Louis Marinelli, one of the leading champions of California’s secession from the United States, has tried several times over the past few years to establish The Golden State as an independent nation. But the most recent “Calexit” effort made strides none of his previous attempts had, following the 2016 U.S. presidential election—including opening its first foreign embassy, in Moscow.
The Independent Republic of California, being proposed by the Yes California Independence Campaign, is years away from becoming a reality, if ever. But it has a very real and physical, if largely symbolic, “people’s embassy” in Russia. The Californian outpost is located in a Moscow office building shared with Russia’s Anti-Globalization Movement, which supports the secessionist efforts.
Yes California’s goal is for the state to break away from the U.S. legally and peacefully. Marinelli said he was not seeking military assistance by bringing his cause to Russia, but support for California’s sovereignty from a powerful vote on the United Nations Security Council in case his ballot initiative for independence was successful but met with resistance from the U.S. and UN.
As it turns out, ties to Russia are not necessarily helpful in the American political climate following President Donald Trump’s election. Public opinion turned against Marinelli due to his perceived coziness with Russia and the Anti-Globalization Movement, and he resigned in April 2017 from Yes California so as not to get in the way of its success. He also withdrew his ballot initiative, but is confident another will be petitioned soon (200 such attempts have been made since California became the 31st state in 1850).
Still, the embassy office remains, at least for now. It is decorated with pictures of various California counties on the walls, as well as pictures of world leaders past and present like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Bashar al-Assad. Assad is an honorary member of the Anti-Globalization Movement, which supports breakaway efforts in countries and states around the world, in the interest of not allowing the “world system” to be dominated by the will of individual powerful countries, namely the United States. The movement has ties to the Kremlin, but denies, as does Marinelli, that Yes California ever received any financial support from the Russian government.
The fate of the embassy is unclear, but perhaps it will not shutter, as Marinelli has said he wants to continue to function as the Republic of California’s representative while living in Russia. Yes California itself is taking a break, planning to regroup and try for a fresh start in the future, free from the controversy surrounding its former leader. Its former second in command, meanwhile, is joining the efforts of the California Freedom Coalition, which plans to file a ballot measure of its own.
The embassy—located, strangely enough, in a brutalist building that formerly housed Cold War-era chemical weapons designers—doubles as a cultural center for Russians to come and learn about California’s history. When it opened, Marinelli was careful to let people know that if they wanted to visit California from Russia, they still have to go through the United States Embassy. At the rate things are going, even if the embassy stays open, that will probably remain the case for the foreseeable future.