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.

caesar & trump: the paradigm of tyrannicide and moral cowardism

at the start of his campaign for president of the united states, joe biden made the following statement about incumbent president, donald trump. “i believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time…but if we give donald trump eight years in the white house, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are — and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”[1] this statement, and the narrative of biden’s campaign more broadly, has tried to characterise donald trump as a historical accident, and stands in stark contrast to the narrative that has been put forward by nearly all of biden’s competitors for the democratic nomination, who have universally portrayed donald trump and the alt-right as the historical outcomes of a long history of policy decisions by both democratic and republican elected officials, going as far back as ronald reagan in the 1980s.

under the narrative of biden’s rivals — a more persuasive narrative — republicans pursued a set of policies that deregulated the american economy, defunded important social programs and infrastructure, and buttered up the rich with lavish tax cuts, while democrats at best offered weak resistance, and at worst promoted watered-down versions of those same policies. such policies not only promoted income inequality, but economically hamstrung many heretofore-middle-class people and created a desperate, vulnerable audience for a political ideology that had not been relevant since 1945. surprisingly or not, moreover, the era in which these policies were being created also saw the rise of micronationalism (not counting the first micronation, sealand), as primarily-middle-class individuals in europe and america looked at the policies coming from the political class and began to ask whether they themselves couldn’t do it better, if only as a symbolic gesture of resistance.

that biden wishes to dismiss donald trump as a fluke is unsurprising, given that he himself has been a leading member of both the legislative and executive branches of government since the 1980s, and helped to craft many of the policies that his fellow candidates impugn. biden’s interpretation of events, however, finds significant parallels in the end of the roman republic. while i often groan at the tired old line about learning from history, i do think that the episode i will discuss offers us an unusual opportunity to examine the consequences of the kind of willfully-blind optimism that biden is promoting.

i want to qualify the comparison of trump to caesar that is suggested in my title. this is an equivalence that is drawn frequently in opinion pieces, and usually deployed in order to smear trump as a power-hungry thug running roughshod over the laws and norms of public life. while i wouldn’t necessarily disagree with those characterisations of trump, such a comparison of him to caesar strikes me as intellectually facile. instead, my comparison rests on the idea that the events of both 9 november 2016 and 11 january 49 b.c.e., when caesar crossed the rubicon, were crisis points when political systems that had seemed to be limping along tolerably well revealed themselves to be long-since broken. rome’s crisis was preceded by laughter, as political insiders like cicero joked about dysfunctional negotiations between pompey and caesar. that laughter soon faded into concern and then alarm as the chance of a happy outcome dimmed and war loomed. we can imagine too well, i think, the sense of unreality that followed the war, as business went on more-or-less as usual, meetings went on, debates were held, albeit all under the gaze of the victor, who allowed the system to go on, even as he periodically voiced his contempt for it all.

like our constitutional crisis, the crisis of the roman republic was preceded by decades of growing inequality, as the conquest of the mediterranean made a few wealthy men unimaginably wealthy, while those citizens who were not members of the business class found themselves politically marginalised as the elite blocked, occasionally through violence, the creation of social programs to help them look after their basic needs. the phrase “basket full of deplorables” could almost have been coined by an elite roman. rome’s lower classes, in turn, threw their support behind a series of anti-establishment politicians who, however disruptive they might have been, seemed to recognise that the needs of much of rome’s citizen body were not being met. one of the last in this line of demagogues was caesar, whom the people rewarded for his advancement of popular causes against the will of the senate with command of an army in a war of his own creation, a war in which he would prove phenomenally successful.

some even responded to the dysfunction of the roman state in a way thematically similar to micronationalism. cicero, we know, found comfort in philosophy, and in two of his works, the republic and the laws — both responses to another quasi-micronationalist, the greek philosopher, plato — he sought to imagine his own roman republic, and how he would set up a state, if given the opportunity.

which brings us at long last to the parallel for biden’s kind of thinking: caesar’s assassins, the self-proclaimed liberatores. much ink has been spilled trying to examine such questions as the philosophy behind tyrannicide, and why a mixed group of caesar’s supporters and opponents from the civil war were united around this one issue, but what strikes me as interesting and important is how little thought they put into the aftermath of the murder. they had made no plans to take control of the city or prevent future riots, and had no plan for what a post-caesar government would look like. perhaps most significantly, they made the humane choice to confine their violence to caesar himself, which had the unfortunate consequence of leaving many of caesar’s most important supporters and allies in power. like joe biden, caesar’s assassins saw their opponent not as the symptom of deeper systemic problems, but as the problem itself. they genuinely, even naively, seemed to believe that the world would go back to what it once was, if only they could get rid of him. it uhh…didn’t work out that way. what followed instead were more civil wars, the death of much of rome’s political class, and the emergence of a monarchy that only became more absolute with time.

my point here is not to predict the future, and i don’t think that biden’s viewpoint, should it prevail, would spell the end of american democracy. like rome, however, america’s troubles are the product not of one decision, but of decades of decisions that have prioritised the needs of the political class and the business class over the needs of the people that vote. seeking to reduce the problem down to one man is an abnegation of shared responsibility and will do little to heal a divided society.

jan dewitt


[1] https://www.vox.com/2019/5/13/18535239/joe-biden-trump-aberrant-aberration