Aided By Trump, The Radical Right Resurrects Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theory
Most people now understand that global warming is real. Year after year of record-breaking land and sea temperatures, rapidly disintegrating glaciers and ice sheets, and intensifying severe weather — not to mention a recent UN report showing that the world has only 12 years left to avoid catastrophe — have made the truth of climate change obvious. Even among under-informed Americans, a new poll finds that 73 percent agree that global warming is happening.
But don’t tell that to the Oath Keepers, a conspiracy-minded anti-government group that is largely made up of active and retired law enforcement and military personnel. The group has just opened up a drive to bring new life to the old idea that the UN is using environmentalism to take over the world — or worse.
In a Feb. 12 newsletter to members, the Oath Keepers — who pledge to maintain their oaths to protect America from enemies “foreign and domestic” — said it would soon produce a “documentary” on a topic selected in a survey of its readers from a list of more than 100. The synopsis for the winning topic got right to the point. “Elites in governments around the world have joined with the United Nations in a war against Humanity,” it began. “They call this war Agenda 21.”
Agenda 21 is not a new fixation on the radical right.
Since the leaders of 178 nations, including then-President George H.W. Bush, signed the nonbinding UN sustainability plan in 1992, groups like the John Birch Society have pushed the idea that it is a cover for a globalist redistribution of wealth and the imposition of an unelected, socialist world government.
It reached the point where the Republican National Committee in January 2012 denounced Agenda 21 in a resolution as a “destructive and insidious scheme” meant to impose a “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth,” language taken directly from the Birchers. The state of Alabama passed a law aimed at halting its effects, and dozens of large and small government bodies around the nation passed resolutions and similar measures. But as evidence of global warming accumulated, enthusiasm for this particular conspiracy theory seemed to wane.
But not for the Oath Keepers.
“Evidence suggests that Agenda 21 is an action plan to confiscate arms, farms, forest lands, single-family homes and automobiles — a plan to replace capitalism with socialism and Constitutional principles with cultural Marxism and the 10 Planks of Communism,” the group’s recent newsletter claims. “In short,” it concludes later, “a plan to depopulate the world by 6 billion people and move the remaining survivors into ‘human settlements’ next to railway lines.”
Actually, the evidence suggests no such thing.
To be clear: Agenda 21 is a non-binding plan. It is not a treaty. It has no legally enforceable clauses. There is no money for its implementation. It cannot force anyone to do anything. In fact, it does not even encourage top-down planning — instead, it explicitly endorses planning from the grassroots. It does not call for any legal change in any country. It is a feel-good plan and nothing more.
But it plugs into some of the most enduring myths of the American radical right. While adding bicycle lanes, planning for future development, and trying to retain green spaces in urban areas might not seem like terrible things to many, to some they are merest the latest evidence of what wicked elites in government, the economy, and various international bodies are really up to. To them, such measures are simply continuing a tradition of federal activism, such as ending slavery and standing up for civil rights and diversity, that has blighted American history.
On the American radical right, which is particularly given to conspiracy claims, the Agenda 21 hysteria joined many other conspiracy theories: ideas like the claim that Islamic Shariah law is being imposed on American courts, or the government has a secret plan to seize Americans’ guns and throw good patriots into concentration camps, or gay men are busily “recruiting” young boys.
Eventually, some of these ideas fade in the face of facts and reality. But that salutary effect is largely canceled out when leading figures adopt and continue to popularize the mythology — as President Trump has repeatedly done with climate change, which he once infamously characterized as Chinese propaganda.
Last year, a Gallup poll found that Republicans believed climate change was a hoax at more than twice the rate that Democrats did — and that number had gone up since earlier in the Trump presidency. “President Trump, who has called global warming a ‘hoax,’ may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue,” the pollster wrote.
“This included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ from U.S. government websites and lexicons.”
It may seem obvious to most thinking persons that the evidence is in on climate change. But when leaders like Trump deny the facts and actively promote conspiracy theories, it can’t be much of a surprise that many others chime in. So perhaps the Oath Keepers aren’t wrong at all to support a totally groundless and destructive idea, given that the leader of the nation apparently agrees.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.
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