By Jon Winsor
In 2008, the late conservative movement architect William F. Buckley wrote a Commentary article describing the now-famous problem he faced in getting Barry Goldwater nominated for president:
…It was embarrassing that the only political organization in town that dared suggest this radical proposal—the GOP’s nominating Goldwater for President—was the John Birch Society…
The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man [inventor of the Sugar Daddy –ed], who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in America could have conceived. His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.”
Goldwater might have been a harsh critic of Eisenhower (calling his policies a “dime store new deal”) but he never thought Eisenhower was anything like “an agent of the Communist conspiracy.”
The rest of the article describes how Buckley and Goldwater read the conspiracy theorists out of the movement. In 1962, Buckley, Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and PR professional Jay Hall met to discuss how they were going to move forward:
[Buckley pledged that] unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.
“How would you define the Birch fallacy?” Jay Hall asked.
“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”
“I like that,” Goldwater said.
What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”
So what would Russell Kirk, Buckley and Goldwater make of the now-powerful members of the movement today, claiming that there’s a nefarious conspiracy involving 98% of climate scientists? For example, Raymond S. Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at U. Mass. recounts talking to a prominent congressman now on the House committee on science, space and technology:
If climate scientists were indeed all working together to manipulate data and create a fictitious scenario of the future, that would require a truly remarkable feat of coordination, and a sense of common purpose. What could the motivation of this cohort be? The answer was given to me by Congressman James Sensenbrenner… This high-ranking Republican carefully explained that the Kyoto Protocol was a conspiracy by developing nations to cripple the US economy. Since these developing countries (apparently) could not compete on a level playing field with the US, they had devised the Kyoto treaty to tilt things in their direction, and climate scientists were complicit in this strategy. To those who subscribe to Sensenbrenner’s bizarre idea, it is only a small step further to frame the argument in patriotic terms. If you support Kyoto (or its goals) you must be anti-American, or at the very least a socialist. [my emphasis]
With Buckley’s fallacy in mind, how could you infer a conspiratorial, anti-American agenda based simply on the peer-reviewed findings of physical scientists?
And Sensenbrenner isn’t an isolated case. We’ve reported on Rick Santorum’s views on the subject. And “climategate” continues to be the go to subject for Republicans, even though all official investigations confirmed the integrity of the scientific work involved. Were the investigators “in on the conspiracy” too?
Since Michele Bachmann is polling in second place for the presidential nomination (as of today, between 4 and 14 points behind front runner Mitt Romney) it’s probably worth looking at her views as well. In 2008, Bachmann told an interviewer for the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow:
“This is their agenda—I know it’s hard to believe, it’s hard to fathom, but this is ‘Mission Accomplished’ for them,” she said 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.”
It sounds like she might be talking about something specific. But what? According to Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy she’s drawing from a Tea Party faction organized around a 1992 non-binding UN treaty called “Agenda 21” (not to be confused with Area 51):
To some conservatives, Agenda 21 became something far more nefarious—a gateway to a global government built on a radical doctrine of secular environmentalism.
As these conservatives saw it, the agreement paved the way for the entire planet to be controlled by a central bureaucracy: Humans would be cleared out of vast swaths of settled areas—like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for example—and instructed to live in “hobbit homes” in designated “human habitation zones” (two terms embraced by tea party activists). Public transportation would be the only kind of transportation, and governments would force contraception on their citizens to control the population level. A human life would be considered no more significant than, say, that of a manatee. “Sustainability,” the idea at the heart of the agreement, became a gateway to dystopia.
According to Media Matters, Glenn Beck also briefly took up the issue. And this past May, Michele Bachmann gave an introductory message at a “Freedom in Action Conference“, where “some of the nation’s leading experts… connect[ed] the dots” on Agenda 21. The conference’s organizer, Tom Deweese advised activists to “Research, know your details; discover the NGO players in your community; identify who is victimized by the policies and recruit them to your fight; and then kill Agenda 21… Happy hunting.”
The Chad Mitchell Trio had a little song back in 1962 (the same year Buckley put his foot down on John Birch) which seems appropriate here: