Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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South Carolina Sen. Lee Bright (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

The most recent poll out of South Carolina, like the poll before that and the poll before that, doesn't look very good for Michele Bachmann. She's currently in fifth place, tied with Ron Paul, and just a few points shy of the basement. So on Tuesday, looking to give herself a little bit of momentum, she announced her new South Carolina campaign chair: State Sen. Lee Bright.

Bright's a strong social conservative in a state where that means a lot. But he's also got some baggage. As the Minnesota Independent's Jon Collins reports, he's also got in trouble in the past for joking about secession after introducing a bill to reaffirm South Carolina's sovereignty, telling a local paper, "If at first you don't secede, try again." And earlier this year, he floated a proposal to allow the state to print its own currency: 

Bright introduced his bill to study the creation of a new South Carolina currency earlier this session. The resolution argues that the right to print currency can flow from the state’s constitutional police powers.

"[M]any widely recognized experts predict the inevitable destruction of the Federal Reserve System's currency through hyperinflation in the foreseeable future," the resolution reads. "[I]n the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System, for which the state is not prepared, the state's governmental finances and private economy will be thrown into chaos, with gravely detrimental effects upon the lives, health, and property of South Carolina’s citizens, and with consequences fatal to the preservation of good order throughout the state."

South Carolina is one of more than a dozen states that have issued similar legal-tender legislation as part of an effort to bring down the Federal Reserve from the bottom up. Bright also co-sponsored legislation to ban Islamic Shariah law from being considered in state courts.

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Before he campaigned against Agenda 21, Newt Gingrich cut this ad on behalf of Al Gore's non-profit, calling for swift action to combat climate change.

At Saturday's GOP presidential debate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich signaled to tea partiers that he is one of them by making an unusual reference to Agenda 21, the international compact that conservative activists believe is a stepping stone to a United Nations takeover. It was an odd subject to bring up at a debate that focused mostly on the Middle East and Central Asia, but as it turns out, Newt's been beating this drum for a few months now. In September, the ex-Speaker promised an Orlando tea party group that, if elected president, one of his first acts would be to sign an executive order "to cease all federal funding of any kind of activity that relates to United Nations Agenda 21":

In that speech, he explains that he hadn't even been aware of Agenda 21 until he'd begun campaigning and been asked about it by activists. He offered a longer explanation of his views in July, which he felt strongly enough about to post to his YouTube stream:

Agenda 21 activists fear the United Nations would value manatee lives over human lives.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spent much of Saturday's foreign policy debate doing what he does best: haranguing moderators Scott Pelley and Major Garrett for asking him questions he doesn't like. But in the middle of one such effort, he did offer a revealing insight in his views. Gingrich rattled off a list of subjects on which President Obama's policies have been harmful (it was a long list), and then dropped a bomb: President Obama, he explained, was wrong to support something called "Agenda 21."

The response drew loud applause from the audience. Here's why: Agenda 21 is a United Nations agreement that has never been considered by the Senate, and more or less just calls on signatories to promote sustainable development practices. But in the eyes of tea party activists, it's a stepping-stone to a one-world government, which will lead to forced population control and mass displacement. My colleague Stephanie Mencimer covered this subject in an excellent 2010 piece for the magazine:

Virginia activist Donna Holt is among those who believe that Agenda 21—unveiled during the UN's "Earth Summit" in 1992—is really a plot to curtail private property rights and deprive Americans of precious constitutional freedoms. In reality, the document will do nothing of the sort, but it has nevertheless been the target of conspiracy-minded UN haters for years. Holt and other tea partiers are taking their cues from people like Henry Lamb, a WorldNetDaily columnist and founder of Sovereignty International and Freedom21, groups designed to fight Agenda 21 and its ilk. He has been arguing for decades that the UN is secretly plotting to herd humans into crowded cities so that the rest of the world can be devoted to wildlife preservation. (Lamb declined to comment for this story because back Mother Jones once included him in a story called Wingnuts in Sheep's Clothing, and another article that described his role in Astroturf lobbying against the Kyoto treaty.)

Long the subject of fringe groups, Agenda 21 has taken on more prominence in recent years. Michele Bachmann fought against it as a Minnesota state senator, and again as a congresswoman. As she said in 2008 of congressional Democrats, "They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That's their vision for America." The non-profit education watchdog she worked with in Minnesota even went so far as to oppose International Baccalaureate, the worldwide advanced placement system, on the grounds that it undermines national sovereignty and furthered the goals of Agenda 21.

In Florida, tea party groups are currently fretting that, under the guise of Agenda 21, the United Nations will forcibly displace Americans to protect the endangered manatee. (One Republican congressman, Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida, has even introduced legislation to address these concerns.) Other activists are concerned that they'll be forced to live in underground, earthen "Hobbit homes."

Does Gingrich really believe any of this—or is it just a pander to the far-right?

Saturday night's GOP presidential debate in South Carolina focused on foreign policy, which was bad news for Herman Cain. By his own admission, it's a subject he doesn't know much about. And it showed. Taking the first question of the debate, about how he would address the prospect of a nuclear Iran, he offered a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Cain's big point—one he's made before—is that he would defeat the Iranian regime by choking their economy. Specifically, he would develop American energy sources (in the form of offshore oil drilling, among other things) so that we're no longer reliant on hostile nations for resources. That sounds nice. He sounded confident enough as he rattled off his talking points.

But there's a problem: The United States doesn't currently get any oil from Iran. If a Cain administration would try to curb Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's power by increasing domestic oil production, that wouldn't have any impact on the Iranian economy. In the long-term, domestic energy self-suffiency is a positive. But in response to the immediate threat of a nuclear Iran—a long-term energy plan doesn't mean anything.

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