The United Nations Agenda: Fact, Fiction & Conspiracy Theories

March 20, 2012|Patrick Madden, UNA-USA Executive Director
All great conspiracy theories live on for years – long after they have been debunked. Cultural lore in the U.S. dates back to our country’s founding. Nearly everyone has heard about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree as a kid, or that he had wooden teeth (both false). Some have suggested John Wilkes Booth worked with Confederate leaders to plot the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Interesting, but not true).


Was there was a second shooter in the JFK assassination? Was the moon landing staged by the TV networks? Did Elvis fake his death? These theories range from the humorous to the bizarre, and in nearly every instance scientific analysis, eye witnesses, historic study and other facts have disproved the legend.

The United Nations is no stranger to conspiracy theories. Dating back to the late 1970s a handful of movies, books, and articles launched conspiracy theories about the use of black helicopters by secret government agencies. The UN got mixed up with this fictitious story when some proposed that the UN was monitoring the U.S. with unmarked black helicopters. Artists have added musical repertoire referencing black helicopters in their lyrics. Over the years the pop culture addition to this theory’s promulgation has extended through movies (The Simpsons and Transformers) and television shows (South Park and the X-Files).

While it’s easy to make light of stories like these, this is serious business for the UN. Because most of America hasn’t and won’t see the UN in action firsthand, some American citizens come to believe these tales and other falsehoods regarding the UN’s work. All of this creates a political and media pretzel for UN supporters and members of Congress who realize the national security, diplomatic, and economic value of the UN.

The latest conspiracy theory picking up steam is about the UN’s Agenda 21. Fueled by a Glenn Beck show last summer, a Republican National Committee resolution in January, comments by a few candidates for president, and media coverage of local government actions, the topic of Agenda 21’s purpose and reach is percolating. Agenda 21 is an easy target for UN naysayers and isolationists since most people have never heard of it, let alone know the nature of the document. Why should they? It’s an obscure document that’s 20 years old!

Let’s get some facts straight:

  • Fact: Agenda 21 was a document adopted unanimously by 178 countries – including the U.S. represented by George H.W. Bush – at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (also known as the Earth Summit). Agenda 21 reflects a broad international consensus that worsening poverty and growing stresses on the environment require greater integration between environmental and development concerns.
  • Fact: Agenda 21 is not a treaty and is not legally binding. Agenda 21 has no legal authority or precedent over a local U.S. jurisdiction or over a citizen. It is a blueprint or vision for development that simultaneously promotes economic growth, improved quality of life, and environmental protection. The conservative Heritage Foundation concurs that this is a nonbinding document.
  • Fact: Agenda 21 does not call for the elimination of private property ownership, single-family homes, private car ownership, individual travel choices, or family farms. It is fully consistent with personal freedoms and the rights of citizens to own property, homes, cars, and farms.
  • Fact: Agenda 21 does not take supremacy over U.S. law. National governments are in charge of their own development.
So why the focus all of the sudden? In many ways it has been propelled by a larger conversation in the U.S. – one that is a backlash against “big government.” The NIMBY (not in my backyard) activists make a play in the local media when local governments make development decisions (such as where to put in a bike lane, whether to give a permit to a local developer, traffic congestion planning, and so on). Ironically, they are using this global conspiracy theory to pressure local elected officials on decisions that are being made locally.

Activists have attacked the UN in states such as: New Hampshire; Virginia; Florida; Texas; and Missouri, accusing it of making local government decisions and denying individual rights. The media in turn sees a “juicy” story and keeps the conversation going despite the misinformation.

Agenda 21 does not put any American liberties or rights at risk. The facts (above) are clear and unequivocal. Unlike the NIMBY crowd, we don’t need to carry signs or get angry – but we do need to be vocal and vigorous in defense of the UN to ensure the facts are set straight and our message is heard. You can do this by speaking at city council meetings or writing a Letter to the Editor and op-ed, specifically tailored to debunking the Agenda 21. In the past few weeks UNA-USA members in Oklahoma helped turned back an anti-UN state resolution concerned about Agenda 21 and the Nashville Cordell Hull Chapter President had an op-ed published in The Tennessean educating readers about Agenda 21. (Unfortunately, the Tennessee state legislation passed days before the Oklahoma decision.)

Twenty years ago Agenda 21 launched a conversation about how national, state, or local governments think about the environment when they make planning decisions. When a city decides to put more efficient lights bulbs in the street lamps, it makes the streets safer, saves the money, and is better for the environment. The UN doesn’t have anything to do with common sense decisions like this that local governments make every day.

I had a great aunt who refused to believe the U.S. landed on the moon. My dad worked for NASA for more than two decades. You can imagine the conversations at family gatherings. That was fun to listen to, but this debate about Agenda 21 is not; it’s destructive. Let’s put aside the falsehoods, misrepresentations, and warped rationale. Let’s focus on the real UN agenda -- the positive impact on international cooperation and development, and the millions of lives it saves around the world.

And in case you were still wondering, the UN doesn’t own any black helicopters.


The UN Foundation
1750 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006

Tel: +1 202 887-9040
Fax: +1 202 887-9021

801 Second Avenue
9th Floor
New York, NY 10017

Tel: +1 212 697-3315
Fax: +1 212 697-3316

About Us
Contact Us
Leadership Dinner
Email Sign-up