(Cleon Skousen, 1963.)
I am not a member of the John Birch Society.
I have simply observed an avalanche of blistering propaganda which has totally confused millions of Americans.
Even a personal check among neighbors and friends will reveal that a vast quantity of well-educated, rational, religious people count it a shining virtue to hate the John Birch Society. Yet they admit knowing practically nothing about it.
The strange thing about the John Birch Society is that practically nobody paid any attention to it until the Communist Party officially ordered its annihilation.
Immediately the withering blast of scathing denunciation began pouring down upon this organization. And it came from all directions. For one solid year the press, radio and TV saturated the American mind with a continuous attack on the “terrible Birchers.”
It seems to me the history of this attack contains a terribly sobering lesson for the American people.
How It All Began
I first heard of the John Birch Society in 1958.
Several prominent businessmen in Los Angeles told me they were organizing a study group program to see if they could work more closely with the members of Congress through both political parties. They said they believed Americans should study legislation while it was up before Congress and not wait until it had been passed into law before they began complaining about it.
They told me these study groups were going to be set up all over the country and that each would be called a “chapter” of the John Birch Society.
These friends were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, dentists and very substantial people in their community.
I began paying attention to the literature and personalities of this organization to see what kind of group it might turn out to be.
It was not difficult to find out about the John Birch Society.
The organization published a “Blue Book” which described its purposes and the identity of its leadership. Members of its Council included many nationally prominent people, some of whom I knew personally.
The Blue Book was written by the founder and head of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch. Until his retirement in 1957, Mr. Welch was vice president in charge of sales and advertising for a large candy manufacturing firm. He had served on the board of directors of the National Association of Manufacturers, had traveled around the world extensively and had spent several years specializing in a study of Communism and Socialism. He had attended the Naval Academy and two universities — University of North Carolina and Harvard. He had published three books and served as editor and publisher of American Opinion, a monthly magazine designed to evaluate current events in terms of the world-wide struggle for power by the Communist-Socialist coalition.
I was told by officials of John Birch Society that Mr. Welch was paid no salary by them even though he worked an 18-hour day.
A Secret Society?
I found that chapters of the John Birch Society were being built in each city around people who had already been studying Communism. These individuals then invited into the chapter the people who were interested in staying informed. They pledged themselves to work through their respective political parties to stop the advance of Communism and Socialism in the United States.
They seemed neither secret nor exclusive. In fact, I noted they were scouring the country for workers. One of their coordinators told me, “We are looking for all the people who are ready to do something besides just talk.”
By the summer of 1960, the Society had attracted the attention of other conservative groups. A few were critical because they said the Birch people had rallied together most of the best informed and hardest working patriots in many cities. I observed, however, that members of the Society did not restrict their support to John Birch groups but seemed anxious to help other conservative movements succeed.
The first trickle of open publicity came from an article by Jack Mabley with the Chicago American. He wrote a column on July 26, 1960, in which he attacked Robert Welch and the John Birch movement. However, I did not see any further public criticism of the group until the Communist Party ordered the annihilation of the John Birchers six months later.
The John Birchers Take On The Communist Party
It is my personal opinion that the real cause of the wrath against the John Birch Society originated with a series of events in the Fall of 1960.
The Birchers learned that the Communist Party was working for the passage of a certain bill which was to be introduced as soon as Congress convened in January, 1961. This bill was designed to take away the funds of the House Committee on Un-American Activities so that it could not investigate the Communist Party. For many years the destruction of this particular committee had been a major project of Communists in this country. But since they had always failed in the past they thought this compromise measure of taking most of the funds away from the committee would be a good stopgap measure. And for awhile it looked as though they might succeed.
Then the John Birch Society and other conservative groups began an all-out campaign to work through both parties to kill this bill. All through the Christmas vacation they continued the campaign. The success of these efforts became apparent when the bill came up for vote. Democrats and Republicans combined and beat the bill by a vote of 412 to 6. It was an overwhelming defeat for a favorite project of the Communist Party, USA.
Whether the John Birchers deserved all the credit for what happened is not so important, but the Communist Party gave them all the blame. I heard from friends who were close to the inner workings of the Communist Party that the Party bosses had sent out the word: “The John Birchers have got to go!”
Moscow Orders an Attack on All Anti-Communists
Right at the time the John Birchers were trying to defeat this Communist-supported bill, a manifesto came out of Moscow from the conference of the 81 Communist parties of the world ordering a “resolute struggle against anti-Communism.” Edward Hunter analyzed this new directive for Congress and testified as follows:
For the first time, the world Communist network, in a basic policy and operational document, specifically referred to the anti-Communist movement in the United States, recognizing that it had reached proportions large enough to constitute a main — if not the main — danger to Communist progress in our country . . . .(The New Drive Against the Anti-Communist Program. Senate Judiciary Committee Report, July 11, 1961, p. 10)
The Moscow manifesto against anti-Communism came out in December, 1960, and one month later Nikita Khrushchev gave an important policy speech officially ordering all Communists to “resolutely unmask this anti-scientific and purely false ideology” of anti-Communism. He said:
Bourgeois propaganda is assuming an increasingly cunning nature. Its main weapon in the struggle against the Socialist camp and the Communist Parties is anti-communism. (Analysis of the Khrushchev Speech of January 6, 1961, Senate Judiciary Committee Report, June 16, 1961, p.74)
A short time later the opening blast against all anti-Communists in the United States was initiated by a concentrated attack on the John Birch Society.
Attack on the John Birch Society Begins
Because the Birch Society was practically unknown to the general American public I wondered how the Communist Party would launch its campaign. I had no idea that the legitimate American press would fall for the line which the Communists were about to broadcast.
On February 25, 1961, the official Communist newspaper on the West Coast called the Daily People’s World, fired the opening broadside. The article was entitled, “Enter (from Stage Right) THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY.” The article depicted the John Birchers as a secret, Fascist society and said that it was setting up “cells” all across the country.
Of course, the People’s World has a very limited distribution which would do little damage, but the thing which astonished me was the rapidity with which the transmission belt began to function so that this story was planted in one major news medium after another until finally even some of the more conservative papers had taken up the hue and cry.
In fact, the very next week Time magazine came out with a long article similar in many ways to the one in the People’s World. As soon as I read the first paragraph I knew the John Birch Society was in for a real professional tar-brush treatment:
Among the U.S. brotherhoods dedicated to the fight against Communism, nothing is quite like the John Birch Society. Except for an elite corps of leaders, its members shun personal publicity and their names are held by the society in strictest secrecy. Its cells, of 20 to 30 members apiece, take orders from society headquarters, promote Communist-style front organizations that do not use the John Birch name. Carefully avoiding normal channels of political action, the society accepts the hard-boiled, dictatorial direction of one man who sees democracy as a “perennial fraud” and estimates that the U.S. is 40-60% Communist controlled. In other times, other places, the John Birch ‘Americanists’ — as they call themselves — might seem a tiresome, comic opera joke. But already the society admits to cells in 35 states, and its partisans have made their anonymous and unsettling presence felt in scores of U.S. communities. (Time magazine, postdated March 10, 1961, pp. 21-22)
It was immediately apparent even to an outsider that this article was no ordinary piece of reporting. Why did it call the chapters of the John Birch Society “cells” just like the article in the People’s World? Why did it charge that the Birchers avoided “normal channels of political action” when their greatest success had been achieved by working with Congressmen in both parties? Why the non-specific charge that the Birchers promote “Communist-style front organizations”? What front organizations? I had heard of none. Why jerk a statement of Robert Welch completely out of context to make it look like he was against “democracy” when he was simply explaining that mass action without direction was never effective? And why the charge of “secrecy”? I knew that chapter meetings were neither secret nor closed. In fact, to disprove this charge 197 chapters in Southern California published their addresses in a Los Angeles newspaper. And finally, why should the activities of the John Birch societies be described as “unsettling” when their only objective was to resist Communism and educate the public in preserving constitutional principles?
No organization is above criticism on some scores, but why would one of the foremost American news magazines resort to fictions and distortions within a week after similar fictions and distortions appeared in an official Communist periodical?
Feeding the Flame
The Time magazine article was further dignified on March 8, 1961, when Senator Milton Young of North Dakota had it appear in the Congressional Record. As other periodicals aimed their printer’s ink at the John Birchers, Senator Young included their contributions in the Congressional Record also. This soon added up to a total of 17 full pages.
I noticed that a whole roster of favorite Communist smear terms began to find expression in the legitimate American press. These included: Fascists, Extremists, Super-Patriots, Super-nationalists, Rightists, Extreme Rightists, Self-appointed Guardians of Freedom, Lunatic Fringe, Ultra-rightists, Patriotic Fanatics, etc.
In spite of these colorful epithets, however, some Americans began demanding concrete facts to back up these charges. They began asking what it was specifically that was so terrible about the John Birchers. Were they advocating force and violence like the Communists? Were they training a secret militia? Did they resort to bomb-plots or other kinds of terrorism? It was always a little disconcerting to the anti-Birchers when people did a little checking as I had done and discovered that the Society was primarily a study group program with a strong bias in favor of traditional American Constitutionalism.
Then the attack shifted its aim away from the Society itself and concentrated almost entirely on Robert Welch. The critics went back to some statements Welch had made around the time the Eisenhower Administration was backing Castro as “the George Washington of Cuba.” Welch predicted that since Castro had been a member of the Soviet apparatus for many years he would undoubtedly betray the Cuban people into the clutches of the Soviet Union. Welch also insisted that since Castro’s record was so notorious, the President and Secretary of State were playing into the trap of world Communism by supporting Castro.
Welch was equally critical of other decisions by President Eisenhower and his aides which had allowed unnecessary Communist gains. In a private communication to several of his friends he expressed the opinion that some of the national leaders were involved in outright Communist duplicity.
All of this occurred prior to the time the John Birch Society was organized and such opinions were therefore never part of the Society’s policies or principles. Nevertheless, the critics of the John Birch Society continued to quote them as though they were typical of all John Birch members.
Welch Requests and Gets an Official Investigation
In the midst of the debate, Robert Welch suggested that a good way to settle the matter would be through an official Congressional investigation. Let people make their charges under oath. Welch said he would welcome an investigation and would answer under oath any question the members of Congress wished to ask him. However, it was not the U.S. Congress, but the California State Legislature which finally decided to do the job.
Trained investigators were sent out by the Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities. Their report came as a great shock to those people who had proclaimed that the attack on the John Birch Society could be factually proven. They even had predicted that this California report would undoubtedly destroy the Birchers.
Hugh M. Burns (Democrat), chairman of the California Senate Factfinding Committee, used 61 pages of fine print to tell what his committee investigators had found. This report attracted national attention in press, radio and TV during June, 1963.
Is the Birch Society Secret or Fascist?
Chairman Burns stated: “We have not found the Society to be either a secret or a fascist organization, nor have we found the great majority of its members in California to be mentally unstable, crackpots, or hysterical about the threat of Communist subversion.” (Page 61)
Is the Society Anti-Semitic or Racist?
“Our investigations have disclosed no evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of anyone connected with the John Birch Society in California, and much evidence to the effect that it opposes racism in all forms.” (Page 39)
What Kind of an Organization Is It?
“We find the John Birch Society to be a Right, anti-Communist, fundamentalist organization. It was conceived, organized, and is dominated by Mr. Robert Welch, who runs the society with the aid of a National Council and Advisory Committee, whose advice he is not, however, bound to follow.” (Page 61)
What About Robert Welch?
“We have studied Welch’s life, his business career, educational background, and have read almost everything he wrote — all his writings in connection with the society. We do not agree with much of what he wrote or what he has said, but we did not find him embittered, either through reading his writings or through personally interrogating him.
“There is no question, as National Review (which criticized Mr. Welch*) points out, that he has stirred the slumbering spirit of patriotism in thousands of Americans, roused them from lethargy, and changed their apathy into a deep desire to first learn the facts about communism and then implement that knowledge with effective and responsible action.” (Page 37)
Interviews with John Birch Members
“We have found the average member to have been concerned about the advances of the world Communist movement and the advances of Communist subversion in this country. The John Birch Society has provided the only organization with a militant program of study and action through which the frustrations of these people can be released.”
The report says members do not accept everything Mr. Welch has said, “but their position is that despite this disagreement, he did conceive the movement, organize it, instill it with life, provide a national medium through which people can actually do something about the menace of Communism. The average member is firmly convinced that the real threat is not essentially abroad, but that since our foreign policies are evolved here, and as they are influenced here, and since our retreat from one European crisis after another has been engineered in Washington, then the problem must be faced in this country.” (Pages 42 and 43)
Are Members Centrally Controlled or Disciplined?
“Communists are trained to obey a directive or a party assignment, whether they agree with it or not. Members of the [John Birch] society are constantly told NOT to follow any program or directive unless they agree with it, as may be seen in many of the monthly bulletins sent to the members. When the policies and actions of the society are no longer supported by a member, he may resign and get a proportional rebate of his annual dues.” (Page 18)
Why Have So Many People Joined?
“We believe that the reason the John Birch Society has attracted so many members is that it simply appeared to them to be the most effective, indeed the only organization through which they could join in as a national movement to learn the truth about the Communist menace and then take some positive concerted action to prevent its spread.” (Page 61 and 62)
Who Launched the Smear Campaign Against the Society?
The report points out that the all-out attack against the John Birch Society was launched by the Communist Party in 1961.
“The attack against the John Birch Society commenced with an article in the People’s World, California Communist paper, in February, 1961. . . .” (Pages 25 and 26)
Everything I have personally observed about the John Birch Society would confirm the conclusions reached by this California Senate report.
My final thought would be this:
I certainly would have no quarrel with anyone who wished to disagree with some idea promulgated by the John Birch Society. In a Republic this should be expected. However, no American should stand by and see a legitimate group of American citizens dishonestly ridiculed and smeared at the instigation of the international Communist conspiracy.
And even more important, no American should allow himself to become involved in debasing and ridiculing a group of fellow citizens when he honestly doesn’t know anything about them. In the case of the John Birch Society, those who editorialized or otherwise propagandized against “the terrible Birchers” usually did so without realizing they were promoting the official Communist Party line. And, as usual, this line turned out to be a careful calculated deception designed to confuse the American people.
The Communist Party is manifestly frightened by the possibility of the people of the United States becoming awakened. Communist success has always been achieved in an atmosphere of secrecy, deceit and confusion. The John Birch Society was therefore one of the groups marked for annihilation because it was becoming highly successful in awakening the American people.
A former member of the Communist Party National Committee told me, “The Communist leaders look upon the stamping out of the John Birch Society as a matter of life and death for the Party.”
Only two other groups have generated this much hate and fury from Communist leaders. One is the FBI, the other is the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
About the author: W. Cleon Skousen was educated in Canada, the United States and Mexico. He received his law degree from George Washington University and was admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia. He served in the FBI 16 years, became a member of the faculty of Brigham Young University in 1951, and was given a leave of absence to become Chief of Police in Salt Lake City in 1956. In 1960 he became the Editorial Director of LAW and Order, the most widely distributed police magazine in the U.S. He is also the author of several books including The Naked Communist and So You Want To Raise a Boy. In the last two years Mr. Skousen has traveled and lectured in 29 foreign countries and 43 of the 50 states. His largest audience was 15,000 in the Hollywood Bowl.