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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Birchers, Not Birthers: Top Tea Party Organization Buddies Up With Old-School Conspiracy Theorists

Tea Party members like to argue that the movement is fiscally conservative but not socially conservative. They want to cut taxes, they say, but don’t care about gay marriage or affirmative action. But this is a tough argument to make when the Tea Party group long considered the least conservative turns out to be in bed with a group that thinks Eisenhower is a Communist for letting black and white kids go to school together.

FreedomWorks, the politically influential Tea Party organization led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, has tried to distance itself from social conservatism. A report from the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) found last year that it was the only major Tea Party faction that did not have a “birther” on its national staff. And Armey has denied that his organization includes any members of the John Birch Society, a group of rightwing extremists known for bigotry and paranoid conspiracy theories. He has even disparaged the Society, telling CBS News that “John Birch Society historically has had a good deal of people that have regretted them.”

But a new report from IREHR reveals that FreedomWorks is in bed with John Birch. It wasn’t always this way. For a while, Armey kept radical social conservatives out of his organization, which is why FreedomWorks had the second-smallest online following of all Tea Party groups last year. In January, it launched a new Tea Party social-networking site and gained over 70,000 new followers. Many of those new followers, of course, came from the John Birch Society.

And FreedomWorks didn’t merely turn a blind eye as their rolls swelled with Birchers. Staff members and website administrators actively recruited members of the Society, in many cases promoting Bircher events on the site’s front page. “In total,” the IREHR investigation found, “80 different JBS events were advertised on the FreedomWorks FreedomConnector site between the site launch and June 1, 2011.” [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights]

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