God Bless Molossia: A Look at the Secret ‘Micronations’ Hidden on U.S. Soil
Welcome to the weird world of micronations, where anyone can be king.
Yasu + Junko for Reader's Digest
The e-mail was signed “Regards, His Excellency. President Kevin Baugh, Republic of Molossia.”
No, you’re not forgetting your ex–Soviet bloc geography. Molossia is not on any world map. But what does exist—“everything a country has,” Baugh asserted earlier in his missive, “a bank, a post office, a railroad, and an active navy”—you’ll find on a dusty, sagebrush-pocked sliver of Nevada desert. It’s a “sovereign, independent nation” as far as His Excellency is concerned and a bizarre lark to most anyone else.
Welcome to the world of micro-nations, where anyone can be a benevolent dictator.
By definition, a micronation is any entity—physical or virtual—that purports to be a sovereign state but, you know, actually isn’t.
The very first micronation, the Upware Republic Society, was a literary group of Cambridge students who appointed themselves clerics and consuls way back in 1851. Today, about 98 active micronations dot the globe from Australia to Antarctica. Forty of them recently sent dignitaries to Anaheim, California, for MicroCon 2015, the first micronation convention held in the actual U.S. of A. These empires do not enjoy governmental recognition, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Almost all of MicroCon’s leaders have written letters to their home governments requesting diplomatic recognition.
“What better way of tweaking the nose of the established order than to form one’s own mock nation-state?” said researcher Steven F. Scharff, who broke down the origins of micronations in an inspirational keynote address (delivered to the conference via YouTube). The Nevada-based shipping clerk has been a student of the micronations movement since the 1990s, when learning about the Vatican ignited his interest in the whole countries-within-countries concept.
Sometimes, as with the Republic of Rose Island, things don’t turn out so well. In 1968, Italian Giorgio Rosa issued stamps and declared himself president of a floating platform in the Adriatic, all in a bid to draw visitors. But almost as soon as it was built, the Italian navy took dynamite to his dreams for failure to pay taxes.
[pullquote] Attendees are mostly peaceful, independent dreamers who get a kick out of printing their own stamps, minting their own money, and “ruling” over their own slivers of private property. [/pullquote]
On the other hand, Scharff says, MicroCon’s attendees are mostly peaceful, independent dreamers who get a kick out of printing their own stamps, minting their own money, and “ruling” over their own slivers of private property. He calls the current phenomenon “a big fantasy role-playing game that involves a lot of self-aggrandizement.” It’s Renaissance Faire meets model UN, with a hefty dose of political theory—and if you ask the leaders themselves, it’s also plain fun. Here’s a sampling of three modern micronations that you can actually visit.
Raison d’être: Nonprofit awareness
To meet the enterprising leader of Westarctica, you’ll have to travel to West Hollywood, California, where he works as a recruiter for a media company and advocates for climate-change awareness. To reach the actual country—620,000 frozen, uninhabitable square miles of western Antarctica—you’d need a boat and a really good reason.
“I have never been there myself, but we want to occupy that region,” says Grand Duke Travis McHenry, who founded the country (pop. 300) in 2001 when he noticed that the land hadn’t been claimed by legitimized nations. McHenry registered Westarctica as a nonprofit in 2014 and nationalizes “citizens” who electronically pledge allegiance—and sign up for his newsletter.
Custom-made metal and wooden Westarctican coins have no real value, so the grand duke has turned to corporate fund-raising, hoping donations will eventually allow him to colonize, building “a better platform to advocate for that melting ice.”
The Republic of Molossia
Raison d’être: Hobbyist tourism
The Republic of Molossia sits on a 1.3-acre lot east of Reno, Nevada, that President Baugh purchased in 1998. Its bank is a wooden hut that safeguards a stash of Valora, a so-called currency made of poker chips. Its post office doesn’t circulate real mail, but its male mannequin, Postmaster Ralph, sits ready, just in case. Its railroad is a toy railroad, and the “active navy” consists of Molossia citizenry (Baugh’s 27 family members) taking kayak “expeditions” on Lake Tahoe with squirt guns.
You, too, can tour Molossia, or even join its navy, if you call ahead and give Baugh two weeks’ notice. “We’re inspired to a certain extent by theme parks. But there’s no real profit in having your own country,” said Baugh, who works full-time in human resources and doesn’t charge visitors any immigration fees.
The Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia
Raison d’être: Political art
You won’t need a passport to visit Obsidia. You’ll just need to track down Carolyn Yagjian, the grand marshal of this mobile nation. A 29-year-old visual artist from Oakland, California, she “resents” the fact that most micronations are male-dominated monarchies. So when she found a volcanic obsidian rock on a hiking trail, she declared it a matriarchal micronation and made the rock its “mobile embassy.”
“I’ve always been attracted to the idea of statehood,” said Yagjian. “And this is an opportunity to question a lot of things people accept as normal about national identity.” Her nation-rock, unveiled in a bright-blue-and-hot-pink suitcase, wasn’t considered typical even by MicroCon standards. But she won a lot of points for her chutzpah and general creativity.
“I’ll allow men to become citizens, but I don’t want them to have places in government,” added the grand marshal. So far, Obsidia is a fake matriarchy of one. But it’s got 166 likes (and counting) on its official Facebook page.