John Birch Society
|John Birch Society|
Logo of the JBS
|Type||Educational and Political advocacy group|
|Region served||United States|
The John Birch Society (JBS) is an American political advocacy group that supports anti-communism, limited government, a constitutional republic. It has been described as radical right-wing.
Founder Robert W. Welch Jr. (1899–1985) developed an elaborate organizational infrastructure in 1958 that enabled him to keep a very tight rein on the chapters. Its main activity in the 1960s, says Rick Perlstein, "comprised monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace." After an early rise in membership and influence, efforts by people like conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and National Review led the JBS to be identified as a fringe element of the conservative movement.
Originally based in Belmont, Massachusetts, it is now headquartered in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, with local chapters in all 50 states. The organization owns American Opinion Publishing, which publishes the journal The New American.
- 1 Values
- 2 History
- 3 Popular culture
- 4 Officers
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The organization identifies with Christian principles, seeks to limit governmental powers, and opposes wealth redistribution, and economic interventionism. It opposes collectivism, totalitarianism, and communism. It opposes socialism as well, which it asserts is infiltrating US governmental administration. In a 1983 edition of Crossfire, Congressman Larry McDonald (D-Georgia), then its newly appointed president, characterized the society as belonging to the Old Right rather than the New Right.
The society opposed aspects of 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 entitled "What's Wrong With Civil Rights?", which was used 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 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. They argue 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". The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the society as a "'Patriot' Group". Other sources consider the society as part of the patriot movement.
The society was established in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 9, 1958, by a group of 12 led by Robert Welch, Jr., a retired candy manufacturer from Belmont, Massachusetts. Welch named the new organization after John Birch, an American Baptist missionary and United States military intelligence officer who had been shot 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.
Fred Koch, founder of Koch Industries, was one of the founding members. Robert Waring Stoddard, President of Wyman-Gordon, a major industrial enterprise, was also among the founders. Another was Revilo P. Oliver, a University of Illinois professor who later severed his relationship with 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 Civilization, and 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 educational 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 biweekly journal The New American.
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 progressive research group that investigates the far right), the society "pioneered grassroots lobbying, combining educational meetings, petition drives and letter-writing campaigns. 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 that same year 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 main 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" and saw as a communist plot to poison Americans.
The JBS 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 Welch's conspiracy theories. As 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 naive 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, and various religious groups criticized the group's acceptance of Jews, non-whites, Masons, and Mormons. 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 over Richard Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination, but the membership split, with two-thirds supporting Goldwater and one-third supporting Nixon. 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."
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. In fact, 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 society was at the center of an important free-speech law case in the 1970s, after American Opinion accused a Chicago lawyer 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.
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 nation-wide network of recorded telephone messages.
By the time of Welch's death in 1985, the society's membership and influence had dramatically declined. 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 is strongly supportive of 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 Society has been active in supporting the auditing of, and aims to eventually dismantle, the Federal Reserve System. The JBS believes that the United States Constitution gave only Congress the ability to coin money, and did not intend for it to delegate this power, or to transform it into a fiat currency not backed by gold or silver.
The Chad Mitchell Trio have a song "John Birch Society".
Bob Dylan wrote a satirical song called "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues".
Charlie Daniels has a character in his song "Uneasy Rider" defend himself against a charge of being a communist by proclaiming to be "a faithful follower of Brother John Birch."
- Robert W. Welch, Jr. (1958–1983)
- Larry McDonald (1983) — a U.S. Representative killed by the Soviet Air Force in the 1983 KAL-007 shootdown incident.
- Robert W. Welch, Jr. (1983–1985)
- Charles R. Armour (1985–1991)
- John F. McManus (1991–2004, 2005–present)
- G. Vance Smith (2004–2005)
- G. Allen Bubolz (1988–1991)
- G. Vance Smith (1991–2005)
- Arthur R. Thompson (2005–present)
- Principles of the John Birch Society, 1962. "We believe that a Constitutional Republic, such as our Founding Fathers gave us, is probably the best of all forms of government"
- LectLaw "We believe that our system of government, a Constitutional Republic, is the finest yet developed by man."
- "The JBS Mission". The John Birch Society. Retrieved 2010-02-18.
- Eatwell, Roger (2004), "Introduction: The new extreme right challenge", Western Democracies and The New Extreme Right challenge (Routledge): 7
Potok, Mark (2004), "The American radical right: The 1990s and beyond", Western Democracies and The New Extreme Right challenge (Routledge): 43
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Brinkley, Douglas (February 10, 1997). "The Right Choice for the C.I.A.". New York Times. p. A.15.
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- The New American.
- "Larry McDonald on the New World Order". Liveleak. 2008-02-15. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- Epstein, Benjamin R.; Forster, Arnold (1966). Report on the John Birch Society, 1966. Random House. p. 9.
- What's Wrong with Civil Rights?. Belmont, MA: American Opinion. 1965. OCLC 56596124.
- "The John Birch Society Asks: What's Wrong With Civil Rights?". The Post-Times (West Palm Beach, FL). 31 October 1965. p. A10 cols. 1–6. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- Farmer, Brian (2007-09-17). "The North American Union: Conspiracy Theory or Conspiracy Fact?". The John Birch Society. Archived from the original on 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
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Lee, Martha F (Fall 2005). "Nesta Webster: The Voice of Conspiracy". Journal of Women's History (Baltimore) 17 (3): 81.
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TOBIN, JONATHAN S. (March 9, 2008). "The writer who chased the anti-Semites out". Jerusalem Post. p. 14.
Gerson, Michael (March 10, 2009). "Looking for conservatism". Times Daily (Florence, Ala.).
- "'Patriot' Groups". Southern Poverty Law Center. Spring 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-31. "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."
- Thomas, Jeff (February 13, 1995). "Determined `patriots' say their time has come/ Reduction of government sought". Colorado Springs Gazette - Telegraph. p. A.1.
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- Davis, Jonathan T. (1997). Forbes Richest People: The Forbes Annual Profile of the World's Wealthiest Men and Women. Wiley. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-471-17751-7. "Founding member (1958) John Birch Society — reportedly after seeing Russian friends liquidated"
- Hoover's 500: Profiles of America's Largest Business Enterprises. Hoover's Business Press. 1996. p. 286. ISBN 978-1-57311-009-9. "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."
- Wayne, Leslie (7 December 1986). "Brothers at Odds.". The New York Times (NY). p. Sec. 6; Part 2, p 100 col. 1. ISSN 0362-4331. "He returned a fervent anti-Communist who would later become a founding member of the John Birch Society."
- Diamond, Sara (1995). Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. NY: Guilford Press. p. 324 n. 86. ISBN 0-89862-862-8
- "Robert Stoddard Dies at 78; A Founder of Birch Society". New York Times. December 16, 1984. Retrieved 2012-05-07.
- Welch, Robert E. (1961). Blue Book of the John Birch Society. American Opinion Books. ISBN 0-88279-215-6.
- "John Birch Society". Political Research Associates. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- John Birch Society Speakers Bureau
- Matthew Lyons; Chip Berlet (2000). Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: The Guilford Press. p. 179. ISBN 1-57230-562-2.
- French, William Marshall (1967). American Secondary Education. Odyssey Press. p. 477. ISBN 0-7719-9198-3. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- OCLC 1713996
- ISSN 0003-0236 OCLC 1480501
- ISSN 0885-6540 OCLC 12618341
- Barck, Jr. and Blake, Oscar Theodore and Nelson Manfred (1969). Since 1900 A History of the United States in Our Times. New York: Macmillan Company. p. 754.
- William F. Buckley, Jr. "Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me". Retrieved March 9, 2008.
- Stephen Earl, Bennett (1971). "Modes of Resolution of a 'Belief Dilemma' in the Ideology of the John Birch Society". Journal of Politics 33 (3): 735–772. doi:10.2307/2128280. JSTOR 2128280.
- Coates, Paul (April 28, 1966). "It's a Day of Decision". Los Angeles Times. p. 3.
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- Robert Welch (1963). The Neutralizers. John Birch Society. p. 20.
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- Ronald Sullivan, "Foes of Rising Birch Society Organize in Jersey," New York Times, April 20, 1966, page 1
- Quoted at "Glenn Beck talks with JBS President John F. McManus" Aug. 15, 2006.
- Welch, Robert (1975). The Politician. Boston: Western Islands. cxxxviii–cxxxix. ISBN 99908-64-98-5. "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."
- John B. Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives (2001) pp 193-200
- Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party’s Cold War Roots by historian Sean Wilentz, The New Yorker, October 18, 2010
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- Guthrie, Andrew (1999-11-24). "Is Panama Canal Falling Under Chinese Control?". Voice of America. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
- The Ross Institute.
- "Federal Reserve". Jbs.org.
- Just, Sara. "Far-Right John Birch Society 2010". ABC News. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
- Sam Tanenhaus (19 October 2010). The Death of Conservatism: A Movement and Its Consequences. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-8129-8103-2. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
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- McGirr, Lisa. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001), focus on Los Angeles suburbs in 1960s
- Schoenwald, Jonathan M. A Time for Choosing: The Rise of Modern American Conservatism (2002) pp 62–99 excerpt and text search, a national history of the party
- Stone, Barbara S. "The John Birch Society: a Profile," Journal of Politics 1974 36(1): 184-197, in JSTOR
- Wander, Philip. "The John Birch and Martin Luther King, Symbols in the Radical Right," Western Speech (Western Journal of Communication), 1971 35(1): 4-14.
- 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, in JSTOR
- Wright, Stuart A. Patriots, politics, and the Oklahoma City bombing. Cambridge University Press. 11 June 2007. ISBN 978-0-521-87264-5
- 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.
- Welch, Robert (1961). The blue book of the John Birch Society. Boston: Western Islands. ISBN 0-88279-105-2. OCLC 16903114.
- Welch, Robert (1964). The Politician. Belmont, Massachusetts: Belmont Publishing. ISBN 99908-64-98-5. OCLC 376165.
- Welch, Robert; John Birch Society (1964). The White Book of the John Birch Society for 1964. Belmont, Massachusetts: John Birch Society. OCLC 21571870.
- Welch, Robert (1966). The New Americanism and Other Speeches. Boston: Western Islands. ISBN 0-88279-211-3.
- Conner, Claire (2013). Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right. ISBN 9780807077504.
Criticizing the John Birch Society
- Buckley, William F., Jr. (2008) "Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me". Commentary (March 2008) online
- De Koster, Lester. (1967). The Citizen and the John Birch Society. A Reformed Journal monograph. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
- Epstein, Benjamin R., and Arnold Forster. (1966). The Radical Right: Report on the John Birch Society and Its Allies. New York: Vintage Books.
- Grove, Gene. (1961). Inside the John Birch Society. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett.
- Grupp, Fred W., Jr. (1969). "The Political Perspectives of Birch Society Members." In Robert A. Schoenberger, ed., The American Right
- Hardisty, Jean V. (1999). Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. Boston: Beacon.
- John Birch Society
- The New American, JBS biweekly publication which publishes the Freedom Index congressional scorecard twice a year
- John Birch Society at Political Research Associates
- Report of the California Senate Fact finding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities on the John Birch Society
- "What is the John Birch Society?", short excerpt of a film, released c. 1965, of Robert W. Welch Jr., explaining why he founded the John Birch Society and its aims.
- FBI Files on John Birch Society
- Profile at NNDB
- Rating group positions by year at Project Vote Smart