How the Tea Party Thinks Sustainable Development Is an International Conspiracy to Take Away Our Personal Freedoms
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First, they took on the political establishment in Congress. Now, tea partiers have trained their sights on a new and insidious target: local planning and zoning commissions, which activists believe are carrying out a global conspiracy to trample American liberties and force citizens into Orwellian "human habitation zones."
At the root of this plot is the admittedly sinister-sounding Agenda 21, an 18-year-old UN plan to encourage countries to consider the environmental impacts of human development. Tea partiers see Agenda 21 behind everything from a septic tank inspection law in Florida to a plan in Maine to reduce traffic on Route 1. The issue even flared up briefly during the midterms, when Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused his Democratic opponent of using a bike-sharing program to convert Denver into a "United Nations Community."
Agenda 21 paranoia has swept the tea party scene, driving activists around the country to delve into the minutiae of local governance. And now that the midterm elections are over, they're descending on planning meetings and transit debates, wielding PowerPoints about Agenda 21, and generally freaking out low-level bureaucrats with accusations about their roles in a supposed international conspiracy.
Virginia activist Donna Holt is among those who believe that Agenda 21—unveiled during the UN's "Earth Summit" in 1992—is really a plot to curtail private property rights and deprive Americans of precious constitutional freedoms. In reality, the document will do nothing of the sort, but it has nevertheless been the target of conspiracy-minded UN haters for years. Holt and other tea partiers are taking their cues from people like Henry Lamb, a WorldNetDaily columnist and founder of Sovereignty International and Freedom21, groups designed to fight Agenda 21 and its ilk. He has been arguing for decades that the UN is secretly plotting to herd humans into crowded cities so that the rest of the world can be devoted to wildlife preservation. (Lamb declined to comment for this story because back Mother Jones once included him in a story called Wingnuts in Sheep's Clothing, and another article that described his role in Astroturf lobbying against the Kyoto treaty.)
Holt has also has relied on the research of Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center and a climate change denier whose group has been funded by Exxon. DeWeese's organization hosted a conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, this summer attended by many tea partiers, which featured sessions on Agenda 21. Schooled by such activists, Holt, the Virginia coordinator of Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, has set to work spreading the word about Agenda 21 and the evils of sustainable development. She's finding a very receptive audience among tea party groups, who she believes are going to make sustainable development the next target of their activism.
"I'm overwhelmed with tea party leaders who have asked me to come and speak to their groups," she says. "They're calling on me to form a coalition, to put up a dedicated website." She says tea partiers understand that "there is a global agenda to actually abolish private property and abolish the Constitution for that matter." If sustainable development is fully implemented, she says, "This basically will turn us into a Soviet state."
In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory "human habitation zones." They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban "hobbit homes" and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).