Author Claire Conner: “The John Birch Society Still Influences Politics”

Published On May 7, 2014 | By Michael Potter |


by Micheal Allen Potter

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag. Claire’s father, Jay Conner, was one of the first members of the Chicago branch of the John Birch Society, which was formed in 1958 by a wealthy businessman named Robert Welch. By 1961, the JBS had more than 60,000 members nationwide. Claire told me about the JBS, her father and mother, her childhood and the resemblance of the Society’s platform to that of the Tea Party and the agenda of the Koch brothers.

So just who were the Birchers?

The Society’s goals included United States removal from the United Nations, halting any form of wealth redistribution, impeaching Chief Justice Earl Warren for his “liberal” rulings and, generally, fighting whatever social program, bill or law they considered to be “Communism” or “Socialism” tooth and nail. The Birchers believed that there was a highly secret “New World Order” plot by international bankers, corrupt politicians and “Internationalists” to form a collectivist, one-world government. The idea stems from The Blue Book of the John Birch Societywritten by Welch and handed out to new members.

The JBS was considered an extremist faction by those on the Left as well as the Right; even William F. Buckley, Jr, publisher of the National Review, distanced himself from what he considered to be “the crazies”. Barry Goldwater distanced himself as well. Hardly anyone involved in politics could afford to ally with a group which openly accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist.

Claire’s father became a National Council member and served the JBS until his death in 1992. Her mother, who died in 2007, had been a member for 49 years. Claire herself had been a member as a teenager but she split with the Society over their stance on Civil Rights as a young adult. The split caused a rift between her and her parents, which caused her great pain but which she never regrets. She knows she made the right decision.

After President George W. Bush left office with abysmal approval ratings, with an ongoing unpopular war and with the economy in shambles, Claire says she “convinced {herself} that America had given up on its on-again-off-again love affair with phony conservatives and right-wing radicals”.

She soon found out that she had been mistaken.

In 2009, the Tea Party movement began to take off in America. Claire noticed that she was hearing the same old rhetoric she’d heard growing up once again: that unions are bad and should be shut down…that voting rights should be restricted…that healthcare reform would lead to “socialized medicine” …and that guns were a solution to “government tyranny”.

Also, she noticed that the Koch brothers were spending record amounts of money to promote their Libertarian ideology via “think tanks” and campaign contributions. Their ideology likely stemmed, at least in part, from their father’s involvement in the John Birch Society, which favored a limited federal government. Yes, Fred Koch had been a Bircher, just as Claire’s parents had been.

Thus Claire Conner knows that she (and we) must continue to fight the good fight.

“The Kochs have spent over 500 million dollars to spread their influence so far,” she said to me. “They have the money but we have the votes! We need to stop them at the local level. Get out there and vote in local elections! They are just as important as presidential elections, if not more so.”

In addition to the new threats posed by the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party, the John Birch Society itself is still in operation, although it is but a shadow of its former self. The organization is currently headed by CEO Arthur Thompson, who believes that Russian Communism is a serious threat to the United States and that Communism was responsible for the 9-11 attacks. He hopes to see the Federal Reserve shut down and distrusts the IRS. In 2010, under Thompson, the JBS co-sponsored the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The Birchers live on in many ways and continue to influence politics, despite what many think.


Michael Potter
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Michael Potter

Michael Potter is an Anthropology major at UNC Charlotte. He studies History and Politics in his spare time. He is a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt the Kennedys and FDR. He also administers a Facebook group called The New Jeffersonian Democrats, and he also writes for the Examiner.
Michael Potter
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