Talkin’ John Birch History Blues

ef93birchflier Talkin John Birch History Blues

I pulled an odd sort of double duty yesterday, getting quoted as
a critic of the Southern Poverty Law Center in a
CNN story about the group’s annual report on American
“extremism” on the same day the SPLC itself quoted me in an

article by Don Terry about the John Birch Society. I’ll have
some harsh words for that extremism report in a later post, but for
now I’ll direct you to the Birch piece. While I can’t say I agree
with all of the author’s conclusions, he quoted me accurately and
gave me space to make my arguments.
The first of those arguments involves the legend that William
Buckley expelled the Birchers from the conservative movement:
“Being banished from the conservative movement and
being banished from the National Review-approved
conservative movement are not the same thing,” [said] Jesse Walker,
who, as a senior editor at the libertarian-leaning Reason
Magazine and, writes about political paranoia among
other topics. “John G. Schmitz ran a basically Birchite third-party
presidential campaign in 1972 that got over a million votes. That’s
a lot of people who don’t take their marching orders from Bill
Buckley,” he said in an E-mail interview.
The second argument is my reaction to the idea that the Birchers
are increasingly influential in the Republican Party:
Some of the longtime Bircher ideas and themes that have
slipped into the conservative mainstream and now sound like
Republican talking points include, according to [Chip] Berlet, the
belief that big government leads to collectivism which leads to
tyranny; that liberal elites are treacherous; that the U.S. has
become a nation of producers versus parasites; that the U.S. is
losing its sovereignty to global treaties; that the “New World
Order” is an actual plan by secret elites promoting globalization;
and that multiculturalism is a conspiracy of “cultural

But Walker, the Reason editor, does not see the society as
especially “influential in the inner circle of the GOP.” The
Birchers, Walker said in an E-mail, are often “deeply hostile to a
wide range of policies the national Republicans have

“It’s worth noting,” he added, “that the JBS has evolved with the
times; the modal Bircher of today and the modal Bircher of, say,
1964 would not see eye to eye about everything. It was interesting
in the 1990s to watch as a group that we tend to associate with
hawkish anti-Communists suddenly discovered its inner isolationism,
opposed the first Gulf war, and generally moved toward a stance of
skepticism toward military interventions abroad.”
Before anyone rushes to correct me: I am aware that the
Birchers’ isolationist tendencies were there during the Cold War
too, leading not just to their steadfast opposition to the United
Nations but to a somewhat schizoid position on Vietnam. I think
there’s a difference between that and the full-scale anti-war
positions they started taking in the 1990s, and that’s the
evolution I was alluding to.
Bonus link: I have more to say about the Birchers in a
book that’ll be coming out this August. Read about it here;
pre-order a copy ;here.

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Talkin’ John Birch History Blues

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