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"We Don't Need None of That Smart-Growth Communism"

Tea partiers' latest fear: a secret UN plan to herd us all into urban "human habitation zones."

First, they took on the political establishment in Congress. Now, tea partiers have trained their sights on a new and insidious target: local planning and zoning commissions, which activists believe are carrying out a global conspiracy to trample American liberties and force citizens into Orwellian "human habitation zones."

At the root of this plot is the admittedly sinister-sounding Agenda 21, an 18-year-old UN plan to encourage countries to consider the environmental impacts of human development. Tea partiers see Agenda 21 behind everything from a septic tank inspection law in Florida to a plan in Maine to reduce traffic on Route 1. The issue even flared up briefly during the midterms, when Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused his Democratic opponent of using a bike-sharing program to convert Denver into a "United Nations Community."

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit becomes compulsory "human habitation zones."

Agenda 21 paranoia has swept the tea party scene, driving activists around the country to delve into the minutiae of local governance. And now that the midterm elections are over, they're descending on planning meetings and transit debates, wielding PowerPoints about Agenda 21, and generally freaking out low-level bureaucrats with accusations about their roles in a supposed international conspiracy.

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.)

Holt has also has relied on the research of Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center and a climate change denier whose group has been funded by Exxon. DeWeese's organization hosted a conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, this summer attended by many tea partiers, which featured sessions on Agenda 21. Schooled by such activists, Holt, the Virginia coordinator of Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, has set to work spreading the word about Agenda 21 and the evils of sustainable development. She's finding a very receptive audience among tea party groups, who she believes are going to make sustainable development the next target of their activism.

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"I'm overwhelmed with tea party leaders who have asked me to come and speak to their groups," she says. "They're calling on me to form a coalition, to put up a dedicated website." She says tea partiers understand that "there is a global agenda to actually abolish private property and abolish the Constitution for that matter." If sustainable development is fully implemented, she says, "This basically will turn us into a Soviet state."

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory "human habitation zones." They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban "hobbit homes" and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).

Shortly after the midterm elections, a Maine tea party group blasted out a call to arms to its members: "Red Alert! Agenda 21 is coming on full force to the Mid coast area!" The notice implored members to show up at a November 10 meeting in Rockland sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation. The group warned that the agency was:

implementing the sustainable development/Agenda 21. This is the hard core agenda 21 derived from…the United Nations, and we need to make a BIG presence to show our outrage and anger at this. This is the centralized planning for the de-industrialization of large segments of Maine, and the relocation and isolation of the population into human habitation zones. Plan on attending the meeting and express your outrage at this. We need to stop this NOW before it gets out of hand.

What UN-inspired outrage was on the table for the meeting? A proposal to improve development and reduce traffic around Route 1, which runs up the eastern coast of the state. Stacy Benjamin, the DOT project manager, says that four or five people she and her colleagues have never seen before showed up at the meeting. During the public comment session, the activists questioned the DOT representatives about Agenda 21. "None of us had ever heard of it," Benjamin says, laughing, "but we learned a lot about Agenda 21. They had handouts." The tea partiers also posed questions about "human habitation zones," she says, noting that they were polite and interested in what the committee members had to say.

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