Sen. Mike Lee wants the U.S. to sever ties with the United Nations

Lee’s bill is the latest entry in Utah’s deep-seated opposition to the U.N.

(Susan Walsh | AP) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

Sen. Mike Lee has introduced legislation calling for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations because he says the supranational organization usurps U.S. sovereignty and is a “voice for Marxism.”

The proposal is the latest anti-United Nations streak from the Beehive State that stretches back for decades.

Lee has been recently raging on social media about the organization after Israel accused U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of justifying attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation,” Guterres said in a statement calling for a ceasefire in the conflict. He has denied the Israeli accusations.

The “Disengaging Entirely from the United Nations Debacle (DEFUND) Act of 2023,” which Lee introduced on Wednesday, completely cuts off U.S. participation in the organization.

Lee’s proposal revokes the 1946 agreement establishing the organization’s headquarters in New York City, ends all U.S. payments, blocks any involvement of U.S. troops in peacekeeping operations, and withdraws the U.S. from the World Health Organization and other affiliates. Any future engagement between the U.S. and the U.N. would be subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.

“No more blank checks for the United Nations. Americans’ hard-earned dollars have been funneled into initiatives that fly in the face of our values — enabling tyrants, betraying allies, and spreading bigotry,” Lee said in a news release. “With the DEFUND Act, we’re stepping away from this debacle. If we engage with the U.N. in the future, it will be on our terms, with the full backing of the Senate and an ironclad escape clause.”

Many of the elements of Lee’s proposal come from legislation proposed by former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who first introduced a bill calling for American withdrawal from the United Nations in 1997. Despite receiving minimal support, Paul reintroduced his bill in every session of Congress from 1997 to 2011.

Lee’s proposal may be tied to the current war between Israel and Hamas, but anti-U.N. rhetoric has a long history in the state.

The senator uses some of the same arguments to support the bill that the far-right John Birch Society first employed. The group’s founder, Robert Welch, was rabidly opposed to the U.N., warning that it threatened U.S. sovereignty. In 1962, apostle Ezra Taft Benson, who would later become president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, formally endorsed the John Birch Society. The church’s governing First Presidency issued a statement distancing itself from the society.

In 2001, the LaVerkin City Council passed an ordinance declaring the small town a U.N.-free zone. The ordinance prohibited the use of the United Nations logo on city property and blocked spending any city funds to support the U.N.

In 2004, the Utah House of Representatives passed a resolution sponsored by former GOP Rep. Don Bush calling for the U.S. to withdraw from the United Nations. The bill later died in a Senate committee.

In 2013, state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, introduced a resolution rejecting the United Nations Agenda 21 — a nonbinding set of guidelines for sustainable development. Opponents claimed Agenda 21 promoted socialism and would infringe on individual liberties. Weiler’s resolution passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the House.

Even now, conspiracy theories about an impending takeover by the United Nations are flourishing in Utah. In 2022, those unfounded fears helped to kill a bill expanding the state’s use of digital driver licenses.

Last year, former Republican congressional candidate Jason Preston ambushed Gov. Spencer Cox at the Utah GOP Convention, asking him about a far-right conspiracy theory involving the U.N. and the development of a “smart city” at the site of the former Utah State Prison at the Point of the Mountain. In the confrontation, which Preston caught on video, Cox pushes back against Preston’s claims.

“You like to make up conspiracy theories. I know it’s good for your brand. I hope that works for you, but you don’t get to make up s--- about me,” Cox said.