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The Florida Keys

Conch Republic

Conch Republic
Motto: We Seceded Where Others Failed
Also: The Mitigation of World Tension
through the Exercise of Humor
Type of entity: Micro nation
Location: Key West
Area claimed: 15.4 km²
Date of foundation: 23 April 1982
Leadership: Prime Minister Dennis Wardlow, Secretary General Peter Anderson
Purported organizational structure: Republic
Language: English
Purported currency: Conch Dollar[1] [2] [3] (for all practical purposes, the US Dollar is used in Key West)
The Conch Republic is a micronation declared as a tongue-in-cheek protest secession of the Key West from the United States on April 23, 1982. It has been maintained as a tourism booster for the Florida Keys region since.

While the protest that sparked its creation, and others which have occurred periodically since then have been described by some as "tongue-in-cheek", they were motivated by frustrations over genuine concerns. The original protest event was motivated by a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock and checkpoint which greatly inconvenienced residents and was detrimental to tourism in the area.

Although the Conch Republic is not, and never was, a real secessionist movement, many in Key West continue to identify with the concerns that motivated the original protest against what they view as an "unresponsive" central government taking action without considering all of the implications. At least three related protests have taken place subsequent to the original incident.

The Conch Republic celebrates Independence Day every April 23 as part of a week-long festival of activities involving numerous businesses in Key West. The organization - which appears to be operated as a private business by its "Secretary General", Peter Anderson - is a key tourism booster for the area. It also issues its own souvenir passports and postage stamps (see cinderellas, stamp-like labels).

In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US 1 just north of the merger of Monroe County Road 905A/Miami-Dade County Road 905A onto US 1 (they are the only two roads connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland), in front of the Last Chance Saloon just south of Florida City. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West, claiming that it hurt the Keys' important tourism industry. In fact, Eastern Air Lines, which had a hub at Miami International Airport, saw a window of opportunity when the roadblocks were established; Eastern became the only airline to establish jet service to Key West International Airport, counting on travelers from Key West to Miami preferring to fly rather than to wait for police to search their vehicles.

When the City Council's complaints went unanswered by the Federal Government and attempts to get an injunction against the roadblock failed in court, as a form of protest Mayor Dennis Wardlow and the Council declared the Keys' "independence" on April 23, 1982. In the eyes of the Council, since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if the Keys were a foreign nation, the Keys might as well become one. As many of the local citizens were referred to as Conchs, the "nation" took the name of the Conch Republic.

As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.

The mock secession and the events surrounding it generated great publicity for the Keys' plight — the roadblock and inspection station were removed soon afterward. It also resulted in the creation of a new avenue of tourism for the Keys.

The Great Invasions of 1995
On September 20, 1995, it was reported that the 478th Public Affairs Battalion of the United States Army Reserve was to conduct a training exercise simulating an invasion of a foreign island. They were to land on Key West and conduct affairs as if the islanders were foreign. However, apparently no one from the 478th notified Key West officials of the exercise.

Seeing another chance at publicity, Wardlow and the forces behind the 1982 Conch Republic secession mobilized the island for a full-scale war (in the Conch Republic, this involves firing water cannons from fireboats and hitting people with stale Cuban bread), and protested the Department of Defense as to arranging this exercise without consulting the City of Key West. The leaders of the 478th issued an apology the next day, and submitted to a surrender ceremony on September 22.

Later that year, during the shutdown of the U.S. government in December 1995, in another protest the Conch Republic attempted to invade Fort Jefferson, located in Dry Tortugas National Park, in order to reopen it. Inspired by efforts of the Smithsonian Institution to keep its museums open by private donations, local residents had raised private money to keep the park running (a closed park would damage the tourist-dependent local economy), but could find no one to accept the money and reopen the park.

When officials attempted to enter the monument, they were cited. When the citation was contested in court the following year, the resultant case, The United States of America v. Peter Anderson, was quickly dropped.

The annexation of Seven Mile Bridge
In yet another protest on January 13, 2006 Peter Anderson (the defendant in the Dry Tortugas case from 1995-1996) purported to annex the abandoned span of Seven Mile Bridge, which had been replaced by a parallel span in 1982. The move was in response to a recent event regarding Cuban refugees. On the previous January 4, fifteen Cuban refugees had reached the bridge, but had been returned to Cuba by the Border Patrol because of a federal decision under the Wet feet, dry feet policy that declared the bridge part of the "Wet Feet" policy. The rationale was that, since two sections of the span had been removed and it was no longer connected to land, it was not part of U.S. territory subject to the "Dry Feet" rule, and thus the refugees were not permitted to stay. Anderson, seizing upon the apparent disavowal of the abandoned span by the U.S., claimed it for the Republic. He expressed his hope to use the bridge to build affordable, ecologically friendly housing. In response, Russel Schweiss, spokesman for Florida Governor Jeb Bush, declared "With all due respect to the Conch Republic, the bridge belongs to all the people of Florida, and we're not currently in negotiations to sell it"[4]. The refugee decision was later overturned, but only after the refugees had been returned to Cuba.

International activities
The Conch Republic maintains unrecognized "consulates" in France [5] and Finland [6]. Through his website, Anderson offers "citizenship" and sells standard and diplomatic souvenir passports. These are not valid travel documents [7]. Although these are sold as souvenirs, some people have evidently purchased them in the mistaken belief that they can be used as legitimate travel and identity documents. Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, FBI investigators learned that hijacker Mohamed Atta had possibly purchased a Conch Republic passport [8] from the website.

The Conch Republic is a key location in several volumes of the Dallas Barr series of Science Fiction comics, in which it gains true independence in 2075.
Key West, a short-lived comedy-drama series on FOX that aired in 1992 had an episode depicting a fictionalized version of the incident. (IMDB entry)
The Conch Republic and its people and attitudes also figure largely in the plot of "Callahan's Key" by Spider Robinson.
A fully seceded Conch Republic is one of the venues in Joe Haldeman's science-fiction novel The Long Habit of Living.
The indie rock band Pain(t) by Numbers wrote a song titled "Collecting Seashells" chronicling the Republic's history
It is possible to buy imitation International Country Code vehicle registration plate stickers from vendors in Key West, bearing the initials KW.

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