See R. Welch, The Blue Book of the John Birch Society (repr. 1995); R. Vahan, The Truth about the John Birch Society (1962); J. A. Broyles, The John Birch Society (1964); B. R. Epstein and A. Foster, Radical Right (1967).
The Society is generally considered to be well to the right of the American political spectrum and has been described as "ultraconservative" on its own website, which states "In the United States, however, a conservative is one who seeks to support and retain the traditional institutions of the U.S. government, including the rule of law under the Constitution, and the political doctrines of individual rights and freedom as espoused by the Founding Fathers." However, with major changes in personalities, tactics, and ideologies within the conservative movement, the Society has been marginalized since the 1960s among mainstream conservatives.
The society was named after John Birch, a United States military intelligence officer and Baptist missionary in World War II who was killed in 1945 by armed supporters of the Communist Party of China, and whom the society describes as "a patriotic exemplar. His parents joined the society as life members.
Based in Appleton, Wisconsin, the society says members come from all walks of life and are active in all 50 states via local chapters. Its mission is to achieve "Less Government, More Responsibility, and — With God's Help — a Better World."
The society's publishing arm, under which it has issued books on numerous topics, is known as American Opinion Publishing, which changed its name from John Birch Publishing on May 5, 1994. There is limited overlap of directors with Western Islands Publishing, a Massachusetts corporation, Mary T. Benoit of Appleton, WI, President.
During the 1960s, The John Birch Society opposed aspects of the Civil Rights Movement because of concerns that the movement had a number of communists in important positions. The John Birch Society opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the belief that it was in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and overstepped the rights of individual states to make laws regarding Civil Rights.
The John Birch Society is against a unified "one world government", and has an illegal immigration reduction view on immigration reform. It has opposed the United Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and other free trade agreements with other nations, believing them to be destructive to American principles, the economy, freedom and national sovereignty. It also opposes the teaching of evolution as Birch considered it to be "heresy".
The Society claims there is a devaluing of the US Constitution in favor of international government, and that this is not an accident. It cites David Rockefeller's 2002 autobiography "Memoirs" in which Rockefeller writes " Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as "internationalists" and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure—one world, if you will. If that's the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.
According to Welch, "both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order managed by a 'one-world socialist government.'
Welch saw "collectivism" as the main threat to Western Civilization, and far-left liberals as "secret communist traitors" who provide cover for the gradual process of collectivism, with the ultimate goal of replacing the nations of western civilization with one-world socialist government. "There are many stages of welfarism, socialism, and collectivism in general," he wrote, "but Communism is the ultimate state of them all, and they all lead inevitably in that direction."
The society's objective has been to fight Communism and totalitarianism using some of Communism's own techniques—organization of front groups, infiltration of other groups, and letter-writing campaigns. It has organized grassroots chapters in every state and is the only Americanist organization to have full-time paid field staff assisting those chapters. Its activities include distribution of literature, pamphlets, magazines, videos and other educational material while sponsoring a Speaker's Bureau
One of the first public activities of the JBS was a "Get US Out!" (of membership in the UN) campaign, which claimed in 1959 that the "Real nature of [the] UN is to build a One World Government. In 1960, Welch advised JBS members to: "Join your local P.T.A. at the beginning of the school year, get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over.
"One Man's Opinion", a magazine launched by Welch in 1956, was renamed "American Opinion" and became the John Birch Society's official publication. The society's current publication is called "The New American".
By March 1961, the Society had an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 members and, according to Welch, "a staff of 28 people in the Home Office; about 30 Coordinators (or Major Coordinators) in the field, who are fully paid as to salary and expenses; and about 100 Coordinators (or Section Leaders as they are called in some areas), who work on a volunteer basis as to all or part of their salary, or expenses, or both." According to the "progressive" Political Research Associates, an organization "Researching the Right for Progressive Changemakers" , the society "pioneered grassroots lobbying, combining educational meetings, petition drives and letter-writing campaigns. One early campaign against the second summit between the United States and the Soviet Union generated over 600,000 postcards and letters, according to the Society. A June 1964 Birch campaign to oppose Xerox corporate sponsorship of TV programs favorable to the UN produced 51,279 letters from 12,785 individuals." The Birchers' ad-hoc special issues committees have been effective in creating awareness about issues which they believe to be affecting the American way of life.
Much of the Society's early views, according to Political Research Associates, "reflects an ultra-conservative business nationalist critique of business internationalists networked through groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)." Birchers elaborated on an earlier Illuminati/Freemason conspiracy theory, imagining "an unbroken ideologically driven conspiracy linking the Illuminati, the French Revolution, the rise of Marxism and Communism, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the United Nations". Unlike some advocates of the Illuminati-Freemason conspiracy theory, however, the Birch Society strenuously denies harboring any anti-Semitic or anti-masonic ideas, and indeed claims many Jews among its membership.
Anti-Jewish, racist, anti-Mormon, anti-Masonic, and religious groups criticized the group's acceptance of Jews, nonwhites, Masons, the large number of Mormons in the Society (Ezra Taft Benson, a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encouraged people to join it), and Welch's alleged feminist, ecumenical, and evolutionary ideas.
Ayn Rand said in a Playboy interview that "What is wrong with them is that they don't seem to have any specific, clearly defined political philosophy. ... I consider the Birch Society futile, because they are not for Capitalism but merely against Communism.
In October 1964, the Idaho Statesman newspaper expressed concern about what it called an "ominous" increase in "ultra-right" radio and television broadcasts, which it said then numbered 7,000 weekly and cost an estimated $10 million annually. "By virtue of saturation tactics used, radical, reactionary propaganda is producing an impact even on large numbers of people who, themselves, are in no sense extremists or sympathetic to extremist views," declared a Statesman editorial. "When day after day they hear distortions of fact and sinister charges against persons or groups, often emanating from organizations with conspicuously respectable sounding names, it is no wonder that the result is confusion on some important public issues; stimulation of latent prejudices; creation of suspicion, fear and mistrust in relation not only to their representatives in government, but even in relation to their neighbors."
John Birch Society influence on U.S. politics hit its high point in the years around the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, who lost to incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson. Welch had supported Goldwater over Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination, but the membership split, with two-thirds supporting Goldwater and one-third supporting Nixon. A number of Birch members and their allies were Goldwater supporters in 1964 and some were delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention. The Goldwater campaign in turn brought together the nucleus of what later became known as the New Right, many of whom had been groomed by the Birch Society but whose more pragmatic members realized that the group's views were an impediment to electoral success.
In April 1966, a "New York Times" article on New Jersey and the John Birch Society stated in part a concern for "the increasing tempo of radical right attacks on local government, libraries, school boards, parent-teacher associations, mental health programs, the Republican Party and, most recently, the ecumenical movement. It then characterized the Society as, "by far the most successful and 'respectable' radical right organization in the country. It operates alone or in support of other extremist organizations whose major preoccupation, like that of the Birchers, is the internal Communist conspiracy in the United States." By then, a committee called the Movement to Restore Decency (MOTOREDE) was established to promote opinions about child-rearing; in particular, MOTOREDE pushed for a ban on sex education.
The book spawned much debate in the 1960s over whether the author really intended to call Eisenhower a Communist. G. Edward Griffin, one of his friends, thinks that he meant collectivist. The charge's sensationalism led many conservatives and Republicans to shy away from the group. The book was slightly toned down in the published version compared to the unpublished version. Welch later tried to distance himself from the work by saying that it was not originally meant to be published because it was just a confidential letter among friends.
Conservative writer William F. Buckley, Jr., an early friend and admirer of Welch, regarded his accusations against Eisenhower as "paranoid and idiotic libels" and attempted unsuccessfully to purge Welch from the JBS. Welch responded by attempting to take over Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth organization founded with assistance from Buckley. The JBS now maintains summer camps which operate across the country and teach youth the ideas of its members.
Key Birch Society causes of the 1970s included opposition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and to the establishment of diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China. The organization claimed in 1973 that the regime of Mao Zedong had murdered 64 million Chinese as of that year and that it was the primary supplier of illicit heroin into the United States. This led to bumper stickers showing a pair of scissors cutting a hypodermic needle in half accompanied by the slogan "Cut The Red China Connection." According to the Voice of America, the society also was opposed to transferring control of the Panama Canal from American to Panamanian sovereignty.
The John Birch Society was organized into local chapters. Ernest Brosang, a New Jersey regional coordinator, contended that it was virtually impossible for opponents of the society to penetrate its policy-making levels, thereby protecting it from anti-Americanist takeover attempts. Its activities included distribution of literature critical of civil rights legislation, warning of the influence of the United Nations, and distributing petitions to impeach U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. To spread their message, members held showings of documentary films and operated initiatives such as "Let Freedom Ring", a nation-wide network of recorded telephone messages. Some members also helped organize the "Minutemen", a paramilitary group training to lead guerrilla warfare in case of a Communist takeover.
In the late 1990s, the John Birch Society started a campaign to impeach President Bill Clinton for alleged connections with Chinese interests and on charges of treason and bribery. Within months of the Society's call for impeachment, news of the Monica Lewinsky affair broke, and the Society's charges were overshadowed by media coverage of Lewinsky and Clinton. The President was eventually indicted on impeachment charges, but the charges were different from those the Society had hoped to bring. Nevertheless, the impeachment campaign's relative success bolstered the Society and its public knowledge, membership, publication circulation, and finances.
In recent years, The John Birch Society has been just as critical of President George W. Bush as it had been of Democratic presidents, accusing the Bush administration of advocating and carrying out acts of torture against suspected terrorist leaders during the War on Terror. In a 2005 online poll, the organization's membership voted for President Bush's impeachment, citing issues such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the proposed sellout of U.S. Seaports to Dubai Ports World, and recent allegations against the Bush administration concerning domestic telephone surveillance of suspected terrorists operating within the United States. These were cited as evidence of Bush's lack of regard for the Constitution.
The JBS continues to press for an end to U.S. membership in the United Nations. As evidence of the effectiveness of JBS efforts, the Society points to the Utah State Legislature's resolution calling for U.S. withdrawal, as well as the actions of several other states where the Society's membership has been active. The Birch Society repeatedly opposed overseas war-making, although it is strongly supportive of the American military. It has issued calls to "Bring Our Troops Home" in every conflict since its founding, including Vietnam (it wanted a quick win and exit after the conflict had already started rather than a simple losing pullout). The Society also has a national speakers' committee called American Opinion Speakers Bureau (AOSB) and an anti-tax committee called TRIM (Tax Reform IMmediately).