The Master Conspiracy of the John Birch Society: From Communism to the New World Order
Stewart, Charles J., Western Journal of Communication
During the height of the cold war and nuclear brinksmanship in the 1950s and 1960s, a number of self-styled crusaders and organizations took up the challenge begun by congressional committees and Joseph McCarthy to expose and defeat the communist menace threatening the United States and the free world. For example, the Reverend Carl McIntire preached his anti-communist message throughout the United States, published innumerable tracts such as "Communism Is of the Devil," and through the 20th Century Reformation Hour, broadcast a thirty-minute radio message Monday through Friday. The Reverend Billy James Hargis formed the anti-communist Christian Crusade, toured the country with numerous rally's "for God and against communism," and broadcast his messages on hundreds of radio stations.
The largest, most thoroughly organized, and visible effort began when Robert Welch, a retired candy company executive, met in Indianapolis on December 9 and 10, 1958 with eleven handpicked businessmen. Welch delivered a two-day speech in which he identified the "Communist conspiracy" as "Our immediate and most urgent anxiety." (1) He warned his business friends that:
.. you have only a few more years before the country in which you live will become four separate provinces in a world-wide Communist dominion ruled by police-state methods from the Kremlin.... We are living, in America today, in such a fool's paradise as the people of China lived in twenty years ago, as the people of Czechoslovakia lived in a dozen years ago, as the people of North Vietnam lived in five years ago, and as the people of Iraq lived in only yesterday. (2)
This speech became The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, named after a U.S. Array captain apparently killed by Communist Chinese soldiers at the end of World War II. Birch became the Society's "first martyr" of the cold war, and Welch became the Society's unquestioned, authoritarian leader. (3) He had devoted the previous three years of his life to studying the world situation and the communist conspiracy, so he alone was capable of leading the life and death struggle against freedom's archenemy.
At its peak in the mid-1960s, following two near-nuclear wars (the Berlin Crisis in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962) and when thousands of Americans were building bomb shelters in their basements and backyards in anticipation of a nuclear holocaust, the Birch Society had hundreds of chapters throughout the country, 100,000 members, 400 American Opinion bookstores to distribute and sell its literature, and an active cadre of speakers that crisscrossed the country. The Society's declared purpose was to educate the American people to the dangers of the communist conspiracy, expose communism and communists everywhere, and stop the conspiracy's planned takeover of the United States and the free world. The media and many American leaders branded the Society as an extremist, ultra-right, fringe group that saw communists behind every tree and under every bed and had the audacity to slander American heroes such as George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower, accusing them of being conscious or unwitting supporters of the communist conspiracy. Convinced that such criticisms came from those who were ignorant of the conspiracy or part of it, Welch and his followers remained committed to the cause.
As the cold war began to thaw and the threat of nuclear war seemed increasingly remote, McIntire, Hargis, and other anti-communist speakers and groups disappeared from the scene. The Birch Society continued the crusade, but its membership declined during the Reagan-Bush years to below 50,000 members. It faced severe economic problems as income dropped and it tried to maintain headquarters on both the east and west coasts. (4) The Society suffered a demoralizing leadership vacuum when, first, its young, charismatic president, Congressman Lawrence McDonald, was, in their words, a martyr who murdered by assassination in the "mid-air massacre" of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 when Soviet fighter planes shot it down after it strayed into Soviet air space north of Japan. …