The Virtual Nation
Every once in a while, I find a jaw-dropper article in the daily newspaper. "Answer Man: In Search of Virtual Countries" is one of the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me type:
"I was recently looking in the 'Embassies' section of the D.C. telephone directory to get a visa for an upcoming trip when I came across a startling — to me, anyway—listing for the Embassy of the Dominion of Melchizedek, a country I had never heard of, even after many years of involvement in foreign affairs. I could, of course, call the embassy directly, but I thought you could do a real service in providing a complete answer for the benefit of your wide readership.If you have some time to spare, you might want to have a look at the Dominion's web site. Lots of links to explore! But I make no promise that all the links are working.
Bill Kugler, Chevy Chase
"Sadly, the phone at the Embassy of the Dominion of Melchizedek has been disconnected. And don't try sending anything to the embassy's old address on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, either. It was always just a mail drop, and it's not even that anymore.
"In other words, you're out of luck if you want to pick up travel brochures about Melchizedek. Of course, you could go [this site] , a Web site with a wealth of information about this jewel of the South Pacific. But it might be more prudent to contemplate the headline atop a 1995 article in The Washington Post about Melchizedek: 'The Ruse That Roared.'
"That's one of the kinder headlines about Melchizedek that have appeared in papers around the world. Others include 'Plot Thickens in Phony Bank Scheme' and 'Insurer Chartered by Phony Country.'
"Melchizedek is a virtual nation set up in 1990. (The name comes from the Old Testament's 'king of righteousness,' who blessed Abraham.) It was founded by Mark Logan Pedley , a Californian who, like his father, David Pedley (author of the Melchizedek Bible), was, shall we say, not unfamiliar with the inside of a courtroom.
"Mark Pedley now calls himself Tzemach Korem and is the head of Melchizedek's 'house of elders.' Korem claims that several atolls in the South Pacific as well as Antarctica comprise the country, or what he prefers to call the 'ecclesiastical sovereignty.'
"The country, er, ecclesiastical sovereignty, seems to exist solely to sell banking and incorporation papers that con men have used to advance their crooked schemes. Things have been quiet lately, but there were several Melchizedek-related swindles in the 1990s.
"The Dominion also issues its own passports, though Korem told Answer Man he encourages people to have dual citizenship.
"What's to keep terrorists from acquiring a passport from the Dominion and using it for nefarious purposes? 'We do require the applicant to fill out a form that gives us information that we can use for investigating that person,' Korem said. 'In addition, if we have any suspicions, we dig deeper.'
"Oh, okay then.
"The Dominion of Melchizedek isn't the world's first or last 'virtual country.' In 1967, a Briton named Paddy Roy Bates climbed atop a rusty tower six miles off the coast of England that had been built in World War II as an antiaircraft gun platform. At the time, Britain's territorial waters extended only three miles from its coast, so Bates called his new nation Sealand and styled himself Prince Roy. He soon had a flag and was issuing coins and stamps.
"A few years ago, investors tried to turn Sealand into an Internet hub that could operate outside the prying eyes and restrictive laws of other nations. It ended in recriminations. Imagine that: getting rooked by a fictitious nation.
"At least Sealand actually did rise from the sea. In 2000, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission took action against Lazarus R. Long (aka 'Prince Lazarus,' aka Howard Turney), who sold securities over the Internet to fund the development of 'New Utopia,' a country he promised to build in the middle of the Caribbean. (Prince Lazarus is planning it still. Charter citizenships for New Utopia are available at the 'country's' Web site. They take PayPal.)
"Needless to say, the State Department doesn't recognize any of these bogus nations. Take Answer Man's word for it that when you call to ask about them, you get a sort of exasperated sigh from whomever is unlucky enough to answer the phone."