The Return of the John Birch Society

Thanks to the promotional efforts of people like Glenn Beck and Ron Paul, some long-discredited extremist groups are making a comeback — perhaps chief among them, the John Birch Society: Holding Firm Against Plots by Evildoers.

For some, that name means nothing. … Yet for others, the John Birch Society is urgently relevant to the matters of today, in its support of secure borders and limited government, its distrust of the Federal Reserve and the United Nations, and its belief in a conspiracy to merge Mexico, Canada and the United States.

This so-called North American Union, it asserts, is part of a larger plot by an amorphous, amoral group of powerful elite — including but not limited to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Rockefellers — to take over planet Earth. Call it the New World Order.

Some of these theories may sound like cable television chatter, or the synopsis of a Dan Brown bestseller. But Birch leaders say this plot is real, with roots going back more than 200 years to a secret, insidious brotherhood called the Illuminati, and with most American presidents among its many dupes and abettors.

“We’ve always referred to it as a Satanic conspiracy,” said Arthur Thompson, the society’s chief executive, sitting beside an American flag.

The society, which was established in 1958, says its membership has doubled in recent years, thanks to rising interest in these beliefs and, lately, to the policies of the Obama administration. But it will not provide firm numbers, other than to say it has tens of thousands of members.

“We don’t want to let our enemies know our strengths or our weaknesses,” Mr. Thompson explained. …

The society is familiar with strange twists. In late 2005, for example, Mr. Thompson became chief executive after staging a coup with the help of John McManus, the society’s most prominent member, its longtime president and an ultraconservative Roman Catholic. This prompted some ousted Birchers to disseminate recorded snippets of Mr. McManus lecturing to Catholic groups that Judaism became a dead and deadly religion after the establishment of the Catholic Church.

Mr. McManus is also heard to say that militant Jews have influenced the Freemasons, who are “Satan’s agents,” “the enemies of Christ Church” — and, in the view of the John Birch Society, part of the Illuminati conspiracy to cause world upheaval.

Mr. Thompson said that he was initially outraged by these comments, but that he now understands they were made in the context of Mr. McManus’s belief in Catholicism as the one true faith. He said the John Birch Society has Jewish and black members and has never tolerated anti-Semitism or racism, notwithstanding its notorious opposition to much of the civil rights movement.

In the last month, I’ve heard advertisements on right wing radio in Los Angeles for an event featuring the John Birch Society. And they’re just one of the groups finding fertile soil for their propaganda at “tea party” demonstrations, as the article notes:

The men and women of the society have helped to get resolutions opposed to the North American Union introduced, and occasionally passed, in state legislatures. It recently participated in many of the “tea parties” held this spring to protest government growth and spending. And, of course, every day it fights the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, the elite group of insiders — evil.

It must be hard to relax. But Mr. Thompson said he draws strength from his faith, listens to music and finds other diversions. “Otherwise,” he said, “it would drive you crazy.”

And as we noted earlier this month, the John Birch Society also pushes creationism.

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