Birchers: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right

Basic. Mar. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9781541673564. $32. POL SCI
In this crisp history of the John Birch Society (JBS), Dallek (political management, George Washington Univ.; Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security) details its influence on the radicalization of the modern Republican party. Named after a Christian missionary killed by communists in China, the JBS was founded in 1958 by retired candy executive Robert H.W. Welch and other anti–New Deal business owners. From its inception, the group gained notoriety for being racist, antisemitic, and supportive of conspiracy theories. Its members were also known for harassing politicians and officials they considered weak on communism. Dallek argues that in the 1970s, JBS’s influence on the Republican party became more visible. Televangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell began pushing ideas similar to the group’s conspiracy theories, while David and Charles Koch, sons of JBS founding member Fred Koch, used their wealth to support like-minded politicians and fund think tanks. The author argues that JBS laid the groundwork for contemporary right-wing and anti-democratic extremism in the United States, such as Donald Trump’s COVID denialism, attacks on immigrants, and Congress’s Freedom Caucus.
VERDICT Based on extensive archival research, this timely account of the John Birch Society is essential for readers interested in U.S. political history and far-right extremism.
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