|Formation||December 9, 1958|
|Founder||Robert W. Welch Jr.|
|Founded at||Indianapolis, Indiana|
|Type||Political advocacy group|
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the United States
Businessman and founder Robert W. Welch Jr. (1899–1985) developed an organizational infrastructure in 1958 of chapters nationwide. After an early rise in membership and influence, efforts by those such as conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review led the JBS to be identified as a fringe element of the conservative movement, mostly in fear of the radicalization of the American right. More recently Jeet Heer has argued in The New Republic that while the organization's influence peaked in the 1970s, "Bircherism" and its legacy of conspiracy theories has become the dominant strain in the conservative movement. Politico has asserted that the JBS began making a resurgence in the mid-2010s, and many political analysts from across the spectrum have argued that it shaped the modern conservative movement and especially the Trump administration. Writing in The Huffington Post, Andrew Reinbach called the JBS "the intellectual seed bank of the right."
Originally based in Belmont, Massachusetts, it is now headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin, with local chapters throughout the United States. The organization owns American Opinion Publishing, which publishes the magazine The New American.
The organization supports limited government and opposes wealth redistribution and economic interventionism. It opposes collectivism, totalitarianism, anarchism and communism. It opposes socialism as well, which it asserts is infiltrating U.S. governmental administration. In a 1983 edition of the political-debate television program Crossfire, Congressman Larry McDonald (a conservative Democrat from Georgia), then the society's newly appointed president, characterized it as belonging to the Old Right rather than the New Right.
The society opposed the 1960s civil rights movement and claimed the movement had Communists in important positions. In the latter half of 1965, the JBS produced a flyer titled "What's Wrong With Civil Rights?" and used the flyer as a newspaper advertisement. In the piece, one of the answers was: "For the civil rights movement in the United States, with all of its growing agitation and riots and bitterness, and insidious steps towards the appearance of a civil war, has not been infiltrated by the Communists, as you now frequently hear. It has been deliberately and almost wholly created by the Communists patiently building up to this present stage for more than forty years." The society opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming it violated the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and overstepped individual states' rights to enact laws regarding civil rights. The John Birch Society, along with other conservative groups such as the Eagle Forum and the Christian right, successfully opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Like other extreme-right organizations, JBS accused the ERA's supporters of subversion, asserting that the ERA was part of a "Communist" plot "to reduce human beings to living at the same level as animals." The society opposes "one world government", and it has an immigration reduction view on immigration reform. It opposes the United Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and other free trade agreements. It argues the U.S. Constitution has been devalued in favor of political and economic globalization, and that this alleged trend is not accidental. It cited the existence of the former Security and Prosperity Partnership as evidence of a push towards a North American Union.
The society has been described as "ultraconservative", "far right", and "extremist". Other sources consider the society part of the patriot movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, lists the society as a 'Patriot' group, a group that "advocate[s] or adhere[s] to extreme antigovernment doctrines".
The society was established in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 9, 1958, by a group of 12 led by Robert W. Welch Jr., a retired candy manufacturer from Belmont, Massachusetts. Welch named the new organization after John Birch, an American Baptist missionary and military intelligence officer who was shot and killed by communist forces in China in August 1945, shortly after the conclusion of World War II. Welch claimed that Birch was an unknown but dedicated anti-communist, and the first American casualty of the Cold War. Jimmy Doolittle, who met Birch after bailing out over China following the Tokyo Raid, said in his autobiography that he was certain that Birch "would not have approved" of that particular use of his name. One of the first members of the John Birch Society was Fred Koch, who became one of its primary financial supporters. According to investigative journalist Jane Mayer, Koch's sons, David and Charles Koch were also members of the John Birch Society. However, they had left before the 1970s.
Harry Lynde Bradley, co-founder of the Allen Bradley Company and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Fred C. Koch, founder of Koch Industries and Robert Waring Stoddard, President of Wyman-Gordon, a major industrial enterprise, were among the founding members. Another was Revilo P. Oliver, a University of Illinois professor who was later expelled from the Society and helped found the National Alliance. 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 member receiving a copy. According to Welch, "both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order, managed by a 'one-world socialist government.'" Welch saw collectivism as the main threat to western culture, and American liberals as "secret communist traitors" who provided cover for the gradual process of collectivism, with the ultimate goal of replacing the nations of western civilization with a 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."
The society's activities include distribution of literature, pamphlets, magazines, videos and other material while sponsoring a Speaker's Bureau, which invites "speakers who are keenly aware of the motivations that drive political policy". One of the first public activities of the society was a "Get US Out!" (of membership in the UN) campaign, which claimed in 1959 that the "Real nature of [the] UN is to build a One World Government". In 1960, Welch advised JBS members to: "Join your local P.T.A. at the beginning of the school year, get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over." One Man's Opinion, a magazine launched by Welch in 1956, was renamed American Opinion, and became the society's official publication. The society publishes The New American, a biweekly magazine.
By March 1961 the society had 60,000 to 100,000 members and, according to Welch, "a staff of 28 people in the Home Office; about 30 Coordinators (or Major Coordinators) in the field, who are fully paid as to salary and expenses; and about 100 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 Political Research Associates (a non-profit research group that investigates the far right), the society "pioneered grassroots lobbying, combining educational meetings, petition drives and letter-writing campaigns. Rick Perlstein described its main activity in the 1960s as "monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace". One early campaign against the second summit between the United States and the Soviet Union generated over 600,000 postcards and letters, according to the society. In 1961 Welch offered $2,300 in prizes to college students for the best essays on "grounds of impeachment" of Chief Justice Warren, a prime target of ultra-conservatives. A June 1964 society campaign to oppose Xerox corporate sponsorship of TV programs favorable to the UN produced 51,279 letters from 12,785 individuals."
In 1962, William F. Buckley Jr., editor of the influential conservative magazine, the National Review, denounced Welch and the John Birch Society as "far removed from common sense" and urged the GOP to purge itself of Welch's influence.
In the late 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 left. The society opposed water fluoridation, which it called "mass medicine". The JBS was moderately active in the 1960s with numerous chapters, but rarely engaged in coalition building with other conservatives. It was rejected by most conservatives because of Welch's conspiracy theories. The philosopher Ayn Rand said in a 1964 Playboy interview, "I consider the Birch Society futile, because they are not for capitalism but merely against communism ... I gather they believe that the disastrous state of today's world is caused by a communist conspiracy. This is childishly naïve and superficial. No country can be destroyed by a mere conspiracy, it can be destroyed only by ideas."
Former Eisenhower cabinet member Ezra Taft Benson—a leading Mormon—spoke in favor of the John Birch Society, but in January 1963 the LDS church issued a statement distancing itself from the Society. Antisemitic, racist, anti-Mormon, anti-Masonic groups criticized the organization's acceptance of Jews, non-whites, Masons, and Mormons as members. These opponents accused Welch of harboring feminist, ecumenical, and evolutionary ideas. Welch rejected these accusations by his detractors: "All we are interested in here is opposing the advance of the Communists, and eventually destroying the whole Communist conspiracy, so that Jews and Christians alike, and Mohammedans and Buddhists, can again have a decent world in which to live."
In 1964 Welch favored Barry Goldwater for the Republican presidential nomination, but the membership split, with two-thirds supporting Goldwater and one-third supporting Richard Nixon, who did not run. A number of Birch members and their allies were Goldwater supporters in 1964 and some were delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention.
In April 1966, a New York Times article on New Jersey and the society voiced—in part—a concern for "the increasing tempo of radical right attacks on local government, libraries, school boards, parent-teacher associations, mental health programs, the Republican Party and, most recently, the ecumenical movement." It then characterized the society as "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 JBS also opposed the creation of the first sex education curricula in the US, through a division called the Movement to Restore Decency (MOTOREDE). Surviving MOTOREDE pamphlets date from 1967 to 1971.
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."
The controversial paragraph was removed before final publication of The Politician.
The sensationalism of Welch's charges against Eisenhower prompted several conservatives and Republicans, most prominently Goldwater and the intellectuals of William F. Buckley's circle, to renounce outright or quietly shun the group. Buckley, 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 Birch Society. From then on Buckley, who was editor of National Review, became the leading intellectual spokesman and organizer of the anti-Bircher conservatives. Buckley's biographer John B. Judis wrote that "Buckley was beginning to worry that with the John Birch Society growing so rapidly, the right-wing upsurge in the country would take an ugly, even Fascist turn rather than leading toward the kind of conservatism National Review had promoted."
The booklet found support from Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture who later became the 13th President of the LDS Church. In a letter to his friend FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, Benson asked "how can a man [Eisenhower] who seems to be so strong for Christian principles and base American concepts be so effectively used as a tool to serve the communist conspiracy?" Benson privately fought to prevent the bureau from condemning the JBS, which prompted Hoover to distance himself from Benson. At one point in 1971 Hoover directed his staff to lie to Benson to avoid having to meet with him about the issue.
The society was at the center of a free-speech law case in the 1970s, after American Opinion accused a Chicago lawyer, Elmer Gertz, who was representing the family of a young man killed by a police officer, of being part of a Communist conspiracy to merge all police agencies in the country into one large force. The resulting libel suit, Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., reached the United States Supreme Court, which held that a state may allow a private figure such as Gertz to recover actual damages from a media defendant without proving malice, but that a public figure does have to prove actual malice, according to the standard laid out in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, in order to recover presumed damages or punitive damages. The court ordered a retrial in which Gertz prevailed.
Key society causes of the 1970s included opposition to both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and to the establishment of diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China. The society claimed in 1973 that the regime of Mao Zedong had murdered 64 million Chinese as of that year and that it was the primary supplier of illicit heroin into the United States. This led to bumper stickers showing a pair of scissors cutting a hypodermic needle in half accompanied by the slogan "Cut The Red China Connection". The society also was opposed to transferring control of the Panama Canal from American to Panamanian sovereignty.
In the 1970s, the John Birch Society played a prominent role in promoting the false claim that laetrile was a cancer cure, and in advocating for the legalization of the compound as a drug. A New York Times review in 1977 found identified JBS and other far-right groups were involved in pro-laetrile campaigns in at least nine states. "Virtually all" of the officers of the "Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy," the leading pro-laetrile group, were John Birch Society members. Congressman and Birch Society leader Lawrence P. McDonald was involved in the campaign as a member of the Committee.
The society was organized into local chapters during this period. Ernest Brosang, a New Jersey regional coordinator, claimed that it was virtually impossible for opponents of the society to penetrate its policy-making levels, thereby protecting it from "anti-American" takeover attempts. Its activities included the distribution of literature critical of civil rights legislation, warnings over the influence of the United Nations, and the release of petitions to impeach United States Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. To spread their message, members held showings of documentary films and operated initiatives such as "Let Freedom Ring", a nationwide network of recorded telephone messages.
Since the Vietnam War, the John Birch Society's membership and influence declined in stature; this decline continued through the 1980s and 1990s due to Welch's death in 1985 and the end of the Cold War.
The society continues to press for an end to United States membership in the United Nations. As evidence of the effectiveness of JBS efforts, the society points to the Utah State Legislature's failed resolution calling for United States withdrawal, as well as the actions of several other states where the Society's membership has been active. Since its founding, the society has repeatedly opposed United States military intervention overseas, although it strongly supports the American military. It has issued calls to "Bring Our Troops Home" in every conflict since its founding, including Vietnam. The society also has a national speakers' committee called American Opinion Speakers Bureau (AOSB) and an anti-tax committee called TRIM (Tax Reform IMmediately).
The second head of the Society was Congressman Larry McDonald (D) from Georgia. McDonald's first wife "estimated that, over the years, he had hosted 10,000 people in his living room for Bircher-inspired lectures and documentaries." In 1982, McDonald was appointed as national chairman of the Society. McDonald was killed in 1983, when airliner KAL 007 was shot down by a Soviet interceptor.
William P. Hoar has been active as a writer for the Society. He is noted for very strong attacks on mainstream politicians from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. He publishes regularly in The New American and its predecessor American Opinion. He coauthored The Clinton Clique with Larry Abraham alleging that Clinton was part of the Anglo-American conspiracy supposedly ruled through the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. The Birch Society publications arm, "Western Islands" published his Architects of Conspiracy: An Intriguing History (1984) and Huntington House Publishers published his Handouts and Pickpockets: Our Government Gone Berserk (1996).
The Society has been active in supporting the auditing of, and aims to eventually dismantle, the Federal Reserve System. The JBS holds that the United States Constitution gives only Congress the ability to coin money, and does not permit it to delegate this power, or to transform the dollar into a fiat currency not backed by gold or silver.
JBS is opposed to modern-day efforts to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution.
Although membership numbers are kept private, the JBS has reported a resurgence of members during the Trump administration, specifically in Texas. The organization's goals in Texas include opposition to the UN's Agenda 21 based on a conspiracy theory that it will "establish control over all human activity", and opposition to a bill that would allow undocumented migrants to pay in-state tuition for Texas state colleges.
The John Birch Society has increasingly been linked to the presidency of Donald Trump by political commentators such as Jeet Heer of The New Republic, arguing that "Trumpism" is essentially Bircherism. Trump confidante and longtime advisor Roger Stone said that Trump's father Fred Trump was a financier of the Society and a personal friend of founder Robert Welch. Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was the speaker at the John Birch Society's National Council dinner shortly before joining the Trump administration. U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), widely reported to be one of Trump's top advisors on foreign policy, is also tied to the John Birch Society. The senator's father, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), has had a long and very close relationship with the Society, celebrating its work in his 2008 keynote speech at the John Birch Society 50th anniversary event and saying that it was leading the fight to restore freedom. The keynote speaker at the group's 60th anniversary celebration was Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky.), who maintains a near-perfect score on the Society's "Freedom Index" ranking of members of Congress. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hosted Trump on his Infowars radio show and claims to have a personal relationship with the president, called Trump a "John Birch Society president" and previously claimed Trump was "more John Birch Society than the John Birch Society."
Skousen's vocal support for the Far-right John Birch Society's claim that communists controlled President Dwight Eisenhower cost him the support of the corporate backers who had paid for his Red-bashing lecture tours.
Skousen's vocal support for the Far-right John Birch Society's claim that communists controlled President Dwight Eisenhower cost him the support of the corporate backers who had paid for his Red-bashing lecture tours.
Generally, Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the 'New World Order' or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines. ... Listing here does not imply that the groups advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, or are racist.
Founding member (1958) John Birch Society—reportedly after seeing Russian friends liquidated
In 1929 Koch took his process to the Soviet Union, but he grew disenchanted with Stalinism and returned home to become a founding member of the anticommunist John Birch Society.
He returned a fervent anti-Communist who would later become a founding member of the John Birch Society.
The John Birch Society was an active participant in Wichita's 1964 referendum that repealed fluoridation after the City Commission had voted to implement it.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, groups like the John Birch Society were vocal opponents of water fluoridation.
At this point in the original manuscript, there was one paragraph in which I expressed my own personal belief as to the most likely explanation of the events and actions with this document had tried to bring into focus. In a confidential letter, neither published nor offered for sale and restricted to friends who were expected to respect the confidence but offer me in exchange their own points of view, this seemed entirely permissible and proper. It does not seem so for an edition of the letter that is now to be published and given, probably, fairly wide distribution. So that paragraph, and two explanatory paragraphs, connected with it, have been omitted here. And the reader is left entirely free to draw his own conclusions.