: No, my stay in Russia began long before any of these media reports. If I were to ever find out that I was actually under investigation, I would walk into an FBI building and offer myself up to answer any questions and turn myself in if necessary because I have nothing to hide, I have done nothing illegal, and I am fully confident that that truth would come to light if it was brought before a court of law where a fair trial could be held.
Breitbart News: Bloomberg has implied in one story that you are working with shadowy Russian political figures with ties to Putin. Is that true, and if so, what do you hope to gain? Are you at all concerned that this perception might taint your movement as Marxist or Communist-backed?
Marinelli: No. I have never had any contact whatsoever with any Russian government officials. As for the second question: I would rather hold true to my princples than cave into this anti-Russian hysteria that has taken root (again) in this country. We want to build a better relationship with Russia and other countries around the world – this goes back to the idea of helping to make the world a better place. That is why our campaign proudly supports the idea of leaving the Cold War mentality in the past where it belongs and for California and Russia to build a new relationship for the 21st Century. I would rather us stand tall and maintain that noble principal and fail, than cower to the rebirth of this public hysteria about how the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!
Russia today is not a communist or Marxist state. For that, I would point you to the type of California that the people of the California National Party would like to establish. Frankly, I would rather California remain a US state than to be put into the hands of the people of the CNP, who, as I stated, can’t follow their own bylaws (how can we trust them to abide by the constitution?), who are willing to suspect due process out of convenience, whose leadership supports capital punishment for white collar crimes, and who at least one of their key members is/was the “Chairman” at “California Communist Socialist Party of the USA” and the “Deputy General Secretary at Communist Socialist Party of the USA”. These people are not in this for the right reasons, they have actively worked to undermine our effort, and the people of California should be wary of them.
Breitbart News: Describe the troubles your wife had immigrating legally to the US, and given that experience, what is your view of illegal immigration now and in the new California?
My wife came to the US legally and her visa expired before we could get married. We didn’t want to get married on an arbitrary government timeline. You know, they picked “three months” out of the sky and require you to get married within that timeframe. While we were ready to relocate to the United States, we were not ready to get married within three months of stepping off the plane. We wanted to establish ourselves, I needed to find work, a place to live, and start building a home for us – before we could go get married. It takes more than three months to do that, especially when you consider the fact that the US citizen sponsor himself was coming back to the US to live. That isn’t always the case – many cases involve a foreign spouse immigrating to the US to his or her spouse who is already established, already working, etc. That wasn’t the case with us and we needed more than these arbitrary three months to establish ourselves. So when her visa was expired, it was difficult for us to put her back into a legal status. That just changed on February 15th and we finally were able to adjust her status to that of a legal permanent resident of the United States. We are happy to have that long and stressful chapter of our lives behind us.
I support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – particularly those who came to the United States legally, or came to the United States illegally as a child via a parent or guardian. I also support a guest worker program that would allow people to cross our border to come work legally in certain spheres where there is a demand for their labor. This does not currently exist in the United States and I hope an independent California can do what they United States has failed to do in this regard. I also support national borders and the right of any sovereign state to protect and manage its borders. So the independent California I envision won’t be one with open borders but at the same time I don’t believe in building walls – especially between communities that have such strong historical connections.
Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman.