John Birch Society
The John Birch Society is an American paleoconservative organization founded in 1958 by Massachusetts businessman Robert Welch (1900-1985). Until the collapse of Soviet Communism in 1991, it focused on Communism as the enemy of American values, warning that Communism already exerted a powerful control on the national government.
At its peak in 1964 the Society claimed to have hundreds of chapters throughout the country, 100,000 members, 400 American Opinion bookstores to distribute and sell its magazine and pamphlets, and an active cadre of speakers that crisscrossed the country. Welch ruled with an iron hand, sending out his agents to make sure the local units never engaged in operations on their own, such as endorsing candidates or lobbying for legislation. All the dues went to national headquarters in Belmont, Massachusetts and the members were to spend their energy writing letters that echoed Welch's thesis that that Communists were already in power in Washington and were about to fully take over the country. Welch sponsored "Support Your Local Police" campaign which opposed civilian review boards to monitor police brutality. The one notable national campaign was to demand the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Not a single member of Congress was willing to present an impeachment resolution, and over the years only three Congressmen were members, most notably Larry McDonald (1935-1983), the Society president when his plane was shot down by the Soviet Air Force.
The organization was founded by Robert Welch in 1958 to fight subversive infiltration of the United States. He designed the Society like the Communist movement, with a strong leader at the top (himself), with each lower level following the orders they were given. Society literature denounced collectivist infiltration from Communists, the United Nations, and various front groups. Welch himself decided that the root cause of most of the troubles was a two-century-long conspiracy of the "Illuminati," a group supposedly founded in Bavaria in 1776. He declared it was responsible for the French and Russian Revolutions and the two world wars, as well as evils of Lincoln's income taxes, Wilson's Federal Reserve, and Roosevelt's New Deal. Most insidious of all was the United Nations. It also controlled the Communist party and the Trilateral Commission. The only member of the Illuminati he could identify by name was Nelson Rockefeller. Reagan was suspect because he picked for vice president the choice of the Illuminati, George H.W. Bush. Welch argued that the Illuminati was subversive of good government, destructive of religion, and used professional agitators and massive terror to destroy the good people, while manufacturing smears to destroy the brave souls who tried to expose it.
In October, 2009, it is exposing the diabolic totalitarian schemes of the Department of Homeland Security's TSA:
- It’s not enough that the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) gropes us at checkpoints in airports, photographs passengers naked, steals from them, and even killed one. Now it’s recruiting the nation’s truck- and bus-drivers as snitches against us in a scheme it calls First Observer. The logic is diabolical, totalitarian, and simple...."
Eisenhower and Johnson
Welch wrote in a widely circulated statement, The Politician, "Could Eisenhower really be simply a smart politician, entirely without principles and hungry for glory, who is only the tool of the Communists? The answer is yes." He went on. ""With regard to ... Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason."
In the 1960s Welch insisted that the Johnson administration's fight against communism in Vietnam was part of a communist plot aimed at taking over the United States. Welch demanded that the United States get out of Vietnam, thus aligning the Society with the far left.
Rejected by most conservatives
It was moderately active in the 1960s with numerous chapters, but rarely engaged in coalition building with other conservatives. Indeed, it was rejected by most conservatives because of the outlandish conspiracy theories of its leader Robert Welch. William F. Buckley and his National Review regularly attacked Welch, and by 1965 was attacking the Society as well. Starting with Welch considered conservative President Dwight D. Eisenhower a Communist stooge, it was deeply distrustful of all presidents since Franklin Roosevelt.
The John Birch Society has always been a favorite target of liberals who want to embarrass the conservative movement by citing some ridiculous conspiracy theory on the right. Some liberals just laugh and employ misinterpretations of social anxieties to warn that Birchers are misfits; most warn darkly that the John Birch Society is a dangerous manifestation of the "radical right" that aimed to subvert democracy. In practice, the Society actually did little more than publish pamphlets and sponsor local discussion groups.
Historian Richard Hofstadter claimed the Birch Society was the leader of the right wing in the 1960s. In 1968 Governor Pat Brown of California, about to be defeated for reelection by Reagan, unleashed a 13-page report calling Reagan a puppet of the John Birch Society. (Reagan considered the JBS leaders to be kooky and kept them out of his campaign.) As late as 1980, House Speaker Tip O'Neill warned that "John Birchers control the Republican Party," overlooking the fact that the only Birch Society member in Congress at the time was a Democrat from Georgia, Larry McDonald who caucused with O'Neill. In fact the John Birch Society never controlled the Republican party in any state at any level at any time.
The Society works towards educating Americans about the original intent of the Founding Fathers. The John Birch Society strongly believes that the United States is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy.
Although the JBS is considered to be "right-wing", the group has vigorously attacked President George W. Bush as a pawn of neo-conservatism seeking a "New World order" that would swallow up America. That is only the latest of a long line of conspiracy theories it has promoted.
The official magazine of the John Birch Society since 1985 The New American. It replaced American Opinion, which was published from 1958 to 1985.
The Birch Society has an active publication and reprint program. Reflecting its distrust of national leadership over the last 70 years, many of the books blame the White House and national leaders for deliberately damaging the national interest--for example, by encouraging the Japanese to sink the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
There are unofficial JBS chapters on many college campuses throughout the United States.
One survey in the early 1970s found the typical John Birch Society member was middle or upper-middle class, Republican and Protestant. He was also fairly young and well educated: the majority of the sample was under 40 at time of recruitment and had completed at least three years of college. A later survey in the mid 1980s found the membership then was disproportionately Southwesterners, young, urban, male, and Catholic. They were consistently conservative on secular issues, antigovernment, and negative toward communism. The evidence does not support liberal notions that irrationality, social strains, or status anxiety explained their beliefs.
- Grigg, William Norman. "Global Gun Grab: The United Nations Campaign to Disarm Americans". John Birch Society, 2001.
- Jasper, William F. "The United Nations Exposed". John Birch Society, 2001.
- McManus, John F. "Changing Commands: The Betrayal of America's Military". John Birch Society, 1995.
- Perloff, James. "The Shadows of Power: The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline". Western Islands, 1988.
- Smoot, Dan. "The Invisible Government". Western Islands, 1962.
- Stewart, Charles J. "The Master Conspiracy of the John Birch Society: From Communism to the New World Order," Western Journal of Communication (2002) v.66#4 pp 424+ online edition
- Stone, Barbara S. "The John Birch Society: a Profile," Journal of Politics 1974 36(1): 184-197,
- Wilcox, Clyde. "Sources of Support for the Old Right: a Comparison of the John Birch Society and the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade." Social Science History 1988 12(4): 429-450,
- Robert W. Welch Jr. The Blue Book of the John Birch Society. Boston: Western Islands, 1961.
- Robert W. Welch Jr. and the John Birch Society The White Book of the John Birch Society for 1964. Belmont: John Birch Society, 1961.
- Robert W. Welch Jr. The New Americanism and Other Speeches. Boston: Western Islands, 1966.
- Gary Allen. None Dare Call It Conspiracy. G S G & Associates, Inc., 1971.
- Korean Airlines Flight 007 - Congressman Larry McDonald, the 2nd President of the JBS, was a passenger of this flight downed by the Soviets on Sept. 1, 1983 in international waters near Moneron Island west of Sakhalin Island.
- The John Birch Society Website
- The New American
- The JBS Volunteers
- "KAL Flight 007 Remembered" New American Magazine
- Website of the International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors
- members prominent in politics
- Schoenwald, (2001) pp. 83-91
- Some chapters without Welch's approval did organize opposition to fluoridation of local water supplies or pushed a slate for election to local school boards.
- One of the society's most popular spokesmen was John Rousselot, a former Republican congressman from southern California. Another was John Schmitz (1930-2001), briefly a Congressman from Southern California.
- Welch said he named the Society after John Birch, the first American to die in the Cold War.
- There's more; see Stewart (2002).
- Becky Akers, "Eyes on the Road" Oct. 15, 2009 on JBS official website
- Quoted at "Glenn Beck talks with JBS President John F. McManus" Aug. 15, 2006
- Stephen Earl Bennett, "Modes of Resolution of a 'Belief Dilemma' in the Ideology of the John Birch Society," Journal of Politics 1971 33(3): 735-772,
- Gregory A. Prince, "The Red Peril, the Candy Maker, and the Apostle: David O. Mckay's Confrontation with Communism," Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought 2004 37(2): 37-94,
- Hofstadter himself later turned right. Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1967) p. 70
- Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008) p. 113
- Steven F. Hayward, The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980 (2001) pp 101, 675;
- Stone (1974); Wilcox (1988)