The Peaceable Kingdom of Talossa

King Robert I (1980)

You might not have heard: on August 15, 2005, amid what he saw as a disturbing surge of support for the CLP (Conservative Loyalist Party), King Robert I abdicated the throne. The rest of the world, it's true, hardly batted an eye, but the King's abdication threw the tiny nation of Talossa into a dire tumult. "Talossa," the King proclaimed, with typical bombast, "is dead."
Other Talossans begged to differ. It isn't so easy, perhaps, to make an entire nation disappear by royal edict alone, and shortly following Robert I's departure, Talossans crowned a new king, the 7 year-old Louis I; the breakaway Republic of Talossa, meanwhile, had ratified a constitution repudiating the monarchy and declaring themselves a "free nation, dedicated to Talossan ideals." Talossa, whatever it might be, was clearly not dead, exactly.

What is Talossa, then, and for that matter, where is Talossa? These simple and reasonable questions provoke a flurry of confusing, complicated and contradictory answers. Talossa, as one version has it, is (or was) a "sovereign, independent nation in the heart of North America"--a mere 90 miles from Chicago, in fact, in a region popularly known as Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Talossa also claims a large slice of Antarctica, as well as a small island off the coast of France called Cezembre); while not officially recognized by their American neighbors, Talossans like to smugly remind us that the US government has never disputed any of their claims. This is a broad definition of Talossa on which most Talossans could likely agree. To look any closer at the phenomenon of Talossa, we must first ready ourselves to enter a parallel world of bizarre politics, oversized egos and elaborate rhetoric, remembering as well to bring along a certain childish and impudent sense of humor without which the Talossan story might seem a sad and pointless exercise.

This is a nation, after all which has been described variously as a "sovereign nationette," "the world's most exciting small nation," "a piece of territory with a flag," a "spiritual plasma,"  "a community of persons having fun by doing things which are reasonably similar to what other ('real') countries do," "a widespread social or fraternal organization, like the Elks or Moose clubs," "a sick, self-obsessed, fanatical hate-cult," and "a place where ... grownups can pretend to be children who are pretending to be grownups." It is, perhaps, all of these things. A dizzying array of contradictions, Talossa is a largely internet-based entity founded in the pre-WWW days of 1979 by a lonely and precocious 14 year-old named Robert Ben Madison in the bedroom of his Milwaukee home.

It was, more or less, a game--a flight of fancy inspired by Esperanto, science fiction, Fleetwood Mac, adolescent boredom and various strains of fascist, socialist and utopian political thought. The fledgling King, having decided to secede from the "corrupt culture" of America, spent a week creating a flag and coat of arms, composing a motto ("A Man's Room Is His Kingdom"), designing currency, selecting a national anthem (Fleetwood Mac's Tusk), and settling on a political system (democratic dictatorship). On December 26, 1979, King Robert I draped the red and green flag across the family coffee table and read a brief speech declaring Talossan independence; Talossa, a Finnish word meaning "inside the house," was born, and what it lacked in size (King Robert I was the sole citizen, and the nation's borders ended at his bedroom doors) it made up for with enthusiastic leadership.

The King set to work immediately, setting up an official newspaper, fabricating an intricate history of the nation and issuing proclamations pell-mell. Before a month had passed he had deposed himself and declared Talossa a Communist People's Republic; though he shortly reclaimed the throne, a precedent had been set for Talossan politics, one of autocratic whimsy and seemingly arbitrary revolution--a tongue-in-cheek style of governance which would become both a cherished Talossan hallmark and, later, a major cause of astonishingly bitter political infighting.

The young nation grew, bit by bit, accompanied at every stage by screaming headlines in Stotanneu, the aforementioned newspaper. After a failed attempt at annexing his sister's bedroom ("Jennifer has done absolutely nothing to ready the room for a triumphant Talossan entry," Stotanneu warned. "The formal date of annexation was a long time ago. The government is impatient,") the King, undeterred, proceeded to lay claim to a large swath of eastern Milwaukee originally occupied by Pottawatomie Indians. Talossa's population also began to increase, as fellow geeks and outcasts from Madison's high school agreed to participate: Dan Lorentz (appointed Prime Minister, Talossa's first elected official), Gary Cone (a Methodist choirboy and early rival who, after being fired as US ambassador, founded his own short-lived bedroom nation, the Glib Room Empire; Cone later rediscovered Talossa on the internet and was also elected Prime Minister) and Duke Ián von Metáiriâ (a budding right-wing neo-Nazi fascist, he later came out of the closet, became considerably more moderate and played an active role in Talossan politics).
As the country grew, and its adherents neared adulthood, both its mythology and its government became increasingly complicated and fantastical. Madison spent countless hours devising the Talossan language; an idiosyncratic construction incorporating elements of Finnish, Norwegian, Celtic, Berber, English and various Romance languages, the Talossan tongue eventually required a phonebook-sized dictionary and has been praised by language enthusiasts for its peculiar grace. He also pieced together a rather ridiculous ancestral history which claimed to derive from the ancient Berbers of North Africa, and crafted a tremendously complex system of parliamentary government, delightfully out of proportion in regards to Talossa's tiny size. If this was make-believe, it was make-believe on a grandiose scale.

Flag of the Kingdom of Talossa
 Even before the internet came along and blew Talossa's politics wide open, the nation's affairs of state were consistently volatile, breakneck and not for the faint of heart. Madison's history of the country, titled Ar Pats: A Cheap Talossan History and published after his abdication in 2005 (available for download at , is a grueling 103-page document whose chronology of elections, coups, scandals, court rulings and congressional debates is relentless. It often reads like a surrealist parody of 20th century politics--as the number of political parties multiplies, the abbreviations become increasingly unmanageable: DDP (Democratic Dandipratic Party), TFTP (Talossans For Talossa Party), PGC (Grey Congress Party), RCT (Rally of the Citizens of Talossa) FUN (Front Uni pour la Nation), PUNK (People United for No King), and so on.

What, one might well wonder, did all of these political parties in a minuscule, semi-imaginary nation find to so heatedly debate? They debated everything under the sun. Some issues were pertinent to Talossa: domestic policy, immigration reform, issues of national identity. Some concerned foreign policy: one law, for example, branded Wal-Mart a "fascist state," and Talossa repeatedly followed the lead of its American neighbors in denouncing terrorism or declaring war on nations like Bosnia. And, often enough, as was perhaps inevitable in a nation of several dozen persons, lawmaking was brought to bear on issues of a very personal nature: in one notorious instance, an unhappily-married King Robert I reportedly brought a resolution before the legislature describing his wife as "filthy and frigid."

Still, it was all more or less in good fun. Fun was Talossa's principal tenet, its reason for being. And political trappings aside, the nation was essentially a group of friends, based largely in Milwaukee, having fun and playing a game. Legislation was often hammered out over dinner, at what were known as Living Cosas ('Cosa' being the Talossan parliament), and national celebrations took place on the shores of the Talossan Sea, otherwise known as Lake Michigan; as Talossans like to point out, "It is a legal requirement that King Robert's birthday, July 2, be celebrated within one week of that date each year by a fireworks display at the shore of La Mar Talossan (Lake Michigan). And sure enough, it is! A huge display!"

For many Talossans, this sense of fun and community came into peril with the arrival of the internet. Talossa went online in 1996—its newspapers, once written by hand, were replaced with discussion boards, and the country's website soon began to attract attention, first as an internet curiosity and later as a bona fide phenomenon, as the nation was featured in a March 2000 issue of Wired magazine. This newfound publicity had far-reaching implications. On the one hand, "micronations" were suddenly appearing everywhere; though the Talossan government viewed most of these as copycats, if not copyright infringers, and dismissed them as pesky "bug nations," they presented genuine challenges to foreign policy. On the other hand, immigration requests skyrocketed. This was a mixed blessing. Talossa, of course, wanted population growth, but not at the risk of diluting Talossan identity. The government's solution was a tougher immigration policy: prospective citizens were required to buy Madison's book of Talossan history, become fluent in Talossan culture, submit a "What Talossa Means to Me" essay and be approved by the Cosa. These reforms, predictably, sparked controversy in the easily-inflamed parliament.

By many accounts, the former King's especially, it was these debates over immigration which ultimately led to the crisis of 2005. As the controversy heated up, paranoia and suspicion ran rampant among both the ruling (royalist) and opposition (liberal) parties. The opposition government, comprised largely of newer, internet-based citizens ('Cybercits', as they were known) accused the King's ruling party of controlling immigration for political advantage, and filling the electorate with pocket votes--relatively inactive citizens such as Madison's sister whose royalist loyalties could be counted on. The King, for his part, unable to enforce the stringent new immigration policies, saw the voter rolls filling up with faceless cybercits bearing suspicious names like Gold Ferrari. Many of these new citizens, the King opined, lacked any real understanding of Talossan history or culture; furthermore, many of them were extremely hostile to the throne. Name-calling and mudslinging now dominated Talossan politics, and mutiny was in the air.

The crisis began in earnest in 2004, when a group of Talossans, led by Chris Gruber, a computer technician from Tallahassee, Michael Pope, a federal government employee from the DC area, and Jeff Ragsdale, a professional choral singer from Houston, seceded from the Kingdom to form the "democratic, semi-presidential" Republic of Talossa. The Republic’s founders spoke, in lofty terms, of the “heavy load of oppression and tyranny,” while the King and his supporters dubbed the 2003 revolution a “Grand Theft,” and referred to it as Talossa’s darkest hour, her September 11th. The theft in question concerned Talossa’s web domain names, such as, which the Republic now controlled. The King rallied his supporters within the Kingdom, invoking the new national anthem (written by himself) which urged: “Stand Tall, Talossans / the Peninsula Defend.”

Appeals to patriotism, unfortunately, could not conceal the fact that the Kingdom was falling apart, ravaged by constant political and personal bickering. Even some of the King’s closest supporters claimed that he was becoming increasingly paranoid and delusional. For Madison, Talossa simply wasn’t fun any more; it had become a “typical online community,” characterized by “paranoia, mistrust, phony identities, political vendettas, dirty tricks and the destruction of friendships.” Concluding that the whole thing had gone too far, King Robert I, after 25 years of hard work, renounced his citizenship and walked away, as did his wife, Queen Amy, and many other “old-growth” Talossans. It was the end of an era.

But not, of course, the end of Talossa. If the King’s departure left a gaping spiritual void at the center of Talossa, it also signaled an end to much of the bitter animosity—and indeed, tempers in Talossa have since cooled considerably, to the point where the Kingdom and the Republic recently signed a peace treaty and have pledged mutual friendship. King Robert is still revered by most Talossans. “We in the Kingdom are constantly finding things that the King wrote into law that make us smile or fill us with awe,” says Lord Hooligan, a Talossan senator. “We are all the time marveling at the sheer Talossanity (that slightly irreverent, tongue-in-cheekness) with which he imbued Talossa, all the while giving it a seriously sound foundation and guiding it for decades, until—surprising even him—it took on a life of its own.”

 For Madison, though he’s happily moved on with his life—he’s active in the Community of Christ church, recently published a book on Christian history and has developed a World War I-themed board game called Life in the Trenches—some bitterness clearly remains: 2006 saw him posting messages on discussion boards in which he threatened to set fire to, or otherwise dispose of, the extensive Talossan archives.

It’s difficult, at times, to understand the appeal of Talossa, a male-dominated fantasyland where political sniping has always been the predominant currency. Lord Hooligan, however offers some compelling attributes of the Talossan experience. “It helps me to understand what it is like to not be an American,” he says. “Talossa provides a framework that forces everyone involved to embrace something different from their own governmental and political experience, and learn how to get along with people from all over the world.” He also appreciates the challenges of being a Talossan linguist, and has recently completed the nation’s first Talossan-language opera. “It’s fun,” he concludes, again invoking, as all Talossans seem compelled to do, that classic Talossan principle.

For Sir Samuhél Tecladéir, the Kingdom’s current Prime Minister, Talossan citizenship offers a more practical, if more mundane, advantage: “I got involved with Talossa because I needed help understanding office politics,” he explains. “What better way to understand office politics than participating in politics itself?” Both officials agree that the Kingdom’s future seems bright. It has been in a period of interregnum since the 8 year-old King Louis I’s legal guardians tendered his abdication, but the nation appears poised, at last, to appoint a new King—John Woolley, the current Secretary of State, is a favorite among many Talossans. And the nation’s population continues to grow—it is currently nearing 100—though, as Prime Minister Tecladéir acknowledges, “Growth is always a double-edged sword.” Lord Hooligan even dares to hope for an eventual reconciliation with Talossa’s estranged King. “I think I speak for all of Talossa in saying that we hope that someday King Robert I will look back on his creation and feel the pride that I know he felt for so many years … and that we are doing our best to ensure he can someday feel again,” Hooligan says. “Talossa is something he should be proud of, and, now that it is up to us to carry it on without him, we want very much to see to it that it stays that way.” 

(Originally published in the Skeleton News, 2007. More information, and conflicting versions of Talossan history, can be found at:, and

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