Hatewatch

Tennessee House Falls Victim to 'Agenda 21' Conspiracy Theory

Editor’s Note: The Tennessee House of Representatives passed the resolution condemning Agenda 21 by a vote of 72-23 on March 15.

In a new sign of antigovernment extremism creeping into the political mainstream, the Tennessee House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on a resolution condemning Agenda 21, a non-binding United Nations plan for sustainable development.

In the world of far-right extremists, Agenda 21 is demonized as a sort of Trojan horse, part of a larger scheme to shatter Americans’ liberties and institute a totalitarian, one-world government known typically as the “New World Order.”

Of course, this bears no relation to the facts. Actually, the U.N. agreement is a rather benign, non-binding plan calling for governments to develop plans to meet current needs for natural resources without threatening the survival of future generations. It was adopted by 178 governments, including the U.S. under President George H.W. Bush, 20 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

But to the John Birch Society (JBS), one of the main groups promoting the conspiracy theory about Agenda 21, it represents the end of America as we know it. This is the same group, of course, that claimed President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a secret communist.

In a big win for this big lie, the Republican National Committee (RNC) in January passed a resolution condemning Agenda 21 and calling for policymakers to be made aware of its “destructive strategies for ‘sustainable development.’” The RNC voted to give copies of its resolution to all Republican members of Congress as well as to the party’s presidential and congressional candidates. It also recommended that the anti-Agenda 21 policy be adopted in the party platform at the 2012 convention.

The Tennessee legislative proposal follows similar resolutions passed in New Jersey and North Carolina counties earlier this year.

“Is it a Communist plot to tell a landowner he can’t put a smelting plant in a residential neighborhood?” mused Bill Williams, 77, editor emeritus of The Post-Intelligencer of Paris, Tenn., in an editorial critical of the resolution last week. “Yet accusations of a U.N. plot have risen over non-partisan efforts in this state to set aside natural areas or to establish land trusts to protect areas that have scenic, historical or cultural significance.”

Parts of the state resolution are taken word-for-word from model legislation produced by JBS, he noted.

Joe McCarthy, “the senator who saw a Communist plot behind every door, could well be the guardian angel” of the legislative move “to label environmental planning as a scheme to take away citizens’ property rights,” Williams wrote.

In an interview with Hatewatch, Williams said the Tennessee legislature has taken a more conservative tack in recent years.

“It’s a ridiculous measure, but it’s looking like they are at least half-way serious about it,” he told Hatewatch. “I’m afraid it has a good chance of passing.”

The JBS website is chock full of information promoting its “Stop Agenda 21” project. It pushes a new “action kit” that can be used for organizing against Agenda 21. It also gives news about scheduled lectures and seminars, some of which are sponsored by Tea Party groups. In addition, the site boasts of a recent alleged blizzard of local government withdrawals  from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, a group that claims more than 1,200 local government members from 70 nations. It is committed to sustainable development and provides technical consulting and training for members.

Among the antigovernment extremists who have presented frequent seminars around the country or latched onto anti-Agenda 21 propaganda to advance their causes are Tom DeWeese, head of the American Policy Center and creator of the new “action kit” at the JBS website; Phyllis Schlafly, a pioneering, virulently anti-feminist organizer and founder of the Eagle Forum; the Oath Keepers, a “Patriot” organization that encourages police officers and soldiers to disobey orders they believe are unconstitutional; and the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that promotes a second Southern secession.