The Walking John Birchers


Anyone else remember the John Birch Society? I had relatives wrapped up in it — they were dangerously nuts and full of evil ideas that even I, as a young kid, could tell were demented and destructive — and that last article brought back ugly memories. They seemed to have declined rather precipitously in the 90s, but I should have known…they were just going underground. They’ve risen from the dead now, as the Tea Party.

Here’s an account by a woman who grew up in a John Birch family. I only saw these jerks tangentially, on the fringe of my family, but I can tell you that this story rings true, and I agree — life in that kind of society would be hell.

I recognized the anti-government rhetoric and the unlimited money and I realized that Tea Party had locked arms with libertarians, big business, the religious right and the John Birch Society. This was a potent coalition of ideology, money and power—a coalition fifty years in the making.

Most Americans have no idea that these “new” ideas are the same “old” ideas that the John Birch Society preached fifty years ago.

I do.

I lived in the heart of radical right-wing extremism. I left the movement when I realized that living in a Birch society, libertarian America would be hell.


  1. says

    Yeah, I get a dose of this stuff every time I visit my folks and Dad takes the opportunity to “enlighten” me about the Muslim terrorists based in the White House, the communists in control of my teachers’ union, the environmentalists working to kill off humanity, and the flood of illegal immigrants who will extinguish the English language (while living on America’s ridiculously generous welfare benefits). There’s really no talking to the old man once he gets on one of these topics. The best hope is to distract him with questions about great-grandchildren, which works for a while (but tends to end with a lament about how they’re doomed to live under atheistic communism). It’s utterly appalling.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yeah, I remember that shit too. Barry Goldwater:

    I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

    What virtue is paranoid bigotry? Doesn’t makes sense…..

  3. chrislawson says

    The same thing has happened in Australia. The centrist right party here (the Liberal party, I know it’s confusing for non-Australians) had a Prime Minister by the name of Malcolm Fraser from 1975 to 1983 who was reviled by the Left in Australia for many things, most notably for pulling a nasty constitutional trick to oust the elected left-wing government from power.

    Forty years later, Fraser’s policies of Keynesian economics, anti-apartheid activism, welcoming refugees, opposing deregulation, and banning uranium mining would put him on the left wing of the Labor party.

  4. felidae says

    Yes, I remember the John Birch Society, especially when I go to the dentist to get my mouthful of metal repaired, which would be unnecessary had a proven scientific fact that adding a few ppm of fluorine to the drinking water when I was growing up in the 50’s would dramatically reduce tooth decay had not been opposed by those assholes as a communist plot and subsequently banned

  5. says

    Oh, the Birchers…. It was the fall of ’60 or there abouts and I was old enough to join the Boy Scouts.
    Until my father found out that the den mother and her dentist husband were fervent Birchers. I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to be a Boy Scout. But instead I got a “talk”
    I can remember all the serious “talks” I received as a young boy, such as just how far not out of sight I could play from the house, all the safety steps to follow before I could take my own darn baths…etc.
    and I do remember the Bircher “talk.” My father was and still is a staunch trade unionist FDR style progressive. Dad said:
    Your Den Mother belongs to a political group called the “Birchers” If she starts talking about the government, tell me. If she says that any politicians or government official are traitors or communists, tell me. If she says that the government is putting poisons in the water, tell me. If she is saying bad things about labor unions, tell me. If she offers up opinions about the U.N. , tell me.
    None of those things happened, but I still remember this “talk”

  6. John says

    Ha ha memory lane, As a kid my step dad and a few Florida locals paid for me to go to one of there camp’s in North Carolina. Guess they spotted the left side of me and wanted it stomped out. I was only like 13-14 at the time. Well first thing they did was give us a test on governments and history(there version). I pick up on most of what they wanted to hear from the pamphlets my step dad was force feeding me and got one of the best scores. I was held up as an example and put in there highest class the Blue Group. I was with a bunch of 16-18 year olds who seemed forced there. We shot at communist painted targets with ak47’s/M16’s and different hand guns (lots of shooting and getting pumped up to repel the invasion), watched Red Dawn way too much and had loads of classes run by Pasters and militia types. I did so well shooting at the end they gave me an emptied out ak47 shell stamped into a cross. Good times, and a normal thing for a guy my age to be doing. Needless to say I lied on my “what did you do this summer report”.

  7. komarov says

    How charming. Not. I particularly like the poster. However, I should think a loaded gun is a lot more dangerous than a loaded communist, provided you can keep the latter off the road. Then again I know very little about communists.

    Also I have to ask: “Serf yourself”? Is that some archaic spelling or expression? (The poster looks rather old in style) Serfs make me think of Russian peasants under oppressive Tsarist rule. If they meant ‘serve yourself’ that’s an odd way of spelling, since serfs were expected to be very unselfish in their service. On the other hand feudalism would probably appeal to right-wingers, depending on who gets to wear a crown, or coronet at least.

  8. says

    Anyone else remember the John Birch Society?

    Oh yes. My grandfather was a prominent Bircher. He was quite the bigot, too.

  9. says

    Komarov @ 8:

    If they meant ‘serve yourself’

    No, that’s not what they meant, and serf was being used in the feudal sense. It was jibe at Great Society, a concept of Lyndon Johnson:

    And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.

    More here:

  10. Georgia Sam says

    I don’t remember knowing any Birchers personally (where I grew up the KKK was more visible), but I remember some of their propaganda. The Tea Party’s slander & libel against Obama closely parallels things the Birchers said about JFK.

  11. Bob Foster says

    I remember them from my childhood. My mom was a flaming Adlai Stevenson supporter and when she learned what the Birchers were all about she wouldn’t buy anything with the name Welch on it. No grape juice, no jelly, no nothing. I grew up thinking that Welch’s grape jelly was a toxic substance. PBJ took on a whole new meaning for me. It became PBH, peanut butter and honey. For those who may not know, Robert Welch was one of the founders of the John Birch Society.

  12. says

    I started wondering what every happened to my John Bircher relatives, so I went searching and found the obituary for him. He only died two years ago, at the age of 97! I had no idea.

    Also, the obit describes him as cheerful and outgoing, and he definitely was — I remember him happily lecturing me on the gorilla-like characteristics of black people. Strangely, it doesn’t mention his extremely insane political views anywhere.

  13. says

    The Birchers’ shadow is long. There was a recent post over at We Hunted the Mammoth describing how the text of an old John Birch screed was submitted to and published by a Gamergate web site by the simple expedient of doing a search/ replace of “Communist” for “social justice warrior”…

  14. says

    I live in an area where there are active local chapters of the The John Birch Society, and the members are often mormon as well. Ezra Taft Benson, a not-long-dead mormon prophet praised The John Birch society, and the Birchers are still strong in Utah.

    Birchers in Idaho helped other local doofuses push a bill through the state House that they claimed would “nullify Obamacare” in 2011. They maintain so-called “education centers” they use to influence school boards and city councils. In northern Idaho, which is a known hotspot for white supremacist views, Birchers hold frequent meetings that “support anti-communism and limited government.”

    On mormons and the John Birch Society:

    […] [The John Birch Society’s] origins are shrouded in mystery and usually start in 1958 when Robert Welch held a meeting in Indianapolis with twelve influential men. This is absolutely wrong, and this diary will show the Society’s actual origins and the Mormon leaders who were behind it.

    The Mormon Church has always staked out positions among the political far right. In the 1920’s Reed Smoot, the first Mormon senator and the most powerful LDS leader in politics at the time, was good friends with Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. By passing the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, Hoover sent America into the Great Depression. The Mormon hierarchy sided with the most reactionary conservatives to oppose FDR and Democrats trying to pull America out of the economic abyss. […]

    When Joseph McCarthy went on his anti-communist crusade claiming communists had infested the State Department, his first stop was Salt Lake City […]

    In the 1952 election, the Mormon far right sided with Robert Taft (grandson of Mormon apostle Ezra Taft Benson) and, in order to appease his reactionary base, President Eisenhower picked future Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson […] to be his Secretary of Agriculture. […]

    By this time, Mormon First Counselor David O. McKay had become one of the leading anti-communists in the country […]

    When McCarthy accused high ranking officials in the Army, the White House and just about every other great American institution of being communists he was using Ezra Taft Benson as his inside source. Benson was an extreme right winger […] Benson’s connections with Robert Welch helped generate the communist hysteria that solidified into the rabidly dangerous John Birch Society.

    Welch was a nobody, a candy maker, a salesman, a political wannabe before Mormon leaders chose him to be their attack dog […] Welch’s book, “Acheson and MacArthur” was based on insights gleaned from Benson, a man who hated Secretary of State Dean Acheson with a passion. Welch’s book “The Politician” was based on Benson’s communist allegations and crazy opinions. […]

    With the help of Ezra Taft Benson, Welch set up the JBS exactly the same way [same hierarchical structure as the mormon church]. […] Even the twelve leaders that Welch surrounded himself are modeled on Mormondom’s twelve apostles. […]

    Welch and Benson were big admirers of anti-communist lunatic Willard Cleon Skousen, a man being touted today by Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck. […] Benson was a close friend of Skousen and wrote the preface to “Prophecy and Modern Times.” […] David O. McKay recommended that all Mormon Church members read Skousen’s, “The Naked Communist,” when he was president/prophet of the LDS […]

    Skousen was professor of religion at BYU and founder of Utah’s JBS. […] In 1980, at the dedication of the Freemen Institute’s headquarters, the head of the John Birch Society, Larry P. McDonald, appeared with Orrin Hatch and J. Willard Marriott. […] Back in 2007, an Iowa radio host talked to Romney about Skousen;

    “You and I share a common affection for the late Cleon Skousen,” the radio host says. The former governor agrees, affirming Skousen was his professor and when the radio host professes his fondness for Skousen’s book The Making of America, while he acknowledges he hasn’t read it, Mitt quickly says “That’s worth reading.” […]


    The article may overstate the mormon connection and understate the Welch connection, but it is, in the main, accurate.

  15. mothra says

    High school days, 41 years ago in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, we were required to attend a John Birch Rally/ movie/ lecture in the school auditorium.

  16. Lady Mondegreen says

    There used to be a big sign visible from the 60 freeway, between Los Angeles and Pomona: “Get US out of the United Nations” with “the John Birch Society” at the bottom.

  17. blf says

    Chasing a wild guess / hunch on my part, Fred Koch, father of the famous kochroach brothers, was one of the bricher founders. There are reports (unconfirmed) that at least one of the brothers was(? is?) a bricher. (None of this is new, other than to me and perhaps others…)

    Nothing connecting any of the kochroaches to larouche, other than a mutual hatred of Obama (and, possibly, of each other).

  18. skylanetc says

    My high school American History teacher in the late ’60s was a Bircher. He often spent entire class periods expounding on the U. N./Commie menace. He would tell us that if our generation didn’t wake up politically, we would soon literally wake up to find U. N. soldiers patrolling our streets and arresting “patriots.”

    This behavior was apparently perfectly OK with the administration of my segregated, Houston, TX school, and he was treated as a kind of mini-celebrity by faculty and students. One of my other teachers described him as “quite a character.” He was that, for sure.

  19. Al Dente says

    Bob Foster @13

    Robert Welch was connected with Welch’s Candy (Sugar Daddys, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints). Welch Food Company, which does grape juice and other grape stuff, has no connection with Welch’s Candy other than sharing a name.

  20. Al Dente says

    The Chad Mitchell also sang about The John Birch Society.

    We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
    We’re not sure what he did but he’s our hero just the same
    Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society

  21. komarov says

    Clearly they had very different ideas about what feudalism might look like. Thank you, Caine (#10).

  22. Georgia Sam says

    @ Lady Mondegreen #19: Your post prompted memories of the “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards I used to see alongside highways in the Southeast, which I believe were also sponsored by the JBS. If I’m not mistaken, there was one by Interstate 59 somewhere northeast of Birmingham.

  23. JohnInLex says

    I remember in high school in the 60’s I had a friend who spouted the most racist nonsense. His family was a prominent “Old Lex” family. I used to marvel that he could believe the things he said. There also was a man in our church who used to rant about the commies and fluoride and talked about the John Birch Society. Later I realized that my friends father was also a Bircher. It’s amazing, even as a high school student I realized that these people were a little unhinged or deluded. I’m approaching my 71st birthday, I’ve remained a lifelong liberal while I watched so many of my generation grow more and more conservative. In the years after the civil rights marches I really thought things were improving. *SIGH*

  24. rwgate says

    I grew up in Washington and in 1964-66 worked at the Washington State Blind School while attending college. I had a copy of the John Birch Black Book (as opposed to the Blue Book) and referred to several passages in it in a letter to the Vancouver newspaper. Over the next several weeks I received several death threats, on the phone and in the mail. Camas, Washington, was a JBS hot spot and just a little east of Vancouver. The father of my brother’s girlfriend was a rabid Bircher and convinced me to join the YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) when I was sixteen. That lasted about two weeks, just long enough to get my copy of the Black Book.

    Fred Koch was one of the financial backers of the JBS when it was founded. The nuts don’t fall far from the tree.