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John Birch Society - the USA's extreme right wing

The New Deal (1933-6) was Democratic Pres. Franklin D Roosevelt (ruled 1933-45)’s progressive and inspired response to the comm­unity’s desperate need for relief and reform after the Great De­pression. Even then the Rep­ub­licans were split, with conservatives opposing the entire New Deal as hostile to business and economic growth. Surprisingly to me, a citizen of a British Commonwealth country, the New Deal dominated president­ial elections for decades.

Lolly magnate Robert Welch (1899-1985) founded the John Birch Society/JBS in 1958 to oppose the growing Commun­ist influence in America. Welch’s anti-New Deal views contained an emerging radicalism that expanded during the Cold War. Welch’s great political heroes were a] Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy and b] Robert Taft, son of a past president and the 1952 Republican presidential nominee. Welch believed they had both been bet­rayed in their careers by the Rep­ub­lican establish­ment. Taft’s de­feat by Dwight Eisenhower at the 1952 Convention was miserable for Wel­ch, providing a launching pad for his conspiracies.

The John Birch Society was formally created in Dec 1958, when 11 rich businessmen met Welch in Indianapolis. Welch named the John Birch Society after an Amer­ican military advisor in China who had been killed by the Communists in 1945, a suitable model for anti-Communists.

In The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, Welch explained that an Internat­ional Communist Conspiracy had been hatched by power-hungry, God-hating, government worshipers who had infiltrated news­rooms, public schools, legislative chambers and houses of worship. And the Communists, who would rule the world, were very close to total victory!

The list of Welch’s beliefs was well documented:

JBS was opposed to:
Democracy i.e mob rule
Anarchy i.e no government
Monarchy and oligarchy
Federal Reserve and Federal Income Tax
The Social Security System
One World Government and no national sovereignty
Government control of property and socialism
The Civil Rights Movement
Fluoride in the public water supply
NATO, World Health Organisation, UNICEF, United Nations.
Compulsory vaccinations

A John Birch Society booklet
attacking the Civil Rights Movement

JBS believed in:
Constitutional Republic with a Bill of Rights
Individual responsibility; free association of people
American patriotism
Private ownership and control of property
Free enterprise and competition
Government's sole function - to protect, not provide
Family as the basic unit of society
Humanitarianism through surplus of capital
Judeo-Christian morality based on Ten Commandments

The timing was perfect. Sen Joseph McCarthy died in 1957, so the Bir­chers specifically built on McCarthy’s anti-Communist legacy. [Note that later, in 1989, the Society moved its head­quarters to Appleton Wisconsin, Sen McCarthy’s hometown].

By the mid-1960s the society’s membership peaked at 100,000. Instructed by the Blue Book and updated by its magazine American Opinion, members participated in ef­forts to cancel USA-Soviet summits, by petit­ions and posters. Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower (president 1953–61) a possible "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Con­spiracy". In his book The Politic­ian (1956), Welch said the Communists had put one of their own in the Presidency. Eisenhower’s actions were purely treas­onous; he needed to be impeached. Welch also wanted to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren and the very anti-communist Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Plus he accused Defence Secretary Gen. George Marshall of being in league with the Soviets.

But accusing Pres. Eisenhower of being a Communist was going too far. The country still liked Ike, and Welch began losing followers who doubted his judgment. Moderate conservatives were alienated, especially with claims of a] Jewish conspir­acies and b] President Kennedy being killed by his Soviet bosses.

J Allen Broyles’ book, The John Birch Society: Anatomy of a Prot­est, 1964 was published the year after Kennedy’s death. Welch explained how Lee Oswald received his orders from Americans in the international Communist conspiracy. Welch emphasised that the USA was a republic; that a democracy was actually a weapon of demagoguery.

William Buckley, important in the new con­ser­v­ative move­ment, den­ounced the JBS and urged the Republican Party to distance itself from them. By 1961, Buckley saw the Society as a threat to the nascent presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative who Buckley wanted to win the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1964. Buckley wrote in National Review (April 1961) that the left could “anathematise the entire American right wing.” Buckley thus seemed to expel the Birchers from the conservat­ive move­ment. But in real­ity the John Birch Society was weak­ened only temporarily. [The increased popularity of par­anoid, conspiracy-minded conservatism it pion­eer­ed suggested that an anti-government ideology returned.]

Senator Goldwater welcomed the Society’s support during the 1964 race, helping him win the Republican nominat­ion. But Goldwater believed that, although the Society itself was full of up­standing citizens working hard for America, Welch was a crazy extremist with addled views. Goldwater hated Welch’s Eisenhower conspiracy. 

A JBS "Impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren" poster

 A JBS "Get the USA out of the United Nations" poster

By 1968, Richard Nixon became President and cemented his con­servative identity. At the White House, the dignified, mainstream sufferings of the Silent Majority, and not the rants of the Birchers, became the engine of Nixon’s con­ser­vat­ism. He visited China in 1972! Needless to say, Nixon was loathed by the Birchers for a lack of true belief.

Another factor contributed to the decline of the JBS. Thousands of Americans had already died in Vietnam, and thousands were yet to die. Many Americans, particularly those of conscription age, wond­er­ed if the great crusade to stop Communist expansion was worth it.

Recently the JBS stressed that the Federal government had overst­ep­ped its constit­ut­ional authority and encroached on states’ rights. They’ve also advocated that the Federal Reserve be abolished and the USA return to the gold standard. All government programmes and socialism were bad. Children had been taken and given to the state.

What remains in the C21st is a JBS assortment of isolationist, religious and right-wing goals that that don’t look different from today’s White House id­eology. It wants to pull the USA out of NAFTA, return to Christian foundat­ions, defund the UN, abolish the Depart­ments of Education and Energy, and slash the Federal Government. 

JBS’s once-fringy ideas are more mainstream in today’s Re­publican Party. JBS is “ready to fight the liberals who preach globalism and want to take away our freedom, our guns, rel­igious values and our heritage.” Read DJ Mulloy’s book, World of the John Birch Society: Conspiracy, Conservatism and the Cold War (2014) and Chip Berlet's book Right-Wing Populism in America (2000).


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