The John Society A Plot to Sell Books?
Robert Welch never prepared for the role of political leader, is remarkably ignorant of the nature of the communist conspiracy . . . ever since he founded the Society, he has done more to injure the cause of responsible conservatism than to act effectively against communism.
Russell Kirk, conservative commentator America, February 17, 1962
"The United States is a huge insane asylum, and the worst patients are running the place." 1 Thus spoke Robert H. W. Welch, Jr., retired candy-maker, former vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, founder and, from 1958 until his death in 1985, "grand wazir" of the John Birch Society. Considering the increased turmoil and polarization in the country since Welch made that statement in 1965, it is not unreasonable to assume that some people have come to view the United States and the world as somewhat "insane," but only a small percentage has been likely to agree with Welch's viewpoint that the "worst patients are running the place." On the other hand, a fairly large segment of adult Americans have long considered the John Birch Society as part of the political "lunatic fringe." 2
Robert Welch was born in 1899 in North Carolina. He attended both Harvard and the University of North Carolina and spent two years at the U.S. Naval Academy. Later he entered the business world and became successful as a candy tycoon. Active in the National Association of Manufacturers, Welch served as a director and vice president of that organization. After World War II, he began devoting more and more of his time to a study of the "Communist conspiracy," and made trips to various countries. He also made one attempt at politics, running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Mississippi. 3
Early in 1957 Welch withdrew from the business world to contemplate the conspiracy full time. He became convinced that only dynamic personal leadership could deter the Red menace, and that he was the man to provide that leadership. Thus, in December 1958, he summoned eleven friends from various parts of the nation to meet with him in Indianapolis. These men came to sit for two days, listening to Welch's appraisal of the success of the international Communist conspiracy. In his opening remarks Welch declared that before the next day was over he hoped "to have all of you feeling that you are taking part, here and