Townspeople of LaVerkin, Utah, Take on the United Nations
LAVERKIN, Utah -- This Independence Day, the LaVerkin City Council had planned to skip its regularly scheduled meeting. The councilmen in this town of 3,400, only a few miles from spectacular Zion National Park, intended to enjoy the holiday.
But just before the holiday, Councilman Gary McKell received a phone call asking whether he could attend a meeting nonetheless. He said he figured he could.
"I've never been to an honest-to-goodness tent revival," McKell says today, "but now I know what it must feel like."
Almost two dozen townspeople stood to testify, to shake their hands in the air and to slap each other on the back. They weren't there to praise God, though, but to condemn a rather unlikely enemy: the United Nations.
The official minutes give some sense of this extraordinary meeting. "If [the] U.N. had power, we would all be facing death," one man declared. Others agreed that the United Nations "is not for peace but for war," "a threat to the country," "anti-God, anti-family," "evil." One asked whether his audience would be "servants of God or slaves of Satan."
Hardly skipping a beat, a man explained that until the United Nations met its supposed global population targets, it planned for "382,000 people ... to be killed each day." A woman presented her conviction that "all members of Congress are communists." Another argued simply that "there [are] strange people here already and [I don't] want more strange ones."
Later, the councilman who introduced the ordinance, Al Snow, held up a map of the United States. "Everything in red on the map is controlled directly or indirectly by the U.N.," he exclaimed. "We may only have two years of freedom left in this country."
The ordinance they were debating was part of a broader isolationist campaign to get America out of the United Nations — a campaign supported by at least one congressman known for his sympathy for antigovernment causes — and it was blunt.
It would ban the U.N. from LaVerkin. It would force U.N. supporters to post signs reading "United Nations Work Conducted Here." The ordinance was meant, its enthusiastic supporters explained, to protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
And over McKell's stunned opposition, it passed — three votes to two.
"[The United Nations is] after our way of life, our freedom, and our use of public lands. ... We feel that the sovereignty of our great nation is in jeopardy," LaVerkin Mayor Dan Howard wrote. "This has all gone on long enough."
Little LaVerkin had become the mouse that roared.
The Politicians Join In
The story of LaVerkin is unusual, but it's not unique. The so-called "Patriot" movement that helped popularize such issues has been in steep decline since 1996, but concerns about these issues have remained strong in many areas.
Increasingly alienated by what they perceive as their waning sovereignty — a sense that faraway forces are controlling their fates — local officials around the country are looking for ways to fight back. And the United Nations — which has sought to limit handguns and taken other stands unpopular with many Americans — is a favorite scapegoat for people with understandable fears and grievances about the role of global and federal government.
But it is not the only one. Resuscitating many of the themes that animated the militia movement, officials and others far away from the cosmopolitan east and west coasts have taken a number of confrontational stands that seek to challenge the authority and intentions of federal and global officials.
Not far from LaVerkin, the town of Virgin, Utah, officially requires its citizens to own firearms. Washington City has demanded a repeal of the 17th Amendment, hoping to return the election of U.S. senators to state legislatures.
Late this summer, Utah's Republican Party joined in, demanding a pullout from the United Nations. The party even considered, however briefly, secession from the United States.
And it's not just Utah. The campaign against the U.N. — and the larger movement that includes strident opposition to government regulation in general — has reached cities in several states.
An ordinance similar to LaVerkin's became law in tiny Bingham, N.M., this August. (Unincorporated Bingham's mayor is Clayton Douglas, editor of The Free American, a magazine popular among militiamen.)
In fact, via the Internet, LaVerkin activists are in close touch with far-right campaigns nationwide, coordinating strategies and even raising money for them.
The anti-U.N. ordinance itself was first proposed by Texan Daniel New as part of his larger campaign to get America out of the U.N. It was New's son, Michael New, who became the darling of antigovernment militias and other Patriot groups when, in 1996, he was court-martialed and given a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Army for refusing to participate in U.N. activities.
Resolutions opposing the Clean Water Act passed in Macon and McDowell counties in North Carolina. And a fierce fight has developed in Klamath Falls, Ore., over enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act.
These campaigns have roots in the bitterly anti-environmentalist Wise Use movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and in antigovernment hotbeds like Catron County, N.M., where elected officials, calling federal agents "a clear and present danger," tried during the 1990s to evict the U.S. government from public lands.
Finally, there is Ron Paul. The Republican congressman from Texas has long been a favorite of America's militia and other Patriot groups, and his stand on the United Nations isn't going to cost him any such supporters. This year, once more, he introduced his perennially doomed American Sovereignty Restoration Act — a bill that would take the United States out of the United Nations.