At the moment of its tongue-in-cheek declaration of independence, the 'Conch Republic' (Florida Keys) is somehow displaced almost 170 years back in time. Finding themselves on the firing lines in the War of 1812, having to fight off attacks from the British, Spanish and US of Americans alike, the people of the Conch Republic have to take their new destiny into their own hands, changing the entire course of history...
April 23rd, 1982
Mayor Dennis Wardlow took to the stand- the back of the flatbed truck in Mallory Square, in front of the Old Customs building- and cleared his throat. Looked around at all of the other community leaders who'd supported him in this- especially Ed Swift, whose idea this had been in the first place- and the large crowd that had assembled there to hear the speech. Their proclamation...
"We, the people of Key West, are called 'Conchs'. Sometimes we are called 'Conchs' with affection, sometimes with humor, and sometimes with derision. I proclaim that Key West shall now be known as the Conch Republic, and as the flag of our new republic is raised, I thereby state to Washington and the rest of the United States, and the world, that the Conchs are and were.
"When Jamestown, Virginia, was settled by Englishmen fed up with the arrogance, the derision; the abuse of rights by a despot, a King without compassion or sense of humanity; another group was settling in the Bahamas, and they were called 'Conchs'. They were known as 'Conchs' because they hoisted flags with the tough, hard conch shellfish, indicating that they'd rather eat the conch than pay the King's taxes and live under his tyranny."
Wardlow paused for effect, gesturing towards the blue flag which was being lifted on the flagpole behind him, underneath that of the Stars and Stripes. "That's our flag. It has a conch on it. We secede from the United States. We've raised our flag, given our notice, and named our new government. We give notice to the government in Washington to remove the roadblock, or get ready to put up a permanent border to a new foreign land.
"We as a people, may have suffered in the past, but we have no intention of suffering in the future at the hands of fools and bureaucrats! We're not going to beg, to beseech the nation of the United States for help. We're not going to ask for something we should naturally have as citizens- simple equality. If we are not equal, we'll get out. It's as simple as that.
"The first step was, like Mariel, up to Washington. This step is up to us! We call upon the people of the Florida Keys to join us or not, as they see fit. We're not a fearful people. We're not a group to cringe and whimper, when Washington cracks the whip with contempt and unconcern. We're Conchs, and we've had enough!"
The more vocal members of the crowd roared their support, and Wardlow smiled, letting it run its course and peter out for the most part before he continued to read the rest of the proclamation. He'd hoped to rile the conspicuous, blue-suited federal agents in attendance with his rhetoric, to gain greater support from the media, but the federals seemed more amused than anything else. Never mind- time to step this up a notch...
"We're happy to secede today with some humor. But there is some anger, too. Big trouble has started in much smaller places than this. I am calling on all my fellow citizens here in the Conch Republic to stand together, lest we fall apart- fall from fear, from lack of courage, intimidation by an uncaring government, whose actions show it has grown too big to care for people on a small island."
Wardlow nodded to William Smith, who stepped forward with a loaf of stale Cuban bread. Wardlow took it from him, stepped down off of his impromptu pedestal, and walked across the man in the front row of the crowd, who they'd brought in to fill the role, dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. "Now, on behalf of the Conch Republic, we issue a declaration of war, against the United States of America!" Wardlow slowly brought the loaf of bread down, breaking it apart over the man's head.
And then, at that instant, all hell suddenly broke loose. Several people screamed as a sudden flash of blindingly bright, disorientating light came from nowhere, seeming to envelop everything and everyone in an instant- before, just as quickly, it was gone again. Standing in the crowd, the Federal Agents in attendance- he'd counted around three of them earlier, but now, he could see at least six, with two of them in casual, plain clothes who'd been standing right in the front row all along- started tapping their earphones and shirt-cuff mikes frantically in unison.
"Remain calm!" Dennis Wardlow bellowed out to the crowd. "We are Conchs! We are NOT a fearful people!" Holding his hands up for calm, passing the mike over to Ed Swift, Dennis Wardlow strode across to the two Federal Agents in the front row, ready to give them a piece of his mind.
"What the hell were those? Flash-bangs!? You're using military-style riot gear against us, against a peaceful protest? This ISN'T REAL- it's just supposed to be a PR stunt, for Christ's sake! Freedom of Expression! Mark my words, they're gonna eat you alive for this!"
The two Federals ignored him completely, still too engrossed in discussing the event between themselves to even give him an immediate response. Fuming, Dennis took a deep breath, prepared to let loose with a scathing tirade- but as soon as he managed to overhear what they were actually saying, the insane reports coming in from the checkpoint up by the Last Chance Saloon, any outrage or anger he might have had for the Federal Agents simply evaporated. This couldn't be real- this had to be a bad joke, right? Right...?