Ellsworth City Hall on Aug. 17, 2021. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A right-wing conspiracy theory got a platform Monday at the Ellsworth City Council meeting when Councilor Steve O’Halloran put it on the agenda at the request of local businessman and activist John Linnehan.

The conspiracy theory centers around the United Nations’ sustainability initiative — Agenda 21 — which is a non-binding action plan developed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

Linnehan, who is running for the Maine Legislature in November, told the council that Agenda 21 is “part of a one-world plan to defeat America.”

He did not go into detail about the initiative, but said he would like to discuss it further with the council at a later date, after members of the council have had time to read up on it.

“I think our country is at risk,” Linnehan said. “I believe our republic is teetering right now.”

Although the council discussed the UN initiative Monday, no such workshop to discuss it further was scheduled.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 1992 plan was signed by President George H.W. Bush and leaders of 177 other countries.

Since then, however, it has become increasingly characterized as “a secret plot to impose a totalitarian world government, [and] a nefarious effort to crush freedom in the name of environmentalism,” the law center said.

Conspiracy theorists argue that the 23-year-old non-binding UN resolution to promote sustainable development “is the linchpin in a plot to subjugate humanity under an eco-totalitarian regime,” according to The Guardian.

Councilor Michelle Kaplan spoke in favor of holding “an education session” about Agenda 21. She said everyone wants clean water and renewable energy, but that the UN plan also says that private property ownership is unsustainable and calls for eliminating the consumption of meat around the world.

“Most people don’t know about this plan,” Kaplan said. “Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It specifically states the only way to have global equity is to reduce the American standard of living.”

Councilor Bob Miller did not comment on the topic, but he read aloud an email from Councilor Casey Hanson, who was not at the meeting.

“My initial inclination is to ignore conspiracy theories. However, my worry is that hysteria about this invented problem could get in the way of dealing with very real challenges we face,” Hanson wrote. Challenges, Hanson indicated, include the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and economic issues such as the labor shortage and inflation

“As this is the third time this conspiracy has been raised by city councilors, it is clear that we must confront it and point out the distraction the falsehood presents to the serious business of serving our citizens,” Hanson wrote.

Kaplan nonetheless urged Ellsworth residents to seek out information on Agenda 21 to understand it better.

“Just go to the United Nations website,” she said. “It’s not a conspiracy theory.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....