PHOENIX — Arizona Republican lawmakers and activists warned of terrorist and communist plots backed by the government during a passionate hearing last week that saw one state representative joke that supporters should indicate their approval by shooting into the air.
The hearing held at the Arizona Legislature saw residents and lawmakers alike fret about federal government policies that allegedly threaten businesses and property owners. Republican Sen. Judy Burges opened the meeting by warning that "far-reaching and intrusive government" is targeting private property rights and individual choice. She told lawmakers it was their duty to be vigilant and "suspicious."
Democratic Sen. Steve Farley said he attended the hearing because he wanted to better understand the conservative viewpoint, but the crowd was not interested in compromise.
"It was very clear from the meeting that there are a lot of people who are very fearful of how the world is changing," said Farley, who accused his Republican counterparts of "riling up people's emotions with things that have no basis in reality."
Burges' bill banning local governments from recognizing all United Nations declarations was passed by the Republican-led Arizona Senate in March. A similar measure was passed by the House on April 4. Both measures were opposed by Democrats who accused the GOP lawmakers of being paranoid.
Republican Senate President Andy Biggs didn't attend the hearing and declined to comment on whether property rights were at risk, but he said he had no problem with the main message.
"I am concerned with what the United Nations' overall agenda is," he said.
Lawmakers in Missouri and Oklahoma are also pushing legislation this year barring state or local officials from adopting policies outlined in a 1992 United Nations document that could affect private property rights. "Agenda 21" is a nonbinding UN agreement signed by 178 nations that encourages sustainable development. The agreement, also known as the Rio Declaration, encourages environmentally friendly and sustainable practices around the world, with suggestions from the international level down to cities and towns.
Anti-government sentiment is strong in Republican-controlled Arizona, where lawmakers have passed laws allowing the state to ignore federal mandates and Gov. Jan Brewer has questioned the legality of various Obama administration policies.
During the hearing, former state Sen. Sylvia Allen warned lawmakers of a "new world order" backed by President Barack Obama and other global leaders that establishes communism.
"President Obama keeps talking about the total transformation of America," she said to applause. "The agenda is really the communist manifesto for the 21st century and it is what we have replaced our constitution with."
While Obama's policies have expanded government, he does not identify as a socialist and his administration hasn't sought one of the classic forms of socialism — government control of the nation's means of production. The U.S. Constitution remains the law of the land.
Still, Republican Rep. Adam Kwasman told Allen her speech was "a very, very inspiring presentation" and praised her as "a proud, new generation of champions of freedom in the United States."
Others at the meeting complained that government-backed efforts to enact sustainable environmental policies amounted to terrorism or, at the very least, unconstitutional mandates. Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend said Arizona shouldn't take any money from the federal government to preserve its independence.
At one point during the hearing, Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe, who stirred controversy when he invited a bulletproof vest retailer to do a demonstration at the state Capitol on Monday, interrupted Allen with a series of jokes.
"Are you fracking around with us? And, by the way, audience, please refrain from laughing and clapping, but here in Arizona if you do have your Colt .45, feel free to shoot it in the air," Thorpe said. "I'm here all day. Try the shrimp."
Allen shot back, "Don't get me started on the Second Amendment."
Thorpe said after the hearing that he was referring to Yosemite Sam, a popular gunslinging cartoon character.
"I basically made a joke with reference to a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Yosemite Sam used to shoot his guns in the air," Thorpe told The Associated Press Friday. "Everybody got the joke."
But not everyone did.
Farley, the only Democrat at the hearing, said Thorpe's joke was "chilling" given Arizona's recent history. Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during a public meeting with constituents in 2011 outside a Tucson-area supermarket.
"There aren't even supposed to be guns in the building," Farley told the AP. "It's just not appropriate in a setting where there are high emotions to joke about getting guns and shooting them."