Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Monday, May 03, 2010

Menace from the Right: The John Birch Society (Tea Party Comparison) - Part 4

The most glaring similarity between the Birch Society and the Tea Party is the former’s obsession with a Communist threat and the latter’s with Socialism. The JBS, as has been noted, truly believed Communists were planting seeds of conspiracy in government agencies, including the Office of the President, the Supreme Court, the legislature, and the schools and churches.

The Tea Party believes President Obama is a Socialist, a Communist and a Fascist all wrapped up in one neat but imaginary package. All government programs are socialistic.

Interestingly, while eagerly accepting Medicare and other government benefits, they loudly denounce the new health insurance reform bill as being socialistic.

The JBS waged war against teachers and school systems through character assassination and false charges of being Communist sympathizers. They used their muscle to rid school libraries of books historically considered to be American standards but which in their minds were un-American.

Today the right-wing fringe is rewriting history by restricting what famous figures and events, and how they are interpreted, is covered in text books. The old battle of Creation vs. Evolution is still being fought along with whether or not to allow Bible instruction as it allegedly pertains to literature and history. School boards and legislatures in states such as Texas, Kansas and Kentucky are passing new guidelines which, in fact, will stunt the education of students for decades to come.

Both organizations are made up of religious fundamentalists who have a very narrow interpretation of the Bible. There is no tolerance for other belief systems whether Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism or whatever. These religions, in the minds of fundamentalists, are rejected out of hand because they are not Christian and do not view the Bible as the final authority. Those who attend churches which champion a social gospel are considered un-Christian and socialistic and most likely their souls are doomed to burn in hell.

The JBS and the Tea Party are well funded by some of America’s wealthiest industrialists and corporate lobbyists. Wealthy founders and backers of the Birchers have included William J. Gredes of Gredes Foundries; H. L. Hunt, Hunt Oil, and his son Nelson Bunker Hunt, who tried to corner the silver market; Westbrook Pegler, ultra-conservative columnist; and Robert Mathews, a white supremacist who died in a shootout with the FBI in 1984.

The list of Tea Party funders is extensive, almost mind boggling. A few include American Freedom Works, headed up by former Texas Representative Dick Armey; the Walton Family Foundation; the Scaife Foundations; Edwin Ed Meese; and Richard H. Fink.

Two families who backed the JBS and now the TP are beer baron Joseph Coors, founding member of the JBS, and his son Jeff Coors and the Coors Foundation. The most influential has been the Koch Family Foundation. Fred C. Koch was a founding member of the JBS and his sons carry on the ultra-conservative tradition by generously supporting the Tea Party.

The fact that both organizations are against big government and labor is well known. Both believe in the conspiracy theory – that the sinister Communists or Socialists are intent on destroying the country. Both groups are paranoid by any standards. Both are suspicious of the media and anything or anyone who might be intellectual or cosmopolitan. Both are masters of the big lie - whether as a propaganda tool or as a mechanism of denial.

There are several schools of thought as to whether or not and to what degree racism and anti-Semitism exist.

The Birchers actively opposed integration and became apoplectic over the Brown vs. Board of Education (Kansas) Supreme Court’s ruling that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.

Conversely, Welch strongly advised members not to fall prey to racism or anti-Semiticism. He warned that Communists would divert members into a misguided campaign in order to neutralize the Society’s fight against the Communist conspiracy.

Several members were expelled because of their racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Most recently, the Society’s own web site takes on the movie Invictus:

For in truth, Mandela is nothing more than a communist terrorist thug, placed in prison because he was about to launch a terrorist campaign against South Africans, aimed more against the black population than the white.

Claims that postcards and billboards with the picture of Martin Luther King at the Highlander Folk School were racist have been staunchly denied by the JBS. Yet, no such pictures of Earl Warren were used in their attacks against him – just the printed word.

Denials of racism by leaders of the Tea Party aside, signs at rallies and on billboards, letters and emails by elected officials, postings and photographs on the Internet and on social networks fly in the face of any reality. The racial slurs directed at President Obama and his family cannot be interpreted as anything but hate and racism.

Recent Tea Party claims that only a few extremists at rallies and on the Internet are racist, that the majority of members are not, is disingenuous at best. After nearly two years of racist rhetoric, the TP’s belated call to “be nicer” and their measured criticism of the so-called fringe element doesn’t ring with resounding sincerity.

The similarities stop here. The differences are more revealing and, in at least a couple of cases, may indicate where the Tea Party might be unable to become that powerful third party they have hoped to be. Never mind that minor parties (here and here) have never lasted in the history of the United States. Their biggest achievement has been to take votes away from their home parties.

While misrepresentation of facts is a characteristic of the JBS and the TP, the latter has refined the art of massauging the truth to a degree not seen since Adolf Hitler and Joe McCarthy. Republican representatives in Congress echo their mythology and the main stream media has gone soft on truth.

The JBS had its fair share of media outlets which were sympathetic to its cause but none were as dedicated and influential as Fox News is to the TP.

Fox News has been carrying on a torrid love affair with the Tea Party ever since they were introduced. A match made in heaven and the honeymoon doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. This entertainment channel makes no pretence of being objective or factual; it actively supports TP rallies and caravans across America. They hire a clown, as opposed to an entertainer, to plant fear and whip up hysteria amongst their fans. There are many people who consider this propaganda, not entertainment.

Finally, the biggest difference between the JBS and the TP is the structure or lack of. The JBS, founded by one man, Robert Welch, was tightly organized, and had one goal: to rid the country of Communism.

In contrast, the Tea Party seems to have no distinctive leader at the helm, no cohesive force directing traffic. It is made up of more ingredients, groups, than a tossed salad, and like vinegar and oil, not all of them complement each other. Most importantly, there is no one single goal. Different groups have diverse agendas and different complaints.

Like fissures in the earth’s crust, the cracks will grow until they break apart. The stresses of an unhinged group, coupled with the human decency of the majority of American citizens, most likely will suck all the tea out of the cup.


  1. You have done such a great job on this 4 part essay Leslie. Your hard work and dedication shines brightly, I'm proud of ya!

  2. [Sound of Both Hands Clapping!]

    Here's something I don't understand. I get why Joseph Coors will oppose anything that he suspects will prevent him from making and marketing beer in any way he chooses. I also get why anyone -- misguided obsession or no -- would oppose Communism: The two biggest examples of it in practice dissolved into totalitarian regimes that murdered millions of their countrymen.

    But socialism? Why get all wound up over the possibility of it (not that Barack Obama or any Democrat has suggested anything remotely resembling socialism). Every country in Europe that practices it to any degree has protected individual freedom. All socialism has meant in there is government involvement in economic planning, the development of extensive safety net, health care guarantees, and free college educations.

    Are Europeans taxed more? Sure, but they get something back for it and must like the bargain: If there's a widespread movement in Europe to dissolve the social contract in exchange for lower taxes, it certainly has gone unreported.

    I've spent a fair amount of time in Ireland, which is probably the most conservative country in Western Europe. When they complain about their health care system, its that it's not socialistic enough.

    In practice, all socialism has ever meant to the average guy is a better standard of living. Aaargh!

  3. Well, there's hope. I read an article the other day that said young people (older teens and early 20s) don't understand what all the talk about Socialism is about. They think there are far more important things to worry about.

  4. That's still my hope, is that if the economy and the markets come back it will give socialism a good name.

    Booya, socialism works!

  5. (1) Nelson Bunker Hunt was not, as you claim, the "brother" of H.L. Hunt. Nelson is the SON of H.L. Hunt.

    (2) Westbrook Pegler was not particularly "wealthy" and he arrived on the JBS scene very late as a contributor of articles to the JBS magazine, American Opinion. But he and Robert Welch had a falling out which resulted in Pegler being eliminated as a writer for the magazine.

    (3) Robert Mathews was not "wealthy" and he was a JBS member for a very brief period. Because of his advocacy of violence and criminal activities plus his anti-semitism, he had no role whatsoever in the JBS.

    I still am troubled by your attempt to link the most ATYPICAL people and their noxious beliefs or actions to the Birch Society.

    Every large group attracts weirdos and wackos. The key question is this: What does the organization do when they discover weirdos and wackos in their midst?

    (a) If the organization welcomes them, defends them, and promotes them -- that is one thing;

    (b) but if the organization expels them, denounces them and condemns their beliefs and behavior -- that is an entirely different matter.

    Don't you agree that option (b) is qualitatively different from option (a)? Is it fair and reasonable to link an organization to persons whom it despises and expels from its membership?

    Your approach to this subject reminds me of the extreme right's portrayal of the NAACP. Almost invariably, their comments would include some reference to the alleged "communist" affiliations and associations of NAACP members and supporters. The entire reason this was done was to convey the impression that the NAACP should be feared or suspected of being influenced or controlled by the Communist Party -- thus de-legitimizing it.

    Your approach with respect to the JBS is quite comparable. Any "connection" -- no matter how brief or anomalous is cited as being supremely compelling data about the nature and purposes of the JBS.

  6. Leslie,
    Thanks for your hard and so informative work.
    I appreciate you including an analysis of the differences as well.
    Great, informative work which I'll have to read again.

  7. I'll second Oso's endorsement. Good series with a lot of solid insight provided that's relevant to today's right-wing Republican/teabagger milieu.

    1. SW! I have missed you at Oh!Pinion. I hope all is well.

    2. Whoops. didn't check he date all the way over to the year.... old post. SW is still missing. Sigh.

  8. Ernie: Thanks for the FYI on the Hunts - an oversight - and a corrected one.

    Pegler and Matthews: I said "funders and supporters" but only linked "funders."

    The rest of your comment is open to interpretation by writer and whomever reads it.

    As I've said: there was no intention of updating what I wrote when a sophomore in college. I do not have access to a good library, Dialog, Lexis-Nexis and I'm certainly not going to use the Freedom of Info Act for a simple blog. This is simply a reflection of the times, warts and all, not a dissertation.

    No doubt that you are an authority on the JBS, as you should be after 40 years of tracking it. I have no qualms about not being an expert. When I mentioned I had written a paper about the JBS a couple of people felt it would be an interesting look back.

  9. ex DLB: I am absolutely convinced that if Obama presented everyone in the country with $10,000 in gold coins on a silver platter, the wackoes would yell socialism.

  10. Oso and SW: Thanks to both of you. I'm glad you appreciated it, truly.

  11. The Birchers are most certainly racist. I reckon your resident Bircher apologist will beg to differ. Tough. They are, that's it.

    Great series, Leslie - very nicely done :)

  12. Outstanding, I am going to link to this, the more people that read it the better.

  13. I'm not in your league Leslie. Terrific series.

  14. Bee: Basically - at least now - they are racist but back then it's kind of a mixed bag. There's plenty of evidence that people who made racist or anti-Semitic comments, at least in public, were thrown out. But then you have the opposition to the Brown vs. Board of Education thingy and the MLK billboard. But some think that was put up not because he was black but because he was alleged to be a big bad commie.

    I was pretty (very) active in the civil rights movement, so I think I would have been pretty alert to any racism. I have to be honest and say that I must not have had a sense for it. I feel I have to be fair and say I think the Society was soley focused on the Communist conspiracy at that time.

    I think it's a different story today but I'll be damned if I'm ever going to write about the JBS again.

  15. Holte: Thank you and thank you for the link.

    Judge: Nor I in yours. Thanks.

  16. Beekeeper: Apparently, you do not even know the meaning of the word "apologist". I am NOT a defender of the JBS.

    I guess what you mean is that you do not care how much FALSE information is posted about a person or group as long as that false information conveys derogatory assertions about people/groups you disapprove.

    In other words, you have no moral compass and you have no problem whatsoever with violations of God's 9th Commandment.

    Correcting factual errors (as I have done here) is NOT an "apology".

    The reason why the Birch Society can so easily discredit its critics is precisely because of people LIKE YOU who care nothing about facts and truth.

    Lastly, just to repeat something I previously wrote, I am such an "apologist" for the JBS, that:

    (1) The JBS bans me from posting messages on their website

    (2) JBS members in numerous Yahoo discussion groups describe me as "Communist", "New World Order stooge", "disinformation agent", "neutralizer", "false patriot" and similar terms.

    (3) Numerous scholars, researchers, and authors have cited my on-line reports and/or documents in my possession in their own writings even though they are uniformly HOSTILE toward the JBS.

    As one example, see the "acknowledgements" page of this doctoral dissertation (page 7):

    Shame on you!

  17. Postscript for Beekeeper:

    Please tell us how many "racist" organizations you can identify that have members, endorsers, senior officials, paid speakers, and paid writers who are members of racial minority groups.

    For example: JBS members and speakers and authors have included the following African-Americans:

    * George S. Schuyler (author and columnist for Pittsburgh Courier and former NAACP official)
    * Leonard Patterson (former FBI informant)
    * Alvin D. Smith (editor of Voice of Watts newspaper)
    * Gerald W. Kirk (former FBI
    * Lola Belle Holmes (former FBI informant)
    * Julia Brown (former FBI informant)

    Perhaps Beekeeper can explain this?

    A JBS member (Rev. Delmar Dennis) infiltrated the most violent Klan in our country for the FBI (The White Knights of the KKK in Mississippi) and Dennis was in large measure responsible for the conviction of several KKK members. Subsequently, he became an employee and speaker for the JBS — and he travelled the country giving speeches about the danger posed by the KKK (i.e. real racists).

    If the JBS is, as you claim, a "racist" organization -- then WHY would they hire someone like Rev. Dennis as a Coordinator for their organization and, beyond that, why would they employ him to make numerous speeches around the country about his experiences inside the Klan?

    Furthermore, if (as you claim) the JBS is a "racist" organization, then how do you explain the following?

    (a) The only official investigation of the JBS (which was conducted over a period of 2 years by the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities--controlled by Democrats) concluded that the JBS was NOT racist.

    (b) Why would prominent and respected Americans (including Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, and clergymen) whom NOBODY has ever even HINTED subscribed to any sort of racist sentiments -- nevertheless join/endorse the Birch Society?

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  20. Leslie: Thanks so much for the time and effort you put into this series. I have saved all four installments with all their comments to my computer and filed the document away in my “WINGNUTS” folder. For any way you cut it, that’s exactly what these groups are, whether to the far right or the far left of the pendulum. Just doing simple math, it is apparent that in all the years since the JBS was founded, the United States has not become a Communist nation. In fact, it is our very democracy which allows such groups to exist. When fear and paranoia are tapped into by any fringe group, that group has ulterior motives, and we are honor bound to find out what those motives are and expose them.

    Now …

    Ernie: Has anyone ever told you how obnoxious you are? Leslie has been very gracious about your comments. I, on the other hand, have found them to be blatantly offensive. You come on her blog and wield personal attacks at both her and her commenters although you have not followed her blog and her previous work. To turn a well-known saying around: with enemies like you, the JBS needs no friends. You have a 40-year obsession, are an egoist, have a bad case of hypergraphia and are tilting at windmills. Now, go peddle yourself on another blog, because I think I speak for all of us truth lovers here that we are tired of your regurgitations. Or, you could get a life.

    Leslie, bask in the appreciation your readers have extended.


  21. Ernie: Your knowledge is most appreciated and valuable but your rudeness and hostility are neither. Please read the comment policy above.

    I don't care how much I like, don't like, agree or don't agree with a commenter, comments that don't follow the rules of the highway will be deleted. Civility and courteous discourse are a prerequisite here.

    Your personal insults, whether directed at me or another commenter, are unacceptable. I have seen your exact same comments on other blogs delivered with the same amount of hostility. Not here.

    I understand your passion about the JBS and appreciate your efforts to be factual, but it is understandable that people might interpret this as being an apologist for or sympathetic to this organization - especially when most don't know you or what your experience is.

    Bee is an extraordinary researcher and a very compassionate individual. She deserves the same respect and courtesy as the rest of us.

    Not every one has drenched themselves in the JBS to the extent that you have. Most importantly, they have a right to their own opinions and to express them - and I will protect those rights to the nth degree.

  22. dmarks: Most of the Commies that were brought up before HUAC and the McCarthy Committee did not advocate rewriting the Constituion or the death of the president. Nor did they use lies and fear to advance their cause. Nor did they make a practice of near seditious statements.

  23. BJ: Thanks. I do appreciate yours and every one else's comment. There's no denying this has been a pretty massive project - especially for a blog. If I ever have another idea like this, I hope someone shoves me over a cliff.

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  26. dmarks: the McCarthy Committe reached into the government to seek out "Communists," not unlike the JBS.

    HUAC went after the movie industry - Ronald Regan, Pete Seeger, Danny Kaye, Jose Ferrer, Walter Winchell, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright and many, many more. Some careers survived but not Dalton Trumbo's. He couldn't get another writing contract and his carrer was shot to hell. Read, "Johnny Got His Gun," an anti-war novel.

    In both cases, the charges were false and based on past associations - some of them as old as 20 years. The country became afraid to spit for fear someone would turn them in to either.

    Now, I'm not going to go further into HUAC and McCarthyism because that is not what this post is about. You seem to have a bad habit of diverting attention away from the subject at hand.

  27. Leslie, this whole series has been so educational and worthwhile. I applaud your research and effort. If you slightly misspoke on one occasion (re: Hunt's relationship) it does not in any way demean the message of the totality.

    I know how much effort it takes to confirm facts when writing such an extensive essay. I have made mistakes by relying on memory rather that doing the research. It happens.

    If you have not yet read today's blog "Time Goes By", you should do so. Saul Friedman, award winning Journalist, has a great column on Socialism, Communism, and Fascism in relation to the Tea Party.

  28. Darlene: Thanks. Remember that this is basically a paper I wrote in'64 when I was a sophomore. I had no intentions of "updating." Had the thought occurred to me, I would have dropped it altogether.

    Still, there was plenty of research involved and a lot more footnotes in the original.

    The Hunt mix-up came at 1 in the morning when I was cross-eyed tired and just wanted to put the thing to bed.

    I do appreciate your comments.

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  30. dmarks: You are the one who brought up the Commies, but since you deleted the 2 comments, I can't prove it. And I'm deleting your last comment just to be fair.

  31. Ernie, I find it interesting that you got banned from the Birchers site (or at least, so you claim). I reckon that's probably a regular occurrence for you. As for the rest, well, let's just say, life's too short, darlin'.

    But let's talk for a moment about something else. When you leave a comment in someone's blog, it's like sitting at their dinner table haranguing their guests. It's called "poor manners." Yes, you have the "freedom of speech" to voice your opinions, and others have the right to tell you when you're being a defensive bore.

    Leslie: Thank you for the compliment:) Trust me, my skin is plenty thick enough to handle someone who thinks they know everything and like to try to demonstrate their self-proclaimed knowledge base to the unwashed masses, so no need to feel like you need to defend me - but I appreciate it, all the same :)

  32. tnlib, many thanks for a mighty fine post. I left a comment for you under Blog-Anon, which may be apropos of our friend, ernie1241.

  33. It is a simple and indisputable fact that the Birchers saw the Civil Rights movement as COMMANISM! So why would anyone be surprised that the Klanbaggers see a darkie as a COMMANIST?

    Same stupid bigotry, different eras.

  34. Hey, Beej:

    I've never heard the word "hypergraphia" before. After five decades of suffering, I finally what's wrong with me! Thanks,


  35. " truly believed Communists were planting seeds of conspiracy in government agencies"

    I thought that was Anthrax :-)

  36. I distinctly remember the billboards and, at the time, both the Jackson Daily News and the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, ran the JBS-circulated photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the cutline “King guest at Communist school.” Make no mistake about it, this attack on King alleging Communist ties was aimed at weakening the Civil Rights Movement. I know. I lived though it. BTW, I was an editor at the Jackson newspapers AFTER Gannett bought them from the Hederman publishing family.

    BJ P.S. to "K" - we all suffer a tad from the malady. :-)

  37. That both movements come out during a time of financial collapse and the need for strong government intervention to in the first case keep the people somewhat fed and sheltered and in the second case to keep the people mostly affected with at least some semblance of income is not surprising.

    FDR went through the smae grist mill when he tried to shore the economy up and keep the nation afloat.

    It seems that there is always the charge of communism (which carries much less steam than it did 60 years ago) coming from them who have pirated the little wealth the middle had away, for themselves.

    Let them tea away because no matter what there are more logical people who refuse to be herded on both sides of the debate than they can effectually muster.

  38. Buenos Dias Senorita TNlib!

    This is off subject .... but I have been keeping an eye on this flooding situation in the Nashville Area, now I am not sure exactly what part's of Nashville they are .... Nashville is quite a large Metro Area actually. Hadnt been there since 1999 though, I drove through Nashville and Memphis a couple time's a year going to the east coast at a time, and alway's stopped and many time's spent the night as a rest stop, have a few drinx and a bite (GREAT music venue town!) But I was wondering how it has been in your part of town? I hear that the water's are receeding now, but there has been alot of familia's devasted by this. I just couldnt imagine it happening in Nashville, like I said, I have been there so many time's, and simply cant picture it as I seen on the news, it just seem's odd. Some beautiful mountain range's throughout the drive from Memphis to Nashville I must add, some area's though I noticed early in the morning way out throughout the mountain's seemed to be "smog trap's", reminded me of when I lived in Los Angeles .... I reckon it is from the enormous traffic of truck's that go through that region interstate, making alot because of geographic's and mountain's a lack of wind, such as the LA Basin. But anywayz Dear, I hope that everything is fine on that end. Just wanted to bring it up.

    Later Grrl ......

  39. Thanks to Bee, Octo, K, BJ, Boomer for your comments.

    The simple fact is that the JBS denies racism as does the Tea Party. But appearances say otherwise. The Tea Party's denial that they are racist is a joke. Most of my family are baggers and every one of them is racist. The same goes for many of my acquaintances. Conversation is limited.

    They bring out their three or four tokens as proof positive they're not racist. Right. I have too many examples on my blog - and they're not all about signs.

    I don't know how stupid these folks think Anglos, African Americans and other minorities, are. Obviously their recent attempts to get all touchy feely is based purely on politics. But they've already lost ground with the majority of Americans who will probably turn a deaf ear.

    They are being patronizing to minorities which is not only insulting but another form of racism.

    Sadly, I've felt compelled to resort to moderation. I don't like it, have never had a need to use it and hope that I can get rid of it at some point.

  40. Walking Man: Sorry I forgot to mention your name in my list of folks to thank in my last comment. Thank you.

    RC: Happily, while the flooding was going on around me, I was spared. Plus, I stayed put. Otherwise, it really has been pretty awful for everyone.

    TN is beautiful. The mountains in the East and middle TN are much more impressive than the West. You're not seeing smog in the mornings as much as fog. The big cities do have a problem with pollution but the hill country has fog and very often a haze in the early hours. Humidity.

  41. Good to hear you passed by the storm damage! "Fog"? .... you know, that's what I first thought, but thought, that it was too high up and stationary to be fog, but I reckon you know that area much better than I. It just reminded me everytime of LA, I used to drive alot all hour's of day and night in LA, mountain's, foothill's etc (mom's home was in Hollywood, dad's in Bakersfield) and I sware .... it looked like that. And one of the causes in LA was all them also 18 wheeler's that had to climb through all them hill's and such, having to floor the gas pedal because of how steep they are, at least that was what LA County was telling us. Thanx for the insight Ms.TNlib. Love those mountain's in Tennessee though! :)

  42. Great job and insight with that very interesting article, Leslie.