Townspeople of LaVerkin, Utah, Take on the United Nations
Clearly, LaVerkin was fertile ground for discontent with the United Nations. But the anti-U.N. ordinance would never have come about if not for LaVerkin's ties to much broader networks of far-right activists.
Locals say that on-line groups and publications like Frontiers of Freedom-People for the USA, freedom.org, Sovereignty International, Ecologic, freedom.org, The Sierra Times, the John Birch Society's New American and others keep them in touch with similar campaigns across the country. Some locals have raised money for the protesters in Klamath Falls.
Activists in LaVerkin deepened their nationwide connections last year, after the neighboring town of Virgin passed its ordinance requiring each household to own firearms. Awash in newfound fame, Virgin activists were invited to be guests on antigovernment radio shows in Texas. The town even was given a free Web site on a "Patriot-owned" server.
When Daniel New went looking for towns to pass his anti-U.N. ordinance, Virgin and its neighbor LaVerkin were obvious choices. Armed with the fame of his son — Michael New was a hero to many LaVerkinites and other Americans who fear a totalitarian plot in favor of world government — Daniel New had been campaigning for five years to get the United States out of the United Nations. He has promoted his ordinance in at least four communities.
Last June 20, two weeks before the law was adopted on July 4, he made his pitch to the LaVerkin city council. In the interim, anti-U.N. councilmen reportedly kept the ordinance very quiet.
"The people who set this up sprung it on the rest of us," says Councilman McKell. "They showed up with all their supporters and all their ducks all in a row. There was virtually no debate."
The actual author of the ordinance text is Herbert Titus, the 1996 vice-presidential candidate of the far-right, isolationist U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the Constitution Party).
According to the Web page of the Patriot group Americans for Constitutional Integrity, Titus worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after his graduation from Harvard Law School. But in 1975, the page says, "Titus was dramatically converted to Christ."
Besides teaching at fundamentalist law schools, LaVerkin Councilman Al Snow says, Titus actually fought the ACLU in a legal battle to allow an Alabama judge to post the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. Titus could not be reached for comment.
'United Nations Work Conducted Here'
The original ordinance was comprehensive. It outlawed occupation of LaVerkin by U.N. troops and any U.N. taxes on the city. It prohibited extradition to any U.N.-sponsored international court and prevented the city from investing or contracting with any supporters of the United Nations.
Most controversial were the restrictions on civil liberties. The law banned the display of any U.N. flag or logo on city property, even at employees' desks. And it required supporters of the U.N. to register with the city, provide detailed reports of their activities, pay a fee and post public signs reading "United Nations Work Conducted Here."
To many, the law, supposedly passed to protect against tyranny, was an obvious and ironically unconstitutional infringement on civil liberties. Two LaVerkin police officers resigned in protest, citing constitutional violations. Said Mayor Howard: "We will miss them [and] wish them well in future endeavors."
Councilman Snow was less sanguine. "If they felt that way," he said at a closed-door city council meeting, "then the city didn't need them."
When the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to fight the ordinance in court, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff visited the subsequent, July 18 council meeting to explain that the law was unconstitutional and should be repealed.
In the end, the council revised the ordinance to be a largely symbolic prohibition against stationing U.N. troops on city property or flying the U.N. flag from the city flagpole. The language detailing how supporters of the United Nations would be publicly identified, taxed and ostracized was struck.
Still, the World Comes Calling
Although LaVerkin has found a way to highlight itself on the political map, it is still just a friendly, one-stoplight town in the desert. Local activists say they lament the "liberal media's" negative coverage, but they mostly don't hesitate to talk to reporters. They are the first to say that this ordinance is part of a broader nationwide effort to take back the government and reinstate their values.
It's not clear how far they'll get. Attorney General Shurtleff did not visit LaVerkin's city council by accident. Preparing for the Olympics in Salt Lake City, the state of Utah has made explicit efforts to contain some of its more isolationist and reactionary elements.
Best known is the recent conviction of a man for polygamy, the first such prosecution in years. This September, Shurtleff wrote to the mayor of Virgin, advising him that it is illegal to require citizens to own guns. But it is LaVerkin's ordinance that is especially embarrassing for the state; the Olympic torch is scheduled to pass through town on its way out of Zion National Park.
"I can't go anywhere now without someone jabbing me about LaVerkin," sighs McKell, the councilman who opposed the ordinance. "We will laugh about this someday, I hope, but we're not laughing about it now."