Disappointed by your country? It’s not too late to start your own.
Around the world, “micronations”—tiny self-declared countries with no recognized sovereignty—are a growing trend, complete with fictional folklore, systems of government and regalia. Every two years, they gather at MicroCon, a global general assembly styled after the United Nations.
Part political fantasy, part absurdist theater, the various micronations’ leaders show varying degrees of commitment. Some, like Molossia’s president Kevin Baugh, pay careful attention to realistic detail, while other “heads of state” seem to rule mostly in their imagination.
Photojournalist Matt Roth has spent the last few years following micronations’ founders and heads of state at MicroCon, at home and around the US. While micronations have flourished around the world, most of the attendees to MicroCon are American.
Roth’s pictures celebrate the quirkiness of the micronationationalist community. But beyond the flags, uniforms, and regalia, he also explores the reasons why people found their own micronations. The day jobs of these leaders run the gamut from the training manager for the US National Guard like Molossia’s president Kevin Baugh to a stage manager at Disney Land, like Shiloh’s king Timothy Miller.
“I’m curious about the concept of identity and how it shapes and motivates people,” Roth tells Quartz. ”They’re motivated by being a Queen, President, Duke, or Sogmo [a Abenaki Native American term for “chief,” used by the micronation of Sandus]. It’s a big part of their identity. It’s who they are.”
“I’m asked about their sanity all the time, but none of the sovereigns I’ve met are crazy, or delusional. Do they really want to secede? I think they all know that’s way too much work,” he adds.
The Republic of Molossia is a micronation founded by Kevin Baugh near Dayton, Nevada. While Roth describes many ostensible micronations as just “teenage boys who claim sovereignty over their bedrooms,” Molossia has its own stamps and currency.
Roth notes that the Molossian flag isn’t wildly original however—in fact, it’s just an upside version of Sierra Leone’s. “The desert weather isn’t kind to flags, so president Baugh needed a flag that was easy and cheap to replace,” he explained.
Ruritania was founded by then-teenager Queen Anastasia (full name Queen Anastasia Sophia Maria Helena von Rubenroth Elphberg of Ruritania) more than 50 years ago, in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Überstadt was founded by its King Adam, and some of his friends from high school in a Seattle suburb. Its chief values are a cashless economy, strong environmental laws and direct democracy.
Sandus is the domain of William Soergel, who designated himself with the title of Sôgmô, an Abenaki Indian term for “chief” or “ruler.” By day a history student, Soergel has also written a complex history on the political theories and traditions that guide his micronation.
A portmanteau of “California” and “Sahara,” the Calsahara micronation is 120 acres in the southern California desert. It was colonized in October of 2017 by Westarctica, a micronation run by Travis McHenry, center.
Roth has visited the biennial gatherings of micronationalists, MicroCon, for several years. It is an opportunity for various micronationalists to don their ceremonial garb and share the story of their micronations with others. At the last one he visited in 2017, Queen Anastasia hosted a meet and greet at the Ruritania Embassy in Stone Mountain, Georgia.