Friday, August 5, 2011

A Brief Glossary of Buzzwords that Terrify the Tea Party (and Why They are Ridiculous)

By David Roddy


Last month, national Tea Partisan in Chief Glenn Beck warned his television audience of a creeping threat to their liberty; a U.N. sustainable action plan ominously named “Agenda 21,” was taking over America:
“Reading through the pages [of Agenda 21], it becomes clear "sustainable development" is just a really nice way of saying "centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth."
[Fox News, Glenn Beck, 6/15/11, from]
Liberal media watchdog speculated that Beck was basing his theory off the wild-eyed rants of conspiracy monger Alex Jones, who has also theorized that FEMA is building concentration camps, the government helped orchestrate the Oklahoma City Bombings to discredit the militia movement, and that the world is controlled by a secret occult cabal. While it does seem Beck has repeatedly poached Jones’ material, and it is certainly tempting to link him to an even crazier conspiracist, I suspect he was simply responding to the previously existing concerns of his audience.

Glenn’s focus on Agenda 21 was news to the beltway media, but for rural politicians and activists, the conspiracy is nothing new. Despite the popular image of the Tea Party as Astroturf paid for by energy and financial corporations, there is a strong agrarian current unacknowledged by the official organs of the movement. In the forgotten corners of rural America, local Tea Parties have begun to fight against what they see to be an assault on United States sovereignty by the United Nations and the liberal elite.

Right-wing populist conspiracism has been a political force in America for well over a century, and the current globalist conspiracy perpetuated by the Tea Party is just the end of a long rope of interwoven imaginary plots that stretches back to the Civil War. The current narrative, while ignoring the blatant antisemitism of its predecessors, still hinges on scapegoating community members as “agents” of negative change, namely “removing people from their land.”

This rural strain of the Tea Party movement believes that the United Nations is secretly taking over America, namely by chipping away private property rights in the name of “sustainable development.” To aid in masking their insidious agenda from an unconscious public, the plotters use “nice and fuzzy” buzzwords in place of language that would reveal their true objectives. For the sake of convenience, below is a list of some of these words, as well as a brief explanation of what the Tea Party thinks they mean and why they are wrong. It is important that we progressives can understand and counter this narrative when it is presented by our tricorne hat attired neighbors at public meetings.

I have chosen not to include words popular amongst Tea Partisans that relate to broader debates in political philosophy, such as “democracy,” “republic,” “property,” and “rights,” choosing instead to keep the focus of this list on terms relating to the “Agenda 21” conspiracy. This list is by no means complete, and I plan to update this page regularly to make it as comprehensive as I can.


Agenda 21
Thanks to the alphabet, the cardinal tenet of the Tea Party’s conspiracy happens to be the first on the list. According to the United Nations:
“Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.”
Mike Opelka, in an article titled “Is the Soros-Sponsored ‘Agenda 21’ a Hidden Plan for World Government? (Yes, Only it is Not Hidden),” written for Glenn Beck’s website “The Blaze,” outlines the true menace of Agenda 21:
“‘Sustainable Development’ sounds like a nice idea, right? It sounds nice, until you scratch the surface and find that Agenda 21 and Sustainable Development are really cloaked plans to impose the tenets of Social Justice/Socialism on the world.”
In an explanation of the enforcing power of Agenda 21, Tariq Banuri, the director for the United Nations’ Division for Sustainable Development, stated in an interview with MediaMatters for America:
"Agenda 21 is not a binding treaty. It sets out a sort of common vision. Agenda 21 is trying to say that environmental concerns are common concerns of everyone on this planet.”
Without any mechanism to enforce sustainable policies, Agenda 21 is literally powerless to coerce anybody to anything. There is no creeping eco-commie putsch.

Nature, that pesky system that composes our bodies and everything around us, is comprised of countless species of organisms each with a given set of interactions with other organisms. We depend on this delicate ecological web because both our species and culture evolved while entangled within it. Biodiversity, defined by Keystone Center as “the variety of life and its processes…the variety of living organisms, the genetic differences among them, and the communities and ecosystems in which they occur,” is the scaffolding that supports human civilization.

Oblivious to the obvious, the far right is convinced that this scientific concept is merely an excuse for the government to take their land. Writing for “News with Views,” right-wing activist Michael Coffman argues:
“Environmental purists have actively promoted the pantheistic notion that plant and animal life rank higher on the species hierarchy than people. Their "return-to-the-wild" agenda argues that human life activities are the enemy of plant and animal species, and only through their efforts to halt growth and shut down people’s normal and necessary life endeavors will Mother Earth smile again.”
Coffman is wrong. No scientist is arguing for any “species hierarchy,” as all species equally depend on biodiversity to survive and have spent an equal number of years evolving on this planet. Furthermore, it takes many jumps on the trampoline of imagination to justify modern development that can threaten an entire species as “normal and necessary life endeavors.”

It is understandable that landowners are anxious about the prospects of endangered species threatening the development of their land, and the consideration of human needs should certainly factor into any plan to protect endangered species. This does not negate the importance of biodiversity, and we should remember that land ownership is a human construction that must conform to the needs of all humanity.

Consensus Group
Consensus decision making is a model of organizing meetings so that the outcome accounts for all the views presented. Seeds for Change, an organization that promotes consensus in community activism, defines the process:
“Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group getting their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with.”
Right-wing activist Henry Lamb, in a pamphlet titled “Sustainable Development or Sustainable Freedom?,” argues against consensus decision making:
“Sustainable development could not sweep the nation if it were left to individuals requesting their locally elected officials to adopt schemes that deny private property rights to their neighbors and impose freedom-robbing restrictions that outlaw a back yard tomato patch. Therefore, '…a new, collaborative decision process' was devised.
This new decision process is the consensus process in which voting is not allowed. Consensus is not agreement; it is the absence of expressed disagreement. Consensus is sometimes declared despite expressed objection, if the objector can be discredited or marginalized.”
In case you missed it, let me reiterate that Henry Lamb actually believes there is a United Nations plot to expropriate your tomato patch.
"First they came for the cherry tomatoes,
and I did not speak out because I wasn't a cherry tomato."
Consensus groups comprised of stakeholders are particularly worrisome for the Tea Party. Michael Shaw of Freedom Advocates, for instance, attacked The Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group in central California as an example of a local government being “hijacked by world government agents.” I attended one ACCG meeting to verify this sensational claim, but instead found a group of men and women from government agencies, activist groups, property owners, and private companies (all “stakeholders”) discussing the most desirable use of fuel piles in the El Dorado National Forest. I am at a loss as to why United Nations would be so intensely interested with fuel piles.

The Delphi Method
Curiously, the Tea Party is deeply concerned with the organizational structure of public meetings. While this not a fundamentally unreasonable concern for any activist group, Tea Parties are convinced that socialist conspirators covertly use one particular facilitating technique, known as the “Delphi Method,” to silence opposition to the implementation of Agenda 21.

The RAND Corporation, the research and development think-tank for the U.S. Department of Defense, defines the method on their website:
“RAND developed the Delphi method in the 1950s, originally to forecast the impact of technology on warfare. The method entails a group of experts who anonymously reply to questionnaires and subsequently receive feedback in the form of a statistical representation of the "group response," after which the process repeats itself. The goal is to reduce the range of responses and arrive at something closer to expert consensus.”
The Delphi conspiracy seems to originate with right-wing conspiracy buff Beverly Eakman, in her 1991 book “Educating for the New World Order.” Eakman interprets the Delphi Method as a way to coerce public opinion to seem favorable towards a secretly predetermined decision, citing a 1972 National Educators Article titled “The Alinsky Method for Teachers.” The article focused on applying the principles of leftist community organizer Saul Alinsky to school reform, using facilitative techniques that Eakman associates with the Delphi Method.

Online conspiracy author Albert Burns, in a frequently quoted article titled “Let’s Stop Being Manipulated! The Delphi Technique,” embodies the paranoia of external agents controlling board meetings:
“This very effective technique is being used, over and over and over, to change our form of government from the representative republic, intended by the Founding Fathers, into a “participatory democracy." Now, citizens chosen at large are manipulated into accepting preset outcomes while they believe that the input they provided produced the outcomes which are now theirs! The reality is that the final outcome was already determined long before any public meetings took place, determined by individuals unknown to the public.”
The link between arguably sketchy methods outlined by the NEA for teachers to achieve smaller class sizes to all local governmental and community discourse is purely in the mind of the conspiracy theorist. If meeting facilitators marginalize the far-right fringe at community meetings, it’s not because of a secret socialist agenda, but rather because incoherent ramblings about a coming U.N. invasion tends to be off-topic.

Fire Safe Council
In California, the Fire Safe Council is a network of citizen organizations organized by county to promote fire-safety education and the creation of defensible space around at-risk property. The very word “council” sends many Tea Partisans into a fury, and they in turn target fire safe councils as communist cells bent on the destruction of private property. Michael Shaw, the founder of, brings this accusation to its apex by declaring that fire safe councils are in fact “soviets,” which he defines as a “system of interconnected councils that work to destroy individual personality, suppress individual potential, and centralize power into the hands of those who seek to control human action and human production.” Perhaps the liberal elite systematically removed all references in our history books that brush clearing was the primary tool of subversion used by Russian Bolsheviks.

Form-Based Code
The Form Based Codes Institute defines their namesake:
“Form-based codes address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. The regulations and standards in form-based codes are presented in both words and clearly drawn diagrams and other visuals. They are keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development, rather than only distinctions in land-use types.”
Form-based coding allows for public representatives to code developments not just for type of use but also for the style of use. This is important for small-town regions to be able to both grow and maintain a local character. However, it does limit the property rights of the developer, and therefore violates right-wing doctrine. The irony of the resistance towards such form-based coding is that it is the individuals that fantasize the most about the virtues of “small town” America who are fighting the hardest against measures aimed at limiting urban sprawl.

Habitat Conservation Plan
Section 10 of the dreaded Endangered Species Act, Habitat Conservation Plans require private landowners to obtain a permit to remove species of wildlife listed as endangered from their property. This is seen as an assault on the natural right of the landowner to do whatever he or she wants, and part of a broader conspiracy for the government to expropriate all privately owned land.

Human Habitation Zone
The ultimate goal of sustainable development, according to the far-right fringe that informs the modern Tea Party, is to force people off their land and into what conspiracy theorists have titled Human Habitation Zones. Modern conspiracy theories have frequently revolved around the idea of human population control, which would create a green, wildlife-filled dystopia where the New World Order treats humans as cattle. Right-wing conspiracy website End of the American Dream describes this world in an article republished on
“An international ruling body has centralized global control over all human activity. What you eat, what you drink, where you live, how warm or cold your home can be and how much fuel you can use is determined by them. Anyone that dissents or that tries to rebel against the system is sent off for "re-education". The human population is 90 percent lower than it is today in this futuristic society, and all remaining humans have been herded into tightly constricted cities which are run much like prisons. Does all of that sound good to you? Well, this is what Agenda 21 is all about.”
Of course, a non-binding program aimed at preventing environmental degradation at the community level cannot do any of that, but it nonetheless sounds like something people should be afraid of.

Unfortunately pronounced “ickly,” ICLEI is the acronym to International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (which in 2003 changed its official name to 'ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability’), which defines itself as:
“an international association of local governments as well as national and regional local government organizations who have made a commitment to sustainable development.
ICLEI provides technical consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local government in the implementation of sustainable development at the local level. Our basic premise is that locally designed initiatives can provide an effective and cost-efficient way to achieve local, national, and global sustainability objectives.”
Conspiracy theorists see ICLEI as a way to surreptitiously implement Agenda 21 on the local level.

New Urbanism provides this definition:
“NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.”
Free-market economist Peter Gordon, in an interview with the right-wing libertarian Reason Magazine, offers his criticism of New Urbanism:
“I think the development of neighborhoods by private developers is driven by markets, not by public policy. People are getting the neighborhoods they want. And I trust that competing developers are reading the trade-offs that you and I are willing to make and that those trade-offs include our demand for community.”
While Gordon by no means typifies the conspiracy-obsessed philosophy of the contemporary Tea Party, his argument against urban planning demonstrates the right’s faith in the magical power of the market to provide goods in direct correlation with human wants and needs. If there is a long commute associated with suburban sprawl, it is only because consumers are consciously willing to make this trade-off for more space. This conveniently ignores the existence of negative externalities, a phenomenon where rational decisions by two actors have a negative effect on a third, leading to a net decrease in utility. Gordan isn't even afraid to say he "believes" in markets:
“Those of us who believe in markets place a lot of value on living arrangements that are an expression of consumer preferences. People are voting for spacious living, so by all means let them have what they are voting for.”
Honk if you love LIBERTY!!
Non-Governmental Organization
This definition is given by, a conspiracy-minded website run by one Cassandra Anderson:
“Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are accredited by the U.N. for purposes of implementing Agenda 21. They are well funded by governments, tax free foundations, corporations and individuals.”

NGOs that make Tea Partiers particularly anxious include the World Wide Fund for Nature (formally World Wildlife Federation), Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy.

President's Council on Sustainable Development

President Clinton’s advisory board on sustainable development, the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, was established in 1993 by executive order in response to Agenda 21.

Private Public Partnerships
BBC News defines this seemingly paradoxical buzzword as follows:
“Any collaboration between public bodies, such as local authorities or central government, and private companies tends to be referred to a public-private partnership (PPP).”
Chapter 30 of Agenda 21 emphasizes the importance of PPP’s:
“Governments, business and industry, including transnational corporations, should strengthen partnerships to implement the principles and criteria for sustainable development.
Governments should identify and implement an appropriate mix of economic instruments and normative measures such as laws, legislations and standards, in consultation with business and industry, including transnational corporations, that will promote the use of cleaner production, with special consideration for small and medium-sized enterprises.”
The right believes that such partnerships undermine free enterprise. It is interesting to note that the left has also criticized PPP’s for encouraging privatization.

Smart Growth
Smart Growth America defines smart growth as “building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies and protects the environment.” lists ten key principles that define smart growth:
“Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
Mix land uses
Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
Take advantage of compact building design
Create walkable neighborhoods
Provide a variety of transportation choices”
Planning development to meet human and environmental needs is both obvious and necessary, but Tea Partisans take issue with smart growth because it requires that the public have some say in planning developments, which in turn limits the developer is how he uses his private property.

This definition is from economist Paulo Nunes on
“The English term Stakeholder designates a person, group or entity with legitimate interests in the actions and performance of an organization and which decisions and attitudes may affect, direct or indirectly, that other organization.”
Right-wing website defines a stakeholder council as:
"Stakeholder councils are called by many names and are created for a variety of specific purposes. Whatever they are called, and whatever the stated purpose for which they are created, they all have several common characteristics, and all have a common objective: the implementation of some component of Agenda 21."
This is a fairly bizarre component to the conspiracy, for as far as I can tell the only justification is that the actual text of Agenda 21 uses this language.

Sustainable Development

Largely synonymous with "Smart Growth," this term was first defined in 1987, by United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."
Of course, resources should meet the needs of those present without compromising generations to come. And inequality has left millions of human beings on our planet destitute, a situation that developed out of colonialism and the industrial revolution that can (or at least should) not be sustainable. The very notion that inequality is a bad thing, however, sends those who own the most into a rage.

In a 2003 speech, Tom DeWeese, a longtime provocateur of U.N. paranoia, offered this version of the term translated into the language of alarmism:
“Sustainable Development calls for changing the very infrastructure of the nation, away from private ownership and control of property to nothing short of a national zoning system. Every American who cherishes liberty must know that Sustainable Development is our enemy and that it must be ripped from government policy at every level... Arm yourselves first with that knowledge and then step by step - take your community - and then - take America back.”
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
Also known as the “Earth Summit” or the “Rio Summit,” this United Nations conference held in Brazil during the month of June, 1992, produced the Agenda 21 document.

Wildlands Project
The Wildlands Project, now the Wildlands Network, is a conservation organization established in 1991 to promote the creation of wildlife corridors across North America. The fragmentation of wildlife habitat has been repeatedly correlated with the loss of wildlife populations, so the creation of “green space” to accommodate native flora and fauna is therefore of utmost importance.

In a 2005 special report for Range Magazine titled “Taking Liberty: How Private Property in America Is Being Abolished”, author Michael Coffman writes about the threat posed by the Wildlands Project to individual liberty.
“Under the Wildlands Project, the United States would be transformed from a land where people can live where they choose and travel freely, to a Wildlands-dominated landscape where people live in designated population centers with limited travel allowed through highly restricted corridors. The Wildlands Project is the master plan for both the United Nations' Agenda 21 and Biodiversity Treaty. In classic socialist utopian idealism, Agenda 21 defines how every human being must live in order to save mother earth.”
Coffman also produced a map that supposedly depicts the parts of the United States planned for wildlife corridors, as represented by scary red lines:
Red lines really are quite sinister.

Thoughts and Conclusions
One thing that I found particularly striking while researching this glossary is the relatively small number of names providing the material the Tea Parties are using to propagate this conspiracy.

One popular piece of literature gracing Tea Party tables is titled “Sustainable Development or Sustainable Freedom?” written by Henry Lamb in conjunction with a company called Freedom21, Inc., whose corporate logo is underscored with the byline “Advancing the principles of freedom in the 21st century.” Freedom21 is in turn the rebranded name of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), which a 1997 Mother Jones article by Keith Hammond indicates was founded in 1990 as a front group for land developers to prevent the extension of the Clean Water Act to protect wetlands. Hammond notes that corporate advocacy groups such as the Land Improvement Contractors of America and the American Farm Bureau Federation funded ECO.

Freedom Advocates, headed by the charismatic Michael Shaw, is the new name of Freedom21’s Santa Cruz chapter, and is leading the attack on California’s fire safe councils.

In 1996, Henry Lamb also established Sovereignty International Inc., which was co-founded with Tom McDonnell, who was then the Director of Natural Resources for the American Sheep Industry Association, and is currently the Executive Vice President of the Idaho Cattle Association.

Also influential in the founding of Sovereignty International was Michael Coffman, who now serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
Coffman was previously employed by Champion Industries paper company, and was a chairman for the “National Council for Air and Stream Improvement,” a front group for industrial paper corporations. He is also the founder of Environmental Perspectives, Inc., which describes itself as:
“an educational-research organization…helping citizens across America to understand the dangers of the environmental movement and how false environmental catastrophes like global warming are being used to justify the need for world government and a pantheistic-based (nature is god) religion.”
Curiously, Coffman also manages a website called “Discerning the Times,” which catalogues how the environmental movement is tied to the coming New World Order predicted in the Book of Revelations.

Sovereignty International’s website lists Tom DeWeese and Alan Caruba as on the Advisory Council. Tom DeWeese is the creator of the right wing American Policy Center, and is frequently quoted on Tea Party blogs and websites discussing Agenda 21. Alan Caruba is also on the Board of Advisors for the American Policy Center, and according to his website was the group's Director of Communications until 2004. Caruba’s site also notes, “over the years, he has worked with leading corporations, trade associations, think tanks, and entrepreneurs of every description” and that he is the “public relations counselor for the New Jersey Pest Management Association.”

It should be no surprise that the “sustainable development will take your land” meme is spread by men who have extensive ties to the industries of land development, agriculture, livestock production, paper production, and pest management. This small community of people using an imaginary threat to consolidate their own corner of power is a mirror image to the conspiracy they believe threatens them. If you replace “global warming” with “Agenda 21” as the false threat in their narrative, the conspiracy theory becomes almost autobiographical. Late historian Richard Hofstadter noticed this very phenomenon in 1964, writing in his classic essay “The Paranoid Style of American Politics:”

“It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy.”
"And another thing, keep those radical activists types OUT of the White House!"
Which isn’t to say that the theory is born out of pure cynicism. I have no doubt Henry Lamb seriously believes in a U.N. threat to his tomato patch. But we must remember that the men sowing the seeds of Agenda 21 paranoia have their plows paid for by the very industries whose bottom line is most threatened by sustainability.

1 comment:

  1. Your concluding sentence tells the fear mongers true agenda. Thank you for this glossary.