This series of articles is based on a research paper I wrote in 1964 during the heyday of the John Birch Society (JBS). I dug it up and dusted it off to see what, if any, resemblances there might be between it and the modern day Tea Party (TP).
Enough similarities exist to make the two organizations appear to be mirror images of one another but sometimes one reflection is a little distorted or a little off. Much depends on the silver backing – or the foundation.
The JBS was founded at the end of 1958 when candy manufacturer Robert Welch secretly gathered together 11 unidentified men in Indianapolis.* For two days they listened to Welch explain his deep-seated belief that the Communists were infiltrating all segments of the United States, threatening to destroy our schools, our churches, our government, and virtually, our entire way of life.
In time, most Americans would come to believe that such threats did not come from the Communists but from the very organization that was supposed to be championing the cause of freedom.
JBS Attacks on the Government
Robert Welch was firmly convinced that the U. S. government had been corrupted and infiltrated by Communist agents. He argued that they dominated the presidency, the legislative branches and the U. S. Supreme Court.
He began writting a letter in 1954 which nine years and 305 pages later was turned into a book called The Politician. Welch claimed the Communists captured the presidency in three stages beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and continuing on through the Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower administrations.
R. B. Cooney, in his article, “John Birchers On the March – the Politics of Fear,” quoted the following passages which had been recorded in the Congressional Record :
In my opinion, the chances are very strong that Milton Eisenhower is actually Dwight Eisenhower’s superior and boss within the Communist Party . . . .
I personally believe (John Foster) Dulles to be a Communist agent who has had one clearly defined role to play: namely, always to say the right things and to always do the wrong ones. (1)
Welch wrote in a so-called private letter that quickly became public, “the Communists have one of their own actually in the Presidency - Eisenhower. There is only one possible word to describe his purpose and his actions. That word is ‘treason.” He went on to accuse the president of being "a dedicated conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy."
Conservative writer William F. 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 JBS.
At Houston’s American Opinion Library, the JBS store and reading room, I purchased a postcard inscribed, “Save Our Republic – Impeach Earl Warren.” On the back it read:
Chief Justice Warren has taken the lead in both the decisions and the attitudes of the Supreme Court, aimed at doing away with those safeguards of law which maintain this nation as a constitutional republic, and at converting it into a democracy – in which all individual rights would be completely subject to the whims and views of demagogues temporarily in power. The logical and traditional redress in our governmental system for such violations of the oath of office is impeachment.
JBS Attacks on Schools
Education was the field in which the JBS was most active and where they had the greatest impact. Welch continuously urged members to join PTA groups and school boards. If they could subvert the educational system, they would win a major battle against their war on Communism.
In Amarillo, Texas – a town known for its far right groups – the JBS began a campaign to rid the school libraries of reading materials they deemed unfit. Such books as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Oliver La Farge’s Laughing Boy, Mackinley Kantor’s Andersonville, and A. B. Guthrie’s The Way West were forced from the shelves.
George Orwell’s 1984 was also purged – rather ironical since it is generally regarded as a critique of life under Communism. (2) Even more interesting was the fact that the Houston American Opinion Library carried copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Even high school students were encouraged to rat on their teachers. Instructors who had been idolized for years were suddenly disloyal and treasonous. It wasn’t long before paranoid parents jumped on the bandwagon. Neighbors who used to be bridge partners began playingWar. (3)
At a Wichita, Kansas high school, JBS members tried, but failed, to have courses altered and the teachers fired. Again students were urged to report anything their teachers said that, in their opinions, smacked of Communist propaganda. (4)
Some University of Wichita faculty members were accused of being traitors and attempts were made to have them fired. According to an assistant economics professor at the time, the charges of treason made the faculty insecure enough that they were afraid to teach anything that dealt with Communist theory in politics and economics. (5)
By obtaining control of local PTA and school board groups, Welch believed the Society would be able to influence the choice of courses, teachers and textbooks. If they succeeded, social science courses would be altered to such an extent that history and government as most of the country knows it would be unrecognizable.
* Since this paper was written,the names of the founding members have become known.
1. R. B. Cooney, “John Birchers On the March – the Politics of Fear,” American Federalist, v. 68, (June, 1961), p. 13.
2. Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein, Danger on the Right, 1966, p.4.
4. Donald Janson, The Far Right, 1963, p. 169.
5. Ibid. p. 169-170.