by John F. McManus
"The John Birch Society! Isn't that some sort of radical group?"
"Doesn't it have something to do with racism and anti-Semitism?"
"Aren't those people like the Nazis and the Klan?"
These characterizations of the John Birch Society are completely
baseless. But, mention the John Birch Society's name to some Americans
and be prepared for a response similar to what you've just read. And,
strange as it may seem, there isn't any malicious intent on the part of
most who utter such defamatory nonsense. Decent and honorable men and
women have been led to believe something that is totally false.
Press for a reason why condemnation of the John Birch Society might be
expressed and you'll likely find that those who give it have never read
anything published by the Society, seen any of its films or video
programs, or heard any of its spokesmen give a speech or air the
organization's views on radio or television.
In other words, there are many Americans whose opinions about the John
Birch Society are not based on what the organization has said or done
but on what others have said of it. And, usually, these are individuals
who insist that they always make up their own minds and are not
influenced by the mass media or anyone else.
On the other hand, should mention of the Society's name elicit a
positive response, you can be virtually certain who ever gave it has
read John Birch literature or had some direct contact with the
You may also encounter other Americans, of course, who readily admit
that they know nothing about the Society, and maybe have never even
heard of it. If that' s the case, you're likely talking to someone 35
years of age or younger who was not influenced by the withering smear
campaign directed at the Society in the early 1960s.
No Society official has ever claimed that all who read JBS literature
will completely agree with it. The Society simply asks the American
people to take a good look, to consider its views along with a host of
others. The series of attacks on the Society, however, have kept
millions from doing so. Which is exactly what they were designed to
Is the Society worthy of contempt? Should decent Americans shun it? Or
is its message so important and revealing about the way our nation is
being led that prominent individuals in America will stop at virtually
nothing to keep it from being heard?
What Is the John Birch Society?
The John Birch Society was begun in December 1958. Its sole purpose has
been to keep freedom alive through an educational campaign that would
share important information and perspective with fellow Americans. In a
nation that prides itself on free speech and a free press, such a
program should rise or fall based on the worth of its information. But
the Society hasn't been judged by what it has offered Too many Americans
have accepted the strident denunciations of the organization by powerful
groups and individuals who seek to set America' s agenda.
The Society's founder, Mr. Robert Welch, once stated in an essay written
several years before he launched the organization:
The glory that is passing in the America that I was born in; that was
given to me by courageous and farseeing men, many of whom died for that
purpose; that I grew up in, went to school in, and loved more every year
as I came to understand what a miraculous achievement it was as compared
with any other social group at any place or any time in the history of
the world; ... my America is being made over into a carbon copy of
thousands of despotisms that have gone before.
He discovered that a plan existed to have government assume enormous
control over the lives of the American people and then to subject them
to an all-powerful world government. He looked into the future and saw
rising taxation, controls regulations, bureaucracy, and the specter of
Big Brother. He saw a watering- down of U.S. independence and a steady
transfer of national sovereignty to the United Nations. In time, he
would label this plan "a new world order," a term he knew it proponents
had been using for generations.
He also saw that the American people were no longer being given an
appreciation of the marvelous heritage left to us by our nation's
founders. The average American was not only unaware of the growth of
government power., he had no understanding of what government's proper
role is supposed to be. The mass media were to blame, but so were
educators, politicians, and even many clergymen.
He considered this to be a deliberate plot, a huge betrayal of the
marvelous American system. Rather than sit back and watch the conversion
of this nation into "a carbon copy of thousands of despotisms that
have gone before," he decided to act. After a few unsuccessful ventures
in the arena of politics, Robert Welch formed an organization whose
dual purpose was to preserve the American system of limited
constitutional government and free enterprise, and to shine the light of
day on individuals and programs. His idea was to create a citizen's
group with locally functioning chapters organized to dispense sound
information and perspective to fellow citizens.
Launched at a two-day meeting in Indianapolis in December 1958, the
Society proceeded according to plans spelled out in its Blue Book, the
transcript of the founding meeting. It began immediately to attract
concerned Americans to its study groups. Its program included informing
them about legislation being considered in Washington, and its efforts
led to the defeat of several unnecessary and undesirable federal
programs through contacts with members of Congress and through letter-
Late in 1960, the Society learned of an effort organized by the
Communist Party USA to have Congress cut off funding (and thereby
abolish) the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Through its
investigations of communist activity in our nation, HCUA had become a
thorn in the side of the communists. Society members and other like
minded Americans in various other groups began an all-out campaign to
warn members of Congress that the move to cripple HCUA was a pet project
of the Communist Party. Their efforts bore great fruit.
When the measure came before the House of Representatives in early 1961,
it was defeated overwhelmingly by a vote of 412 to 6. John Birch Society
members didn't deserve all the credit for helping to kill the pro-
Communist measure, but their efforts attracted attention and they were
soon to become the target of intense retaliation.
In late 1960, Communist Party leaders from over 80 nations were summoned
to an important meeting in Moscow. Out of that huge gathering came a
mandate to all communists everywhere to wage a "resolute struggle
against anti-Communism." Six months later, the U.S. Senate Internal
Security Subcommittee (SISS) conducted hearings about this significant
directive. One of its most important witnesses was Edward Hunter, a
renowned student of communist strategy and tactics. It was he who had
coined the term "brainwashing" after studying the tactics used by the
communists against American POWs in Korea.
Mr. Hunter's lengthy testimony was published by SISS on July 11, 1961 as
The New Drive Against the Anti-Communist Program. It included the
For the first time, the world Communist network, in a basic policy and
operational document, specifically referred to the anti-Communist
movement in the United States, recognizing that it had reached
proportions large enough to constitute a main_if not the main_danger to
Communist progress in our country....
A subsequent study commissioned by the California State Senate made the
following observations after noting that the Moscow directive was
published in full in the official publication of the Communist Party in
So far as the American Communists were concerned, this was an
order_plain and incontrovertible. It was not lightly printed. It was an
implementation of orders from the highest source of the world Communist
movement, and it was therefore imperative that the Party here do
everything in its power to render the Birch Society, the anti-Communist
schools, and all of the other rising anti-Communist organizations
So, on February 25, 1961, People's World, the official newspaper of the
Communist Party on the West Coast, followed the orders given by Moscow
and published its first attack under the headline, "Enter (from stage
right) the John Birch Society." A typical piece of communist innuendo
and falsehood, it alerted all communists to the Society's existence and
to the need to blacken its name. Had the errors and distortions in that
article remained only with Communist Party members, the Society would
never have suffered the intense vilification it was soon to experience.
Time Magazine Follows the Lead
A little more than one week later, however, Time magazine published its
own broadside about the Society in an article entitled "The
Americanists." Where People 's World had labeled the Society's local
chapters "cells," so did Time.
Where the communist press had taken Robert Welch's disapproval of
"democracy" completely out of context. Time also made it appear that the
Birch Society's founder was condemning America. (Robert Welch had always
taken great pains to explain that our nation was established as a
republic, not a democracy, and he cited the very strong opinions about
this distinction given by many of America's Founding Fathers.)
And where People's World had erroneously claimed that Hollywood actor
Adolphe Menjou was serving on the Society's national Council, so did
What is very revealing, however, is that prior to the publication of the
Time article, one of its reporters had interviewed Robert Welch at his
Massachusetts office. The reporter was given three hours of Mr. Welch' s
time, provided with copies of all of the Society publications, and even
shown the misstatements of fact in the People's World article. But, as
it turned out, the staff at Time had already written the article that
its reporter was supposedly researching. And, it also became obvious
that Time's writers had drawn some of their "evidence" from People's
Time went even further than the communists, erroneously claiming that
the Society was steeped in "strictest secrecy," that its "cells" operate
under "dictatorial direction," that its members avoid "normal channels
of political action" and "promote Communist-style front organizations,"
and that "its partisans have made their anonymous presence felt" in many
Dictatorial direction? The Society was a completely voluntary
association whose members have always been free to reject suggested
action, even resign if they don't like what the Society says or does.
Avoid normal channels of political action? The Society's greatest
successes had been achieved through member contact with U.S.
representatives and senators from both political parties.
Communist-style front organizations? The Society had no such thing but,
in time, would adopt the well-known American tactic of forming groups
for specific short-range purposes. Unlike communist front organizations,
however, the Society's "ad hoc committees" were always clearly
identified as being launched and directed by the Society solely for the
As for secrecy and operating anonymously, there never was any such
activity because the Society has always been an open book. In a dramatic
demonstration of the absurdity of these malicious charges, 197 chapters
in California promptly published their full addresses in a paid ad
carried by a Los Angeles newspaper.
Smears Continue and Intensify
With Time taking the lead, virtually all organs of America' s mass media
immediately joined in the attack on the infant John Birch Society. From
being charged with secrecy and being condemned for operating like the
communists, the Society was now being accused of racism, anti-Semitism,
fascism, Nazism, and the whole roster of well-known smears. Members were
called extremists, radicals, super-patriots, ultras, subversives,
lunatics, and fanatics. It seemed as though no stone was left unturned
in tar-brushing a few thousand Americans and the organization they had
joined to learn more about their country and to work together to protect
it from its enemies.
Had all of the charges aimed at the Society come merely from the
communist press, they would have amounted to little more than a petty
annoyance. But they were coming from the nation's mass media_from
newspapers, magazines, and radio and television programming that most
Americans respected. Yet, the tactic being used against the Society was
standard communist fare, obviously being carried out by individuals who
were not party members but were following someone else's lead.
As far back as 1943, a Communist Party directive had instructed members
under communist discipline about methods to use in combating critics. As
quoted by the 1956 Report of the House Committee on Un-American
Activities (volume 1,page 347), here in part is what the directive said:
Members and front organizations must continually embarrass, discredit
and degrade our critics.... When obstructionists become too irritating,
label them as fascist or Nazi or anti-Semitic.... Constantly associate
those who oppose us with those names that already have a bad smell. The
association will, after enough repetition, become "fact" in the public
When given a chance, Birch Society members would ask: How could the
Society be anti-Semitic when its original national Council, formed in
December 1959, had among its members a prominent New York City Jew named
Alfred Kohlberg? How could it be secret when every member was trying his
utmost to distribute its Blue Book and every other publication it had
How could it be subversive when its leader requested Senate and House
committees, even the FBI, to investigate everything it was doing?
Finally, A Formal Investigation
After having tried unsuccessfully to have the Society examined by
federal agencies. Robert Welch, on March 22, 1961, formally requested
the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on un-American Activities
to conduct its own investigation. Senator Hugh M. Burns, its chairman,
responded in the affirmative, and the only investigation of the John
Birch Society ever conducted by an official body was launched.
The subcommittee read through all of the Society' s literature, sent
trained investigators to interview supporters and detractors, took
testimony from scores of persons, examined all of the press accounts
about the Society, even obtained reports from agents sent covertly to
Society chapter meetings. Its work consumed two full years.
On June 12, 1963, the subcommittee filed its 62-page report and released
copies to the press. Opponents of the Society were shocked to discover
that what they hoped would destroy the Society once and for all turned
out, instead, to be a wholesale exoneration of the many charges against
About charges of secrecy and fascism, the subcommittee's report stated:
"We have not found the Society to be either a secret or a fascist
organization, nor have we found the great majority of its members in
California to be mentally unstable, crackpots, or hysterical about the
threat of Communist subversion." (Page 61)
Regarding charges of anti-Semitism and racism, the report offered: "Our
investigations have disclosed no evidence of anti-Semitism on the part
of anyone connected with the John Birch Society in California, and much
evidence to the effect that it opposes racism in all forms." (Page 39)
In its concluding paragraph, the report stated: "Our investigation and
study was requested by the Society, which had been publicly charged with
being a secret, fascist, subversive, un-American, anti-Semitic
organization. We have not found any of these accusations to be supported
by the evidence." (Pages 61-62)
The report pointed out that the all-out attack on the Society had been
launched by the Communist Party "with an article in the People's World,
California Communist newspaper, in February 1961." (Page 25)
A greatly encouraged Robert Welch publicly praised the work of the
subcommittee and thanked its members for carrying out their
investigation "in a completely honorable and objective manner." He noted
that the leaders of the subcommittee were Democrats in a state where
Democrats were led by a Governor and an Attorney General who were known
to be bitter foes of the Society.
The Society then asked for and received permission to copy and
distribute the entire report. Many thousands of copies were sent to
members of the press and to individuals who had repeated many of the
false charges directed at the organization. Members of the Society
purchased and distributed additional copies. But the spirit of fair play
that is supposed to characterize our nation took a back seat as the
attacks on the Society continued exactly as before, and even increased.
These attacks reached a crescendo during the Republican National
Convention in the summer of 1964. At this gathering, before a huge
national television audience, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller
delivered his famous speech about "extremism," which he insisted was
coming from "the Nazis, the Klan, the communists, and the John Birch
Repeatedly associating the good name of the John Birch Society with the
deserved bad names of those other groups, he either planted or
solidified a totally false image about the Society in the minds of
millions. That he was booed by many of the delegates at the convention
didn't deter him at all. He knew what he was doing, and he didn't care a
whit about the negative reaction he was generating from members of his
own party. His goal was to hurt the Society. And with the help of allies
in the media, he accomplished his objective.
Years later, many Americans who were affected by the Rockefeller
performance and all of the associated publicity about it remain
completely unable to recall where they got the notion that the John
Birch Society was something to avoid. But their reluctance to have
anything to do with the organization continues. Admitting to themselves
that they have been duped is a lot more difficult than continuing to
ride a widely-created wave of opinion. That wave, however, is losing
most of its power and will soon be completely recognized as a carrier of
Still Adhering to Basic Principles
In many communities across America, a charge that the John Birch Society
harbors anti-Semitism has brought a prompt refutation from a Jewish
member or a Jewish supporter who had done his own investigation.
During the period of the late 1960s, when the Society was widely charged
with racism. Black members and spokesmen crisscrossed the nation
addressing audiences arranged by Society members. Birch Society veterans
of that era will remember with great affection the wonderful work done
by Julia Brown, Lola Belle Holmes, Leonard Patterson, Alvin Smith,
George Schuyler, Freeman Yearling, Charles Smith, and others whose
speeches sought to calm racial tensions and unite all Americans against
a common foe.
Experience has shown that repeating a lie loudly enough and often enough
will cause it to stick with many. This is what happened to the John
Birch Society. Individuals in this nation, most of whom were not
communists, employed the communist tactic of labeling an adversary with
"names that already have a bad smell." For many, they accomplished the
goal of associating the Society with unsavory groups and ideas, and
then having that association become "fact" in the public mind.
The John Birch Society is not guilty, and never has been guilty, of the
various smears of its good name. Any American who may have been affected
by the vilification of this one organization ought to be alarmed that
such a thing could happen in our nation. Who else might be similarly
ridiculed and smeared? What other misinformation has the media
The John Birch Society has no quarrel with anyone who chooses to
disagree with any position it takes_as long as its position has been
presented free of slander and innuendo. In a nation as large as ours,
there are bound to be honest differences of opinion.
All that the Society asks is that its information and point of view be
examined carefully and conscientiously. The intense and thoroughly
dishonest efforts to keep most Americans from doing exactly that ought
to suggest to anyone that its message is important. If its information
and analysis were not significant, why has there been so much effort to
damage its reputation and keep Americans from examining its views?
The John Birch Society was formed to restore and extend freedom. Totally
dedicated to the American system given us by the Founding Fathers, it
seeks to subject government once again to the limitations on its power
contained in the U.S. Constitution. It also seeks to preserve and expand
the free enterprise system, and inspire others throughout the world to
follow America's good example
Society's Potential Scares Enemies
The John Birch Society's entire effort has been summed up in its motto,
"Less government, more responsibility, and_ with God's help_a better
world." And its ardent enemies are those who want more government, a
completely dependent population, an end to national sovereignty, and a
cancellation of the restrictions on government contained in the
What the enemies of the John Birch Society so greatly feared in the
early 1960s was not its few thousand members and its few small
victories. Those who would convert this nation into a "carbon copy of
thousands of despotisms that have come before" feared its potential.
They knew that active citizen groups in the cities and towns of
America_armed with solid information and a strong determination to
remain free_had the potential to block all of their self-serving and
ultimately tyrannical goals. It was the Society's potential that
frightened them and convinced them it had to be destroyed.
The Society was hurt by all of the smears. But it certainly wasn't
destroyed as was intended. Courageous and principled members have kept
the Society going, have reached out and touched the lives of tens of
millions, and are still working for the same goals outlined by Robert
Welch in 1958. In other words, the potential that has always existed
within the Society is still there, realized in some areas, but still to
be realized in a great many more.
excerpted from The John Birch Society Bulletin for March 1992
copyright 1992 by The John Birch Society
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