In the debate over RhodeMap RI, the John Birch Society and allied groups are spreading ridiculous lies to advance their own agenda in Rhode Island. And they are trying to take down a reasonable and effective state economic development plan in the process.
The talking points are all the same from their attempts in other states to demonize forward looking plans and smart growth initiatives. The training videos use the same language and teach the same tactics. And many of the people following it are part of a network of fringe groups that consider common city planning practices to be part of a United Nations conspiracy. In fact, the RhodeMap opponents’ national “expert” is none other than John Anthony, whose work has been heavily promoted by the John Birch Society (see HERE).
The claims of this movement have been developed and spread by radical conspiracy theorists like the John Birchers — who once accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a Communist agent and also described the fluoridation of drinking water as a Red plot. And their latest assertions are no more accurate than those early charges. But they have managed to influence some important Rhode Islanders.
Always, they come bearing the same practiced language and predictions of disaster. Every time, their local connections are more Astroturf than grassroots: National fringe groups provide much of the funding, training, messaging, materials, staffing, and media access. And, most consistently of all, the things they say are false.
Unfortunately, these outsiders are trying to take down thoughtful work that had broad public engagement to strengthen our state’s economy and preserve our great historic towns. They are hoping their loud voices will drown out those of the many everyday Rhode Islanders who put so much time, thought and effort into a plan for their state’s advancement.
If the fear-mongering claims were true, you could understand why some Rhode Islanders would be worried. They make it sound as though the mere act of planning for the future will lead directly to homes being seized and create a “threat to the republic”.
But, of course, the claims are not true. They trace these outlandish scenarios to the United Nations and Agenda 21, a non-binding, voluntary plan for environmental sustainability that came out of a meeting in Rio in 1992. The “21” stands for the 21st century. It’s about as benign and toothless as anything that comes out of the U.N. (This article traces some of the history.)
Though the claims are baseless, the hysteria they cause can have the effect of poisoning any kind of rational discussion of the very real challenges we face — challenges we must tackle head-on in an increasingly complex and stressed world.
There is no need to cave in to the extremists, however. Time and again, thoughtful local leaders and residents have come together to push back successfully against these outsiders. In Troy, MI, for example, the business community recently came together and fought off an Agenda 21 attack that would have taken away city investment in a train station that was a key economic driver of the town.
Rhode Islanders need to stand up for what Rhode Island needs, and not listen to out-of-state efforts to incite fear. We need to stand up for our state’s future, for our freedom to come together and thoughtfully talk about our economic needs, and for the democratic process that brought thousands of people together to create the RhodeMap.
In that spirit, Grow Smart Rhode Island wants to make it clear that we understand that reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the proposed Rhode Map RI Economic Development Plan and we’re eager to have this kind of substantive discussion. What we are frustrated about and determined to counter is having the debate about the Plan fueled by an active misinformation campaign that raises false fears and baseless conspiracy theories.