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A captive manatee (Wikimedia)
Oppressive government organizations. Global conspiracies against mankind. Manatees.

Manatees, you say? Oh yes. Manatees.

A Citrus County tea party group has announced that it's fighting new restrictions on boating and other human activities in Kings Bay that have been proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We cannot elevate nature above people," explained Edna Mattos, 63, leader of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots, in an interview. "That's against the Bible and the Bill of Rights." [...]

Kings Bay, famed as the one place in Florida where humans can swim with and even touch the manatees, is facing a renewed battle over how much protection for manatees is too much. That argument has been going on there since Jacques Cousteau featured Kings Bay's manatees in his 1972 documentary Forgotten Mermaids.

When the first sanctuary rules were put in place in 1980, there were about 100 manatees there. Now federal officials estimate that more than 550 manatees use the bay year-round, and in the winter more than 100,000 people show up in Crystal River to see them. [...]

Current regulations have helped boost the manatee population from 100 to 500, so clearly they're sufficient, Mattos said. In fact, in her view, the manatee rules tie in to global development issues.

"We believe that (federal regulators') aim is to control the fish and wildlife, in addition to the use of the land that surrounds this area, and the people that live here and visit. … As most of us know, this all ties in to the United Nations' Agenda 21 and Sustainability."

Agenda 21 is a program, adopted by the U.N. in 1992, to encourage countries around the world to promote only development that does not harm nature. Pundit Glenn Beck and other conservatives have attacked it as an attempt to impose world government's rules on every aspect of American lives. The Citrus County tea party group's website says Agenda 21 is "designed to make humans into livestock."

Mattos said she enjoys showing off the manatees to her grandchildren, but she had little use for the Save the Manatee Club, explaining, "If some of these environmental movements had been around in the days of the dinosaurs, we'd be living in Jurassic Park now."

It is well known that God hates manatees. He doesn't particularly care for any endangered animals, which is why He goes to such lengths to ensure that good Christians build office parks and shopping centers in their best habitats, but manatees are especially loathed. That is why God made them slow, pudgy, and unattractive. If God loved them, they would look like the adorable dolphins or, better still, baby harp seals, which are essentially the My Little Ponies of the marine world, or would be, if they came in plastic packaging. We have been diligently working on that last part ourselves, thanks to a colossal raft of plastics collecting in the heart of the Pacific Ocean even as we speak, where it waits to achieve critical mass before being unleashed, petro-Godzilla-like, upon the rest of the planet.

No, manatees are especially despised. In one of the later epistles—St. Beck's letter to the Floridians, I think it was—the apostle goes on at some length about how five hundred manatees are more than enough, and how all of God's creatures are fine and good up until they interfere with recreational boating rights in some defined area, at which point they can go to hell. We are keepers of the land and sea, and any animal that dares assert itself in either domain, say by perhaps floating gently just below the surface of the water, in easy propeller range, had best learn its place in our—I mean, God's—no, wait, I certainly mean our—great kingdom.

No, in the battle between humanity and manatee, there is literally no room in the sea for the manatee. We have claimed every ocean, and every bay and inlet: they are ours, every bit of them. If God had wanted manatees to have that particular stretch of Florida waters, He would have given them the ability to invent flipper-operable guns and deadly underwater chainsaws so they could fight for it properly.

This is a Tea Party story that has it all. It may be, in fact, the single best, most condensed, most distilled Tea Party story in the short history of Tea Party stories. Consider the elements:

  • A worldwide conspiracy theory, headed by the U.N., that intends to "make humans into livestock."
  • Prominent citation of both the Bible and the Constitution as reasons why conservatives can and should do whatever they want, when they want, and the rest of the world be damned.
  • An innate belief that protecting nature is in opposition to both of those things.
  • A Glenn Beck connection.
  • A basic lack of understanding of the proposed regulations they are railing against.
  • Angry performances inside public meetings.
  • An inexplicable reference to dinosaurs at the end that leaves the reader suspicious as to whether the conservative spokesperson truly knows anything at all about dinosaurs, or is merely referencing an even deeper conspiracy theory—one that also cites the Bible, the Constitution, and possibly Glenn Beck.

Among all of God's creatures, and distinctly unlike manatees, Tea Partiers are uniquely blessed. It would be quite enough if God had only revealed to them that paying their own fair share of the damn taxes was anti-Biblical and un-American. To bless them also with knowledge of an infinite variety of other things, such as the mechanics of global climate, the true birthplace and history of our first non-lily-white president, and why wealthy people are both better than and more put upon than you or I—now that is an encyclopedic knowledge. Toss in the discovery of a worldwide conspiracy involving portly sea mammals, and you would think that Ms. Mattos and her fellow Tea Partiers had gained more divine knowledge than any other humans in history since Moses trudged down a mountainside carrying a few of God's personal sticky notes.

Even the Bible doesn't talk about manatee conspiracies. The closest it comes is when Jonah gets swallowed by a great fish after the brief equivalent of a God vs. prophet car chase. There is talk about how certain scurrying sea bugs are unclean, which having seen them, I find difficult to argue with. No manatee plots, though.

You might ask how it is that a group of Tea Partiers heard about a proposal to modify seasonal non-residential restrictions on recreational boating in a particular bay in order to better protect a threatened species that 100,000 visitors a year flock to see, and immediately connect that to a worldwide humans-as-livestock conspiracy theory driven by the suspicious-sounding Agenda 21. I think the more likely scenario is that the deeply-held conspiracy theory came first, and every other thing in the immediate vicinity of the Tea Partiers involved got attached to it. Tea Partiers seem drawn to such theories like moths to a porch light. It is so bright! So shiny! It looks just like the full moon, if the full moon had a G.E. logo inked prominently onto it!

And so they tarry there endlessly, dazzled by the light, doing their crazy, diving loops and going nowhere in particular.

Where were we? Ah, yes. Manatees. No, wait—livestock. There was something in there about livestock.

The line "designed to make humans into livestock" is a grand one, and even if this story had nothing to do with manatees it would be worth probing just for that line. How do efforts to protect nature tie in to a plot to make humans into "livestock"? I tried looking for answers at the Tea Party website in question, which is a veritable potpourri of crackpotism, flashing pictures and citations of imminent doom pressing in from twenty different directions, but alas: access to this seemingly very critical bit of information is available only to registered members. The rest of us are left to ponder it on our own.

So I did, and still came away stumped. What we have among conservatives is a group of people that in general believes the sick and weak should be culled, or at least not much supported by the rest of us, and that genetic homogeneity in humans is preferable to genetic diversity (this one seems a sticking point, for many), and that the highest and best use of most of the common citizenry is to act as economic food for the wealthy and the corporate. I don't know how you get from there to the sudden paranoid suspicion that somebody out there is treating your fellow citizens like livestock.

That said, I recall that the U.N. does sometimes go out of its way to feed people who would otherwise starve, which if you squint at it hard enough, sounds suspiciously like a farmer who actually cares about his animals. And I suppose all this talk of "sustainability" sounds suspiciously like that self-same farmer trying to make sure his animals do not poop in their own feed bins or water troughs, or at least that it gets cleaned up when they do, because livestock needs clean water and non-tainted food. And those do sound like things that a lot of conspiracies have been revolving around, lately, but the joke is on us: clever people know that humans do not need either clean water or clean food, because we have pills now, goddamn it, and buying enough pills will patch up nearly anything.

The proper non-livestock-ish thing to do, as near as I can decipher, the rebellious thing that would prove we were not livestock, would be to let hungry people die on their own, and let the sick fend for themselves, and above all we should all poop anywhere and on anything we damn well want to. Just for good measure we should redouble our efforts to ensure we are predators, not cattle, by preying on each other wherever and whenever possible. After all, our largest corporate titans are often compared to dinosaurs, huge and lumbering, and with a vicious and unfathomable appetite. Are they not a more advanced life form than mere cattle? I know that there are many, many days when I feel I have been dropped into some corporate Jurassic Park, and some big, sharp-toothed company is glaring down at me with huge, reptilian eyes. I know they are eyeing what I eat, or how much money is in my wallet, or even contemplating whether my very DNA itself might have a special morsel in there somewhere, all of it with the cold, calculating stare of an apex predator trying to decide how best to make a meal of me.

Wait, now I've gotten off the point again. What were we talking about? Dinosaurs?

No, it was livestock, I think, the difference between livestock and dinosaurs, and about not pooping where you drink, and... no, that's not right either. Then there was something about how the Bible said to kill off nature, and if you didn't it would violate the Bill of Rights, and Glenn Beck was somehow involved in it all, but only from afar, because he can't be everywhere. Especially now that he doesn't even have his television show but has been sent back down to the radio leagues, so he's reduced to playing second fiddle to Rush Limbaugh, that round and blubbery Floridian who—

Ah! Manatees! We were talking about manatees. There we are, no harm done.

The above-cited news story closed on a poignant note, though only in passing...

Mattos said she enjoys showing off the manatees to her grandchildren, but she had little use for the Save the Manatee Club, explaining, "If some of these environmental movements had been around in the days of the dinosaurs, we'd be living in Jurassic Park now."

Throw away the Jurassic Park reference for the moment, and contemplate the beginning part, which touches your heart ever so slightly. There it is, then. Ms. Mattos, the person with the insistent website filled with flashing police lights and conspiracy theories hidden behind registration screens, the person so earnest in her desire to make sure humans never become livestock, the Bible-citing, rights-defending grandmother battling against the United Nations, enjoys showing off the manatees to her grandchildren.

The manatee population is only about five hundred, in the bay, which is a significant portion of the merely 3,300 or so manatees left in all of Florida. You could fly the entire Florida population of manatees to Disney World for the day using less than a dozen jumbo jets, if they could fit in the damn airline seats, which I suppose they most certainly could not. But wait a few decades and it will likely be easier still.

But even this Tea Party matron enjoys showing them to her grandchildren, and that is the important thing. Whether her grandchildren will be able to show the animals to their own grandchildren has no bearing, and is in fact a silly and unpatriotic question. You would no more want keep a manatee around than an apatosaurus, after all. Or an elephant. Or a polar bear, or a tiger. Photographs will be good enough for the next generations, or if possible a stuffed two or three placed in a quiet room in a dimly lit museum, posing gently there, motionless, with a painted background of green, open water lending a bit of realism to the scene.

Where were we? We were talking about manatees, I think, and about how protecting them was against the Bible, and about how we humans are elevated above nature, and how any true patriot would know all that. And I think we were talking about our children and grandchildren, but only in passing.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 07:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Florida.

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