John Birch Society
| Guide to:|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
| Some dare call it|
|What THEY don't want|
you to know!
|—Bob Dylan, Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues|
The John Birch Society (JBS) was a radical right-wing organisation founded by candy manufacturer Robert W. Welch, Jr. in 1958 as a
wingnut red-baiting propaganda machine last line of defense against the massively ongoing, clandestine Communist takeover of the United States. An early book by Welch, The Politician, became controversial after it became widely known that an early manuscript included the accusation that President Dwight Eisenhower was a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy."
It's basically the KKK but with a thin, stringy veneer of political theory (read: more fears of fluorinated water controlling their brains). They basically started libertarianism, which took the cult-ish route of hiding the core tenets from newcomers.
Who is John Birch?
The John Birch Society took its name from a missionary named John Morrison Birch. According to the society, Birch, a missionary in China who joined the United States military during World War II, became the first victim of the Cold War. Despite having helped the Chinese by fighting the Japanese there, after the war he was supposedly killed by the commies (25 August 1945), but the US government kept it quiet until one Robert Welch discovered the truth and exploited the poor son-of-a-Birch's name for his own political agenda.
In the post-WWII world
“”The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.
|—Prof. Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in America Politics"|
In their early days the JBS was a somewhat respected institution. However, things soon moved in a more conspiracist and radical direction. For example the JBS at one point claimed that then President Eisenhower was an "agent of the Communist conspiracy" (simply for talking to the Soviet Union as opposed to starting World War III). Welch expounded on this theory at book-length in The Politician.  "Birchers", as they were known, wrote a lot of letters during their early years on various scare issues, such as opposition to summits between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and keeping fluoride out of water supply, from which it could enter our precious bodily fluids and corrupt our purity of essence. The Birchers were frequent promoters of moral panics on everything from the Panama Canal treaties to the nuclear disarmament movement, all claimed to be part of the Communist movement to undermine American security, and shared cross-membership and tactics with early Religious Right groups like Billy James Hargis' "Christian Crusade."
Their tactics quickly alienated the mainstream American conservatives; years later, William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote an article on how he, Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and a bunch of PR people did some very delicate maneuvering so that the Goldwater campaign could denounce the John Birch Society without losing the votes of the society's members, with Goldwater eventually stating that "We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner." Nevertheless, they were out campaigning on Goldwater's behalf; during the 1964 campaign, Birchers mastered the tactic of mass distribution of cheap paperbacks, and three in particular: None Dare Call It Treason by John Stormer, A Texan Looks At Lyndon by J. Evetts Haley, and A Choice, Not An Echo by Phyllis Schlafly. You can find multiple copies of all three at your local thrift store, most of them still unread.
They did the same thing in 1972 with a little book called None Dare Call It Conspiracy by Gary Allen, which posited the conspiracy theory that the environmental movement, the peace movement, women's libbers, the mainstream media, international Soviet Communism, the United Nations, and the Book of the Month Club (no mention of water fluoridation though, surprisingly) were all in cahoots with the Rockefellers who sought to control the world through the Council on Foreign Relations. Somewhere around this point the Birchers morphed from being mostly concerned with militant anti-Communism into a group more concerned with exposing The Conspiracy. While keeping known anti-Semites out of their organization and refraining from explicit mention of the imagined "Illuminati" in favor of concerns about the Trilateral Commission, they did republish John Robinson's 1798 book about the Illuminati, Proofs of a Conspiracy, as part of their "Americanist Library" series. The Birchers' favored term for the "conspiracy" was the New World Order. Not surprisingly, their rapidly falling membership in the 1970s and 1980s turned around after 1990 when George H.W. Bush in an act of ill-advised stupidity used that very phrase in a speech. This gave the Birchers a new lease on life during the 1990s. After the New World Order conspiracy theories took outlandish and bizarre directions during the 1990s ranging from tales of black helicopters to shape-shifting reptilians, the Birchers staked out a position of relative moderation among the lunatic fringe and warned against acceptance of these more outlandish theories while promoting the New World Order theory as laid out in Gary Allen's 1972 book as being a liberal-secularist conspiracy led by the Rockefellers and other high financiers to bring about a socialist world government… again.
Arguably the Society's greatest claim to fame came in 1983, when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Russian interceptor after straying into Soviet airspace. The flight was carrying Georgia Congressional Representative Larry McDonald, who also happened to be the Society's second president. One of several incidents that nearly started WWIII, the fact that it didn't was taken by JBS' New American magazine as proof of the extent of Communist power over the US government. This really said more for Ronald Reagan keeping a cool head, and now that Reagan has been anointed a saint by the American Right for single-handedly destroying the Soviet Union, the whole affair never gets mentioned anymore.
“”It is estimated, from many reliable sources, that from 70% to 90% of the responsible personnel in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare are Communists.
|—JBS exposing the commie agenda using Schlafly statistics.|
Their current whereabouts, alas, are unknown. File them in the "where are they now" pile next to Spinal Tap and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.
The John Birch Society does still exist. Today, they are most worried about threats to US sovereignty, most particularly the (never actually proposed) union between the US, Canada and Mexico. They are also adamantly opposed to free trade, immigration, and the United Nations.
The society has been linked to 1988’s failed California Proposition 102, which required anyone who tested positive for HIV to be reported to the government and their sexual contacts investigated. It also would have erased laws against compulsory testing.
Recently, they have
morphed into aligned themselves with the Tea Party movement, and they are even co-sponsoring the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest conservative conference in the US (This probably says more about modern conservatism in the US than it does about the JBS). They have a website where they push every right-wing conspiracy theory you can think of while trying to pass themselves off as small government conservatives, though they quickly give themselves away as fairly authoritarian.
Pop culture references
- In 1961, the Chad Mitchell Trio, one of many folk groups of the era, recorded the novelty track The John Birch Society Song which lampooned the organization.
- In 1962, Bob Dylan did likewise with Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues.
- Cartoonist Walt Kelly created "The Jack Acid Society" in several story arcs in his comic strip Pogo. The strips were collected, along with some original pieces, and published in 1962 as The Jack Acid Society Black Book.
- The 1971 film Cold Turkey has a scene where members of the "Christopher Mott Society" are listening to a phonographic record of a speech by a right-wing pundit.
- Minutemen (organization)
- Liberty Lobby
- War on Christmas, the JBS were the originators of this meme.
- Kevin Alfred Strom
- At Wikipedia:
- John Birch Society category page at Wikipedia: Links to WP articles about several people with ties to the John Birch Society, plus other related articles;
- Another category page with links to biographical articles about card-carrying Birchers
- Their homepage
- Their YouTube channel, with copious amounts of red scare propaganda!
- The New American, their magazine
- Robert Welch "predicts" the coming commie takeover.
- Right Wing Watch's category for the JBS
- Biography of John Birch, Robert Welch, and the John Birch Society, Appalachian State University
- Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues by Bob Dylan
- "What's Wrong With Civil Rights", newspaper article alleging that the civil rights movement was created by the commies in order to create a Negro Soviet Republic. See also "Anarchy USA", a similar 1hr15mins+ Cold War propaganda film produced by the Society against Civil Rights.
- FBI Files on John Birch Society
- Webb, Clive. Rabble rousers: the American far right in the civil rights era. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010 ISBN 0820327646 p. 10
Bernstein, Richard (May 21, 2007). "The JFK assassination and a '60s leftist prism Letter from America". International Herald Tribune (Paris): p. 2.
Jordan, Ida Kay (August 26, 2001). "Voters Admired N.C. Senator's Independent Streak, Southern Charm". The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.): p. J.1.
Brinkley, Douglas (February 10, 1997). "The Right Choice for the C.I.A.". The New York Times: p. A.15.
- "In the confusing situation," said Krause last week, "my instructions were to act with diplomacy. Birch made the Communist lieutenant lose face before his own men. Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death."
- Hofstader, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", Harper's Weekly November 1964.
- Available online here for the morbidly curious.
- Drawing the Line, Washington Monthly
- Rachel Maddow's rebuttal to the John Birch Society, available via YouTube. Also available here, courtesy of the Internet Archive.
- Some can still be found in New Hampshire campaigning for the Constitution Party, or at least in 2008, for Ron Paul.
- The 45 Biggest Homophobes of Our 45 Years, The Advocate
- Triumph of the GOP Ultra-Crazies, The Daily Beast
- To the surprise of no one.
- Clearly, RationalWiki touched a nerve here: the Palm Beach Post archive on Google Newspapers used to host an advert by the John Birch society (see archived): However, this has since been removed.