Florida right-wing groups are up in arms over a 19-year-old initiative launched by the United Nations in an effort to promote sustainable development in communities all over the world. The groups are convinced the U.S. is being held hostage in a secret plot by the U.N. to steal our sovereignty and individual property rights — and the belief is seeping into mainstream Florida politics.
Groups like the Citrus County Tea Party, the West Orlando Tea Party, Tea Party Manatee, Bear Witness Central in Jacksonville and other groups of concerned individuals from around the state have had their eye on the U.N.’s “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development” and its “Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests” — also known as Agenda 21.
The initiative is a non-binding program that provides local communities that seek to grow in a manner that is kind to the environment with resources such as grant and conference announcements.
The organization that provides these resources is the International Council for Local and Environmental Initiatives (known as ICLEI). Almost 600 cities all over the United States are “global members” of ICLEI, including more than 30 cities, municipalities and counties in Florida.
Among the ICLEI members in Florida is South Miami. South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard says that ICLEI has provided his city with information that helps the city move toward more environmentally friendly practices.
“They help connect you with people that let you know about grants, and conferences,” Stoddard explains.
But some conservative groups are convinced the initiative is a plot by the U.N. to take away the United State’ sovereignty and citizens’ property rights. These folks are also taking their concerns to local government meetings to “tutor” local officials about what their sustainable growth plans really are.
Stoddard says the paranoia is completely unfounded; he says ICLEI has no authority over its members.
“ICLEI simply provides resources for communities looking to improve their sustainability codes,” he says.
While the genesis of this recent upsurge in Agenda 21 paranoia is unclear, the subject was fodder for a few national right-wing conspiracy theories from the likes of Alex Jones and former Fox News host Glenn Beck. Jones has propagated many controversial theories, including “9/11 truth” ideas.
In June, Beck said on his now-canceled Fox News program that Agenda 21’s plan for sustainable development is really just a means of instituting “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.” Beck said the plan “is a massive movement, and its real intentions are being masked with environmental issues.”
“This structure was set up by those who want to set up a global government system,” he said. “They wanted to set this structure up years ago.”
Beck argues that local governments are going to try to control populations under the guise of environment protection with marching orders given by the U.N.
In 2009, American Thinker, a daily online conservative magazine, featured an article that described some of the most frequently heard theories from the right. The piece describes Agenda 21 as an “amalgamation of socialism and extreme environmentalism brushed with anti-American, anti-capitalist overtones.”
Smart growth plans usurp property rights and constitutional rights. Local officials, at the behest of State Government, revise zoning laws to fit into a “smart code” zoning template. A massive reshuffling of property rights ensues. Farmers may lose subdivision rights; conservation land adjacent to population centers may be rezoned into commercial employment centers; and low-density land in small towns is re-designated as growth area and rezoned to accommodate diverse housing including high-density apartments and condominiums.
Finally, a healthy dose of federal- or state-sponsored housing initiatives is embraced to ensure communities are properly balanced. The net effect of these plans is to create highly urbanized population centers throughout otherwise-rural counties, while simultaneously limiting the availability of land for suburban and estate subdivisions, as these are considered an unsustainable waste of land by Agenda 21 disciples.
The article warns that, “regardless of political orientation, two indisputable facts remain.” One: “Agenda 21 is a direct assault on private property rights and American sovereignty.” And two: “It is coming to a neighborhood near you.”
Right-wing activists in Florida have acted on such fears by calling on state legislators to repeal a septic tank inspection bill, for example.
Tea party members in Citrus County fought new restrictions on boating and fishing proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Kings Bay. The restrictions were imposed to protect manatees in the bay (the animals are facing a high number of deaths due to boating activity), but they threw the Citrus County Tea Party into a full-on protest.
“We cannot elevate nature above people,” explained Edna Mattos, 63, leader of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots, in an interview. “That’s against the Bible and the Bill of Rights.”
Federal officials “want to restrict the entire bay,” she contended. “They don’t want people here.”
Last week, Mattos, who says she has 800 members signed up on her group’s website, and other tea party members picketed outside a public hearing on the new rules. Because they weren’t allowed to bring their signs inside, she said, “my anger took over” and she sent a sharply worded e-mail to thousands of tea party members across Florida, urging them to write to Congress to block the Fish and Wildlife Service.
To Mattos, what the agency has proposed will erode private property rights. She predicted they will prevent people who own waterfront land from tying up boats at their docks “because you can’t have anything that interferes with the manatee because they’ll get trampled on.”
Mayor Stoddard says that ICLEI is an “information service, not command and control from Geneva.” He also says that the people up in arms about ICLEI are “raging loons.”
“These are the guys that wear aluminum foil hats,” he says. “They have completely lost touch with reality.”
The rhetoric is hardly exclusive to a handful of right-wing activists.
This past month, Senate candidates George LeMieux, Mike McCalister, Craig Miller and Adam Hasner took part in a debate hosted by the Central Florida Tea Party and the Florida Family Policy. Each candidate stood behind the tea party’s anti-sustainable growth stance, because they say they want to protect the country’s “sovereignty.”
The candidates were posed this question by Clyde Fabretti of the West Orlando Tea Party during the debate:
The sovereignty of America and the sanctity of our individual property rights are being threatened by America’s involvement in the United Nations’ globalist subsidiary the International Council for Local and Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). ICLEI and the U.N. have circumvented our congress and our constitutions for direct relationships with 600 U.S. cities and over 41 local Florida governments to persuade them to adopt U.N. foreign policy initiatives such as Agenda 21, which separates private property from its rightful owners under the label of “sustainable development.” If elected to the U.S. Senate, would you take specific legislative action to remove this threat to America’s sovereignty and our individual property rights under ICLEI — and if so, how would you do that?
“The United Nations is a corrupt organization,” Hasner said. “I believe that we should not be jeopardizing America’s sovereignty … through the admission into these types of globalist organizations and international organizations.”
McCalister received a big round of applause when he answered, “We must stay sovereign in this country and we do not need the U.N., or any other country, telling us how to run this place and certainly not trying to tell us where we are going to live with their ‘one world government’ concept and trying to take away our guns.”
“We need people to wake up and realize there is an effort afoot to take away our God-given rights,” LeMieux warned.
“When I started learning about this silent invasion of our country’s sovereignty,” Miller said, “I literally was flabbergasted.”