30 April 2019

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
Homosexuality 

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).





11 comments:

bazza said...

The John Birch Society seems to be the pure epitome of far-right extremism. Although declaredly not antisemitic, an organisation like that would have been bound to attract antisemites. However they do appear to have been strongly focused on being anti-communist but some of their aims look like they are concomitant with extremist social views and little government.
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Hels said...

bazza

I think that there were so many issues that really drove the John Birch Society members nuts, they didn't have times for other issues.

Federal Income Tax, and everything that came from that dreaded tax (eg social security for the unemployed, elderly or single parents), was the worst. Anything that smacked of international involvement had to be withdrawn from eg United Nations or NATO. Socialism, communism and blacks' civil rights were despised.

All their efforts had to be put into patriotism, religious values and rampant capitalism.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, In my neck of the woods, "Birchers" were considered nutcases, akin to the Klan. I did not know they originated in Indiana, but upon reflection, I could have guessed it!
--Jim

Hels said...

Parnassus

agreed. Nutcases that could be safely laughed at. Or ignored totally.

However the fringe values that the Birchers espoused in the late 1950s and on through the 1960s etc are now mainstream and having a huge influence. Trump withdrew the USA from every international agreement and organisation he could eg UNESCO; the Paris climate accord; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia; the Iran’s nuclear weapons limitation programme; United Nations Human Rights Council etc etc. Isolationism gone mad!

Relentless questions about whether Obama was born in the USA, whether Obamacare was socialist and Trump's attacks on immigrants sound like the Bircher hysteria now!

Andrew said...

I expect the movement did have some effect on what the US is today. They may have seemed like nutters, but they are not to be ignored.

Hels said...

Andrew

organisations come and go, and even change throughout their own history. So I have no idea which extreme right wing organisation had the most effect on the USA today. But consider the NRA.

The NRA supported the National Firearms Act of 1934, America’s first federal gun control law!! And the Gun Control Act of 1938!! It wasn't until Congress brought in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to restrict and regulate the interstate sale of firearms after the Kennedy assassination that the NRA got vicious. They became VERY loud about a] the right of every citizen to be armed and b] the necessity of keeping guns out of government hands.

mem said...

I don't think I will read about them .Just too depressing for words . I am fascinated by what happens in a brain to makes it so open to this crazy paranoia .A lot of what goes on in the world is down to brain function characteristics I suspect. I guess some of that is genetically determined and passed down to future generations . I am so glad Australia was settled by a bunch of nair do well convicts and from then on a mixed bag of people from all over . Our genes are probably so diluted by this influx that no particular hard core paraaoid ones can get a grip in a large population ( I am hoping) .Friends of mine who in the Psychiatry field say that the Trumpster has a a malignant narcissistic personality disorder . The other thing that is so boggling is that its all so serendipitous . My 7 year old son once announced on the way to school in the car "Mum do you know that if Mr and Mrs Hitler had had sex on a different time Hitler wouldnt have been made and then we wouldn't have had the 2nd world war .This quite true . I guess its also worth considering the personalities the world has dodged !!

Hels said...

mem

For the last four weeks I have been following the readers' comments to the Australian Newspaper, to see what people thought about our Federal elections, Prince Harry's baby, the Christchurch massacres, Israel Folau's public statements about gays going to hell, migration into Australia, kicking out of that Communist Malcolm Turnbull etc.

Let me tell you that the comments were vicious, sexist, anti black, anti woman and anti working class. There was NO serendipity at all - whatever the event, the extremist responses were totally predictable. The hatred of Jacinda Arden took my breath away :(

We seem no better (at the extreme) than the John Birch Society was in the USA decades ago. BTW, your son is a bright little boy :)

mem said...

Yes Hels , He is a bright big boy now , always very determinedly outside the square :).
It is interesting though to contemplate what it is that makes one person dso filled with vitriol and another a generous spirit. I cant believe it just a choice I think there must be some brain happenings which maybe a form of damage that make people more this way inclined . There is always choice is how we behave but you can see in people who develop dementia the disinhibition which develops,where their premorbid bad character traits become more pronounced.Criminals are known to have different brain activity to those who are not ( in some cases) . I just wonder if the moral paradigm for judging behaviour is that accurate .

Hels said...

mem

if there was brain damage, I have two main problems.

Firstly the nastiness or criminality would be excused by the courts as a physical or chemical injury outside the control of the perpetrator. Noone would be responsible :(

Secondly brain damage could affect only the sufferer and not be repeated over and over in history. I am suggesting that the racists in the southern parts of the USA who lynched black men in public were simply repeating what the Romans did with their crucifixions, Queen Mary l did to Catholics by burning them at the stake and the Prince bishop of Würzburg did by drowning witches.

mem said...

Yes I see your point but how is that psychopaths do have demonstrated du=iffr=erences in brain function . I think th=its that certain parts of the brain are less active . I am saying that people don't have individual responsibility and I am not saying that we should excuse them fro their crimes but it might just be that the choices we make in life are influenced by our Brain function which could in turn be affected by our genetic background and our experiences because we also know that people's brains are affected by their thought processes and experiences via Neuroplasticity .