A version of this story ran in the April 2015 issue.
In 1992, the United Nations adopted a nonbinding sustainable development plan called Agenda 21. Then-President George H.W. Bush, along with several dozen other heads of state, signed the plan.
In addition to promoting environmental conservation, Agenda 21 aims to combat poverty and promote public health. Like many U.N. initiatives, it contains lots of high-minded ideas, but not much in the way of an enforceable plan of action.
But according to a growing number of Texans, Agenda 21 represents something more sinister: a plan for U.N. global domination via a Soviet-style world government.
State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and state Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) have filed identical bills that take aim at the program. Their efforts suggest that outrageous anti-Agenda 21 conspiracy theories aren’t confined to the lunatic fringe. (Or perhaps that the far-right wing of the Texas GOP may actually be the lunatic fringe.)
The bills would forbid any government entity from accepting money from, giving money to, or entering into a contract with any organization implementing Agenda 21 programs. The effect of the legislation remains unclear.
Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University political science professor and author of several books about conspiracy theories, says that Agenda 21 is simply an innocuous, nonbinding declaration of environmental principles.
“People imbue to this program a degree of power that it simply doesn’t have,” Barkun says.
White disagrees. “Agenda 21 is an overreaching, anti-American, anti-individual-rights plan to globalize the world using the fictitious global warming theory,” she wrote in a February Facebook post.
Conspiracy theories often offer a very simple solution to a broad range of problems, Barkun says. There’s something comforting in the belief that a secretive organization is responsible for all the world’s ills, he said.
Hall’s office didn’t respond to multiple interview requests, but the Observer did speak with John Marler, a former Georgetown mayoral candidate who says he has had numerous discussions with Hall and has given him “tremendous input” regarding Agenda 21.
Marler described himself as one of the five leading national experts on the U.N. program.
“[Agenda 21] is developing a Soviet-style über-government,” he said. “If you take Russia for a perfect example … the government appoints panels that regulate all the way down to whether or not the toilets should flush.”
Of course, some have been trying to save Texas, and the nation, from the specter of U.N.-controlled, Soviet-style toilet-flushing panels since long before Texans elected White and Hall. Texans famously attacked U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson on a 1963 visit to Dallas. And in the 1950s, Barkun said, popular Texas urban legend held that U.N. troops were amassed in Mexico preparing to invade.
“This fear of imminent occupation by the U.N. has been around virtually since the organization began,” he said, “but obviously Texas is not occupied by U.N. forces.”