Agenda 21: Conspiracy theory or threat? Commissioners to decide

gastongazette.com | Jan 25, 2012

by Michael Barrett

The Gaston County Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution condemning Agenda 21 during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Gaston County Courthouse, 325 N. Marietta St., Gastonia.

When Gaston County commissioners sound an alarm tonight for Americans to wake up and guard against a subversive, sinister threat of global political control, they know many people will scratch their heads.

Others, said Commission Chairman Donnie Loftis, may consider their warning about the “insidious nature of Agenda 21” to be an overreaction.

“I realize there will be folks who say, ‘You guys are drinking the Kool-Aid,” he said.

But Loftis believes the county’s resolution “to heighten awareness of Agenda 21’s impact on communities in the United States” is necessary to shed light on a nefarious United Nations initiative.

On the surface, Agenda 21 is a 1992 blueprint for communities worldwide to use in achieving “sustainable development.” Critics, however, allege it’s a ploy to strangle the American way of life by reducing private property rights, and instilling harsh zoning restrictions and socialist philosophies into local government planning.

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“The point is, this is something people do need to know about because it’s happening in other parts of the country,” said Commissioner Tracy Philbeck, who referred to Agenda 21 as a “Marxist weapon.’”

“More people need to be aware of what could be implemented here if we’re not careful,” Philbeck said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the resolution during their 6 p.m. meeting, as part of the consent agenda.

Roadmap for growth

The United Nations adopted Agenda 21 two decades ago as a global initiative to combat climate change. It endorses practices such as the preservation of green spaces, the availability of good transportation choices, and the prevention of urban sprawl.

President George H.W. Bush agreed to back the initiative in 1992, and President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 1995 to create a council on sustainable development. But nothing about Agenda 21 is legally binding.

Today, a Google search on Agenda 21 will turn up any number of websites that broadcast the dangerous headway those philosophies are making into American society. Authors of that fear often come across as conspiracy theorists. But they warn that the nature of Agenda 21 as a dull topic is allowing it to fly under the radar and work its way into public policy, while raising minimal suspicion.

Members of the Greater Gaston Tea Party have become the most outspoken local critics of Agenda 21 in the last two years. They allege that its principles of extreme environmentalism are already showing up in Gastonia’s adopted plans for growth and development.

Philbeck, a Tea Party member, said Agenda 21’s influence can be seen in the concept of using eminent domain not for hospitals or highways, but for things such as greenways — something he opposes. His increasing familiarity with the subject led him to suggest that commissioners formally denounce Agenda 21 in a resolution.

Philbeck was spurred into action after hearing Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich warn that Agenda 21 could be used to seize the private property of American citizens.

“You know it’s huge when a presidential candidate is talking about it in a debate,” Philbeck said.

Valid fear or unfounded fantasy?

Agenda 21’s detractors have critics of their own, who say Gingrich and others are playing on conservative phobias.

Eric Heberlig, an associate professor of political science at UNC Charlotte, said he’s not thoroughly familiar with Agenda 21. But the objections to its principles are typical of conservatives who believe climate change is overblown, he said.

“The environmental movement represents the bad guys,” he said. “So anything they are for is seen as being suspicious, or a threat in terms of what their opponents want to see in public policy.”

To Agenda 21 opponents, terms like “sustainable growth,” “livable cities” and “green environments” seem to represent a shadowy, menacing threat, Heberlig said.

“We’re reacting to symbols here,” he said. “If the hippie environmentalists are for it and the United Nations is for it, it must be a bad thing.”

Philbeck points to websites such as democratsagainstunagenda21.com as evidence that conservative Republicans aren’t the only ones on alert.

“The folks who are pushing this thing want us to look fanatical,” he said. “That’s why I recommend people go and read Agenda 21 for themselves.”

Philbeck and Loftis said they aren’t against planning for growth and development in Gaston County, but doing so requires a delicate balance.

“It’s a fine line to balance growth without it being micromanaged by government,” Loftis said.

The resolution to be voted on Thursday decries Agenda 21 as “insidious” and having “underlying harmful implications, “destructive strategies” and “radical policies.” Its approval would put Gaston County on record and allow a copy to be sent to other county commissions across the state, and governors and agencies across the country.

“If there are not some checks and balances along the way, I think (Agenda 21) has the potential to involve a slow erosion of local control,” said Loftis. “We don’t want to give that authority away to someone away from here who has a bigger agenda.”

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