The nearest international border to Carson City, Nevada, is neither 838 miles to the north, outside of Langley Township in British Colombia, nor is it 541 miles south, near Tijuana. It’s only about 30 minutes east of the city and a left off U.S. Route 50. There, on a small plot of land ensconced in Dayton Valley, sits the heart of the self-proclaimed Republic of Molossia, a micronation complete with customs office, currency, navy, postal service, rocket program—and president.
“When I first heard of it,” says photographer Amy Lombard, “I was like, ‘Wow, only in Nevada.’” And for Lombard, that was a big part of the appeal. “I’m one of those people who’s in Nevada way more than anyone should be. I’m always getting sent out there for stories.” Drawn to under-the-radar and misunderstood aspects of American culture, she filed the micronation away as another of the state’s quirky hidden treasures, marking it down as a place she’d need to visit some day.
Finally, on a trip to photograph “a richer man’s Burning Man,” and two different square dance festivals, Lombard was able to take a detour to Molossia. She reached out to the president, who, along with the first lady, welcomed her to his country with open arms, ushering her through customs and giving her a tour of the many wooden government buildings clustered along the main street.
“Sometimes people take things very, very seriously, and that’s totally fine. Obviously, the president of Molossia takes it seriously, and has put lots of time and money into creating this micronation, but he just has such a good sense of humor about it. It’s so rare to meet someone with such imagination.”
President Kevin Baugh cofounded the Republic of Molossia on the 26th of May, 1977, together with King James Spielman, originally calling the country (then situated in Portland, Oregon) the Grand Republic of Vuldstein. Spielman’s reign was short, and eventually, the “portable” country was left entirely under then–Prime Minister Baugh’s capable control, following him from place to place. In 1995, Molossia laid claim to land in the State of Nevada, U.S.A.—a place Baugh liked because it is “nice and dry, and there are not too many bugs.” By 1999, after a series of name and governmental changes, the Republic of Molossia stabilized as a military dictatorship under the command of now-President Baugh.
It’s easier than you’d think to found a micronation; the first step is to simply declare that it exists. Then, President Baugh says, come the details: deciding what you want to do with your micronation, what kind of government you support, and all the simple things, like the national animal, and obviously, a name. (“Molossia” comes from a corruption or adaptation of the Hawaiian word “maluhia,” meaning harmony in the world. It is unrelated to the ancient Greek nation of the same name. This, President Baugh acknowledges, is the perfect example of “why you should probably Google things before you use them. Lesson learned.”)
As a military dictatorship, Molossia is an anomaly among other micronations of the world. “Most [other micronations] have kings or dukes and queens and emperors—you would never believe how many emperors there are out there,” the president says. “I just wasn’t feeling the whole royalty thing, so I declared Molossia to be a military dictatorship.” Hence, the snazzy uniform: “Of course, a cool uniform is required when you’re a military dictator, you know a sash and medals and a big hat,” Baugh says. “I get more medals every year. You’ve gotta have the sunglasses and the whole nine yards.”
For a country with a total population of only 33 (all but about 3 of whom are Molossian expatriates living in the United States), Molossia is extremely well equipped—and they’ve done it all, as President Baugh says proudly, on a shoestring budget. From the homemade wooden buildings to the crest cobbled together from old British army hat badges, “We try to make it as much like an established, recognized nation as we can,” he says. “But you can’t really do a lot with 1.3 acres, so it’s a constant struggle to find that balance and we’ve kind of done it with humor.”
For example, the Molossian currency is tied to the relative value of a certain cookie dough. “Yeah, we don’t go with a silver standard—nothing worthless like that,” President Baugh laughs. “The ‘valora’ is tied to something valuable: chocolate-chip cookie dough.” The country also follows its own set of rules and has banned things like walruses and onions.
Today, President Baugh feels that they’ve checked all the boxes: “We’ve got a bank and our post office, and we’ve got my office, our trading post, and our tiki hut, and of course the customs shack. We’ve kind of got everything that we need.”
“We do have a space program; we launch rockets periodically. It’s fun; it’s something to do,” he says. “We were actually the first micronation to launch a rocket that had a living thing inside of it. We chose Mexican jumping beans because they’re nice and safe and already inanimate. We didn’t want to kill anything in case the rocket crashed.”
The nation is also currently at war with East Germany—and plans to be for the forseeable future. “The only piece of East Germany that remains is a tiny, uninhabited island off the coast of Cuba, but there’s nobody there with whom to arrange peace. And anyway, what’s the fun in that?” Baugh says. “It’s a little bit of political satire, there. It’s good to have an eternal enemy that you can blame all your ills and woes on.”
“We consider ourselves an independent country,” he says, “but we do like to laugh and have a lot of fun.”
Currently, you don’t need a visa to enter Molossia, although the President will give you a hard time if you don’t bring a passport. (“I mean, come on, who comes to a foreign country without a passport?!”) But the country does see its fair share of citizenship requests. “About two or three times a week, we do get enquiries from folks who would like to come move to our country. They’re actually serious; most of them are frankly from the Middle East and they want to move anywhere. By now, I estimate that our population would have zoomed up to somewhere around 5,000 or so. It’s actually kind of unfortunate and sad that so many folks are living in a situation where they just happen to see this random place on the Internet and they think ‘Man, I want to move there,’ without even really knowing anything about us.”
Contrary to Lombard’s first joking thought, Molossia and micronations at large aren’t specific to Nevada. There are hundreds scattered all over the world. In fact, every two years, President Baugh organizes a conference, bringing together anywhere from 25 to 50 leaders of nearby micronations, all arrayed in their glorious state attire. He says, “It’s fun to get together and exchange ideas. It’s fun to see what other people think what a country can be. From traditional to totally non-traditional. For example, this one young lady’s entire micronation is a rock that she carries around in a box that’s maybe 6 inches long. You can literally touch the highest point in her country. She’s trying to make a point that she doesn’t necessarily believe in borders and that a nation is really more people getting along, heading in the same direction, and doing things together.”
It’s a political science enthusiast’s dream. “A lot of micronationalists are actually young folks; they’re usually lacking in resources, but not in ideas.” Baugh adds that while few micronations are actual political protests, an interest in politics and international relations is crucial: “I get approached on a regular basis by people who want to start their own micronation and they always ask for advice. I say, ‘Learn about other countries, learn about other cultures, learn some history. Because once you get done with putting up that flag and you’ve given it a name, what are you going to do with your country?’ It helps to know how countries work to know how to keep your country active and engaged and interesting and maybe make a difference.”
Molossia is open to visitors about once a month from April through October; the dates are listed on the Molossian government’s official website. While Molossia has many holidays—either invented or borrowed from other cultures—the most festive day of the year to visit is on the 26th of May, Molossia’s Founder’s Day. “We welcome visitors to come in the afternoon,” the president says. “There’s always free food, burgers, and hot dogs and I’ll give my speech and a tour and so forth. We can’t really let off fireworks because that might set fire to the desert. But come on by, we love to show off the nation. We’ll be ready for ya. Welcome to Molossia.”
See more of Amy Lombard’s work at amylombard.com.>>Next: 8 Striking Photos of Rodeo Girls in the American Southwest