BY EDWARD D. MURPHY
Portland Press Herald
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 took away the John Birch Society’s prime issue — communism — but the organization is hoping to rebuild itself using Ron Paul supporters and opposition to a one-world government as a base.
Anna Morkeski, the conservative organization’s state field director, said Maine’s status as a staunch Paul state, at least among Republicans — initially, most of the Maine delegation to the party’s national convention last August backed Paul — makes it a natural for the organization.
“I think our message has found fertile ground in Maine,” said Morkeski, 25, who plans to lead an “outreach” event in Yarmouth Friday morning to highlight the John Birch Society’s opposition to Agenda 21, a 20-year-old United Nations effort to encourage governments to promote environmentally friendly policies and laws. The group will hand out pamphlets warning about the effect of the UN initiative in Yarmouth and plans similar events for Saturday morning in South Portland and Jan. 12 in Portland.
Agenda 21 — a call to environmental action for the 21st century that was signed for the U.S. by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 — sounds benign, Morkeski said. The effort promotes conservationist land and water use policies, recycling and cuts in fossil fuel use and emissions,
“But it almost becomes like mob rule,” she said. “Where are your rights as a minority in case you don’t agree with everyone else?”
Morkeski said the group will be in Yarmouth from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. She said it chose Yarmouth because the town, along with Portland, South Portland, Falmouth and York, joined the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an organization that grew out of Agenda 21 to promote grass-roots sustainability efforts.
On its website, the organization says Agenda 21 and groups such as ICLEI are part of “the UN’s plan to establish control over all human activity” and represents another step in the march to a one-world government, with the U.S. in a subordinate role.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper said of the town’s decision to join ICLEI a few years ago.
Ironically for Saturday’s event, Yarmouth decided to save the $600 annual dues and dropped its membership in the council this year, Tupper said
Tupper said he learned about the John Birch Society’s concern about Agenda 21 after seeing pamphlets left behind by a local tea party group that meets at the Log Cabin, a town meeting room open to the public.
The main outgrowth of Agenda 21 and ICLEI in Yarmouth, he said, was the establishment of a conservation committee that looks at ways to reduce the town’s energy consumption. Tupper said the immediate focus has been to save money.
“There’s been no discussion about world domination yet, but we did regulate dogs off the beach, so I suppose it’s a toehold,” Tupper said.
Snickers aside, Morkeski said concerns about a new world order — a phrase often used by the same President Bush who signed Agenda 21 — are real.
“We’re really all about restoring constitutional government because we see that as a way of preventing tyranny,” she said. “There are totalitarians everywhere. The UN is full of them, and we have them in our government.”
The John Birch Society originally was organized in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War. It was named for an American missionary turned military intelligence officer who was killed in China after World War II and is considered among adherents as the first U.S. casualty of the struggle between capitalism and communism.
The society focused on the threat of communism throughout the Cold War, said Mark Brewer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine, but always considered any steps toward a one-world government as equally ominous.
“They opposed, in general, any outside attempts to control the United States, whether the UN or the Soviets, who were looking to control it and take away liberty” Brewer said. “They would argue that communism is still lurking, but trying to attract followers with very strong anti-communism without the Soviet Union is hard to do.”
So opposition to Agenda 21, even though it’s nonbinding, “fits with them,” Brewer said. Add in the fact that the elder Bush, whom conservatives often view with suspicion, signed the document, and the environmental initiative becomes a red flag waved in front of a bull.
“There has been an element of American society who believes adamantly in these kinds of claims as long as there has been a United States,” Brewer said, but added that it’s impossible to estimate their numbers, which tend to rise and fall with the times.
Morkeski, however, said fear of a one-world government is reality, not claims or conspiracy fears.
“We want to get our government back,” she said. “It’s all about educating the electorate on the Constitution and stopping the new world order.”