Though the John Birch Society is making a comeback through the Tea Party movement, at least some conservatives question whether the group really belongs apart of the movement.
Heritage Foundation fellow Lee Edwards, who authored “William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Maker of a Movement,” thinks the John Birch Society, which was forced out of the mainstream by Buckley as a result of several conspiracy theories, has no place at all in the Tea Party movement. Edwards said the only way he thinks the John Birch Society could ever be taken seriously again is if the organization denounces its founder, Robert Welch, who believed that President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist and that world leaders were conspiring to create a “New World Order.”
“If the John Birch Society, in its present incarnation, was to repudiate Robert Welch and his fantasies about Dwight David Eisenhower, and was to repudiate the many issues of [the organization’s magazine] American Opinion, then maybe, maybe you could begin discussing whether or not they have any place in the current political discussion,” Edwards told The Daily Caller. “But, until, and if, that day comes, show them door politely, but firmly.”
The John Birch Society’s president, John McManus, however, said the group maintains the same beliefs it has had since its founding in 1958, and told TheDC that Buckley drove the organization out of the mainstream due to a publicly stated vendetta.
Edwards said that’s not true.
“This is not just a personal duel between Bill Buckley and Robert Welch. The responsible leaders of the conservative movement all shared that particular opinion, and I’m sure would still do so,” Edwards told TheDC. “After Bill Buckley properly read the John Birch Society out the conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Russell Kirk, three very prominent conservatives, all endorsed the National Review’s position.”
McManus said some Tea Party groups are accepting of the John Birch Society and its members, often called Birchers, while others are not, but, according to him, that doesn’t change the similarities in ideology between the two groups. Either way, he said membership numbers are up. McManus wouldn’t give specifics, however, saying “several tens of thousands is the only figure we ever give.”
McManus will be speaking at a Boston Tea Party rally on December 12. Some Tea Party groups have been more open to the John Birch Society than others.
Though representatives from Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks did not return TheDC’s requests for comment on their perceptions of the John Birch Society, a Tea Party Express spokesman said it will take an “ally.”
“The Tea Party Express has always been laser-focused on just a few core issues: stop raising taxes, end the bailouts, defeat cap & trade, and reduce the size and scope of the federal government. Anyone who is focused on advancing those principles is a potential ally, regardless of the name of the political party or organization they might be a part of,” Levi Russell, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, said in an e-mail to TheDC. “To the extent that the JBS is an advocate for our core ideals, they’re a welcome element of the tea party.”