On a barren patch of desert 14 miles southwest of the Salton Sea, a large green sign protrudes from the dirt.*
It reads: "The Republic of Slowjamastan," proclaiming the existence of a new micronation — a dictatorship ruled by a sultan. The leader, a radio DJ in San Diego, has recently sent post cards introducing himself to nearby residents and businesses — the few that exist.
There is nothing else at the site save one identical sign a short distance away and two workers shuffling around slowly on a sandy patch of concrete.
"Slowjamastan" is an 11-acre plot of land in a desolate stretch of the California Desert, running alongside the decaying asphalt of State Route 78. It was proclaimed a sovereign nation by its new owner, Randy Williams, on Dec. 1, 2021. Property records show he bought the land for $19,000 in October.
The ruler has big, vague plans for the new micronation.
"I said if we have our own country, we can make our own laws, our own rules, hold people accountable," Williams told The Desert Sun by phone on Thursday, speaking in what he called the "Slowjamastan accent."
"Technically we are a dictatorship, I like to throw the hat around — the suggestion box if you will," Williams said. "If I agree with the votes, the votes will survive. If not, I will strike it down with a vengeance."
The micronation currently has 99 "citizens," according to Williams, ranging from Americans, to residents of England and even "a young lady from Zimbabwe." There is a 95% acceptance rate for free online citizenship applications, although the status comes with some conditions.
"For example, you cannot wear Crocs into our nation," Williams said. "There is a very heavy punishment for people who wear Crocs."
What exactly Slowjamastan's purpose is, and even what it will ultimately be, is unclear — even to Williams.
Micronations don't have any official recognition by the United States government, meaning any laws or policies that conflict with U.S. law could draw the ire of American law enforcement. This means the ability of micronation residents to "live by (their) own rules" is no more than residents of any other rural patch of land in the country.
That is probably a moot point, since the nature of the project belies any serious political intent.
Williams said he didn't pay his first tax bill to Imperial County for Slowjamastan's land, but instead made a "foreign aid" payment that just happened to exactly match the amount on the tax bill. He said he anticipates Slowjamastan will continue to make such payments in the future.
Bowling alley, hot dog emporium, water park?
Williams' plans for what will be physically built on the site are vague and include a seemingly random mishmash of tourist attractions.
"Many ideas are floating about," he said. "There have been discussions of things like a bowling alley, a hot dog emporium, perhaps a water park, or at the very minimum a lazy river if we can figure out the water situation — which is a challenge at the moment."
The direction of the project, as articulated by the "sultan," is not necessarily out of place in an area dotted with quirky attractions for travelers seeking weird, off-the-beaten-path experiences. It's 50 miles from the presently shuttered International Banana Museum and 44 miles from the surreal Salvation Mountain.
Slowjamastan's website is filled with tongue-in-cheek content such as a COVID-19 case tracker (spoiler: there are zero cases in the uninhabited patch of dirt) and a national anthem set to the tune of Elton John's "Rocketman."
The micronation's site has an online store that sells Slowjamastan "passports," license plates, flags, bumper stickers, "currency" and t-shirts. Interested parties can apply to name one of 12 "states" within the micronation and be appointed governor — for a small $1,999 fee. Williams acknowledged that these state sales are primarily branding deals for businesses and other groups looking to piggyback on whatever public interest Slowjamastan is able to generate.
Five "states" already have tentative sponsors, according to Williams, although he declined to disclose further details about who they were.
Williams said the inspiration for the Slowjamastan project emerged out of a trip he made last fall to the "The Republic of Molossia," a self-proclaimed sovereign micronation near Dayton, Nevada.
"We have an alliance with our friends in Molossia," Williams said. "I visited — it was a diplomatic visit — and even before I knew it my friend saw the twinkle in my eye and he said, 'I know you're going to make a country of your own!'"
Williams said he immediately began researching how to create his own country following the trip.
"I wanted to find somewhere close to my home (in San Diego) and somewhere nice with good weather" he said. "You can get very cheap land in Arkansas, Oklahoma, but who wants to go there?"
"I have long been enamored with the desert," he added," and especially the Salton Sea — which will hopefully be renamed the 'Sultan Sea' very soon."
Williams plans to hold a "Meet the Sultan" event in Slowjamastan on Sunday. It will be the first time most of the micronation's citizens will meet. He has also invited residents and business owners in the area. The one-hour event will include a speech by Williams and votes on several "important matters" such as the name for Slowjamastan's racoon mascot. It will be held on Slowjamastan's "Independence Square," an under-construction location that as of Thursday consisted of a sandy concrete slab.
The "sultan" said there is a hard cap of 10,000 participants for the event with 75 registered so far.
Area residents were generally ambivalent to the new micronation, although they welcomed any new business it might bring.
"When I see him in the picture, it makes me curious because he doesn't look like he belongs in the desert," said Jason Sandoval, thumbing a postcard with a suit-clad photo of Williams his business received Thursday.
Sandoval, owner of the Blu In Cafe — a small eatery five miles down the road from Slowjamastan — said if Williams created a "curiosity" that drew in tourists, it would be a welcome addition to the area.
"If he could bring people in I would love to see him and welcome them all to our location because everyone needs something to eat," Sandoval said.
"It's a gimmick," but it brings attention to this part of the desert, which I like," said Len Garbassio, owner of an off-road vehicle rental business down the road.
Both men said they were considering dropping by the Sunday event, but Sandoval noted the conflict with Super Bowl Sunday might keep them away. Thing is, Super Bowl Sunday is the next week.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly described Slowjamastan's location in relation to the Salton Sea. It is southwest of the sea.
Desert Sun arts and entertainment reporter Brian Blueskye contributed to this report.
James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Micronation Slowjamastan rises from the desert... sort of