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187 Afterword The John Birch Society did not disappear after 1968. It survived the presidency of Richard Milhous Nixon and continued to offer its conspiratorial assessments throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and indeed on into the twenty-first, even undergoing a revival of sorts with the rise of the Tea Party in the United States in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2007–2008 and the election of Barack Obama. It continued when Robert Welch eventually relinquished his leadership of the organization in 1983—he was replaced by the Georgia congressman Larry McDonald, who was killed shortly thereafter, shot down, along with 269 others, by a Soviet fighter plane, while traveling onboard Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which set in motion a whole slew of new conspiracy theories within the Society.1 (McDonald was “the only U.S. Congressman lost to the communists during the Cold War,” notes the Society’s website.)2 It continued after Welch’s death on January 6, 1985, aged eighty-five—his last public appearance had been at the Society’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1983.3 And it continued after its 1989 move to Appleton, Wisconsin, the hometown and final resting place of Senator McCarthy. Looking back at the first decade of the Society’s existence during its tenth anniversary dinner in Indianapolis, the place where it had all begun—for a supposedly “secret organization,” it was “quite a sizable dinner,” Welch quipped— the Founder clearly had some meaningful and substantive achievements he could point to as a reward for his ten years of work. The Society had grown from twelve men in a room to a network of four thousand chapters spread out across the length and breadth of the country, for example. It had opened over four hundred American Opinion libraries, established its own book-publishing division—Western Islands, the name a homage to Keats’s sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”—and founded a new weekly, the Review of the News, to accompany its monthly magazine, American Opinion (together they had a circulation of fifty thousand). It had a weekly radio program, Are You Listening, Uncle Sam?, which was heard on more than one hundred stations across the United States, and its speakers bureau was, according to Welch at least, “almost certainly the largest in the world.” It had demonstrated the ability to effectively organize “fronts”—or “ad hoc committees,” as they had been rechristened—such as the Committee Against Summit Entanglements (CASE), the Movement to Impeach Earl Warren, the Truth About Civil Turmoil committee (TACT), the committee To Restore American Independence Now 188   The World of the John Birch Society (TRAIN), and Support Your Local Police committees. And it had certainly harnessed the “great energy and enthusiasm” of its members for various petitions, protests, and letter-writing campaigns.4 Yet for all the Society’s considerable endeavors, to employ one of its own favorite metaphors: what, really, was the “score” in 1968? Earl Warren was still the chief justice of the United States. Barry Goldwater had not been elected president. General Walker had been marginalized, the civil rights and voting rights bills had both become law, Fidel Castro was still in power, no victory had been secured in Vietnam, and the Cold War showed no signs of abating. Nor, more parochially, had the Society come anywhere near to reaching its goal of recruiting a million members, which it had set for itself back in 1958. At a press conference on December 7, 1968, Welch explained that because of the distinctive qualities and selfless dedication of those who had become Birchers— people who devoted “half their lives” to the Society—the organization no longer needed such numbers; its new goal, he said, was four hundred thousand, but even this seemed overly optimistic given that current membership was estimated to be somewhere between sixty thousand and seventy thousand.5 Welch believed, though, that the Society had “played quite a role in preventing a more rapid Communist advance” in the United States. It had made “hundreds of thousands of patriotic Americans aware of the differences between a republic and a democracy,” made “millions” aware of “the Communist plans and hands behind the so-called ‘civil rights’ movement,” and of the “background, purposes, methods, and menace of the whole international Conspiracy.” Just keeping going in the face of the “infinitely varied and unbelievably extensive efforts to destroy us” and having “tens of thousands of Conservative individualists working together...


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