An insider look at the history of the John Birch Society with author Claire Conner

08/05/13 Robert Lorei
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Today on Radioactvity Rob Lorei speaks with Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right (Beacon Press) to get an insider’s history of the John Birch Society, the radical American conservative group of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It once had a staff of 220 people and operated mostly in secret. It saw conspiracy everywhere. It believed that Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy were communists. And that it was just a few years before the US would be taken over by communism—using the United Nations as the tool. The group also opposed civil rights, Medicare and any peace talks with the Soviet Union. You can hear the ideas once held by the John Birch Society echoed today in the Tea Party, the Religious Right, anti-immigrant groups some prominent leaders in the Republican Party. Today's guest Claire Conner knows the history of the Birch society intimately. Her parents were early members and their house in Chicago was a gathering place for leaders and supporters of the Birch society. She joined the John Birch Society at the age of 13. Listen to the full show above.

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Rob did a great interview with this lady. It must have been weird growing up in the Bircher household, and especially odd to get kicked out of Catholic schools because her folks were so weird.

I called my district's US Congressman in 1972, John Rousselot, of San Marino, next to the city of San Gabriel where I lived, to protest the Vietnam war. Rousselot was the former paid spokesperson and lobbyist as the Western Regional Director of the John Birch Society, as well as being on its national board, and was a strong defender of the John Birch Society. Rousselot, a conservative Republican, represented the San Gabriel Valley in the US Congress from 1960 to 62 and again from1970 to 82. Rousselot advocated US military occupation of Cuba two years before the Cuban missile crisis. He defended the JBS as a group trying to inform themselves and the public about communism and its conspiracies in the United States. Rousselot claimed their organization, the JBS, was to educate rather than advocate or indoctrinate. However, in 1979, Rousselot decided to run for the US Senate in California and at that time, announced he had become disillusioned with the JB Society because the Society's president, Robert Welch, had besmirched President Eisenhower, calling him a communist agent and labeling Winston Churchill as a traitor. Rousselot lost his bid for the US Senate in California, but joined the Reagan White House as a special assistant for business matters; plus, he worked in Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign. Rousselot's reputation was adversely affected by his relationship with a savings and loan debacle that imprisoned its Lincoln Loan Company president, a man named Keating, During the early 1970's, I was able to debate then US Congressman Rousselot on the phone on three or four occasions, regarding my protesting of the Vietnam War. Despite Mr. Rousselot's extreme right wing views he always returned constituents' calls, listened to their opinions and offered his extreme positions on the issues in a very calm respectful manner. Rousselot died in 2003 at the age of 75.