John Birch Society Goes After Agenda 21

Agenda_21_and_John_Birch_Society_kencf0618Maybe it’s the name that does it. Roll it over a few times on your tongue and you’ll find that Agenda 21 has a polarizing effect. For those who foresee shrinking icecaps, diminishing resources and rising tides from increasing population and unsustainable methods and industries, the concept of Agenda 21 provides direction. It offers a game plan – an agenda of sorts – for a sustainable future in the 21st century.

But for those who distrust outside control, particularly through the consensus of world governments, Agenda 21 – a concept, in fact, authored through the United Nations – speaks to the basest of fears in this country: the dread of being shackled by communism.

So it is no surprise that the John Birch Society (JBS) has picked up the baton recently to wage a grassroots war against Agenda 21. JBS, which describes itself as “being dedicated to restoring and preserving freedom under the United States Constitution,” says the U.N.’s plan is an effort to “establish control over all human activity.”

“The UN is at the hub of a global network working to submerge the independence of all nations in a world government controlled by the elites,” reports JBS on its website, “and JBS calls for the U.S. to get out of the U.N.”

The John Birch Society’s objection to the U.N. is no surprise. The JBS was founded on the principle of opposing communism – or what its members believe exemplified communist ideology in the late 1950s, a time when such battles were considered by some to be defining moments of the country’s future.

Of its many endeavors, JBS, or John Birchers as its supporters were called, were best known for efforts to block dialogue with and peaceful recognition of the communist Soviet Union during the 1950s. More recently, they have attempted to stop the country’s participation in a free-trade agreement in the Americas that JBS called “subversive,” and involvement in an economic North American Union agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that the JBS asserts would have “abolished our borders” with adjacent countries.

“There are many stages of “welfarism, socialism, and collectivism in general,” JBS’ founder, Robert Welch wrote, “but communism is the ultimate state of them all, and they all lead inevitably in that direction.” Within those leagues was lumped the civil rights movement, which the organization fervently rallied against in the 1960s, and the concept of a united league of nations, the U.N.

“The global power elites view the U.N. as their main vehicle for establishing, step by step, a socialistic global government controlled by themselves,” the JBS explains on its website.

Its members see efforts by the Obama administration to gain consensus regarding the dangers of global warming as “cooking the books” and the results of “environmentalist manipulation, lies and fear mongering,” words that appeal to those who may be uncomfortable with reaching out beyond their borders or forming consensus with other nations, as Agenda 21 purports.

First proposed at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio Janeiro in 1992 as a series of guidelines for improving global sustainable development, Agenda 21 (so named for the 21st century) has received varying support throughout the U.S. More than 500 U.S. cities are members of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, (now known as Local Governments for Sustainability) or ICLEI, a network of communities and governments committed to increasing sustainable development. U.S. signatories provide for more than half of the organization’s global membership.

But Agenda 21 has its critics as well, particularly here in the U.S., where in the words of radio personality, Glenn Beck, those who oppose its goals see Agenda 21 as an attempt to exert “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.”

“Yes, thousands of people traveled to Rio to spend 10 days formulating a plan to build bike paths and farmers markets,” JBS’ regional field director, Hal Shurtleff expressed incredulously in a comment to’s recent article on the JBS’s efforts to stop Agenda 21,  “And you folks question our sanity?”

JBS’ success in undermining Americans’ confidence in Agenda 21 will likely not be based on conspiracy theories or disputes over the genuine reason for a global conference on sustainability in 2002. It will come from its ability to seed fear in readers who believe that the quintessential values of their American life are at risk.

To that end, JBS has assembled an Agenda 21 Project Page of videos, talking points and petitions to mobilize homeowners and readers against any “related sustainable development laws and ordinances” in their communities.

“(The) UN’s Local Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community,” the website says, warning that its arrival to U.S. communities may signal the end of personal freedoms, such as the ability to travel, own a gas-fuelled automobile or even raise a family.

“(It) would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain,” the JBS asserts. It’s a bold claim, and one that the organization knows it can’t actually prove.

But for U.S. property owners that have already seen their resources diminished by environmental changes, rising taxes, and an escalating cost of living, hard data means little. The issue they will be asking is whether sustainability programs  based on Agenda 21 yield a better way of life for their present-day communities. And as the John Birch Society sees it, the answer is a resounding “no.”

As for the global community, Agenda 21 is still far from an adopted program. While many may not step in league with the principles of far-right organizations like JBS, there are many who question whether placing faith in a program that promotes governmental oversight of resources and procedures holds the key to ensuring the earth’s ecological future. It will be interesting to see whether the Agenda 21 legacy endures.

Image courtesy of Kenneth Freeman.

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

9 responses

  1. Here we go again!….

    See these previous articles:

    Origin of Sustainability Movement Leads to Current Challenges – Individual components of sustainability have come together, but were initiated and promoted by separate advocates and frames of reference. This article provides some historical foundation behind today’s reality: while we all acknowledge the need for equity between economic, social and environmental concerns and work passionately to promote it, the sustainability movement continues to struggle….

    State of Alabama “Bans” Sustainable Development (aka “Agenda 21″) – The folks in Alabama have just passed a law that says quite clearly that they don’t want anything
    to do with sustainability. Though they might not have any problem with clean air and water and all that, it seems to be the planning for it that is the problem. Because planning, after all, is apparently what communists do…..

    Now, consider what the largest private landowner in the United States has come to think about sustainability and the United Nations:

    Ted Turner’s case for the UN – Why does the United Nations matter and why is the world body still irreplaceable? Because modern civilization as we know it would not exist without the United Nations, U.S. media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner contends in a new book by veteran environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson. “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” explores how the owner of the Time Warner empire evolved from being an ardent capitalist to becoming convinced that “the world’s wealthiest have a moral obligation to give back to society,” writes Wilkinson in the U.N. Foundation blog. “As Ted says in the book, most of the challenges facing humanity and the natural world — population, social justice issues, climate change, the biodiversity crisis and even the nuclear threat — are at their core related to poverty, inequality and environmental degradation,” the author adds. That “triple bottom line,” according to Wilkinson, is practiced “at scale” by the so-called “green businessman”….

  2. This is the issue that refuses to die. Agenda 21 is nothing more than a set of suggestions. It has absolutely nothing to do with giving any authority any sort of power, especially the UN. Just because it was written by the UN, the fruitcakes have lost their mind over it and are now knee-jerk suspicious of any form of land use policies – 99% of which have nothing to do with anyone’s private home anyway.

  3. Terrible, lazy article. What is the point of repeating conspiracy theorist talking points, when you don’t even both to interview them or the experts who can quickly debunk this hogwash? The article is also about two years too late: this issue has been well-covered on the blogosphere and mainstream media, and it’s losing steam as a topic because, when you’re fighting an issue that doesn’t really exist, (U.N. control of communities via Agenda 21) it’s hard to stay motivated to fight. There are actually *real* issues in America that we have to contend with.

    This author seems to think that Agenda 21 is really an actual active program at work in America. Too bad she did so little investigation. News flash: the U.N.’s 20-year-old plan never caught on here! Instead, local governments and communities decide for themselves what types of places they want to create. They make their own plans and set their own goals, and nonprofits like ICLEI help them achieve their own goals, not someone else’s. And yes, many communities have decided that “sustainability” is a good thing — ensuring that their children and grandchildren have the same quality of life as they themselves do today. Very controversial!

    That’s what’s so frustrating about the anti-Agenda 21 crowd: They never catch on that sustainability is really just common sense. This article fails to convey that as well, or any true sense of what this topic is about.

    1. Thanks for everyone’s comments!

      Don: Thanks for your criticism, but I think we have a misunderstanding. This wasn’t an attempt to explain sustainability, its benefits or the many programs and industries that exemplify its goals. I believe many of my other articles strive toward that goal already.

      This was about the perspectives of the John Birch Society toward sustainable development, in particular the goals of Agenda 21. Whether you or I build our lives around Agenda 21, JBS seems to feel it is important enough issue to (still) place it front and centre on its website and use (questionably, as you point out) as a means for knocking down the viability of sustainable development.

      As to your comment that Agenda 21 is a 20-year-old program, I agree, and you may be right about its limited life span. That was the point of my closing remark that it’ll be interesting to see whether Agenda 21’s legacy continues. If communities in the States have found pathways to sustainability without the UN-supported program, great. But I’m not sure JBS is convinced that it isn’t still a good model by which to prove that working together with other nations for a more environmentally efficient and supportive world won’t work. Personally, like you, I’ve seen enough to feel that sustainable development really does make a difference.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      1. This is the *John Birch Society* you’re talking about, as if they aren’t a loony organization, as if their theories and conspiracies deserve mainstream consideration. Is it really newsworthy as an issue because JBS puts it on their website homepage? If this were 40 years ago, would you write a respectful article about how JBS opposes civil rights for African Americans, and how we should consider this worthwhile point of view?

        You’ve taken the JBS talking points and repeated them in an article, given them credence, and accepted their framing of sustainability as THE framing, when it’s a fringe framing and conspiracy theory, and then no mainstream counterpoint at all. That’s why I criticized this article.

        1. Hi Don: I don’t know where you live, but one of the reasons I chose to do this article is because if you live in semi-remote rural areas of the U.S. you find that it is anything but a dead issue and in fact, very much a current conversation and point of view. And the issues of what drives policies and attitudes toward sustainability are decided as much around the farmhouse kitchen table and local early-morning coffee venues as the workshops, organic coops and Starbucks in the city. JBS’s highlighting and attack of Agena 21 (and certainly its views on the United Nations) is a current topic in deep rural areas, including by people who also look for info on alternative perspectives, such as on this site.

          As to “respectable” approaches: I think that is what gets people to look and listen many times, (including airing JBS’ own recent and past statements). It’s the history and facts of what they have said that are important here, not any anger a journalist may feel about an issue. By talking about this we’ve already laid a foundation for others to question and become informed about this topic.

          Thanks again for writing. Comments are always valued.

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