The World of the John Birch Society
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213 pages

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As far as members of the hugely controversial John Birch Society were concerned, the Cold War revealed in stark clarity the loyalties and disloyalties of numerous important Americans, including Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Earl Warren. Founded in 1958 as a force for conservative political advocacy, the Society espoused the dangers of enemies foreign and domestic, including the Soviet Union, organizers of the US civil rights movement, and government officials who were deemed "soft" on communism in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Sound familiar? In The World of the John Birch Society, author D. J. Mulloy reveals the tactics of the Society in a way they've never been understood before, allowing the reader to make the connections to contemporary American politics, up to and including the Tea Party. These tactics included organized dissemination of broad-based accusations and innuendo, political brinksmanship within the Republican Party, and frequent doomsday predictions regarding world events. At the heart of the organization was Robert Welch, a charismatic writer and organizer who is revealed to have been the lifeblood of the Society's efforts.

The Society has seen its influence recede from the high-water mark of 1970s, but the organization still exists today. Throughout The World of the John Birch Society, the reader sees the very tenets and practices in play that make the contemporary Tea Party so effective on a local level. Indeed, without the John Birch Society paving the way, the Tea Party may have encountered a dramatically different political terrain on its path to power.



Publié par
Date de parution 27 juin 2014
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780826519832
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1000€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


The World of the

Conspiracy, Conservatism, and the Cold War
Vanderbilt University Press NASHVILLE
© 2014 by Vanderbilt University Press
Nashville, Tennessee 37235
All rights reserved
First printing 2014
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Book design by Dariel Mayer
Composition by Vanderbilt University Press
Frontispiece : Former major general Edwin Walker is led away at bayonet point by U.S. troops after refusing to move from the courthouse in downtown Oxford, Mississippi, during the attempt to prevent James Meredith from registering at the University of Mississippi, October 1, 1962.
© Bettmann/CORBIS
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file
LC control number 2013039765
LC classification number E740 .J6M86 2014
Dewey class number 322.4 4-dc23
ISBN 978-0-8265-1981-8 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-8265-1983-2 (ebook)
To my grandparents
Catherine Kitty McCabe (1906-1986)
John Mulloy (1905-1951)
Edith King (1922-1980)
and Thomas Telford (1921-1987)
List of Illustrations
1. Exposure
2. Putsch
3. Extremism
4. Rights
5. War
6. Conspiracy
List of Illustrations
Robert Welch in his Birch Society office, 1966
Dwight Eisenhower, Milton Eisenhower, and Kevin McCann drafting the 1955 State of the Union address
U.S. airman undertakes antibrainwashing training, 1955
Barry Goldwater at a Young Republicans rally, 1963
Edwin Walker is arrested in Oxford, Mississippi, 1962
Dwight Eisenhower meets Nikita Khrushchev, 1959
Billboard accusing Martin Luther King Jr. of attending a communist training school, 1965
Many people have contributed to this book and I am extremely grateful to all of them. Much of the initial research for it took place in the wonderful archives of the Wilcox Collection for Contemporary Political Movements in the Kenneth Spenser Research Library at the University of Kansas. Because of the expertise and generosity of all the staff there, including Tara Wenger, Karen Cook, Letha Johnson, Sherry Williams, Deborah Dandridge, Meredith Huff, Toni Bresler, and especially Rebecca Schulte and Kathy Lafferty, the time I spent in Lawrence was immensely rewarding and productive. I am very grateful for the short term research grant I received from the Research Office of Wilfrid Laurier University for enabling that trip, as well as for a book preparation grant. My thanks also to the dedicated librarians of my own university who have helped with this project in countless ways, especially Patti Metzger, Angela Davidson, and Hélène LeBlanc, as well as to the outstanding administrative assistants in the History Department at Laurier, Colleen Ginn and Cindi Wieg. I would like to thank my editor at Vanderbilt University Press, Eli Bortz, for his enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the project, as well as all the people at Vanderbilt who worked so hard to bring it to fruition, including Susan Havlish, Betsy Phillips, Joell Smith-Borne, and Peg Duthie. Adam Crerar and David Monod read the manuscript at various stages: their careful attentiveness and insightfulness-as well as that of two anonymous reviewers-improved the book beyond measure. Thank you. Thank you also to Sarah Cracknell, Jónsi Birgisson, Neil Halstead, and Mark Hollis for keeping me company during the writing process, and to my friends and colleagues in the History Department at Wilfrid Laurier University, where I have the great pleasure to teach. Above all, though, I would like to thank the two other writers in my family, Pamela and Esme Mulloy, for their love, support, and considerable patience.
Fantastic? Of course it s fantastic. . . .
We are living in fantastic times
and a fantastic situation. . . .
We are in circumstances where
it is realistic to be fantastic .
-Robert Welch, The Blue Book
A conspiracy is everything
that ordinary life is not.
-Don DeLillo, Libra
It was an extraordinary claim. The thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower-the widely beloved war hero, the man who had helped save the world from fascism during World War II-was a traitor, a dedicated, conscious agent of the Soviet Union and of the whole Communist conspiracy. Nor was he the only American political figure apparently in thrall to the nation s deadliest enemy. U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles and his brother, Central Intelligence Agency director Allen Dulles, were similarly indicted, as were numerous other senior members of the Eisenhower administration and the wider political establishment. In fact, in what might have been the most fantastical claim of all, Dwight Eisenhower- Ike, as he was almost universally known-was not even the ringleader of this cunning group of plotters. That accolade went to his younger brother Milton (who, when not busy directing the conspiracy, bided his time as the president of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore).
The allegations had been circulating around the conservative anticommunist network in the United States since the mid-1950s in the form of a privately printed letter called The Politician . 1 They were the work of Robert H. W. Welch Jr.-a retired candy manufacturer, former board member of the National Association of Manufacturers, and poetry aficionado. They are obviously easy to ridicule-as indeed they were when they became much more widely known in the summer of 1960, and have been ever since. Yet Welch was also the founder, in 1958, of what was to become the largest, most important, best organized, and most formidable radical or ultra right-wing group of the period, the John Birch Society-although members of the Society preferred the terms conservative, anticommunist, or Americanist to describe themselves-which at the height of its power in the mid-1960s was taken very seriously by considerable swaths of the American population, as well as leading politicians, journalists, academics, and cultural commentators of all kinds. So seriously, in fact, that the Birchers -as they were called-were feared to be on the verge not only of taking over the Republican Party and propelling a dangerous extremist into the White House, but also of being a threat to the very foundations of American democracy itself, and perhaps even enabling the rise of fascism in the United States. The political extremism of the Radical Right and of The John Birch Society, wrote Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster of the Anti-Defamation League in one notable and widely read report on the organization in 1967, is no minor surface rash on the body politic. It can be a creeping malignancy that would destroy the vital centers of the American political organism. And it is still spreading. 2
As it turned out, just as Epstein and Forster were publishing their report, the heyday of the Birch Society was fast approaching its end. With an estimated peak membership of one hundred thousand in 1965-1966, Birchers had played a substantial role in-and, initially at least, had also benefited from-the energizing and enormously consequential 1964 presidential campaign of the Arizona Republican senator Barry Goldwater. By 1968 the number of Birchers had declined to between sixty thousand and seventy thousand, and by the mid-1990s the figure was down to fifteen thousand or twenty thousand (estimates are all that are available because the Society declined to release its official membership rolls). 3 Such figures, while not inconsiderable, are a long way from the million members Welch set out to recruit when he first established the Society-or even his revised goal of four hundred thousand, announced on the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 1968-and the Birch Society s relatively small size, its sudden appearance and precipitous decline, and the tendency of many of its key figures to believe the unbelievable, as one of its contemporary critics put it, meant that there has long been a tendency to dismiss the significance of the organization and its concerns. 4 If the Society is remembered at all, it is generally as just another example of the marginal, esoteric, and exotic groups that have always existed on the abundant and historically deeply rooted lunatic fringe of American life.
But the significance of an organization is to be found not only in the number of its recruits, or how long it manages to command attention on the political scene. Seemingly small groups can still have a powerful impact on a society, and they can also provide a meaningful window through which one can better understand and come to terms with that society at a particular moment in its history. Such organizations can generate new ideas, or give a renewed lease of life to old ones; they can pioneer innovative modes of political activity or communication; they can embody-and give voice to-some of the central tensions or conflicts of the time, and through their actions and beliefs they can compel opponents and observers to defend and sharpen their own positions, policies, and practices; they can attract millions of sympathizers and supporters to their cause; and they can leave behind a substantial legacy-positive and negative-for others to examine and learn from. As we shall see, all of this applies to the John Birch Society in the years between 1958 and 1968. It also applies to contemporary political movements (whether of the Left or the Right). Indeed, many of the key lessons to be drawn from an examination of the John Bi

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