A Selection of the History Book Club
Named One of "Six Books for Insight on a Trump Presidency" by the Washington Post
As far as members of the hugely controversial John Birch Society were concerned, the Cold War revealed in stark clarity the loyalties and disloyalties of numerous important Americans, including Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Earl Warren. Founded in 1958 as a force for conservative political advocacy, the Society espoused the dangers of enemies foreign and domestic, including the Soviet Union, organizers of the US civil rights movement, and government officials who were deemed "soft" on communism in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Sound familiar? In The World of the John Birch Society, author D. J. Mulloy reveals the tactics of the Society in a way they've never been understood before, allowing the reader to make the connections to contemporary American politics, up to and including the Tea Party. These tactics included organized dissemination of broad-based accusations and innuendo, political brinksmanship within the Republican Party, and frequent doomsday predictions regarding world events. At the heart of the organization was Robert Welch, a charismatic writer and organizer who is revealed to have been the lifeblood of the Society's efforts.
The Society has seen its influence recede from the high-water mark of 1970s, but the organization still exists today. Throughout The World of the John Birch Society, the reader sees the very tenets and practices in play that make the contemporary Tea Party so effective on a local level. Indeed, without the John Birch Society paving the way, the Tea Party may have encountered a dramatically different political terrain on its path to power.
A particular brand of conservatism currently active on the American political scene can be traced back to the John Birch Society, according to this revealing work from Mulloy (American Extremism), associate professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University. The Society was co-founded in 1958 by Robert Welch, a rural North Carolina native who entered the U.S. Naval Academy, quit after two years to attend Harvard Law School, then joined his brother's profitable candy company before going into politics. Mulloy skillfully details Welch issuing a clarion call to prospective Birchers with his shrill anti-communist announcement at the peak of the Cold War years: "Communism," Welch believed, was "a gigantic conspiracy to enslave mankind." Wary from years of the McCarthy witch hunt, The Blue Book of the John Birch Society was read with disbelief, as it named President Eisenhower, his brother Milton, Secretary of State Allen Dulles, and Chief Justice Earl Warren as communists. Nevertheless, the Society's close bond with the U.S. military, the tense atmosphere in Dallas preceding J.F.K.'s assassination, and Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential run reflect the group's influence. Mulloy's essential look at Welch's remarkable group brilliantly reveals the Society's hard-nosed conservatism while linking it to movements that preceded today's Tea Party.