When the socialists take over, we won’t see tanks roll in, we’ll see bike paths.

That’s the picture described to lawmakers last month by conspiracy theorists who are making life a living hell for planning departments all over the state.

First come bike paths and sidewalks. Then trolleys to make cars less desirable. And then oppressive one-world government, controlled by the United Nations through its nefarious “Agenda 21″.

The liberty-loving kooks who want to protect us from the horror of sustainable development have a bill before the Legislature that would stop the insidious spread of international socialist ideas creeping into zoning maps and building codes.

The need for such a law is self evident — to them.

“Think about this, why would there be a need for a bill ‘An Act to Ban the United Nations Agenda 21 in Maine’ if there were no United Nations in Maine?” asked Phil Merletti of Take America Back, with the circular logic typical of the movement. “This is the most important bill to be heard this century.” (Their other hallmark is overstatement.)

Fortunately, the bill is going nowhere and this brand of looniness will be left to ferment among the true believers, like those who think the moon landing was faked or that Barack Obama was created in a mad scientist’s laboratory. But the anti-Agenda 21 crowd got a big boost last week when our own Gov. Paul LePage showed up at one of their rallies, if not declaring himself to be the practical equivalent of an alien abduction survivor, he let them know that he is at least a fellow traveler.

The governor — one of only 50 in these United States — spoke on the same stage as Michael Coffman, the Bangor-based author of “Plundered: How progressive ideology is destroying America.” Coffman is a proponent of the idea that the U.N. is conspiring to use “affordable housing” and “open space” to depopulate the countryside and organize what’s left of the world’s population under a single government.

To fully appreciate how strange it was for the governor to show up at an event like this, you have to consider how truly wacky these people are. There really is a U.N. and an Agenda 21, but that’s where the similarity with reality ends.

Agenda 21 is a voluntary set of guidelines for sustainable development, particularly in the Third World. The U.N. is made up of the folks who brought you no sequel to World War II.

Coffman started by telling people that their beliefs are not necessarily their own, but were planted there by indoctrination. The concept of preserving the environment by concentrating development will force people to move to urban areas against their will.

“People are being used to begin a process to bring a slow death to this nation,” Coffman warned.

And did the governor tell everyone that they had nothing to be afraid of? That the democratic process and local control gives communities the ability to shape the kind of development they want to see, not what some out-of-town business, responsible only to its shareholders, wants to build? That it’s people active in their communities, not the U.N., that controls local planning?

No. He started throwing around anecdotes from his days as a businessman trying build a Mardens in an old Walmart in Scarborough. He complained that meddlesome planners ordered him around.

“They told us what color we could have. They told us what the front would look like. They told us what kind of trees,” LePage said.

Unlike his claim that Maine students have to take special college entrance exams, or that the University of Maine Presque Isle’s windmill has a little motor inside it to make the blades go around, this one is at least partly true.

The Mardens store was built in a commercial subdivision and was subject to design standards established when the subdivision was approved. But this wasn’t a case of monolithic government telling a poor property owner what to do, it was an example of residents having a say in how their town would grow and other businesses being confident that they could invest knowing that the town would not let an eyesore show up next door.

It’s a long way between having a frustrating back-and-forth with a planning board to believing that the U.N. is trying to kill us all, but LePage was letting the people at the rally know he is ready to make that leap.

You have to wonder how moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins, who has to share the ballot with LePage next year, takes a move like this.

Just what is the moderate position on one-world-government tyranny, anyway?

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at: 791-6481 or:

gkesich@pressherald.com