Tea Party Conspiracy Theorists Descend on Charlottesville, VA

Unless you are a member of the Tea Party or a United Nations historian (or you followed the 2010 Colorado governor’s race), you’ve probably never heard of Agenda 21. But this obscure 1992 resolution of the United Nations figures prominently in a conspiracy theory that is being used to undermine community planning efforts around the country.

The slogan and symbol of the Jefferson County Tea Party, which is hosting a forum today in Charlottesville, Virginia to explore the connection between local planning efforts and a 1992 resolution of the United Nations. Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Last month, Tea Party members stormed a regional planning meeting in rural Maine, demanding to know what, if anything, the local volunteer commissioners knew about this “socialist central planning directive.”

Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists are at it again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia. Local officials in this small city, which is home to the University of Virginia, have been participating in regional land use planning intended to preserve rural communities in Albemarle County and limit sprawl.

Tea Party officials are hosting a community forum in Charlottesville today to investigate the extent to which local planning efforts are motivated by Agenda 21. Forum co-organizer and Tea Party member Charles Battig is asking local leaders to withdraw their $1,200 in annual support for an organization called Local Governments for Sustainability. (It’s also known by the acronym ICLEI, which stands for “International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives” — sinister!)

Brian Wheeler at Network blog Charlottesville Tomorrow spoke to Battig:

“ICLEI participated in forming Agenda 21, the United Nations agenda for the 21st century, and basically it elevates sustainability, as they define it, as the new governing criteria for all actions, of all governments, all over,” Battig said in an interview. “ICLEI is within our local government and it brings their baggage and their dogma with it.”

County officials noted that their focus on energy efficiency had saved roughly $600,000. But, when confronted with the wild accusation, one member of the County Board of Supervisors said his support for the initiative was a mistake.

Battig admitted that withdrawing support for ICLEI is mainly symbolic. He said he is more concerned about a $900,000 grant to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to develop a three-year regional sustainability implementation plan for the area.

“The Board of Supervisors needs to be under pressure from the general public,” Battig said. “We’ll go along with saving money where we can, but we’re not ready to have an unelected group tell us how much food we can eat, how many miles we can drive and what the thermostat setting should be in my house.”

Stephen Williams, executive director of TJPDC, said the organization has no intention of telling anyone what they can do with their land. But Tea Party members aren’t convinced. Said Carole Thorpe, chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party:

“We want to keep nature in balance with the construction we do. The question is, is there something more involved? That is what we will be exploring at the forum.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Matt Yglesias comments on Phoenix’s strides toward urbanism. Commute by Bike shares pointers for lobbying conservative lawmakers on behalf of cycling. And The City Fix parses the evolving definition of a “smart city.”