I am driving to a place that doesn’t exist. I am doing this because the President of Molossia emailed me. He’d seen something I’d written about his little nation, so he invited me for a visit. “I will gladly escort you around Molossia and show you the sights; it would be an honor,” he wrote. “I hope you will favorably consider my invitation and come see our great nation! Warmest regards, His Excellency President Kevin Baugh, Republic of Molossia.”
“Is he crazy?” friends ask me, but I don’t know the answer yet.
On a Friday in September, I begin the long drive from Berkeley through the Sierra Nevadas. I skirt the north end of Lake Tahoe and hit traffic headed to Reno for the holiday weekend. In Reno, I sleep over a casino. The next morning I drive through Virginia City, Nevada, an old boomtown over a vein of silver ore where Mark Twain began his writing career, just outside a fictitious locale made famous by Bonanza. Molossia is a reasonable distance into the desert. I spot the sign:
His Excellency Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia, emerges from the house dressed like a caudillo: he wears a tricolor sash of the Molossian national flag looped through a gold epaulette. Beneath the hat, a pair of Kim Jong Il-style sunglasses cover half of his face. He welcomes me enthusiastically, pumping my hand as if I am a long-awaited diplomat. I am encouraged to pay the customs fee: my pocket change. I deposit it into a tin can affixed to the door the Customs Booth. A sign informs me that many things are not permitted in the Republic of Molossia. Among them: firearms, ammunition, explosives, catfish, spinach, missionaries and salesmen, onions, walruses, and anything from Texas with the exception of Kelly Clarkson.
I tour the “country"—there is a miniature-scale Molossian railroad, national parks, battlefields, and cemeteries. The president moves from place to place talking about Molossia’s various conflicts: the Dead Dog War, the War with Mustachistan. I participate in the Molossian Space Program by launching a stomp rocket and am awarded the title of Space Cadet, along with a certificate.
While places like Kurdistan and Somaliland might occupy more of the government’s time, the ranks of aspiring nations are filled with DIY democracies—places like North Dumpling Island in Long Island Sound, and Molossia in (or surrounded by) northern Nevada—that are often equipped with little more than a flag, an anthem, and a back porch. It’s these communities, known as micronations, that Canadian filmmaker Jody Shapiro set out to profile in his latest documentary, How to Start Your Own Country. Mother Jonesspoke with Shapiro recently about micro-national alliances, the future of the nation-state, and what happens when the mother country doesn’t get the joke.