Forget conspiracy theories about JFK's assassination, black helicopters, Sept. 11, 2001. This is the big one. We're talking about the secret...

Share story

WASHINGTON — Forget conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination, black helicopters, Sept. 11, 2001. This is the big one.

We’re talking about the secret plan to build a superhighway, a giant 10- to 12-lane production, from the Yucatán to the Yukon. This “SuperCorridor” would allow the really big part of the plan to take place: the merging of the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico. Say goodbye to the dollar, and maybe even the English language.

The rumor is sweeping the Internet, radio and magazines, spread by bloggers, broadcasters and writers who cite the “proof” in the writings of a respected American University professor, in a task force put together by the Council on Foreign Relations and in the workings of the Commerce Department.

As do many modern rumors, fears of a North American Union began with a few grains of truth and leapt to an unsubstantiated conclusion.

Back and forth

Urban legends

Legend: The Civil Rights Act will expire in 2007.

Verdict: Some minor provisions of the Voting Rights Act involving federal oversight of specific counties were due to expire.

Legend: African Americans are eligible for a special onetime $5,000 tax credit for “slavery reparations” by filing a specific form.

Verdict: No basis in fact

Legend: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants to tax “windfall profits” from the stock market at 100 percent.

Verdict: Pelosi has said the Democrats want to roll back the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

Legend: There is a bill in Congress to let the Post Office levy a 5-cent surcharge on every e-mail you send.

Verdict: No basis in fact

Legend: You can receive cash from Microsoft (or a vacation from Disney or money or merchandise from a variety of companies) by forwarding this e-mail.

Verdict: No basis in fact

Source:, St. Louis Post-Dispatch research by J. Stephen Bolhafner

“There is absolutely no U.S. government plan for a NAFTA Superhighway of any sort,” said David Bohigian, an assistant secretary of commerce. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., a powerful member of committees that would authorize and pay for a North American Free Trade Agreement Superhighway if one were being planned, dismissed the notion as “unfounded theories” with “no credence.”

And yet: A pending congressional resolution condemns it. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks darkly of “secret funding” for it. Commentators fulminate against the four-football-fields-wide behemoth as a threat to private property, national security and “a major lifeline of the plan to merge the United States into a North American Community,” as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly wrote.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan writes that under the North American Union plan, “the illegal-alien invasion would be solved by eliminating America’s borders and legalizing the invasion.”

Congressional action

Responding to denials, Rep Virgil Goode, R-Va., the chief sponsor of the House of Representatives resolution opposing the NAFTA Superhighway, scoffed: “I’ve heard that line before. They’re just calling it something else. … It’s a decrease in our security and an erasing of our borders.”

Goode is hardly alone: His resolution has attracted 21 co-sponsors, from both parties.

“Nobody is proposing a North American Union,” countered Robert Pastor, the American University professor to whom conspiracy theorists point as “the father of the NAU.” They cite his 2001 book, “Towards a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New,” as the basic text for the plan. They also note his co-chairmanship of a Council on Foreign Relations task force that produced a 2005 report on cooperation among the three countries.

This is no backwoods rumor, no small-time concern. Google “North American Union” on the Internet and you’ll find 113 million references (as of Friday evening).

Fears stoked

On one recent day alone, Pastor said, he received 100 e-mails on the topic. “They get turned on by [CNN’s] Lou Dobbs and [Fox’s] Bill O’Reilly, who are fearful that Mexicans and Canadians are about to take over our country,” Pastor said, adding that such claims are a product of “the xenophobic or frightened right wing of America that is afraid of immigration and globalization.”

Not that he doesn’t think cooperation — short of a merger — is a good idea. He has testified before Congress on improving coordination within North America.

“The three governments are trying to grope toward a better way to relate to one another, but they are trying to do it under the radar screen, because they know any initiative would be both controversial and difficult to get approval of,” Pastor said. “But precisely because they’re doing it so quietly, the conservative crowd is concerned that they’re really doing something important. But they’re not. The real problem is that the three governments are asleep on the issue.”

Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that promotes accountability in government. He said his group was “investigating” the rumors and that, while it hadn’t uncovered proof positive, the Bush administration was fueling suspicion by the way it was handling the issue.

“You’ve got all these ministries in the three countries working trilaterally on transportation, energy, food safety, health, pandemics and border security,” Fitton said. “The concern from some on the right is that the process is not as transparent as it ought to be, and that it is a threat to sovereignty in the sense that they’re talking about integration instead of just cooperation.”

The supposed superhighway would be a monster, with high-speed lanes and freight rail lines, plus pipelines, water, fiber optics and electric power, with gasoline and food concessions, stores, hotels and emergency services in the median.

Those convinced that the full-bore NAFTA Superhighway is coming point to several disparate efforts that they say prove the government isn’t telling the whole truth:

• The controversial effort to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, which would largely parallel existing highways, primarily moving freight. The suspicious see it as the NAFTA Superhighway’s first leg.

• A Bush administration proposal to allow some Mexican trucks to drive deeper into the U.S. heartland than previously allowed. A bill to limit the program, proposed by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., passed the House this week, 411-3. (Boyda, a congressional newcomer, defeated a five-term incumbent who had called the superhighway a myth.)

• North America’s SuperCorridor Project, or NASCO. The Texas-based nonprofit coalition advocates for improvements along major trade corridors, such as Interstates 35, 29 and 94.

• The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It’s a collaborative effort on several fronts, including trade and security, by the United States, Canada and Mexico. Critics call it Ground Zero for the push for a North American Union.

Bohigian, the assistant secretary of commerce whose portfolio includes the SPP, said the effort is intended only to “reduce the cost of trade and improve the quality of life” through efforts such as decreasing the wait time for trucks idling at international borders. Reducing the average wait time from 35 minutes to six minutes has saved more than $1 billion, he said.

Fitton of Judicial Watch said much of the activity dates to the establishment on March 23, 2005, of the SPP by Bush, then-Mexican President Vicente Fox and then-Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Notes obtained from the U.S. government after a meeting in Canada in September 2006 contained the phrase “evolution by stealth,” Fitton said.

Matt Englehart, spokesman for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, said the North American partnership “is absolutely not a precursor” to a loss of American sovereignty.

“It’s about smart and secure borders, promoting the safe and efficient movement of legitimate people and goods,” Englehart said.

He described the work by the three governments as “standard intergovernmental diplomacy and coordination that occurs all the time on various issues.”

What about that highway?

The federal government has no plans for a superhighway, Englehart said, but “there are private and state-level interests” pushing something similar. “They describe themselves as NAFTA corridors, but they’re not federally driven initiatives, and they’re not part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership.”

Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University political scientist who specializes in conspiracy theories, said a major theme long has been “that schemes are being hatched to destroy American sovereignty.”

“The only thing that’s new here is that it appears in the guise of a North American Union,” he said. “Previously it appeared in the guise of U.N. domination. I think whatever appeal this has may derive from the fact that there are pre-existing concerns about trade that have been around since the creation of NAFTA, and even more strongly the immigration issue in the sense of border security. So in a way it becomes an issue onto which all kinds of anxieties and concerns can be projected.”

Doug Thomas, professor of communications, technology and culture at the University of Southern California, said the advent of the Internet has made conspiracy theories widely available.

“It’s the speed and the distribution,” he said. “People are able to join in and flush them out a little quicker, so everybody can add a piece to the puzzle.”

Information from McClatchy Newspapers is included in this report.