Communist plot — or just plain art?

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  • CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Marker 11, a work by John Zylstra and selected by the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission for display until September 2020, supposedly comments on coal manufacturing.

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    Marker 11, a work by John Zylstra and selected by the Coeur d'Alene Arts Commission for display until September 2020, supposedly comments on coal manufacturing. Each side of the cubed artwork features a frame of a symbol and it's native translation of the word "COAL." The American panel has a red X below "COAL;" it's Russian counterpart features a hammer and sickle. A local activist points to the Soviet symbol as evidence of a global conspiracy toward socialism. (CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press)

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  • CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Marker 11, a work by John Zylstra and selected by the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission for display until September 2020, supposedly comments on coal manufacturing.

  • 1

    Marker 11, a work by John Zylstra and selected by the Coeur d'Alene Arts Commission for display until September 2020, supposedly comments on coal manufacturing. Each side of the cubed artwork features a frame of a symbol and it's native translation of the word "COAL." The American panel has a red X below "COAL;" it's Russian counterpart features a hammer and sickle. A local activist points to the Soviet symbol as evidence of a global conspiracy toward socialism. (CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press)

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By CRAIG NORTHRUP

Staff Writer

COEUR d’ALENE — Here Marker #11 stands.

It’s not immediately obvious how the dots connect between a Friday downpour at Riverstone Park and a worldwide conspiracy to control the North Idaho population, but follow along anyway.

The story began 27 years ago in Brazil.

In 1992, the United Nations held an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Delegates from 178 countries, municipalities and other provincial governments adopted a series of non-binding goals and blueprints to move the planet toward a more sustainable 21st Century. Its action plan was called Agenda 21.

Since then, Agenda 21 has been updated periodically to recognize income inequality, salvage dying cultural history and reduce child mortality, among other aspirations. One noteworthy — and, as it turns out, relevant — adjustment included the program’s name, which changed in 2015. The United Nations reaffirmed the goals of the ’92 Summit and revised the timetable for 2030. Agenda 21 morphed into Agenda 2030.

Since its inception, Agenda 21 has also been a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists, fearmongers and some politicians. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck co-wrote a 2012 dystopian novel titled “Agenda 21.” The froth, severity and reach of conspiracy theories lie everywhere on the believability spectrum from perfectly plausible to outright cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs. They’re fodder for activists and authors all across the country.

One activist is North Idaho’s Casey Whalen.

Whalen believes Agenda 2030 is an attempt by the United Nations to strip Americans of their property rights and violate U.S. sovereignty. He said the world body encourages local government entities to carry out this agenda.

In this case, Whalen is referring to Coeur d’Alene’s CDA 2030.

CDA 2030 is an inter-jurisdictional community project intended — or “claiming,” depending on whom you talk to — to focus on growth and development by establishing a community identity, raising the community’s level of education and literacy, developing a cleaner environment, promoting public health and incentivizing business, among other goals.

“I can tell you exactly what it is,” Whalen said Friday. “CDA 2030 is implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The City Council has rubber-stamped [the U.N.] agenda, which is to implement the SDGs of the U.N., period. Agenda 21 is being implemented here and actually everywhere. These local 501(c)(3) nonprofits are forcing us to be green. This will result in total control of our lives.”

It’s easy to dismiss Whalen’s notions as an imagination gone wild. But still, towering against the pouring Friday rainstorm, here Marker #11 stands.

One strategy conspiracy theorists think the United Nations is using to enslave people into communism and socialism is de-sensitization.

Whalen said the American people would slowly come to accept socialist and communist ideas promoted by the United Nations if society was exposed to enough symbols. Symbols deemed un-American. Symbols that represent a populace shepherded by a world body into a leftist agenda.

Symbols like the Soviet hammer and sickle.

Marker #11 was a piece of art chosen by the Coeur d’Alene Arts Commission as part of its artCurrents program, a series of sculptures and creations that rotate through the community. Its creator, artist John Zylstra, built a box-like structure featuring the word “COAL” on each side, beneath a representative symbol from the language’s native country. The word “COAL” in English hovers over the American street sign for a railroad crossing, a giant red X.

The Russian word for “COAL” appears on another panel, the Soviet hammer and sickle on display beneath it.

Whalen said the wife of a Facebook follower discovered the artwork. On Nov. 8, Whalen posted a video on Facebook, a video he created using a Google Maps satellite overlay. The video, branded with Whalen’s North Idaho Exposed activist platform, hovered over Coeur d’Alene before zooming in on the Riverstone district before blending into a panoramic video of the loop around the pond at Riverstone Park. The video panned over to Marker #11, its hammer and sickle on display for all to see, the music of the Soviet national anthem playing in the background.

Upon first inspection, the image of the actual artwork looked like it had been digitally manipulated. To be certain, The Press went to the site in the video.

Sure enough, to Whalen’s credit, standing in the pouring Friday rain, we saw Marker #11 for ourselves.

Marker #11 has been perched at its spot overlooking the artificial pond since 2016. Barring any unforeseen changes, it will stand at that spot until at least September 2020, according to City Administrator Troy Tymesen.

For the record, Nikole Cummings of Riverstone Holdings, the company that donated the land to the city of Coeur d’Alene, denied knowing of any plot or conspiracy to desensitize the people of Coeur d’Alene to any United Nations, communist or socialist agenda. She also was not aware of Marker #11 until she was reached for comment.

Mayor Steve Widmyer, whom Whalen called out on social media, also denied any knowledge of the artwork or a communist, socialist or United Nations agenda, adding that Marker #11 was not his, well, brand of vodka.

“I will say that I am opposed to having any communist symbol displayed,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

The artwork’s artist, John Zylstra, could not be reached for comment.

Jennifer Drake, who leads the city’s Arts Commission, said she understood the temporary artwork might be upsetting to some, but noted that art is meant to evoke discussion and passion.

“People will see conspiracy everywhere they look,” she said. “But if you take the time to see what the artist intended, you’ll see a very different message. I think our job is to bring in art that evokes different feelings. I personally don’t believe it’s intentionally offensive, but I completely understand people who are uncomfortable. Some people will feel uncomfortable for very legitimate reasons. But that doesn’t justify a death threat.”

Drake was referring to a post on the North Idaho Exposed YouTube channel where a viewer identified himself as Joey Grant. In the post, Grant said anyone involved with the project should be shot, encouraging others to “enact the 2nd! Freedom don’t involve communism.”

The controversy fueled Whalen’s rhetoric about Agenda 21 and its role — imagined or otherwise — in Coeur d’Alene.

“This is all part of Agenda 21,” Whalen said. “When you know what to look for, it’s extremely easy to see. That ‘art’ piece is a result of these nonprofits literally running our area, and no one has a clue.

“At least, not very many.”

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