By Jeanne Starmack
The John Birch Society, a once-prominent radical-right political organization that had all but disappeared, is making a comeback.
It’s evident, too, that its views, once shunned by mainstream Republicans, are making their way into the heart of GOP politics.
A JBS speaker will appear at a public meeting at the Sharon city building at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The group has sent speakers to meetings throughout the country over the past year. They’re warning that a 20-year-old, nonbinding United Nations accord that promotes sustaining Earth’s resources is threatening U.S. citizens’ rights and freedom.
At its winter meeting in January, the Republican National Committee also adopted a resolution to expose the accord, which is called U.N. Agenda 21. The RNC wants its resolution adopted into the Republican Party Platform at this year’s convention.
Agenda 21 was adopted in Rio de Janeiro on June 14, 1992.
Its preamble says: “This process marks the beginning of a new global partnership for sustainable development.”
In its introduction, it calls for considering the environment and natural resources when making decisions about economic growth.
The agenda calls for changes in consumption patterns, stating that unsustainable lifestyles of richer societies place “immense stress” on the environment, while poor societies struggle to meet basic needs. It recommends devising a strategy that meets the needs of the poor while reducing waste.
But what is the United Nations’ agenda? The JBS believes it is an ominous one.
“The John Birch Society wants to get the U.N. out of the U.S.,” said John Beveridge, leader of the Mercer County chapter, which has about a dozen members. “We believe in sovereign nations.”
His chapter scheduled the Tuesday meeting. City Manager Scott Andrejchak said the chapter is just using the council meeting room, and the city does not endorse the group’s message.
Here’s what JBS wants people to know: Individual choice is being taken away in the name of resource sustainability. What does that have to do with Agenda 21? Are there specific passages in the accord that threaten free choice in America?
Beveridge acknowledged he has not read it.
“I haven’t studied it. It’s 1,000 pages,” he said. He has, however, read a JBS booklet that outlines what Birchers believe is the hidden Agenda 21.
“Rising prices, high electric bills, water shortages, and a scarce supply of gasoline at the pump,” reads the introduction to the booklet.
“These are but a few examples of some of the conditions that the United States has faced in the past, but just for one moment, imagine how you would feel if the next time they happened they were a direct result of government policy.”
The introduction goes on to warn of local government sustainability boards that ration natural resources. The local sustainability boards exist now, the booklet points out.
In fact, there are 550 local governments throughout the U.S. that belong to the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, which is based in Bonn, Germany.
ICLEI’s website indicates its members are committed to sustainable development. It provides technical consulting, training, and information services.
It was founded in 1990, two years before Agenda 21 was signed, pointed out Hal Shurtleff, Midwest-Northeast field director for the JBS.
“ICLEI was set up two years before the Rio conference with the purpose of implementing Agenda 21,” Shurtleff said.
“You have people all over the U.S. buying into ‘man-made global warming’ and ‘We’re running out of everything!’” he said.
As a result, he said, governments are subsidizing green-energy projects such as windmills and solar panels, using taxpayers’ dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The assertion that global warming is man-made, he believes, is based on bad science.
Shurtleff used the town of Dedham, Mass., an ICLEI member, as an example.
“It hired an environmental-science major as an environmental officer to lessen its carbon footprint,” he said. “So they joined ICLEI, and you get money from the federal government to subsidize windmills, water restrictions, green-building codes, conservation easements and rezoning so you can lose your property rights — you can’t chop a tree down,” he said.
Is there an outcry in Dedham over the sustainability drive?
“We’re starting the outcry,” Shurtleff said.
Dedham’s website shows its environmental department promoting Friday as “bike to work day.” Under a “climate change” heading, there are tips for “going green” such as recycling, getting energy audits and installing motion detectors.
Why would ICLEI push Agenda 21 to get the government to subsidize green projects?
Power and money, said Shurtleff. “Most people are in it for profit.”
Shurtleff emphasized he has “nothing against windmills.” But, he said, the private sector should fund them.
Shurtleff said there are no specific passages in Agenda 21 that overtly call for government rationing of resources. “Smart growth” and “sustainable development” are watchwords, he said — clues that Agenda 21 is at work.
Shurtleff also rustled the dust of JBS’ past, calling the policies of Agenda 21 “socialist” and “collectivist.”
Established in 1958 to fight Communism, the organization hasn’t lost its anticommunist views just because the Cold War is over, he said.
It has lost some of its views, or at least downplayed them, through the decades, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization that monitors extreme-right political groups.
“[JBS] gave up anti-Semitism in the 1960s and tries to hide its anti-black history,” Potok said, adding that it now focuses on conspiracy theories. “Today, they are a strange little group.”
When the group accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a communist agent, “it was the end of them being taken seriously in the 1970s and ’80s,” Potok said.
In the 1990s, the JBS made a resurgence, with members attending gun shows and militia events, he said.
They have appeared at tea party events, though there is no evidence the tea party is aligned with them, he said.
Potok said the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory fits in with the JBS’ “very old fear” of globalization — this idea that we freedom-loving people would be forced into some hellish government tyranny.”
“The problem is, it distorts any kind of real attempt to deal with our problems as a society,” he continued.
He called Agenda 21 “a feel-good plan.”
“It is utterly nonbinding,” he said. “The real point is, it doesn’t make anyone do anything.”
Potok said the RNC’s recommendation that its resolution exposing Agenda 21 be adopted into the party platform means the cause would be taken up by Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presumptive presidential candidate.
That, he said, shows how far right the mainstream Republican Party has moved since Republican President George H.W. Bush signed Agenda 21 along with leaders of 177 other countries.