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.”
Conservative new media publisher Andrew Breitbart said that, though he believes expanding the universe of voices, he’d consider publishing a Bircher only on a case-by-case basis, a slight improvement for the group that was banned from appearing in the National Review by Buckley.
“I believe in more voices rather than less,” Breitbart told TheDC. “I think the best ideas will win.”
But, Breitbart said, he doubts he’ll be working with Birchers in the near future.
“I don’t foresee there being any Breitbart.com and John Birch Society mixer anytime soon, but if one were to occur, we’d call it the Goldschlager Standard,” Breitbart said in a phone interview.
The John Birch Society will also be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February for the second consecutive year after a two-decade absence, save one year in the 1990s.
David Keene, the chairman of The American Conservative Union, refused comment on the John Birch Society’s recent presence at the conference.
Edwards told TheDC the ACU is giving the John Birch Society credibility by providing the group a spot at CPAC.
“The ACU has to draw the line and it seems to me that this is a pretty good place to draw the line. It’s not as though their record is any secret,” Edwards said.
Regardless of the negative aura surrounding his group, McManus still sees several similarities between the John Birch Society and the Tea Party movement.
“We see the Tea Party movement adopting a lot of the same positions that the John Birch Society has taken right from day one,” McManus said. “The John Birch Society was started in 1958. We’re more than 50 years old. So, if somebody else comes along and starts a movement that says the same things that we’re saying, we’re pleased. We’re happy about it. Let’s have more of that.”
As for economic policy, McManus said the John Birch Society supports an end to legal tender laws, or a ‘free coinage’ plan, a sharper stance to the right than Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul’s gold standard recommendations.
In terms of foreign policy, McManus told TheDC the John Birch Society is non-interventionist, meaning the United States should care only about its own business.
“America should mind its own business,” McManus said. “The purpose of the government should be to protect the lives and property of the American people, period.”
In terms of government size and governmental regulations, McManus said the John Birch Society’s motto is “less government, more responsibility, and, with God’s help, a better world.”
“So, we’re for less government, and people say, ‘well, how much less?’ We say the government is authorized by the Constitution of the United States, which, if it is enforced as it intends, would be 20 percent its size and 20 percent its cost,” McManus said in a phone interview. “We’re strong believers in the American system.”
But, McManus said the John Birch Society stands firm behind its founder’s beliefs. In terms of the New World Order theory, McManus said the John Birch Society has stated that the “goal of a conspiracy, a corrupt world, is to create a New World Order.”
“In 1990, President George H.W. Bush stated over and over again his intentions to create the New World Order,” McManus said. “We had people calling us up saying, ‘looks like you guys were right all along.’”
As for calling Eisenhower a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” McManus said Welch documented that in a 300-page book, in which he said, “no one ever found anything that they could challenge.”
Welch’s book on Eisenhower, McManus said, determines three possible realities: that Eisenhower was “stupid,” “ignorant,” or a “conscious agent of Communism.”
Edwards says these conspiracy theories “make Oliver Stone look like a moderate,” and that the average person doesn’t know the background or history of the John Birch Society, so they can’t make an intelligent decision on the spot at a Tea Party or other conservative event when they encounter Birchers, and therefore prone to believing the group is fully credible and accepted because of its presence at the event.