John Birch Society

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

The John Birch Society (JBS) is a conservative U.S. organization that was founded in California in 1958 to fight the threat of Communism.[citation needed]

It represents itself as "a membership-based organization dedicated to restoring and preserving freedom under the United States Constitution." It states that its members come from all walks of life and are active throughout the 50 states as part of local chapters. The Society invites all Americans to explore its website, learn more about the John Birch Society, and consider joining with in its mission to achieve "Less Government, More Responsibility, and - With God's Help - a Better World."[citation needed]

JBS advocates the abolition of income tax, and the repeal of civil rights legislation, which it sees as being Communist in inspiration. For this reason, its opponents characterize it as a white citizens' society dedicated to preventing minorities from gaining political power.[citation needed]

At one time, the John Birch Society was very powerful and members included prominent residents of California including the Knott family. In their early days, Birchers shared a common ideology and some overlapping membership with Fred Schwarz and his California-based Christian Anti-communism Crusade.[citation needed]

History

Chip Berlet wrote in 2010 that: "It is worth noting that the founder of the Society, Robert Welch, worked as a researcher for the anti-collectivist NAM before setting up the JBS. In 1964 the masthead of the JBS magazine American Opinion read like a Who’s Who of ultraconservatism: Editorial Advisory Committee, Clarence Manion, Ludwig Von Mises, J. Howard Pew, and Robert W. Stoddard; Associate Editors Revilo P. Oliver and E. Merrill Root; Contributing Editors Medford Evans and Hans Sennholz." [1]

The JBS was established in Indianapolis on December 9, 1958 by a group of 12 "patriotic and public-spirited" men led by Robert Welch, Jr., a retired candy manufacturer from Belmont, Massachusetts. A transcript of Welch's two-day presentation at the founding meeting was published as The Blue Book of the John Birch Society and became a cornerstone of its beliefs, with each new JBS member receiving a copy. "According to Welch," writes Political Research Associates in its analysis of the Birchers, "both the US and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians known as "the insiders". If left unexposed, the traitors inside the US government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist new world order managed by a 'one-world socialist government.' The Birch Society incorporated many themes from pre-WWII rightist groups opposed to the New Deal, and had its base in the business nationalist sector..."[2]

JBS's objective was to fight communism using communism's own techniques -- organization of front groups, infiltration of other groups and letter-writing campaigns. The society was named in honor of John Morrison Birch, a Fundamentalist Baptist missionary from Georgia, who had served as an intelligence officer in China during World War II and was killed by Chinese communists in 1945 and dubbed "the first American victim of the Cold War" by the Society.

Welch saw "collectivism" as the main threat to western civilization, and liberals as secret communist traitors who provide the cover for the gradual process of collectivism, with the ultimate goal of replacing the nations of western civilization with one-world socialist government. "There are many stages of welfarism, socialism, and collectivism in general," he wrote, "but communism is the ultimate state of them all, and they all lead inevitably in that direction.""[3]

One of the first public activities of the JBS was a "Get US out of UN!" campaign, which alleged in 1959 that the "Real nature of [the] UN is to build One World Government (New World Order)." One Man's Opinion, a magazine launched by Welch in 1956, was renamed American Opinion and became the Birch Society's official publication.

In 1960, Welch advised JBS members to "join your local PTA [Parent Teachers Association] at the beginning of the school year, get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over."

By March of 1961, Welch claimed between 60,000 and 100,000 members--but a more realistic estimate is closer to 10,000--"a staff of twenty-eight people in the Home Office; about thirty Coordinators (or Major Coordinators) in the field, who are fully-paid as to salary and expenses; and about one hundred Coordinators (or Section Leaders as they are called in some areas), who work on a volunteer basis as to all or part of their salary, or expenses, or both." According to its profile by Political Research Associates, JBS "pioneered grassroots lobbying, combining educational meetings, petition drives, and letter writing campaigns. One early campaign against the second Summit Conference between the US and the Soviet Union generated over 600,000 postcards and letters, according to the Society. A June 1964 Birch campaign to oppose Xerox Corporation sponsorship of TV programs favorable to the UN produced 51,279 letters from 12,785 individuals."[4]

The JBS was viewed by mainstream journalists and politicians as an extremist, wing-nut organization of conspiracy theorists. Much of its early conspiracism, according to Political Research Associates, "reflects an ultraconservative business nationalist critique of business internationalists networked through groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR is viewed through a conspiracist lens as puppets of the Rockefeller family in a 1952 book by McCarthy fan, Emanuel M. Josephson, Rockefeller, 'Internationalist': The Man Who Misrules the World. In 1962 Dan Smoot's The Invisible Government added several other policy groups to the list of conspirators, including the Committee for Economic Development, the Advertising Council, the Atlantic Council (formerly the Atlantic Union Committee), the Business Advisory Council, and the Trilateral Commission. Smoot had worked at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC before leaving to establish an anticommunist newsletter, the Dan Smoot Report. The shift from countersubversion on behalf of the FBI to countersubversion in the private sector was an easy one. The basic thesis was the same. In Smoot's concluding chapter, he wrote, 'Somewhere at the top of the pyramid in the invisible government are a few sinister people who know exactly what they are doing: They want America to become part of a worldwide socialist dictatorship, under the control of the Kremlin.'" Birchers elaborated on an earlier Illuminati Freemason conspiracy theory, imagining "an unbroken ideologically-driven conspiracy linking the Illuminati, the French Revolution, the rise of Marxism and Communism, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the United Nations"[5]

Republican mainstream unhappiness with the Birchers intensified after Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy." Welch went further in a book titled The Politician, written in 1956 and published by the JBS in 1963, which declared that Eisenhower's brother Milton was Ike's superior within the Communist apparatus and alleging that other top government officials were also communist tools, including "ex president Truman and Roosevelt, and the last Sec. Of State John Foster Dulles and former CIA Director Allan W. Dulles." Conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr., an early friend and admirer of Welch, regarded his accusations against Eisenhower as "paranoid and idiotic libels" and attempted unsuccessfully to purge Welch from the JBS. Welch responded by attempting to take over Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth organization founded with assistance from Buckley.

In October 1964, the Idaho Statesman newspaper expressed concern about what it called an "ominous" increase in JBS-led "ultra right" radio and television broadcasts, which it said then numbered 7,000 weekly and cost an estimated $10 million annually. "By virtue of saturation tactics used, radical, reactionary propaganda is producing an impact even on large numbers of people who, themselves, are in no sense extremists or sympathetic to extremists views," declared a Statesman editorial. "When day after day they hear distortions of fact and sinister charges against persons or groups, often emanating from organizations with conspicuously respectable sounding names, it is no wonder that the result is: Confusion on some important public issues; stimulation of latent prejudices; creation of suspicion, fear and mistrust in relation not only to their representatives in government, but even in relation to their neighbors."

The Statesman article went on to charge "that there are many local communities in which the tactics of the extremists have made life miserable for good citizens ... through spying, nocturnal phone calls, economic and social pressures, stoning, even bombings, and other tactics alien to the American way of working out political decisions. … An unchecked increase in this kind of propaganda is degrading the American political dialogue to such a point as to damage our self-respect at home and our reputation for public responsibility abroad. These radical, reactionary positions are undermining American Democracy."

Birch Society influence on US politics hit its high point in the years around the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, who lost to incumbent President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Welch had supported Goldwater over Nixon for the Republican nomination, but the membership split, with two-thirds supporting Goldwater and one-third supporting Nixon. A number of Birch members and their allies were Goldwater supporters in 1964 and some were delegates at the 1964 Republican convention. The Goldwater campaign in turn brought together the nucleus of what later became known as the New Right, many of whom had been groomed by the Birch Society but whose more pragmatic members realized that the group's conspiracism and its affiliation with racism and anti-Semitism were impediments to electoral success. Birch Society members also authored several widely-distributed books that promoted conspiracy theories and mobilized support for the Goldwater campaign:

  • A Choice, Not an Echo by Phyllis Schlafly, suggested that the Republican Party was secretly controlled by elitist intellectuals dominated by members of the Bilderberger banking conference, whose policies were designed to usher in global communist conquest. "A Choice, Not an Echo" became one of Goldwater's campaign slogans.
  • The Gravediggers, co-authored by Schlafly and retired Rear Admiral Chester Ward of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, claimed that U.S. military strategy and tactics were actually designed to pave the way for global communist conquest.
  • None Dare Call It Treason, by John Stormer, sold over seven million copies, making it one of the largest-selling paperback books of the day. It decried "the concurrent decay in America's schools, churches, and press which has conditioned the American people to accept 20 years of retreat in the face of the communist enemy."

In April 1966, the New York Times reported on "the increasing tempo of radical right attacks on local government, libraries, school boards, parent-teachers associations, mental health programs, the Republican party and, most recently, the ecumenical movement. … The Birch Society is by far the most successful and 'respectable' radical right organization in the country. It operates alone or in support of other extremist organizations whose major preoccupation, like that of the Birchers, is the internal Communist conspiracy in the United States."

The Birch Society was organized into cells, imitating Welch's understanding of Communist organizing techniques. "This cell segregation is aimed at preventing infiltration by the 'Communists' or other groups seeking inside information about the society," the Times reported. "Ernest Brosang, the New Jersey regional coordinator, contends that it is virtually impossible for opponents of the society to penetrate its policy-making levels." Its activities included distribution of segregationist literature, attacks on race "mongrelization," agitation against the United Nations, and petitions to impeach liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. To spread their message, Birchers held Sunday showings of right-wing documentary films and operated such as "Let Freedom Ring," a nationwide network of recorded telephone messages. They also helped organized the "Minutemen," a paramilitary group training to lead guerrilla warfare once the Communists took over."

A later John Birch Society chairman, US Representative Dr. Larry McDonald, was killed in the 1983 KAL-007 shootdown.

By the time of Welch's death in 1985, the Birch Society's membership and influence had declined, but the the UN role in the Gulf War and President Bush's call for a "New World Order" unwittingly echoed Birch claims about the goals of the internationalist One World Government conspiracy. Growing right-wing populism in the United States helped the JBS position itself for a comeback, and by 1995 its membership had grown again to more than 55,000.

Today the John Birch Society still sees communism as a threat, and sees the collapse of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe as false and "planned" by the Russian/Eastern European governments which it sees controlled by "the insiders". The Society has been active in supporting the audit of and eventual dismantling of, the Federal Reserve System. The current legislation was initiated by Ron Paul. The Birch Society believes that the U.S. Constitution only gave Congress the ability to coin money, and did not intend for it to delegate this power to a banking monopoly, or to transform it into a fiat currency not backed by any precious metals.[6]

The John Birch Society is now based in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. The Society said its membership has doubled in recent years, lately thanks to the policies of the Obama administration. However, it would not provide firm numbers, other than to say it has tens of thousands of members. CEO, Arthur Thompson, explained: "We don't want want to let our enemies know our strengths or our weaknesses." The John Birch Society still holds meetings in living rooms and public libraries, but now also maintains a website inviting users to download literature and join a chapter.[7] In 2009, the site saw a 60 percent increase in traffic. [8] Additionally, the John Birch Society has become a co-sponsor of the upcoming February 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C.

Personnel

Accessed February 2008:[1]

Council

Contact Information

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. Leadership, John Birch Society, accessed February 3, 2008.

External links

Note: Portions of this article were adapted from the John Birch Society article on Wikipedia.

Books

Critiques of the Society

  • Grove, Gene. (1961). Inside the John Birch Society. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett.
  • Janson, Donald & Eismann, Bernard. (1963). "The John Birch Society" pages 25–54 from The Far Right, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • "Birch Society Investigated," Idaho Statesman, October 9, 1964.
  • Broyles, J. Allen. (1964). The John Birch Society: Anatomy of a Protest. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Ronald Sullivan, “Foes of Rising Birch Society Organize in Jersey,” New York Times, April 20, 1966, pp. 1, 34.
  • Epstein, Benjamin R., and Arnold Forster. (1966). The Radical Right: Report on the John Birch Society and Its Allies. New York: Vintage Books.
  • De Koster, Lester. (1967). The Citizen and the John Birch Society. A Reformed Journal monograph. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
  • Grupp, Fred W., Jr. (1969). “The Political Perspectives of Birch Society Members.” In Robert A. Schoenberger (Ed.), The American Right
  • Moore, William V. (1981). The John Birch Society: A Southern Profile. Paper, annual meeting, Southern Political Science Association, Memphis, TN.
  • Johnson, George. (1983). Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics. Los Angeles: Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin.
  • Berlet, Chip. (1989). “Trashing the Birchers: Secrets of the Paranoid Right.” Boston Phoenix, July 20, pp. 10, 23.
  • Kraft, Charles Jeffrey. (1992). A Preliminary Socio-Economic and State Demographic Profile of the John Birch Society. Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates.
  • Hardisty, Jean V. (1999). Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon.
  • Stewart, Charles J., "The master conspiracy of the John Birch Society: from communism to the new world order", Western Journal of Communication, Vol 66 (4), (Fall 2002): p424(24).
  • Turner, William W. Power on the Right. Berkeley CA: Ramparts Press, 1971. [10]
  • Eckard V. Toy, Jr., "The Right Side of the 1960s: The Origins of the John Birch Society in the Pacific Northwest," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 105 (2), Summer 2004.