When I was recently back in my Georgia stomping grounds to attend to multiple family medical emergencies, I didn’t have much time to get back in touch with state and local politics. I did notice, as always, the ongoing Mississippification of Georgia partisan allegiances, the realignment of the two major parties on largely racial lines. Lots of dogcatchers in rural parts of the state are changing parties. The State Capital is firmly in GOP hands. And in the exurban precincts where most of my extended family resides, “Obama” is pretty much a curse word to white folks, most especially white folks whose tangible interests are not being well-served by their new GOP overlords.

As in other Republican-dominated parts of the country, a lot of the political action is within the GOP, with no degree of craziness being off-bounds for those who want to persistently argue the party is still dominated by crypto-liberal RINOs who batten off Big Government and in their hearts insufficiently love Jesus (or perhaps more accurately, the vengeful Old Testament God whose highly selective quotations sound like an unholy mixture of the less restrained hate-rants of Ayn Rand and James Dobson). Conspiracy theories abound, as illustrated by this fascinating report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s intrepid political blogger Jim Galloway:

If you’ve been shopping for a sizable reason to vote against metro Atlanta’s transportation sales tax next month, but have been unable to find one that’s XXL or larger, try this on:

The tax and the people behind it are part of a United Nations plot called Agenda 21.

Laugh if you like. The topic is now center stage in Cobb County, as part of the debate over the penny sales tax, and the contest for chairman of the county commission as well.

Those who aren’t hardcore GOP will need a bit of background. Agenda 21 is also known as the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” and was adopted in 1992 at a conference in Brazil.

In most languages, the report is a vacuous U.N. document that declares the need for a “sustainable” world environment. But to a certain segment of those who speak Republican, it is a secret declaration of war.

At the state GOP convention in Columbus last month, delegates overwhelmingly condemned Agenda 21 as an attempt to “outlaw private property and redistribute wealth.”

At a debate in Paulding County two weeks ago, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, criticized Republican challenger Bill Carruth for labeling Agenda 21 a mere “conspiracy theory.”

“It’s not a conspiracy. This is the real McCoy,” said Heath, in dead earnest. “Their vision is to essentially conquer the world through limiting everything we do, incrementally taking our liberties away from us.”

It seems, according to an assortment of Republican primary candidates seeking votes in the July 31 primaries, that the U.N.’s tentacles are reaching Georgia via the inelegantly named “T-SPLOST,” a regional one-cent sales tax surcharge devoted to transportation projects that will be voted on separately in the state’s twelve economic development planning regions on the self-same July 31 ballot. The initiative is being avidly backed by that well-known one-worlder, Georgia right-wing Republican Governor Nathan Deal, along with most of the state’s GOP leadership, which has taken tardy notice of the fact that traffic congestion (particularly in metro Atlanta) has reached Third World Metropolis levels. Not wanting to violate their reflexive no-new-taxes pledges, these GOPers are punting the decision to voters.

This craven if vaguely responsible action is what’s got the wingnuts really stirred up. And it’s not just about higher taxes, but the awful specter of regional government aimed at encouraging godless hippie alternative transportation.

If you think I’m exaggerating, check out Galloway’s account of the campaign for chief executive of Cobb County, Georgia’s fourth most-populous county:

Republican incumbent Tim Lee, one of those who helped create the project list for the transportation sales tax, has three challengers.

The most prominent is former commission chairman Bill Byrne, who has taken aim at Lee and the Atlanta Regional Commission, the planning agency that attempts to coordinate growth in the 10-county metro area. The agency also did much of the behind-the-scenes footwork on the transportation sales tax.

In an interview, Byrne all but declared the ARC to be an agent of the United Nations and its plan to erase suburbia.

“The T-SPLOST is an ARC-driven agenda. It is not a Georgia [Department of Transportation] or General Assembly-driven agenda,” said Byrne, a 2002 GOP candidate for governor.

The ARC has designated the U.S. 41/I-75 corridor as a future path for high density, high-rise growth, Byrne pointed out. “That’s Agenda 21 101….”

The county is now constructing an eight-foot wide multi-use trail along Dallas Highway in west Cobb. “That’s Agenda 21,” Byrne said. “Bicycles and pedestrian traffic as an alternative form of transportation to the automobile.”

You have to appreciate that Georgia has 159 counties (by contrast, California has 58), 28 counties in metro Atlanta alone. Regional planning and coordination is an absolute must–unless you think of “planning” and “coordination” as inherently communistic, and an existential threat to the sacred property rights of developers.

And so you have the spectacle of one set of conservative extremists labeling another conscious agents of a U.N./tree-hugger conspiracy.

I don’t doubt that T-SPLOST will go down to defeat in most if not all of Georgia’s regions on July 31. If so, it will represent not just another in a long series of blows to any hopes of controlling suburban sprawl and providing economic opportunity to dying small-town and rural Georgia, but another inducement to future GOP candidates to pass through the gates of delirium to ever-crazier, ever-more-paranoid appeals.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.