John Birch Society

SOURCE:  Wikipedia, 2020-05-29

  • Formation: 1958
  • Founder: Robert W. Welch Jr.
  • Founded at: Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Type: Political advocacy group
  • Legal status: Active
  • Purpose: Anti-communism | Paleoconservatism | Far-right politics
  • Headquarters: Grand Chute, Wisconsin
  • CEO: Arthur Thompson
  • Website:

    The John Birch Society (JBS) is an advocacy group supporting anti-communism and limited government. It has been described as a radical right and far-right organization.

    Businessman and founder Robert W. Welch Jr. (1899-1985) developed an organizational infrastructure in 1958 of chapters nationwide. After an early rise in membership and influence, efforts by those such as conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review led the JBS to be identified as a fringe element of the conservative movement, mostly in fear of the radicalization of the American right. More recently Jeet Heer has argued in The New Republic that while the organization's influence peaked in the 1970s, "Bircherism" and its legacy of conspiracy theories has become the dominant strain in the conservative movement. Politico has asserted that the JBS began making a resurgence in the mid-2010s, and many political analysts from across the spectrum have argued that it shaped the modern conservative movement and especially the Trump administration. Writing in The Huffington Post, Andrew Reinbach called the JBS "the intellectual seed bank of the right."

    Originally based in Belmont, Massachusetts, it is now headquartered in Grand Chute, Wisconsin a suburb of Appleton, Wisconsin, with local chapters throughout the United States. The organization owns American Opinion Publishing, which publishes the magazine The New American.


    The organization supports limited government and opposes wealth redistribution and economic interventionism. It opposes collectivism, totalitarianism, anarchism and communism. It opposes socialism as well, which it asserts is infiltrating U.S. governmental administration. In a 1983 edition of the political-debate television program Crossfire, Congressman Larry McDonald (a conservative Democrat from Georgia), then the society's newly appointed president, characterized it as belonging to the Old Right rather than the New Right.

    The society opposed 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 titled "What's Wrong With Civil Rights?" and used the flyer 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 John Birch Society, along with other conservative groups such as the Eagle Forum and the Christian right, successfully opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Like other extreme-right organizations, JBS accused the ERA's supporters of subversion, asserting that the ERA was part of a "Communist" plot "to reduce human beings to living at the same level as animals." 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. It argues 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." Other sources consider the society part of the patriot movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, lists the society as a 'Patriot' group, a group that "advocates or adheres to extreme antigovernment doctrines."



    The society was established in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 9, 1958, by a group of twelve led by Robert W. Welch Jr., a retired candy manufacturer from Belmont, Massachusetts. Welch named the new organization after John Birch, an American Baptist missionary and military intelligence officer who was killed 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. Jimmy Doolittle, who met Birch after bailing out over China following the Tokyo Raid, said in his autobiography that he was certain that Birch "would not have approved" of that particular use of his name. One of the first members of the John Birch Society was Fred C. Koch, who became one of its primary financial supporters. According to investigative journalist Jane Mayer, Koch's sons, David and Charles Koch were also members of the John Birch Society. However, they left before the 1970s.

    Harry Lynde Bradley, co-founder of the Allen Bradley Company and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Fred C. Koch, founder of Koch Industries and Robert Waring Stoddard, President of Wyman-Gordon, a major industrial enterprise, were among the founding members. Another was Revilo P. Oliver, a University of Illinois professor who was later expelled from 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 culture, and American 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 distributing literature, pamphlets, magazines, videos and other material; the society also sponsors 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 New American, a biweekly magazine.


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    The society was at the center of a free-speech law case in the 1970s, after American Opinion accused a Chicago lawyer, Elmer Gertz, who was 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.

    In the 1970s, the John Birch Society played a prominent role in promoting the false claim that laetrile was a cancer cure, and in advocating for the legalization of the compound as a drug. A New York Times review in 1977 found identified JBS and other far-right groups were involved in pro-laetrile campaigns in at least nine states. "Virtually all" of the officers of the "Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy," the leading pro-laetrile group, were John Birch Society members. Congressman and Birch Society leader Lawrence P. McDonald was involved in the campaign as a member of the Committee.

    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 nationwide network of recorded telephone messages.

    After Welch

    Since the Vietnam War, the John Birch Society's membership and influence declined in stature; this decline continued through the 1980s and 1990s due to Welch's death in 1985 and the end of the Cold War.

    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 strongly supports 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 second head of the Society was Congressman Larry McDonald (D) from Georgia. McDonald's first wife "estimated that, over the years, he had hosted 10,000 people in his living room for Bircher-inspired lectures and documentaries." In 1982, McDonald was appointed as national chairman of the Society. McDonald was killed in 1983, when airliner KAL 007 was shot down by a Soviet interceptor.

    William P. Hoar has been active as a writer for the Society. He is noted for very strong attacks on mainstream politicians from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. He publishes regularly in The New American and its predecessor American Opinion. He coauthored The Clinton Clique with Larry Abraham alleging that Clinton was part of the Anglo-American conspiracy supposedly ruled through the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. The Birch Society publications arm, "Western Islands" published his Architects of Conspiracy: An Intriguing History (1984) and Huntington House Publishers published his Handouts and Pickpockets: Our Government Gone Berserk (1996).


    The Society has been active in supporting the auditing of, and aims to eventually dismantle, the Federal Reserve System. The JBS holds that the United States Constitution gives only Congress the ability to coin money, and does not permit it to delegate this power, or to transform the dollar into a fiat currency not backed by gold or silver.

    The JBS was a co-sponsor of the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, ending its decades-long split with the mainstream conservative movement.

    JBS is opposed to modern-day efforts to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution.

    Although membership numbers are kept private, the JBS has reported a resurgence of members during the Trump administration, specifically in Texas. The organization's goals in Texas include opposition to the UN's Agenda 21 based on a conspiracy theory that it will "establish control over all human activity", and opposition to a bill that would allow undocumented migrants to pay in-state tuition for Texas state colleges.

    The John Birch Society has increasingly been linked to the presidency of Donald Trump by political commentators such as Jeet Heer of The New Republic, arguing that "Trumpism" is essentially Bircherism. Trump confidante and longtime advisor Roger Stone said that Trump's father Fred Trump was a financier of the Society and a personal friend of founder Robert Welch. Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was the speaker at the John Birch Society's National Council dinner shortly before joining the Trump administration. U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), widely reported to be one of Trump's top advisors on foreign policy, is also tied to the John Birch Society. The senator's father, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), has had a long and very close relationship with the Society, celebrating its work in his 2008 keynote speech at the John Birch Society 50th anniversary event and saying that it was leading the fight to restore freedom. The keynote speaker at the group's 60th anniversary celebration was Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky.), who maintains a near-perfect score on the Society's "Freedom Index" ranking of members of Congress. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hosted Trump on his Infowars radio show and claims to have a personal relationship with the president, called Trump a "John Birch Society president" and previously claimed Trump was "more John Birch Society than the John Birch Society."




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