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Thursday, October 27, 2016

This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you Wrapped In The Flag: A Personal History Of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner. What separates Wrapped In The Flag from other critiques of the far right is the author’s personal connection to the John Birch Society, which paved the way for the modern Tea Party. Conner opens up about growing up in an ultra-conservative household, and the consequences of her upbringing continue today as she attempts to relate to her family. Wrapped In The Flag lays out how the power of political ideology affects both individuals and society — and how that power can be perverted by the untoward influence of money on politics 

You can purchase the book here.

Preface: I Know What Extremism Looks Like

Five years ago, I was sure I’d heard the last of conspiracies, secret Communists, and America’s imminent collapse. After all, the Cold War had been over for twenty years, my parents and most of their fanatic friends were dead, and the Bush administration was killing America’s appetite for right-wing Republicans. “There’s no one left to hoist the extremist flag,” I told myself.

I was wrong. By 2008, political discourse sounded eerily similar to that of 1958, when a brand-new right-wing, populist movement—the John Birch Society—burst onto the American scene. All across the country, newly awakened Birchers rallied to “take our county back.” Two dedicated Birch leaders mobilized the Midwest: Stillwell and Laurene Conner—my parents.

Dad and Mother had been primed for their lurch to the right for many years. They loved Joseph McCarthy and hated the Communists. They’d decided that government assistance made people weak and lazy, and that the New Deal was really a bad deal. They loathed Franklin Roosevelt and blamed Democrats for destroying our free-enterprise system.

So in 1955, when Mother and Dad were introduced to Robert Welch, a candy-company executive turned conspiracy hunter, they immediately recognized a kindred soul. My father said Welch was “a brilliant mind and the finest patriot I’ve ever had the privilege to know.” Three years later, when Welch founded his John Birch Society, Mother and Dad didn’t hesitate— they signed up and immediately handed over $2,000 for lifetime memberships, the equivalent of about $15,000 today.

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The John Birch Society became my parents’ lifelong obsession; nothing was allowed to interfere with the next meeting, the next project, the next mailing. At fourteen and thirteen, respectively, my older brother and I were deemed old enough to take up the cause as full-fledged adult members. During Birch activities, the other Conner children were banished upstairs, where my ten-year-old sister was put in charge of the baby (eighteen months) and my six-year-old brother fended for himself. In only a few months, the entire Conner family lived and breathed Birch.

Night after night, Birch activists and new recruits filled our living room. They received hours of instruction about the secret conspiracy, the New World Order, hidden codes on the dollar bill, and Communist spies inside our government. Birchers were schooled in the evils of creeping socialism, Communism, and Marxism. Good Birchers understood the sins of welfare and Social Security. It was time to rise up against the unholy alliance of the Left—Communists, socialists, liberals, union bosses, and the liberal press.

Robert Welch identified Communists as one enemy in this epic struggle to save the country. Of course, in the 1950s the march of the Communists across Eastern Europe and Asia was scary to Americans, but Welch was more worried about the Communists lurking inside our country, often holding positions of influence. These home-grown American Communists were ready to spring into action to take down our Constitution and replace it with a socialist manifesto.

Birchers believed that those American Communists were all over the place. They served on school boards, advocated putting fluoride in drinking water, and taught subversive university classes. Others organized labor unions, led the civil rights movement and served in the Congress.

The Birch message resonated. Membership exploded and revenue spiked. My father was rewarded for his dedication with a promotion to the Birch National Council, where he served for thirty-two years.

From the outset, the GOP applauded the Birchers for their patriotic zeal and embraced them as good Republicans. But after a scandal rocked the society in 1961, the GOP worried that its closeness to the Birchers would taint the Republican brand. It could not afford to be painted by the Democrats as the political arm of the radical right. Republican leaders decided to label the Birchers as crackpots and push them out of the party. Problem solved.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • Patricia

    Dear lord god, paper the country with this book. Now they have billions, and “feudalism” is alive and well in America. See: THE NATIONAL MEMO, Jonathan Turlley’s blog.

    • Claire Conner Mork

      Thanks for this wish, Patricia. I hope that thousands and thousands of Americans who know something is amiss with the current chaos and obstruction in government will pick up my book. We can’t really understand how we got to this moment without looking at what came before. Today’s “new fangled right-wingery” is the John Birch Society born again.

      • Patricia

        Thank you for your life and your willingness to share. As I have said, I just can’t make sense of this mindset. I’m from western Pennsylvania and I am aware of the serendipitous nature of our fortunes. This exercise of yours makes me want to know, or maybe just to understand better, how my life has played out. Ayn Rand has written of one’s epistemological search for knowledge. And I’m thinking, reading your book, and considering my life’s experience, this may be a poke in the eye for Ayn. Patricia

      • jmprint

        Under the pretense of born again christians.

  • howa4x

    Now these tea party dolts have grabbed on to Ayn Rand an atheist that wanted unfettered capitalism and championed greed as godly. The Koch bros never had to work for their fortune and should be the last people to tell anyone about how to pull themselves up out of poverty. They want a work for less culture to increase their wealth, and want serfs instead of citizens that will fight over scraps from their lavish table. Bad news for them is that seniors like having social security/Medicare, and will vote to keep their meager benefits. 53% of Americans are ok with same sex marriage, and the number is growing. Latinos are a fast growing minority and vote democratic. Fast food workers are going on strike and don’t want to work for less anymore, and younger voters reject the tea party outright. With all the money the Koch’s spent Obama still won by a landslide. Fracking is coming under scrutiny which is a major business of the Koch family. The Koch’s are now pouring money into the states and have a new organization called ALEC where business writes laws and hands them to republicans to pass. This is why union busting and right to work for less is big in republican states , where anti abortion legislation in growing. Problem for them is they are turning off more people than gaining members. women in these states now don’t take reproductive rights for granted and are coming out to vote. No matter how much the Koch’s spend, the future is coming, and it is not coming their way.

    • Yvette White

      you are so right howa4x
      and what gets me is they still will not make it to the Whitehouse, the people will not vote for there bullshit, and that the world is becoming more brown, and all the money in the country can’t stop that from happening, and the fact that they all are Evil, and that never wins if they knew their so called Bible, you will lose this fight to the only thing that will get to theses people is death, and they all can not (GOD FOR GIVE ME) die fast enough but that’s what is coming for them all.

    • Dominick Vila

      Bear in mind that in addition to greed and prejudice, what the Birchers and our modern-day Tea Party supporters fear most is change. The influx of people with different cultural backgrounds, the creation of social programs they associate with evil socialism, and challenges to their political and religious convictions are the ultimate manifestation of evil to them, and something they must eradicate at all cost, including civil war. To justify a behavior influenced by fear of the unknown and pre-conceived ideas, they wrap themselves in the flag to defend the indefensible under an aura of patriotism devoid of reality.

      • howa4x

        True. They are easily led and not smart enough to know that they are voting against the interests of their families and especially their children

        • samantha657

          like Carl said I’m taken by surprise that you can get paid $9037 in 4 weeks on the computer. did you look at this site w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

      • Elisabeth Gordon

        But, they didn’t get their way….had they, we would now be saying “President Romney” – Gawd forbid.

  • Mel Miller

    The tea turds are making a laughing stock out the United States in the eyes of the rest of the civilized world (i.e. Europe).

    • charleo1

      Well, that’s exactly right, Mel. A laughing stock, and the T-Turds, as you
      call them, are also trying to shake the confidence of those who are putting
      monies into T-Bills. Specifically because, they are viewed as the safest
      place in the world to park your money, until better investments come
      along. Just what are these investors supposed to think, with the T-Turds
      threatening to default on our debts every chance they get? Trying, it seems
      to cause the interest rates to go up on the public debt. Where even a
      percentage increase would add billions in interest payments to the Federal
      debt. Personally, I believe them to be traitors of the highest order.

      • Yvette White

        They are traitors but will call Obama one when its really them, who are the true Traitors of this country, how can anyone in this country vote Republican come 2014 or 2016, you have got to be the sickies people any where in the country, but for real some shit is coming for all the haters in this country and if you are not a conservatives you don’t want to be standing to close to one when the shit hits the fan, because they are going to pay dearly for what they are allowing to go on in that party, and when its all said and done, a whole lot of Republicans are going to try and save what’s left of their careers and what might be left of their party, mark my words, an ass kicking is on the way and this one is one they can not see coming, because the hate is blinding them all.

  • idamag

    I remember those horrible John Birch years and joe McCarthy. My sister-in-law went to a meeting. She was telling me about it afterward. She said, “My next door neighbor could be a communist.” I told her I was glad I was not her next door neighbor. I remember people losing their jobs because they had been labeled “consymp, pinko,” and other derogatory names. We couldn’t take a job or join an organization without signing a pledge that we never had been, are not, or never will be a communist. The PTA was labeled a communist organization as were many college organizations. I don’t know whether it is because our country is still in its youth, but we are quick to hysteria. We are quick to commit atrocities while we are in that hysteria.

  • Allan Richardson

    When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the John Birch Society claimed that he was killed by the Soviet Union because he “broke his pre-election promise” to turn America’s government over to Russia! But the SAME wackos were saying in 1960 that, if elected, he would take orders over a “hot line to the Vatican!” And today’s T-turds claim likewise that Obama is a Socialist AND a Nazi/Fascist AND a Muslim. Make up your mind WHICH “un-American” ideology someone belongs to!

    (Fact check: the Vatican has always stood for Christianity, even though not the same branch of the faith as Protestants, and has therefore been AGAINST Communism, a zealously ATHEIST and ANTI-RELIGIOUS ideology since Marx and Engels first preached it.

    Fact check: although a Catholic, and although Catholic bishops in America favored it, Kennedy was AGAINST public funds aiding religious private schools, not only Catholic but Protestant as well, because of the First Amendment. He was criticized by the Vatican, but fortunately never formally disciplined or excommunicated.

    Fact check: since before World War II, Fascists and Nazis have been sworn enemies of Soviet Communism. The Nazis used the NAME “National Socialist” just as Birchers and other right-wingers use the WORD “Freedom” or “Liberty” in their organizations’ names: because “socialist” was a popular idea in 1920’s Europe. There was a brief detente in 1939-1940 in which Hitler and Stalin both thought they were fooling each other, until Hitler broke his promise first and invaded Russia. The Soviet Union then, and Russia today, refer to the World War II eastern front as the “Great Patriotic War” and the “War Against Fascism.”

    Fact check: Islam, like other theistic faiths, is OPPOSED to atheistic Communism, and in Iraq and Syria from the 1960’s until the Iraq war, Islamic parties were against “Baath Socialism,” which was not atheistic but was a secular form of government.)

  • irishtap

    What is more evil than wealthy people subverting the lives of the under educated masses to enhance ill gotten gains? I cannot comprehend how these people get to sleep, perhaps those partaking in malism and profligacy never dare to attempt it. In regard to the Koch’s, they were handed an opportunity for excellent education – they never spent a moment worrying how they’d repay student loans or how they’d afford that first car. Later they were given a very successful business to run and turned it into a behemoth, now worth tens of billions. But…even though they have enormous wealth – they’re not satisfied. So apparently it has become the final mission of the Koch’s and other like minded ‘super rich son’s a bircher’s’ to take ALL of it by re-engineering society to their liking – which as they perfectly understand will cause so many ordinary folks to suffer in profound hardship – needlessly. The Koch’s, Addelson and others are examples of what is so terrifying about unchecked capitalism. That being the repulsive hatred of ordinary people that inevitably follows unfathomable gains of wealth, achieved sans any sense of social responsibility. Perhaps behaving as depraved capitalists is the only way they can achieve an erection? The Koch’s deficency of moral conscience is the result of never having to consider life on the other side of unimaginable rich’s or maybe – simply refusing to. And the father that planted the seed of this character defect – that has wrought political plague to our country when so much work needs to be done to insure a meaningful future. Or maybe any kind of future. Contrast this to the presidency of JFK: who paid himself a dollar a year for the privilege of being our president and demanded it not be made known to the public while he served in office. Juxtapose two rich families with diametrically opposed philosophies for social justice. One is mindful of the privilege he has known and aware his fellow man doesn’t seek charity as much as ‘genuine and just’ opportunity. The other wallows in filthy thoughts of how to destruct our representative government to deprive our people of that same, basic opportunity to thrive or even exist in a modicum of means that allows one to have life’s simplest neccessities. Bircher’s are wealthy but few in number. They’ve been planning our demise for decades – playing for keeps. We must bring these seditionists to their knees and make them feel our justifiable anger to the point they enter the grave as reviled as Oswald.

  • holyreality

    When fascism comes it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the bible.