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Are you worried about the UN taking over the Alamo? So is this Texas state senator.

The Alamo, before the coming UN invasion.
The Alamo, before the coming UN invasion.
(John Greim/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Is the United Nations trying to steal The Alamo from Texas? Texas State Senator Donna Campbell (R) is concerned enough about the possibility that she's proposed legislation to ban foreign ownership of the site. She was prompted by a UN cultural agency that is considering designating The Alamo a world heritage site, which she is strangely confusing with an attempted UN takeover.

Here's what happened. In 2014, the US Department of the Interior nominated the San Antonio Missions (five former Spanish missions, including The Alamo) to collectively be designated a World Heritage Site by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The designation brings international recognition and, if necessary, UN support for a site's maintenance; there are currently over 1,000 world heritage sites, including 22 in the US. None have been taken over by UN forces. According to the Texas Tribune, UNESCO will make a decision on the nomination by July.

Sen. Campbell has expressed concern that The Alamo, the site of an iconic defeat of Texas independence fighters and a symbol of state pride, could eventually be sold to the UN. "It was there that Texas first stood her ground to be free, and the UN doesn't have any business there," she said.

Her proposed bill is meant to prevent by banning the Texas land office from vesting "any ownership, control, or management" over The Alamo to "an entity formed under the laws of another country."

A speech Campbell gave on behalf of her bill argued that the Alamo should remain under Texan control — which, just to be clear, no one is proposing to change.

"In the charge to the battle, the battle cry was 'Remember the Alamo,' and since then, the Alamo has been recognized as hallowed ground in Texas, and a shrine of Texas liberty," the Tribune quotes Campbell as saying. "The Alamo is a story of Texas, and it should be owned, operated, and maintained, controlled by Texans."

UNESCO World Heritage Site designation does not bring anything even remotely resembling UN ownership or control. The Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Yellowstone National Park are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites — so far, none are swarming with blue helmets or black helicopters.

An FAQ on UNESCO's site clarifies the point: "The site is the property of the country on whose territory it is located, but it is considered in the interest of the international community to protect the site for future generations."

The status is typically welcomed by governments, including that of the US, for its economic benefits. An estimate by one consulting group suggests the designation, if properly promoted by tourism groups, could generate over $100 million in economic activity by bringing in more domestic and international tourists willing to spend cash locally.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Campbell has admitted that making the Alamo a UNESCO site would not actually involve selling it to the UN. She said in warning, however, that "UNESCO starts with UN."

Ultimately, Campbell's bill is harmless. But it's demonstrative of a deep-seated mistrust of the UN in some corners of American politics.

A lot of popular American conspiracy theories finger the UN as a malign actor bent on suborning US sovereignty. In extremis, that means crazy talk about the UN stealing American land. In more mainstream variants, relatively benign UN initiatives such as the Small Arms or Law of the Sea Treaties get recast as backdoor attempts to undermine US self-government and cede control to the United Nations.

Campbell's merely the latest American politician to work in this long tradition. "It's possible that she has tapped into that concern of some of her constituents," David Crockett, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio and a distant relative of the famous Alamo fighter Davy Crockett, told the Chronicle. "The other option is she herself really does believe that there is a threat posed by internationalist forces to reduce sovereignty in the US."

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