In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the Rio Earth Summit’s Agenda 21 goals for sustainable communities. The black helicopters are landing on your golf course…. (More)

GOP Adopts John Birch Society’s Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theory

This week Morning Feature will consider a number of scientific questions with political and social implications. Yesterday we pondered physicist Brian Greene’s new book The Hidden Reality and what multiple universes would imply for our sense of meaning. Today we explore the Republican Party’s acceptance of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory in response to the scientific consensus on climate change. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with animal consciousness and the role of science in a democratic society.

What Is Agenda 21, Really?

It’s not a secret. In fact, you can read the Agenda 21 document at the United Nations website. Its Preamble begins:

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.

The Preamble and subsequent chapters describe a set of voluntary projects to encourage sustainable development, guidelines to help local and national governments cooperate in building for the 21st century. Although the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development and supported non-governmental organizations work together to track local and national efforts and provide a clearinghouse for successful ideas, Agenda 21 is non-binding, with no mandates or penalties except those passed by local or national governments.

Enter the Absurd

In other words, it’s an insidious plot to abolish “golf courses, grazing lands, and paved roads.” Seemingly innocuous bike lanes and energy-efficient light bulbs are the first step down the slippery slope to killing baby girls to limit population growth and herding everyone into ecocities that take away private cars and force people onto mass transit so government can control when and where they go. And if you do sneak off on your own, they’ll track you with the implanted microchip.

And here I thought I wanted a bike lane so I could ride to the local supermarket without getting hit by cars zipping along at 55-mph on a two-lane road. Silly me.

If this nonsense were only internet rumors and the occasional Republican Senate candidate, that would be one thing. But in January the Republican National Committee officially endorsed the raving and recommended it for inclusion in the party’s 2012 platform.

Yes, a conspiracy theory born in the John Birch Society is now the official policy of the Republican Party. To put that in perspective, consider that Agenda 21 opponent and Tea Party activist Victoria Baer said in April that “We should have left him in Hanoi with Jane Fonda … he is a traitor, a pure traitor.”

She was referring to John McCain, the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee. His crime: supporting ethanol subsidies, at least until he changed his mind and called them “the greatest rip-off that I’ve seen since P.T. Barnum.”

Over the Cliff

To explore how the Republican Party ran off the Bircher cliff, ThinkProgress writer Stephen Lacey shared an extensive interview with Southern Poverty Law Center researcher Mark Potok:

SL: But they’ve made a resurgence in recent years. What do they represent today? How are they becoming aligned with supposedly more mainstream Conservatives? And how have they regained a foothold in politics?

MP: It is hard to understand exactly how the John Birch Society has made itself more palatable to “mainstream” conservatives. The John Birch society began to reappear in a fairly significant way back in the 1990s when virtually every gun show in America, or every large gun show, had a booth with the organization. Back then, they were very heavily promoting the militia movement, as well as various conspiracies they believed the federal government was involved in. Then they sort of went quiet with the rest of the militia movement, which more or less petered out at the end of the 1990s. And in the last few years they have suddenly reappeared with quite remarkable success.

So the real answer to your question is that I do not quite understand how the John Birch Society has gotten so many city councils and county commissions and even state legislatures to listen to their nonsense. But they have. I suspect that it is related less to them having a huge amount of money or enormous numbers of people, and more to do with the idea that we’ve become so polarized politically as a nation that this kind of tripe really sells today. You know, what is most astounding of all is that the Republican National Committee has adopted oppositions to Agenda 21 as a core part of its platform and has asked that Mitt Romney include it as a part of his convention platform when the GOP convention gathers later this month.

I don’t entirely agree with Potok’s analysis. Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society, and his sons Charles and David donated at least $12 million to Tea Party groups Americans for Prosperity, Freedomworks, and Citizens for a Sound Economy. That kind of money, only a small slice of the Koch brothers’ political contributions, can buy a lot of political influence.

Still, I agree there’s more than money involved. Later in the interview Potok discusses how changing demographics in the U.S., the Great Recession, and other factors have combined to send conservatives off the cliff. The interview is worth reading in full.

Note: Yesterday Family Research Council president Tony Perkins blamed the SPLC for the shooting at FRC’s headquarters this week, saying the SPLC gave the gunman a “license to shoot.” Guns are sacrosanct, but a group that monitors hate speech and hate crimes is dangerous.

As we discussed in May, research shows Republicans are more likely than Democrats to reject scientific evidence that disputes their ideology. And as we discussed in March, conspiracy theories thrive on an unwavering belief that The Official Story Is Not The Truth. Put the two together and out pops the Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theory: voluntary guidelines for sustainable development morphed into a U.N. plot to impose a One World Government, where a bike trail in your neighborhood is the first step toward banning golf and government-mandated microchip implants.

I wonder if They monitor me on Wii….

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Happy Friday!