The John Birch Society was one of the more visibily radical, small-government fringe groups in America during the 1960s. Robert Welch, a retired candy manufacturer, introduced his philosophy at an Indianapolis meeting on December 9, 1958, to twelve “patriotic and public-spirited” men. The first Birch chapter was founded in February 1959. The core thesis of the JBS was a rant that Communists had insinuated themselves throughout the federal government. This was published in The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, which was given to each new member. According to Welch, both the U.S. and Soviet governments were (are) controlled by the same conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians.
Paranoia reigned, especially in print, as Birchers believed that traitors inside the U.S. government would betray America by folding it into the dreaded United Nations “for a collectivist new world order managed by a one-world socialist government.” The Birch Society also opposed the New Deal, and believed in business nationalism.
By the early 1960s, the JBS had grown to a membership of nearly 100,000. Among other traitors, the organization implicated President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren of being crypto-Communists. They had no love for JFK either. After the self-appointed Red slayer, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was rebuked during the mid-1950s, America’s radical anti-Communists were marginalized but not squelched. So satires of Birchers were frequent. The Chad Mitchell Trio issued this The John Birch Society Song, and Bob Dylan’s Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues here.
Well, I was feelin’ sad and kind of blueI didn’t know what I was gonna doThe Communists were comin’ aroundThey was in the air, they were on the groundThey were all overSo I ran down most hurriedlyAnd joined the John Birch SocietyI got me a secret membership cardWent back to my backyard And started looking on the sidewalk‘Neath the rose bushWell, I was lookin’ everywhere for them gold darned RedsI got up in the mornin’ and looked under my bedLooked behind the kitchen, behind the doorEven tore loose the kitchen floor, couldn’t find anyI looked beneath the sofa, beneath the chairLooking for them Reds everywhereI looked way up my chimney holeEven looked deep inside my toilet bowlThey got awayI heard some footsteps by the front porch doorSo I grabbed my shotgun from the floorI snuck around the house with a huff and hiss and“Hands up, you Communist” it was a mail manHe punched me out
The John Birch Society remains active today, and its members still seek “to expose a semi-secret international cabal whose members sit in the highest places of influence and power worldwide.”
For more Steven Heller, see Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.