Feathered Bastard

More fun with the John Birch Society...

Cpt. John Birch, Baptist, U.S. intelligence officer, and inventor of the missionary position.

It isn't often that someone contradicts themselves so blatantly in the comments to this blog as has Bryan Turner, the AZ state coordinator for the John Birch Society, whom I met Saturday as he was manning the JBS booth at Gilbert's Constitution Week Fair. Concerning a quote about President Eisenhower in JBS founder Robert Welch's book The Politician, Turner at first wrote that, "Robert Welch never called Ike a `a dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.'" This was in reply to yesterday's post, "John Birch-ers, Ron Paul-ites and loads of white folk at Gilbert's Constitution Week Fair."

I responded to the comment, something I rarely do, pointing out that several sources indicate that the more outrageous assertions about Eisenhower were modified in later editions of Welch's Ike-indictment. (Remember, Ike was considered a hero, a victorious general. Slandering Ike in the '50s and '60s would be on par with someone today accusing Billy Graham of forced sodomy.) Turner still took issue, posting the following,

The quote is totally out of context, and in the context written in your article totally changes the meaning of the statement in the book.

The editions have NEVER altered that quote, to imply such is dishonest at best.

So which is it, is the quote made up, or was it taken out of context? It's difficult to overemphasize the importance of this controversy for the history of the JBS. Welch's smear of Republican icon Ike helped boot the society he founded out of the mainstream of American politics, earning it the scorn of fellow conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr.

Conservative commentator Russell Kirk, for instance, stated that, "Ever since [Welch] has founded the Society, he has done more to injure the cause of responsible conservatism than to act effectively against communism."

Kirk also had a great line about the charge that Ike was a commie: "Eisenhower isn't a communist, he's a golfer."

In his highly-acclaimed 1995 biography Barry Goldwater, author Robert Alan Goldberg discusses the ties linking Welch, the Birchers and Mr. Conservative, relating that Goldwater admired some elements of the JBS but later encouraged the rank-and-file membership to break with Welch. Check this passage from page 137 of Goldberg's tome:

Welch had approached Goldwater several years before founding the John Birch Society. Hinting of a matter of grave concern to the nation, Welch arrived at the Goldwater home in Phoenix with a nearly 300-page manuscript that he pressed the Senator to read. In "The Politician," Welch traced the path of the communist conspirators to the White House. Both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, he argued, were under the control of the communists. In Dwight Eisenhower "the Communists have one of their own actually in the presidency...There is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason." Goldwater skimmed the manuscript and immediately dismissed its allegations. The next morning he telephoned Welch: "I want no part of this. I won't even have it around. If you were smart, you'd burn every copy you have." Welch was neither deterred nor alienated. He published the book in 1960 and contributed to the Senator's 1958 reelection campaign...

In the notes to the book, Goldberg explains that later editions of The Politician toned down the Ike-is-a-commie theme. Several other sources back him up on this. In Report on the John Birch Society 1966, then Anti-Defamation League national director Benjamin Epstein and the ADL's general counsel Arnold Foster stated that the "cleansed version" of the book appeared in 1963, and it received wide distribution in the JBS. "But it did not alter the basic thrust that the former President was a Communist agent."

Indeed, they reported,

Society members were never explicitly told that the published version differed in its text from the original, although an explanation was included in the revised text. Instead they -- and the public -- were told to "Read It and Judge for Yourself" --as if the readers were getting the original version.

Interestingly, Turner later e-mailed me, "... it is a flat out lie regarding the book the politician. I encourage you to look it up and find out the truth for your self."

Nutty similarity there. Perhaps Turner drank the Kool-Aid instead of the fluoride. (Birchers used to have a thing about the fluoridation of water, believing it was part of a pinko plot.)

The book American Extremists, by John George and Laird Wilcox also supports the Ike-is-a-commie theme and the fact that later editions of the Welch screed omit some of that stuff. George and Wilcox even have the whole "Dwight Eisenhower is a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy" quote in their book from the original source. The intent of the original is clear: Welch claimed Ike was a Red. No wonder Goldwater advised him to burn all copies of the tome. Goldy must've figured he had a real moonhowler on his hands.

George and Wilcox also suggest the myth of the martyred John Birch is a distortion. Birch was an intelligence officer in China during WWII, and the JBS claims him as the first victim of the Cold War for being killed by Chinese Communists shortly after the United States' victory over Japan. Evidently, Birch came across some Chinese Communists in the field, argued with their commander, and was subsequently shot and bayoneted. The commander of the base Birch operated out of, Major Gustav Krause, blamed Birch for his own demise:

"My instructions were to act with diplomacy," Krause is quoted as saying. "Birch made the Communist lieutenant lose face before his own men. Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death."

See, if Birch, by all accounts a fundamentalist fanatic, had kept his pie-hole shut, he might have avoided the bayonet in the keister and lived to a ripe old age. But then there'd be no JBS for us to have fun with, now would there?

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons