tv John Birch Society CSPAN May 22, 2016 3:05pm-3:16pm EDT
>> i had no idea. >> with american history tv, it gives you that perspective. >> i am a c-span fan. >> next, wilfrid laurier university professor darren mulloy talks about the john birch society, a conservative advocacy group organized in the late 1930's. c-span tv interviewed mulloy in providence, rhode island. this is about 10 minutes. >> what is the john birch society? prof. mulloy: the john birch society is a political organization formed in 1958 in
indianapolis, and has headquarters in massachusetts. it was very prominent in the 1960's in particular. >> what was the purpose behind the society? prof. mulloy: they were an anti-communist organization. they opposed and feared that communism would subvert the united states. globally, they opposed collectivism of all times, so they were opposed to many manifestations of the welfare state. they opposed what they saw as excessive governmental interference in the economy. in foreign policy, they wanted the united states to take a more active role in trying to win the cold war, to defeat communism in cuba, vietnam, those cons of places. >> who was john birch? prof. mulloy: he was an american
missionary and a soldier who was killed at the end of the second world war in china. the president of the john birch society discovered his story and identified birch as the first victim of this world war. >> does the party still exist? prof. mulloy: it does. it is much smaller now than it was in the late 1950's and early 1960's, but it revived itself as heart of the tea party movement. it actually moved in 1989 to appleton, wisconsin, the hometown and final resting place of joe mccarthy, who so many in
the birch society revered, continuing the work of joe mccarthy in some respect. >> tell me about the original members of the john birch society. who did it attracted? prof. mulloy: rep. welch personally founded it in 1958. he was a former board member of the national association of manufacturers, and he invited people to create this new conservative group. it tended to be businessmen, x military officers, intellectuals. for example, lawrence bunker, the former aide to douglas
macarthur. the founder is one of the richest men in canada, and the father of charles and david koch. the ordinary members were basically ordinary conservative americans, as well-educated as anybody else. relatively young, 44 was the median age. they were people concerned about getting the government off the backs of the american people. that was one of the animated concerns of ordinary birch men. >> how would you describe the society's platform. prof. mulloy: more broadly, they wanted to turn back the advance of the new deal. they wanted to reduce the influence of the government in american life. they had conspiratorial believes, so they believed most famously that dwight eisenhower was part of a conspiracy. they were proactive. like other organizations, they actually did things. when you got their newsletter, you would be asked to write a letter, signed a petition. it was activism in doing something, rather than just complaining about things. >> did that conspiracy theory about eisenhower gain traction?
prof. mulloy: not really. welsh would later disavow the theory, but it was a thing that liberals, other republicans, conservatives, and the media jumped upon. you can't be serious about this, right? you are really claiming that eisenhower is a communist agent? it w the thing that discredited than the most while they were trying to gain traction. >> did their efforts have any influence politically? prof. mulloy: sure. the birch society is in recent times forgotten, but they were a significant part of the 1960's political landscape. they generated questions in the house, questions in the senate, presidential statements. i would say they played a much more significant role in the development of conservatism during the period then they usually get credit for. the tendency is to dismiss them as a lunatic fringe, but it helped them up bridge 1950's
conservatism to that of the 1970's and 1980's. they trained to a generation of conservatives to show them how to pursue their causes, to get into politics, and it was important for those reasons. >> did you have a sense at their height, how large their society was? prof. mulloy: estimates are about 100,000 total members. but i think more broadly, they had millions of members who were sympathetic, and many people had similar beliefs to them, even though they did not join the society.
despite the relatively small size, i think they had a big impact on american culture. >> how did the establishment republican party responded to the society? prof. mulloy: it buried. -- it varied. some republicans and some democrats were members. barry goldwater knew many members personally and never criticized the leadership or conspiratorial believes. other conservatives, for example, bill buckley, one of the leading conservatives, came to see them as a liability to conservatism as a whole, splitting up the conservative movement. particularly after the goldwater defeat, the republican establishment determined they
needed to get rid of the birchers. the republican leader at the time said that the john birch society is not a part of the republican party anymore. they kind of declined afterward. >> did ronald reagan have any particular views? prof. mulloy: reagan is interesting, because he liked goldwater and knew many birchers personally. he learned a lesson from barry goldwater, and also richard nixon, who suffered in 1962.
ronald reagan handled the accusations against him, so he distanced himself from the society. he basically said, i stand by my views, they stand by theirs. he was very skillful in distancing himself from the society. >> did the john birch society change the republican party in any way? prof. mulloy: i think it helped them shift it to the right. it took a while for goldwater and the burgers to have that influence, but it moved it in a more conservative direction. it paved the way for reagan's eventual victory, the activism, energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the cause. i think it really helped that side considerably to become a major part of the republican party. >> last question for you, can you tell me a little bit about the resources you used in your research?
i understand there is a secret nature about them? prof. mulloy: yeah. a secretive organization. it does not allow independent researchers access to their archive. ironically, you can go to moscow and look at kgb archives, but you can't look at the john birch society's. i looked at press reports, congressional records, and there is one archive called the wilcox collection, and i spent some time in their. they have a lot of john birch material and american opinions that were published.