Dissent in the Desert
"They have this sky-is-falling, everybody-is-out-to-get-us mentality," says Gary McKell, a state game warden and La Verkin councilman. McKell was one of two council members to vote against a ban on displaying U.N. symbols on public property that also orders residents who work with the international organization to post a sign.
Under pressure from Utah’s attorney general and civil libertarians, Lee and his brother-in-law, La Verkin Mayor Dan Howard, have reaffirmed that the "U.N.-Free Zone" is symbolic. Still, violators can be prosecuted and two part-time La Verkin police officers resigned in protest.
"It’s an isolationist view and we don’t need it," says LaMar Gubler, owner of the Sunrise Market, a morning gathering place in the middle of La Verkin. Gubler keeps a copy of the ordinance on a store counter for customers to read. "You could go to any place in rural America and find the same sentiment."
Dissension has not weakened support. Ned Snow is pushing Toquerville to vote on the measure and Don Tait of Hurricane, a John Birch Society member since 1962, has asked his city to consider it.
Others hope Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has agreed to discuss the ordinance Wednesday with the La Verkin council, can persuade city leaders to reverse course.
"The last place I would want to go is someplace that has declared war on the U.N. at the same time they are arming themselves," says Andy Anderson, who moved to Virgin eight years ago with wife Dee and five daughters. The family built and runs the Fort Zion Trading Post, a large tourist shop that caters to the roughly 2 million yearly visitors to nearby Zion National Park. To foster goodwill with Zion’s many international guests, the Andersons surround their property with flags from other nations.
"I would in no way want to offend the sensibilities of people from other countries," Dee Anderson says. "I make my living off these people."
But for Lee, the debate runs deeper than pocketbooks. Political deliberations only magnify his religious conviction. More than a few La Verkin and Virgin residents accept the so-called "White Horse Prophecy" ascribed to Mormon founder Joseph Smith, an apocalyptic belief that the U.S. Constitution one day will hang by a thread and a Mormon elder will ride in on a metaphorical white horse and save it.
"If you want to see the hand of the Lord, read the Constitution," says Lee, a soft-spoken man who ranches, farms and works for a building-supply company. "God is at work there and his work is under attack."
Al Snow, a La Verkin councilman and Lee confidant, agrees.
"The United Nations would love to destroy the Constitution," says Snow, a former John Bircher. "They’ll never overturn [the ordinance]."
Snow’s influences are more abstract than Lee’s. A retired NASA employee who moved to La Verkin from California in 1974, Snow is critical of a 1972 treaty that established U.N. World Heritage Sites. Among the designations are Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Yellowstone National Park. Tait and Al Snow contend the treaty infringes on U.S. sover- eignty.
"Our leaders have given up the Constitution for one-world government," Tait says.
Lee, on the other hand, is a landowner who for years has fought the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance over access to land and water.
Howard, La Verkin’s mayor, is angered by the loss of historical hunting spots on federal land and designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Four parcels within La Verkin, promised in a trade from the BLM to Utah, were tied up after the monument’s designation. Three of the parcels eventually changed hands but Howard says SUWA wants to scuttle development.
"These people come from a firebrand form of patriotism," says Dick Hingson of La Verkin, who has worked for SUWA. Hingson has asked the American Civil Liberties Union to consider challenging the anti-U.N. ordinance. "The next step is witch hunts if this is not handled in the right way."