Townspeople of LaVerkin, Utah, Take on the United Nations
In most respects, LaVerkin is just a friendly, patriotic, one-stoplight town in the high Utah desert. The streets feel open and easygoing; children playing outside wave to passing cars. Sitting at a booth inside the Sunrise Market, one is struck by the warmth of the postman, the ranchers, the city officials who drop in to drink coffee and swap stories.
In LaVerkin, people get along pretty well and things are usually quiet. A volume of local history recorded only two events in 1984; one was an allegation that a police officer had used "unspecified naughty language."
It is certainly not the case that everyone here supports the anti-U.N. ordinance. "We all think it's pretty silly," says Emily Hudson, a woman in her 20s working in LaVerkin's main grocery store. "We don't really understand why the city council did it. It seems to me that all the nations working together is a good thing."
Yet LaVerkin makes no secret of its politics. This overwhelmingly Mormon town is, like the church, extremely socially conservative. (Church doctrine officially maintained the inferiority of blacks until 1978, and it continues to oppose equal rights for gay men and lesbians.) LaVerkin citizens seem almost unanimous in their zealous opposition to abortion and taxes, and their support for gun and property rights.
And they have, if anything, only become more vocal on these issues as the town's population doubled over the last 10 years — a major influx of newcomers that may help explain the fears of locals that they are losing their way of life.
Council member Daren Cottam concedes that his vote for the ordinance wasn't directly related to the U.N. "I saw this ordinance," Cottam says, "as a way of making a statement against environmental radicalism and gun control."
LaVerkin's anti-U.N. ordinance also seems to some to fulfill a famous prophecy of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith. The time would come, Smith prophesied, when the Constitution would "hang by a brittle thread" and the Mormons would "step forth and save it."
Clearly, many LaVerkinites see themselves as the heroic saviors of American freedoms. There is, however, at least one part of the Constitution that's not universally popular.
"The Fourteenth Amendment has done a lot of damage," insists Al Snow, the councilman who introduced the anti-U.N. ordinance. "It wasn't meant to apply to the States." The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law.
A Town With a History
LaVerkin and Washington County which encompasses it have attracted more than their share of high-profile radicals and survivalists.
In the early 1980s, LaVerkin was the site of a proposed 240-unit underground condominium development to be called Terrene Ark I. Each unit was to come complete with blast-proof doors, a decontamination chamber, 24-hour security to protect against invasions and a four-year supply of freeze-dried food stuffed into the ceilings and walls.
The promoters, who hoped to turn a profit on fears of the coming end times, were not worried about a negative reaction from the town.
Many locals agreed with the premise that the end was nigh. "Some people who live here are nervous" about the development, explained the LaVerkin town recorder at the time, "but the majority are for it." Ultimately, the project only completed one room.
But even so, locals say, some residents of LaVerkin and neighboring Virgin today keep camouflaged trailers up in the hills, packed with guns, ammo and food — a refuge in case of civil war or economic collapse.
Through the 1980s, Washington County was home to members of the Posse Comitatus, a violently anti-Semitic tax protest group, and members of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. At one point, Posse members tried to establish a haven from American taxes and laws that they called Zion Township.
During the 1990s, LaVerkin also was ground zero for neo-Nazi Skinhead Johnny Bangerter and his white supremacist Army of Israel, a group that at one point declared it would turn nearby Zion National Park into an all-white homeland.
A chapter of the ultraviolent, white supremacist Hammerskin Nation was located in Washington County. One LaVerkin resident has been awaiting trial for years on an alleged federal tax fraud and "constitutional history" scheme called Association de Libertas.
And, in 1997, on the other side of Washington County in Gunlock, Utah, investigators nabbed Idahoan Chevie Kehoe, leader of the white supremacist Aryan People's Republic and mastermind of a gruesome, cross-country murder spree.
'A Menace to Society'
"Why now? Why are smaller communities talking about issues like [revoking the 17th Amendment]?" asks Victor Iverson, a LaVerkin councilman who supported the anti-U.N. ordinance. Then he answers his own question. "I think we feel disenfranchised by the federal government, and that's an eerie feeling. ... We're not in any way trying to be isolationists."
A huge part of that perceived disenfranchisement is sparked by resentment of the growing power of government, especially with respect to the environment.
Fully 60% of Utah's land area is owned by the federal government, and millions of additional acres are held by state and county governments. Locals were infuriated by then-President Clinton's decision to establish the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Public use of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve also has been restricted to protect an endangered species of tortoise. Several years ago, environmental groups fought unsuccessfully for parts of LaVerkin to be designated the "Scenic Corridor" to Zion National Park and have their use restricted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Perhaps most enraging of all to locals was the nomination of Zion National Park to become a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Kelly Wilson was the second city council member to vote against the anti-U.N. ordinance; by LaVerkin standards, he is a moderate. But Wilson's feelings about environmentalists are clear.
"As far as I'm concerned, the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, even the Grand Canyon Trust are a menace to society," says Wilson. "I think they couldn't care less about the environment. They just want to stop growth and pursue their own agendas. I don't know what's motivating them ... unless it's just to gain control."
Will the Real U.N. Please Stand Up?
Whatever complaints LaVerkinites may have, a large number of citizens and elected officials have been swept up in classic, outlandish conspiracy theories that originated on the far right.
To all appearances, their grievances are with their more liberal fellow Americans and with the federal government — not with the United Nations. So why does LaVerkin identify the U.N. as the culprit?
"That's a good question," concedes Kent Neal, owner of a hamburger restaurant on State Street. "How can we make the connection that the United Nations is behind it all?
"Well, it's exactly the same as the case here with our trailer park people. Sometimes, trailer park people come in here and I can tell by the way they're talking and thinking that they are trailer park people. And later I find out they're trailer park people.
"That's just like the U.N. How many people could be so stupid about managing their forests? It must be coming from the U.N."
The accusations LaVerkin brings against the United Nations are remarkable. The U.N.'s "New World Order" is a "killing machine" that has "brought about and controlled every war" since World War II, opined one letter-writer to the local paper. It is an "octopus" created "by a group of Soviet KGB masters under the direction of the Soviet Comintern," wrote another.
Shauna Johnson, a local rancher, explained that the U.N. controlled vast areas of the United States. "As part of their Biosphere Plan, they are going to clear out all the people from those areas," she said. "And the way they are going to do that is by destroying the economy. That's exactly what so-called 'environmental' organizations are trying to do."
"It's just laughable," says Professor John Brehm, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. "The United Nations has none of the intentions that people in LaVerkin are claiming, and it's not nearly that powerful. The U.N. is under-funded, under-organized, under-equipped and is scarcely able to contain a small conflict in Macedonia."