Is The Internet An Amplifier Of Crackpottery (Anti-Agenda 21, UN World Domination, Chemtrails …)?

By Don Pelton

Idiocy, crackpot ideas and fringe beliefs are nothing new. Greece, Rome and Egypt probably all had their archaic versions of Todd Akin and Michelle Bachman. But — except when they became an emperor or queen — their ideas rarely gained traction or currency. So why is it today that almost any insane or crackpot idea — whether rightwing, leftwing or both — can find a constituency of thousands and sometimes of millions?

There’s a judge down in Lubbock County, Texas, who wants to implement a local tax to prepare for the inevitable civil war when Obama is re-elected and the United Nations invades the United States. There’s evidence that he’s not alone in this belief.

The good judge is only expressing the logical conclusion that follows from the widespread paranoia about the UN’s Agenda 21 initiative, an entirely voluntary set of policy recommendations to achieve sustainability at the local level, but which the anti-Agenda 21 hysterics are convinced is a vast left-wing socialist conspiracy to take over the United States.

Anti-Agenda 21 paranoia is widespread and growing. Our neighbor city, Colfax, recently had an anti-Agenda 21 resolution on its city council agenda.

And, from what I can tell since we moved to Nevada County after the infamous NH2020 debacle, that brouhaha was driven by the same paranoid property rights and anti-environmental fanaticism that now drives the anti-Agenda 21 hysteria.

One fascinating aspect of this modern style of crackpottery is that it is often dressed-up convincingly as intelligence. An example is an anti-Agenda 21 video series that the Gold Country Tea Party Patriots produced from a presentation done by Michael Shaw of Freedom Advocates. Shaw is a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the anti-Agenda 21 movement. Individual property rights are his religion, and globalism is his Devil.

In his critique of our local Sierra Business Council (tape 5 of his video series), Shaw says that the man-made “global warming fraud” is being used as an excuse to implement globalism, which will remove property rights and allow the government to “herd people around like cattle.”

“Globalism is socialism,” Shaw says. “It’s communism.”

So, why would I say that Shaw comes across as intelligent? Take a look at the video production values. As one who has done some video editing using the amazing professional quality software available to average consumers, I was very impressed by the slick editing of the Shaw videos: picture-in-picture of the speaker while showing his slides, smooth professional scene transitions, quality titles and captions, etc. The Freedom Advocates webpage and the Gold Country Tea Party webpage also look polished and professional.

Shaw himself is facile in the use of language and knows how to craft compelling sentences full of the sort of imagery that resonates with his audience, whose Tea Party sensibilities he seems to reflect. But, while Shaw is articulate in his own way, he is weak in the ideas department, a weakness clearly not apparent to his fans.

The most stupefying illogicality in Shaw’s thinking is the notion that globalism in the form of the United Nations is an existential threat to the United States, whereas globalism in the form of the overweening power of corporations is apparently not a problem.

It’s depressingly easy to find other examples of crackpottery disguised as intelligence.

Locally, Nevada County has one of the highest levels of immunization non-compliance among all the counties in California. I have friends on the left, very intelligent in most other respects, who will never subject their children or themselves to any sort of vaccination.

In various counties around the state, widespread immunization non-compliance correlates powerfully with the re-emergence of such previously well-controlled and potentially fatal childhood diseases as pertussis (whooping cough).

Vaccines in the 20th century were responsible for the near-eradication of polio, smallpox and measles, and were high on the list of significant reasons for the increase in life expectancy at birth among U.S. residents by 62%, from 47.3 years in 1900 to 76.8 in 2000. And yet today’s vaccination refusers seem unable to appreciate the significance of that fact.

As so often happens with the good things in modern life, immunization is the victim of its own success. Although, in this case, the victim is the community at large.

When I recently pointed out to one of our clever non-compliant acquaintances that he was not properly taking into account the importance of herd-immunity , he looked blank and continued his dissertation on the evils of vaccination. Herd immunity is the aggregate level of immunity in a population. It synergistically gives an increment of added blanket protection to each individual in that community, thus compensating in part for the relatively lower effectiveness of vaccination in some individual cases. 

In a simple example, because of herd immunity a non-vaccinated child in a classroom full of vaccinated children is sometimes better protected than a vaccinated child in a classroom full of non-vaccinated children.

The anti-vaccine movement, originating in the  mid 19th century, has in modern times been powerfully amplified by the Internet.

A related notion I’ve often heard expressed by the same group of vaccine refusers is that all of the alarms about swine flu and threats of another 1918-style devastating H1N1 pandemic are nothing but fear-mongering that (1) will be used by Big Pharma to sell more drugs, or (2) will be used as a justification to impose a national mandate requiring all Americans to get the swine flu vaccine, or (3) will be used by the President to declare a state of emergency and  pass control of our society to the United Nations.

Many of today’s most conspicuous crackpot conspiracy theories involve fairytales about Barak Obama, all of which are given more currency by being widely disseminated on the Internet:

  • Barak Obama deliberately orchestrated episodes of gun violence (Aurora, Colorado,the Sikh temple, “Fast and Furious” at the Mexican border) in order to have an excuse to take away our guns.
  • Obama is using the Social Security number of a deceased person
  • Nobody remembers Obama at Columbia College
  • Obama’s memoir, Dream From My Father, was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers

Both the political right and left have promulgated the Obama-orchestrated gun-violence conspiracy theory.

A friend of a relative recently told us that Obama is secretly funding Occupy Wall Street.

I’ve heard some of our friends on the left repeat — on Facebook and in person —  the chemtrails conspiracy theory, the notion that the government is spraying biological agents from airplanes at high altitudes as part of a nefarious experiment on the American people, or possibly for population control.

And “so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut famously repeated in order to describe a world — our world — in which the completely weird had become banal and ordinary.

There should be a special phrase or term for crackpottery so amplified by the Internet that it begins to resemble intelligence.

Perhaps “crackpottery squared” or “crackpottery2” would do.

Some media analysts lay the blame for this promulgation of crackpottery on the “democratization of information.”

Others point to the “information silo,” which allows for a kind of parochial ghetto within the Internet city of information, where crackpottery can flourish.


And so it goes.




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18 Responses to “Is The Internet An Amplifier Of Crackpottery (Anti-Agenda 21, UN World Domination, Chemtrails …)?”
  1. RL Crabb says:

    What we need is a vaccine to ward off the boogieman. Fortunately, I’m immune and don’t need to worry. By the way, have you heard about the black helicopter base under the mountain at Grouse Ridge?

  2. gregoryzaller says:

    Clearly the anti and pro sides of the divisive issues of today, be they right or left, are comparably baseless. Sensibility is in short supply.

  3. Steve Frisch says:

    A resource on NH 2020…..probably better than the link to a 12 year old, and in my opinion flawed, Irvine analysis of SBC

  4. Steve Frisch says:

    Another good resource on NH 2020….

  5. Steve Frisch says:

    And yet another good scholarly paper on the results of NH 2020 and the Nevada County General Plan Update of 1994 by senior US Department of Justice Attorney Mark E. Sabath. The paper is on Measure D, the 2002 Nevada County ballot measure that would have redefined property rights advanced by CABPRO.

  6. Don Pelton says:


    Thanks for the terrific links. I’ll probably send all those PDFs by email to House of Print and begin working my way through them. I did that today with the single link I had above to the UC Berkeley study (“Turning Businesspeople Into Environmentalists“).

    By the way, is this the one you are suggesting is flawed? It’s UC all right, but Berkeley apparently, not Irvine.

    I’m confused about your reference to the Irvine study. I don’t believe I referenced an Irvine study.

  7. Steve Frisch says:

    I am sorry Don I should have clearer. I am referring to the innes and Sandoval study that was done while they were at UC Berkeley for the James Irvine Foundation…..forgive me.

  8. Steve Frisch says:

    By the way, the Sabath study on Measure D is brilliant. As someone who worked behind the scenes to defeat Measure D, in my capacity as a Nevada County citizen, we solicited help from some of the best legal minds in the country to make the case that the Measure was dangerous, ill conceived, and unpredictably and potentially catastrophically costly to the citizens of Nevada County. The argument was incredibly effective. We were outspent by about 10-1 and beat CABPRO by 15%.

  9. Don Pelton says:

    Thanks Steve. It’s the innes and Sandoval paper I just picked up today from House of Print.

    I’m sure you don’t have time for a long essay, but it you could briefly tell me why you feel this study is inadequate, I’d appreciate it.

  10. Don Pelton says:

    One of the more interesting conclusions in the Sabath study, referring to the surprisingly low number of claims even in states where such laws have passed:

    “Property rights laws have often been the product of small groups of ideologically conservative legislators who secure the laws’ passage without a broad base of support. Without an aggrieved constituency, the statutes have seldom been used.

    Property rights initiatives, in contrast, typically originate with dissatisfied landowners and require broad public support for passage. Nevada County, for example, has “one of the most active and effective property rights movements in [California].” Landowners in the county have objected strenuously to actions of the Board of Supervisors that they viewed as threatening their property values. A property rights initiative arising out of a political climate like Nevada County’s—one in which property owners have vocally expressed dissatisfaction with the extent of local land use regulation—would likely attract far more claims than have the state laws surveyed by Jacobs.

    Consequently, whereas traditional property rights laws have had a “minimal” impact, property rights initiatives threaten to have a significant impact on government regulation and resources.

    For property rights measures as expansive as Measure D, that impact, first and foremost, is a staggering financial cost that could bankrupt state and local governments.”

  11. depelton says:

    And …

    “Paradoxically—and often overlooked by property rights advocates— a freeze in land use regulation has the potential to bring about a reduction in property values. Zoning, the centerpiece of American land use policy and a frequent target of property rights advocates, was actually the creation of business interests attempting to protect their property values.188 Most home property values actually beneªt from land use regulations, including those that segregate industrial, commercial, and residential uses of property.189 To cite an example raised in the debate over Measure 7, Jackson County, Oregon, faced a $50 million claim under the newly passed measure for denying mining permits to a company that intended to truck 8 million tons of sand on double-length trucks through the small town of Jacksonville, the ªrst town in the United States designated as a historic landmark. Lacking the funds to pay such an expensive claim, the County would have had little choice but to ignore its land use regulations and issue the mining permit. The resulting parade of trucks might well have lowered the town’s quality of life and ability to attract visitors—reducing property values for many of the town’s citizens.”

  12. Steve Frisch says:

    One of the most effective arguments against Measure D was the argument that because Measure D did not set a numeric or percentage threshold landowners could sue the county for a reduction in property value brought about by zoning approvals on adjacent or nearby properties.

    Let’s use the above example in Jackson County Oregon as the test case.

    Under Measure D if I was the mining proponent and I was denied permits I could sue the County for a taking of my property rights equal to the value of the property with and without the permits plus the value of the commodity produced.

    But also under Measure D, if I were a homeowner along the highway where the trucks hauling the mining materials took place I could sue the County for the difference between the value of my home before and after permits were issued.

    So the County is liable either way… not issue permits, get sued…issue permits, get sued.

    That is the wise and just public policy brought to you by your friends at CABPRO.

  13. Steve Frisch says:

    I think one of the most interesting conclusions of the Sabath study is this paragraph:

    “One of the legacies of property rights legislation is that it has forced regulators to justify actions they take that restrict property rights, rather than relying on a presumption of reasonability. This shift might force government ofacials in Nevada County and elsewhere to adopt different approaches that will achieve their goals while respecting private property. Planners and regulators might begin to consider whether certain land- owners have to bear a disproportionate regulatory burden, even if it does not rise to the level of a constitutional taking.”

    To me the ultimate solution to the friction over property rights is to heed this combined warning/strategy.

    For local government: do the work up front to fully vet legislation, consider its disproportionate impact on specific property owners, make sure there is a nexus between the policy and who pays, and make sure the burden of new legislation is shared fairly and/or mitigates the impact fairly. If you do that many of the threats of a property rights challenge go away.

    For the business community: do not support policies that create special privileges for specific property owners (as opposed to industry segments that one might want to advance), that create un-mitigated impacts to the environment, and that take public resources for private gain, and much of the threat of a legal or zoning challenge go away.

    For the environmental community: make sure new legislation regulation shares the burden fairly, support private sector solutions to environmental and social challenges, and don’t allow environmental laws to used for non-environmental purposes and much of the conflict goes away.

    There is a path out of this morass (if you think it is a morass) if we want one, we just need leadership who sees the path and can work across the divide to come up with reasonable solutions.

  14. Dear Sierra Voices,

    Evidently you mean well but you definitely lack basic understanding of Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is not voluntary, as your artical claims. Agenda 21 is implemented by elected officials at the federal, state and local level through resolutions (often in exchange for grant money). A study of Agenda 21 and the people who wrote it, make it obvious that it is a clear threat to private property.

    The booklet, ‘Agenda 21 Unermining Freedom in Calaveras County’ government lists links to actual implementations of Agenda 21 by resolution and regulation:

    Kindest regards,

  15. depelton says:

    Dear Gold Country Patriots:

    Thanks for your comment, and for your link to the Calaveras pamphlet (I will read it). I do appreciate the civility of your remarks.

    We seem to be referring to two different uses of the word, “voluntary.”

    By “voluntary” I mean that nowhere does the United Nations impose Agenda 21 on any federal, state or local government, because it does not have the authority to do that.

    I believe you’d have to agree with that statement.

    If I understand your meaning, Agenda 21 “is not voluntary” in the same sense that any law cannot be voluntarily disobeyed once “we the people” have enacted it in the form of a federal, state or local law.

    Whether or not Agenda 21 is a threat to private property is different question.

    Michael Shaw’s suggestion that laws enacted in the spirit of Agenda 21 will allow the government to “herd us around like cattle” is what I have chosen to call “crackpottery.”

  16. depelton says:


    I replaced the NH2020 link in my original article above with the one you suggested:

  17. Steve Frisch says:

    Dear Don:

    Thanks…I think the Hurley article is a much more accurate description of what occurred during NH 2020.

    I will be sending you a memo via e-mail that I send to the leadership at SBC in late 2001 and again in early 2002 regarding the effort…which should help you understand the constraints an organization that is acting as a contractor and partner of the County labors under in such efforts. It is important to note that although SBC was a critical part of the effort, we were not able to act independently; and only through independent action could the tsunami of mis-information washing over the county delivered by the anti-NH 2020 folks be effectively and speedily countered.

    It is also important to note that the County elected officials and appointed officials labored under considerable constraint that is inherent in the role one takes on when an elected or appointed official. When one is elected they take on the responsibility of representing all of the people, if not from the perspective of the policy one advances after careful consideration of the options, then certainly in the actions one takes when listening to and interacting with the public.

    Because the anti-NH 2020 advocates were representing a legitimate concern, and a legitimate sector of the population, elected officials had no option other than listening to their claims and offering a counter argument. The failing in my eyes came in the accuracy, speed, delivery and support for the counter argument. Consequently, the dynamic that often plays out in the press–that there are two roughly equal sides to any story and each has equal standing in the discussion, even if one is rooted in assumption, innuendo and un-truths–was played out in the public policy realm.

    I do not mean to imply that I would wish to change that dynamic in any way–I believe that it is our democratic institutions and the weight of the debate that often protects us from poor policy and inappropriate action–rather that the dynamic itself is an inherent constraint on the actions of government, and that elected officials are aware of the constraint and act based on it. If we had had stronger leadership at the time they could have taken the case to the public, explained the need, described the benefits, and probably carried the day.

    If there is a lesson to be learned from NH 2020 that is transferable to the current debate over A 21 it is that we cannot count on government to be the primary actor in this drama. The case that A 21 is a non-issue, that it is not relevant to local decisions about things like transit plans, efficient infrastructure, energy efficiency, etc., needs to be made every day by citizens involved in the public process and working through the social and private sector, in order to provide decision-makers with the rational ground they can claim in public meetings and the decision-making process. Government does not lead culture in our society, culture leads government. We are never going to change the fundamental dynamic of the public process–that all people must be equal in the eyes of the elected official–nor should we seek to. It is what protects our inalienable rights. What we can do is ensure that the voice of the people–organized, articulate, informed, rational, and in numbers–is present in our public process.

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    Are the anti-Agenda 21 folks willing to discuss in person?

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