activist micronationalism and historical memory

the history-memory distinction is familiar to historians but often erased by members of the public. pierre nora identified in modern society an “equation of memory and history.”[1] as societies with legacies of white supremacy enter this century grappling with how to remember controversial figures and groups like cecil rhodes, christopher columbus, and the confederate states of america, it becomes ever more important to educate the general public on how to distinguish between what happened in the past and how we publicly acknowledge it. these battles are waged over lieux de mémoire, literal and metaphorical places of memory that provide a sort of public liturgy of the past.[2]

micronations like Sandus exist in the context of broader societies with contested histories and typically inherit much of the attendant cultural baggage. many micronations, also including Sandus, extensively allude to the past, draw influence from it, and commemorate it. this makes the historically-conscious micronation its own form of lieu de mémoire, just as the historian becomes one by changing how they and their audience perceive present reality.[3] the memory-micronation necessarily wrestles with questions of what should be remembered and how. this means that beyond creating internal memory, they are also situated to inform historical discourse in the world around them. in an age when the dishonest and the cowardly support oppressive approaches to collective memory or uphold them through ambivalence, the historically-conscious micronation becomes a vehicle for historical activism. this is a role Sandus has embodied in its response to debate over confederate monuments and can continue to develop as inhumane ideologies continue to grow.

people in the united states, the main macronation exercising condominium with Sandus, often have heated debates over historical memory in a diverse, changing society. many of our grand national narratives elevate racist figures or celebrate a violent settler-colonial legacy. consequently, representatives of different cultures and ideologies often disagree over how to commemorate the past. in recent years, tension has been especially high around monuments to the confederate states of america, whose commitment to chattel slavery caused the u.s. civil war.

photo by joe mabel

i recently encountered one such monument at lake view cemetery in seattle, which has attracted local controversy. lake view is de facto the city cemetery, where one can find the graves of founding families, civic leaders, and generations of common seattleites. it adjoins a small cemetery of the grand army of the republic, a fraternity of union veterans of the civil war. near these graves of union soldiers, in what was a union territory during the war, stands a monument erected by the united daughters of the confederacy in 1926. given its sponsors and the year they commissioned it, this monument is plainly part of the early-20th century revisionist effort to rehabilitate the image of the confederacy, less a memorial than propaganda meant to influence popular memory of the civil war. the sponsors and the stone itself have documented connections to the ku klux klan.[4] many seattleites object to the monument’s presence. unidentified vandals have defaced the structure several times, sometimes following prominent acts of racist violence elsewhere in the united states. one example was anti-racist graffiti left after the 2015 charlestown church shooting.[5] after the charlottesville unite the right rally in 2017, then-mayor ed murray spoke in favour of the monument’s removal.[6] since it marks no grave, the cemetery has no great cause to let it stand.

but in a show of moral cowardice mirroring that of many americans in reference to confederate commemoration, the private cemetery’s managers leave the memorial standing, despite vandalism, petitions, and condemnation by politicians. one cemetery worker who spoke to journalists distanced himself from the monument, but also minimised its racist symbolism: “i’m not justifying it, but it’s just a monument.”[7] other locals are more sympathetic with the confederacy; i have found fresh flowers at the shrine each time i visit the cemetery. americans committed to lionising confederate heroes continue to sidestep slavery and white supremacy as truths irrelevant to their favoured narrative. expressing a view common to confederate apologists, one kentucky woman interviewed by public history researchers portrayed activism against confederate symbols as a theft of history perpetrated by northerners.[8]

when the national controversy over confederate commemoration came to baltimore, near the Sandum cultural homeland, the honourable sôgmô’s public response provided a model for micronational response to questions of social justice in a host macronation. það published a sagamorial consideration in 2017 that addressed the critical distinction between history and memory and the racist logic of the southern “lost cause” mythology. the sôgmô concluded this consideration: “if you think that destroying post-civil war monuments which venerate the ‘lost cause of the south’ means we will forget our history, then i would recommend you pick up a book and engage that history, not its faulty memory. history, historical knowledge, and memory do not fade so instantaneously, but racism lingers.”[9] það shared this refutation of the monuments’ defence widely on þess social media and in online meeting spaces of micronationalists. in recent years, certain elements of the online micronational community have taken a rightward turn, putting this article in front of many individuals who might be considered sympathisers of the alt-right, as well as micronationalists with avowed affinity for the confederate states. this document might not have changed any minds, but given Sandus’s identity as a scholarly and an activist nation, it was a way to inject crucial concepts and facts into the discourse of the micronational community.

Sandus has challenged mainstream american memory in other ways, always exposing other, more conservative segments of the population to its philosophy through numerous public holidays and commemorations. one example is the decision to celebrate indigenous peoples’ day partially in protest of columbus day, plus the day of the americas to promote hemispheric solidarity. one micronation alone cannot revise the memory of a nation of hundreds of millions, or even a micronational community of thousands, but as a people, i think we agree with michel-rolph trouillot in saying of the construction of history that “facts are never meaningless.”[10] it is a fact that confederate monuments are rooted in white supremacy, that christopher columbus committed genocide, and that these are repugnant to both the Sandum philosophy of compassion and the liberal values our american neighbours purport to treasure. people pay attention to us in the micronational community because of our reputation as writers and thinkers and in ordinary society because of our unorthodox approach to state, nation, and society. let us keep using our platform as a nation of scholars to influence historical memory in the united states and beyond, injecting facts and compassion in needed measure.

adam camillus von friedeck


[1] Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 8, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2928520.

[2] Ibid., passim.

[3] Ibid., 16, 18.

[4] Charlette Report, “Why Seattle’s Confederate Monument with Confederate Flag symbol should come Down,” seattlepi, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10 July 2015, retrieved 25 May 2019, https://blog.seattlepi.com/capitolhill/2015/07/10/why-seattles-confederate-monument-with-confederate-flag-symbol-should-come-down/.

[5] Zosha Millman, “Report: Capitol Hill’s Confederate memorial vandalized again,” seattlepi, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 29 July 2018, retrieved 25 May 2019, https://www.seattlepi.com/seattlenews/article/Capitol-Hill-s-Confederate-memorial-vandalized-13114801.php#item-85307-tbla-4.

[6] Paige Cornwell, “Mayor Murray expresses concern about Confederate monument in Seattle cemetery,” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times, 16 August 2017, retrieved 25 May 2019, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/mayor-murray-expresses-concern-about-confederate-monument-in-seattle-cemetery/.

[7] Christine Clarridge, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times, 16 August 2017, retrieved 25 May 2019, https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/seattles-own-monument-to-the-confederacy-was-erected-on-capitol-hill-in-1926-and-its-still-there/.

[8] Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, 17-18.

[9] Gaius Soergel Publicola, “Yes, Confederate Statues Are Racist,” Veritum Sandus, State of Sandus, 17 August 2017, retrieved 25 May 2019, https://sandus.org/2017/08/17/sc-yes-confederate-statues-are-racist/.

[10] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Boston: Beacon Press, 1995, 29.

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