Hey everybody, I'm back and I've collected quite a pile of Wisconsinology related items to blog about. To begin with, I Found this article in the Appleton Post Crescent www.postcrescent.com. It's a good follow up to an earlier Birch post featured in this blog. I love comedy. When it comes to big laughs and endearing pratfalls, the Birchers rule. A toast: May they live long and may their conspiracies multiply...and most of all, may they remain as they are - utterly harmless.
John Birch Society members still fight the Cold War
Political organization brought its headquarters to Fox Cities 20 years ago this spring
By Ed Lowe • Post-Crescent staff writer
GRAND CHUTE — The young couple sipped chocolate milkshakes in a front-window booth at Culver's, unaware that the low-slung brown office building across the street was command central in the war to save America from a godless conspiracy. By summer, the leafy lower branches of a maple tree will obscure some of the building's silver letters, but on this spring evening the sign was clearly visible. "The John Birch Society," it read. Never heard of it, the couple told a reporter. "Does it ring a bell to you, Staci?" Jesse Van Dera, 22, of Freedom, asked the woman seated across from him. Staci Bogenschutz, 21, also of Freedom, smiled and shook her head. Fifty years after the John Birch Society was founded to thwart a feared communist takeover of the U.S. government, the politically conservative organization's once-high national profile has eroded to little more than a historical footnote.
"My impression is that it is largely ignored (today), having been superseded on the right by think tanks on the one hand and neo-Nazi groups and conservative religious groups on the other," said Pamela Oliver, a University of Wisconsin-Madison sociology professor who in the 1980s co-authored a study of media coverage of the John Birch Society. Though the organization has continued fighting communism even as terrorism has supplanted the Cold War as America's primary security concern, Birchers are prone to battle each other nearly as often as perceived enemies of the United States. Declining membership, financial struggle, political irrelevance and even internal insurgencies that suggest conspiracy theorists themselves are not immune from conspiracy have greatly diminished the organization's place on the American landscape.
But 20 years ago this spring, when the John Birch Society moved its headquarters to the current location west of Appleton, home of then-chief executive officer G. Allen Bubolz, the group was hard to overlook — its unassuming small-town base notwithstanding. In Grand Chute, the society's new headquarters shared a hometown with one of its best-known heroes, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Like McCarthy, the Birchers achieved notoriety for an obsession with exposing communist infiltrators during the Cold War. The organization is named for John Birch, a missionary and Army Air Force surveillance officer killed by communists in China 10 days after the end of World War II, making him the first American casualty of the Cold War.
During the Cold War, the John Birch Society branded President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, as a "dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy." Years later, the group derided President Ronald Reagan, also a Republican, as a "lackey" of the perceived communist conspiracy.
Communist agents infiltrated or manipulated every level of the American government, John Birch Society founder Robert Welch claimed.
Art Thompson, the organization's 70-year-old chief executive officer, believes the John Birch Society saved America. Thompson, a widower turned newlywed in March, possesses a deep voice, a hearty laugh and a genuine fear that democracy poses a fundamental threat to the American Way.
"If it hadn't been for the John Birch Society, the United States, as we know it, would no longer exist," he said. "John Q. Public has no perception of that because we fought so many battles behind the scenes. It would have be a more controlled society, a less prosperous society. We probably would have lost the Constitution already."
Thompson, who became chief executive officer after a purge of other key Birchers in 2005, has a head full of secrets he is sworn to protect. "We don't want to let the enemy know our strengths or our weaknesses," he said. "The enemy" includes communists, socialists and most federal agencies, which Birchers would dismantle if they could.
"The progressive income tax? That was a communist plan," Thompson said. "The centralization of credit in the hands of the state, that's the Federal Reserve."
Birchers maintain that both measures were taken without the authority granted by the Constitution. Democracy too, they argue, represents a corruption of the founding fathers' intentions and a recipe for mob rule.
The subterranean passageway linking the John Birch Society's headquarters to its research and publications center stretches 72 feet. The eastern wall of the corridor features 48 framed photographs, 37 are black and white. All the photos show the organization's late founder, Robert Welch, the candy-company magnate who in December 1958 rallied 11 businessmen to join the counterinsurgency he would lead. Current President John F. McManus, 74, the society's featured spokesman for four decades, said its influence has never been greater, thanks largely to the Internet. But influence alone doesn't pay the bills. "When we say 'growing influence,' we'd like to say that it is all translating into a strong growth in membership, but it's not," McManus said. McManus now is halfway through a 45-city speaking tour targeting Federal Reserve monetary policies and knows the pitch by heart. "The combination of the government and the Federal Reserve are destroying the dollar and setting us up for world currency, world control, world government," he said.
"Power," he said. "History is filled with people who wanted power over mankind."
For its members, like David Stertz, 38, of Clintonville, a mechanical engineer at Metso Paper in Appleton, knowledge of the great conspiracy is simply a fact of life.
"I've been working here since '96, so everyone here knows if something sounds alarming coming from stranger, it's not alarming when it's coming from me," Stertz said. " 'It's just David talking.' They're used to it, I guess."
But for all his vigilance, Stertz is among a dwindling breed. The John Birch Society's rigid organizational structure, featuring top-to-bottom communication lines, has undermined its ability to grow, Oliver said, citing research gathered in the 1980s. The structure the John Birch Society used then was of the type used by clandestine groups seeking maximum security. It stifled interaction and coordination opportunities among Birch agents in the field, she said.
"It's hard to mobilize large numbers of people when you don't know whom you're supposed to be working with," Oliver said.
Chip Berlet, the senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a think tank near Boston that observes right-wing groups, said the John Birch Society remains despite its resistance to stray from its founder's playbook. "As far as external indications go, it looks like they're still moving forward with their agenda of proving to the American people that a giant conspiracy controls all world history," said Berlet, who has studied the John Birch Society for 30 years.
In 1989, as staffers at the former Birch headquarters near Boston prepared for the move to the Fox Cities, Berlet stopped by. Berlet identified himself as an archivist, he said, and asked for the chance to poke through the discarded printed materials in the overflowing Dumpster outside. Permission granted, he told of a few of the discoveries in an alternative paper, the Boston Phoenix. The stacks of paper revealed an internal revolt in 1974 causing the John Birch Society's section leader in Illinois to resign and then send letters to other members alleging fiscal misdeeds among administrators. The episode fueled "scores" of resignations in Minnesota and Illinois, he wrote. Berlet also uncovered a foot-thick stack of printouts bearing the names of "all 24,000 Birch members" on file in late 1987.Over the years, membership has varied, topping out at nearly 100,000 in the mid-1960s. Members and former members share a disdain for government and the establishment. "The problem is they think a secret elite controls the banks, the colleges, the media and their job is to inform the public," Berlet said, referring to Welch's belief that a sinister conspiracy was afoot long before the communists arrived on the scene. "Whether (the John Birch Society targets) the Rockefellers or the Illuminati or the Jews or the Muslims, it's toxic to democracy.
If you believe your opponent is part of this secret, nefarious plan on behalf of evil, if not Satan himself, there is no … compromise possible in the public square."
Welcome to Appleton
The society's pending arrival in the Fox Cities was announced in The Post-Crescent on March 7, 1989. "We chose Appleton because it was my hometown," Bubolz, the Appleton businessman who brought the John Birch Society headquarters to his hometown, told The Post-Crescent earlier this month. The move to the Midwest also was a cost-cutting move, allowing the John Birch Society to vacate offices on both coasts.
Bubolz was then second in command at Appleton-based Secura Insurance Cos. when he took the top post at the John Birch Society in 1988, knowing the organization was millions in debt.
Secura, faced with irate customers, publicly disassociated itself from the John Birch Society and Bubolz, who had worked at Secura for 37 years, soon resigned.
As head of the John Birch Society, Bubolz's first major order of business was trimming headquarters staff by about half. In 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed and much of the world celebrated the perceived death of communism itself, the Birch executive board pushed Bubolz to step aside. "They said I'd put everything back into the realm of possibility well enough that they thought they could go on without me," Bubolz said.
Bubolz remains a John Birch Society member, but identifies more closely with a new rival, the Freedom First Society, founded by ousted Birch leaders and led by the deposed CEO.
The leaders of the new society, which also follows the rigid course set by Robert Welch, contend they left the John Birch Society in October 2005 after learning it faced "an imminent coup orchestrated from within."
The accusations of past and present administrators are shown in disquieting detail on the Web site maintained by Don Fotheringham, 82, a former Birch officer, who claims his former employer has strayed from Welch's absolute vision, compromised its ideals because the new leaders are now "more interested in popularity than purpose."
The site, www.donfoth.com, which is rife with words such as mutiny, coup and revolution, mostly in internal memos and letters dealing with sensitive personnel matters, suggests just how far a Welch disciple will go to expose a conspiracy, real or imagined.
One letter, addressed to "Dear Fellow Patriot," concludes:
"(A)s Robert Welch wrote in February 1974, let's do 'what we can do to restore some sanity to a world that seems to be losing both its mind and its heart.'"
Written by Ed Lowe email@example.com
Thanks Post Crescent! www.postcrescent.com