Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Monday, April 19, 2010

Menace from the Right: The John Birch Society - Part 1

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.
3. Ibid.
4. Donald Janson, The Far Right, 1963, p. 169.
5. Ibid. p. 169-170.


  1. This nonsense has come dangerously close to mainstream conservative thought.

    When I was in 9th grade in South Texas, we had to write a book report on a "classic." When I innocently asked if I could write mine on The Grapes of Wrath, the teacher turned me down flat. Having just seen the movie, I went for my second choice: Gone With The Wind. No problem with that one.

    I later learned that the teacher and her husband were notorious reactionaries, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were JBS members.

    A couple of years ago, I tried to reread Gone With The Wind. Politics aside, as literature it is barely readable amateurish drivel that has survived only because of the film and because of the fervency with which it perpetuates the myths of the Old South and Reconstruction. It's no The Grapes of Werath, I can tell you that.

  2. Excuse me. The last word in the first sentence should read "thought."

  3. Good grief. Well, at least they didn't claim Eisenhower was Kenyan.

    I look at it this way. People eventually stood up to these lunatics and the system was resilient enough to survive them. It will survive the lunatics on our present-day far right too.

  4. K: Think Texas State Board of Education, 2010.

    Infidel: No, they didn't say Ike was Kenyan, but back in those days calling him a Communist was just as harsh. And I'm sure you were speaking tongue in cheek here.

    There were people who stood up to them but back when the GOP still featured some honorable folks amongst their flock. I think they have all been chased away.

    But, you're right - er, correct: we will survive the present day lunatics as well. I'm already beginning to feel a slight shift in popular opinion.

  5. Just down the road from the Shire there is a John Birch Society sign in a yard, behind a fence. Frodo has wanted to spray paint a Swastika on it daily, for many years. He has not done so.

    Everyone is entitled to be stupid, and to document the fact for all to see.

  6. tnlib,
    Good post. 1964? How were you able to write at this level at such a young age. Louis XIV became king at 10. I guess you could do this at a similar age.

    Good day.

  7. Frodo: Be careful - down where you live, it could be a city councilman.

    L&OT: Why, suh, you make be blush. I was just a few short years beyond the age of ten - well, maybe a little more than that. Now I'm at the point of being a genuine relic of the blogosphere.

  8. Here almost 40 years later we have not even left town. Driving the same streets all named Fucktard Way. I have no patience with these people. The problem is deeper and more sinister than just them.

  9. I actually see the present bunch of scum as more Strauss worshipers than anything else. I'm certain if old Leo were to be revived and could look around, he'd recognize a lot of things.

  10. Welch was obviously unbalanced, with a deep-seated obsession about communism. He was also grossly ignorant.

    Roosevelt averted any chance for success of a domestic communist movement. If we had had more presidents like Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, there's no telling what might've happened. Truman, through his postwar policies, and especially the Marshall Plan, averted any likelihood of a communist takeover of a major Western European country. He also repulsed North Korea's attempt to take over South Korea. Eisenhower and Dulles helped secure Russia's release of Austria from behind the Iron Curtain, and finished the work Truman started in building NATO into a bulwark against Soviet aggression.

    What's most disturbing is that supposedly normal, balanced people were willing to fall in behind Welch. It seems there's always a paranoid-patriot, obsessed subculture whose members are sure they're the only one who know all about the conspiracies and betrayals threatening Americans' freedoms.

    They need institutional care.

  11. Obviously Welch was unhinged as well as ignorant. Not a healthy combination. But what does this say about his followers? Are all of them unbalanced and ignorant?

  12. As for people following leaders, remember the Milgrim (sp?) experiment from the Norton
    Thanks for reviving this paper from your treasure trove, Pars. It's amazing what we did as youths, isn't it? I'm sure this research wasn't easy to do, even in 1964 when remnants of the JSB were still lurking in the shadows.
    I,for one, remember seeing Impeach Earl Warren billboards, maybe in Maryland but more likely in northern Virginia.

  13. Paula, thanks. You bring up an interesting point about the research.

    Back then, it was all about indexes - stacks of cards and publications; reading and scanning without benefit of "Find:" or "cut and paste"; hours and hours of note-taking, writing and rewriting in musty corners of the library.

    Now we have the Internet and instant gratification when we want to find out something. But is that "something" accurate? Is it thorough?

  14. Leslie,

    This is great. I look forward to more.

    SWA wrote: "It seems there's always a paranoid-patriot, obsessed subculture whose members are sure they're the only one who know all about the conspiracies and betrayals threatening Americans' freedoms."

    We're living through this sort of paranoid ignorance again.

    This Socialist/Socialism meme and "There's a Communist Living in the White House," by that pathetic fool Victoria Jackson is proof of the idiocy that has taken hold of the rightwing.

    Teh stupids reign supreme.

  15. History repeats itself and to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, each generation has it's own crop of nuts like Joe McCarthy. They do a lot of damage when they rise up.

  16. Thank you, Shaw. Am feeling a little blah at a comment I recieved over at the SZ, so yours makes me feel better.

    Darlene, hopefully most people will remember their history. I don't think the Birchers are going anywhere this time around and I think the wing-nuts and Republicans are backing themselves into a corner. Let's hope so.

  17. Really enjoyed your post. You've probably heard this musical tribute, but I'll leave it for those who haven't.

  18. tnlib,
    Again, well done. I enjoy reading historical material. You've done a good job with your information.

  19. ex DLB: I love that song. Thanks for the link.

    L&O: Thank you. This, I think you know, was based on a paper I wrote in college. I was very fortunate to have a terrific English teacher all four years of high school. She was a battle-ax but she taught me so much and took me under her wing for whatever reasons. I was a few years older than my classmates in college and because I can't test, I always preferred writing papers. I think you and I both enjoy history, so that's one thing we have in common - as well as choice of music.


  21. Good one! This is absolutely crazy: 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.

    That is so close to what is going on today it is a duplication.