“It’s the age of the Tea Party, all government is bad. That’s why they threw an amazing, award-winning plan into the trash.”

Conspiracy theories are, generally, harmless. They may become a target of unhealthy obsession for their advocates, but they usually don’t harm anyone else in and of themselves. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes conspiracy theorists can harm the people, and world, around them.

Agenda 21: a non-binding UN resolution calling for sustainable development. Passed in 1992 and signed by many world leaders, including George H. W. Bush.

But if you ask conspiracy theorists, Agenda 21 is something far more sinister. It’s a threat to American sovereignty, it’s a plot to take away your property, it’s going to destroy the Constitution!

And that’s why people fought an award-winning development plan in Baldwin County, Alabama and killed it in 2012. Smart growth and urban development had become something more:

“This battle is more than just planning,” the county commission’s chairman, Robert James, said that day. “This is to protect the Constitution of the United States and what’s in it and, to me, even the Ten Commandments that God gave us.”

In attacking the Baldwin County comprehensive plan, James, the county commission chairman, invoked the names of Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Mussolini, and how their “plans, guides, outlines” resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

The Zoning and Planning Commission quit in response to the defeat.

Planning and Zoning people who had never even heard of Agenda 21 were accused of advancing it.

And what replaced the comprehensive planning document?

“The new plan,” he added, “is more direct and to the point and just easier to understand. It’s more concise. Our United States Constitution is a pretty short document, too.”

Ah yes, why have comprehensive planning when you can just be short? After all, the Constitution is short, and catchy too (please read that video’s description, by the way, since it’s incredibly random)

The committee’s plan was, like the non-binding Agenda 21, not a law. It was just a guide to future development.

Alabama legislators were so scared of this non-binding resolution that they banned any attempt to “adopt or implement policy recommendations that deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict property rights without due process.” Which was not even what was happening: it was just a development guide. Property seizures were already banned, according to the SPLC. They were afraid of an enemy that did not exist.

If any specific claim about Agenda 21 is made, it’s that people will be valued less than animals, they may have to live in designated zones, or that they may ask that you use buses instead of cars. But most commonly it’s a typically vague threat against the Constitution, supported with hyperbolic comparisons:

Ricky Richardson, of Fairhope, Ala., said Agenda 21 and Horizon 2025 is a “duplicate” and worried about “Americans that kept their blinders on, and when they were marching them into the rail cars they still didn’t understand what had happened to them.”

Sustainable development: just like the Holocaust.

Another speaker compared Horizon 2025 to The Communist Manifesto and pointed out that Karl Marx’s handiwork was supposed to be merely a guide, too. “Can the plan,” he urged. “It’s draconian. Can that baby.”

Karl Marx made plans. Ergo, all plans are communist plots.

Then the plan was killed, the audience cheered and filled the room with a warbled version of “God Bless America.”

It’s not just Alabama. In Mother Jones, an Agenda 21 opponent is quoted as saying:

“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 winter 2012 the Republican National Committee came out against Agenda 21, even while accurately noting that it’s a non-binding resolution.

It’s been fought in Maine and Virginia. In Tampa, Florida, Agenda 21 was cited in a successful attempt to kill a measure approving road improvements and light rail. Bills to ban Agenda 21 (again, a non-binding set of resolutions) appeared in Missouri and Arizona.

How did a non-binding sustainable development plan from 1992 get revived? The John Birch Society, for one, but its main modern opponent was Glenn Beck, who even wrote a dystopian novel about it:

“I was just a baby when we were relocated and I don’t remember much. Everybody has that black hole at the beginning of their life. That time you can’t remember. Your first step. Your first taste of table food. My real memories begin in our assigned living area in Compound 14.”

Just a generation ago, this place was called America. Now, after the worldwide implementation of a UN-led program called Agenda 21, it’s simply known as “the Republic.” There is no president. No Congress. No Supreme Court. No freedom.

Fear of Agenda 21 caused people to protest development projects that like would have helped their communities. Representative David McKinley amended the National Defense Authorization Act to add that:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order

Federally, no defense funds may used on, again, a non-binding UN resolution from 1992.

And all this over a non-binding resolution that was supported by a Republican President.

Still not Literally Stalin.
Still not Literally Stalin.

But it’s just one expression of the hyperbolic, everything-is-tyranny thinking ushered in by the Tea Party. Socialized healthcare will result in bureaucrats deciding if your relatives get to live. Setting minimal core curriculum standards for schools is a sinister takeover of education. And a two decade-old sustainable development plan will lead to Communism. These fears started in 2008 and have never abetted, despite the fact that we’re two years into his second term and Barack Obama hasn’t shredded the Constitution, taken away everyone’s guns or turned the US into a new Soviet Union.

Then there’s the fear of a one-world government. It appears that the UN just making recommendations to many countries including the US is somehow a ploy to take over the US. In modern American politics, other countries offer a source for fear mongering, not examples to follow.

Ironically, Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists are probably the people with the most faith in the UN. After all, they believe a largely ineffectual organization can take over the world’s most powerful country through zoning committees. Conspiracy theorists always have more faith in the powers of societal organizations than anyone else.

Conspiracy theories are irrational things. But when they impact the real world, they have the possibility to do real harm.