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A lot of folks try to tell me that the John Birch Society is irrelevant: their ideas are dead and they have no real influence today. But, here are the facts, folks. The radical right (which is running the House of Representatives) has embraced so many John Birch policies that I can hardly keep count. The newest one--slashing food stamps--harkens back to the views of Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.  

Welch, who wrote extensively about American history (his version of it), heralded the turn of the 20th century (1900s) as the golden days of the US. He was, of course, delighted that in those great years, the US had not been poisoned by the abominations of the New Deal. Businesses could do as they pleased without those pesky labor unions or minimum wage laws. No one had ever heard of pollution, women's rights or civil rights. And, best of all, the government was tiny and no one paid much tax.  

Listen to Welch's description of the first decade of the 1900s. "The spirit of growth, of adventure, and of opportunity permeated the very atmosphere which everybody breathed."

"There was still plenty of poverty in many areas, of course. But it was a HEALTHY KIND OF POVERTY, where every man took for granted that relief from dire want was entirely his own problem and responsibility. . .. And even the poverty was thus offset by the enormous blessing of freedom."

If you changed a few rhetorical  flourishes, Robert Welch could be opining from a seat in the House of Representatives. No doubt, he'd find loyal allies in Paul Ryan, Steve Stockman, Mike Mulvaney, Louie Gohmert, Tim Huelskamp, Frank Lucas, Michele Bachmann and a host of other right-wing extremists.

Today's GOPers are hell-bent on returning us to those glorious days when healthy poverty was everywhere and the government had no authority to do anything.

Don't tell me that John Birch ideas have gone the way of the buggy whip. They are alive, well and flourishing.

How do I know these things?

I was twelve years old when my parents dove into the world of paranoid politics, a world dominated by the John Birch Society, an anti-Communist, anti-federal government movement.

My parents were the first two Birch members in the city of Chicago. My father, Stillwell J. Conner, became a National Council member and remained in top leadership for thirty-two years.  My mother was a partner in all things Birch.

At first, eager to gain the approval of my parents, I embraced everything they embraced.  As I matured, however, I began to disagree.  At first, it was just a whisper here and a tiny “no” there, but every little rebellion made me stronger.
The final break caused tremendous upheaval, leaving a rift that never healed.

“Extremism broke my family, I don’t want it to break my country.”

In my new book WRAPPED IN THE FLAG, I introduce readers to the extreme ideas of a powerful political fringe group dispensing radical solutions to America’s problems. My book moves between memoir and history, humor and pain, past and present. I'll show you what extremism did to me and my family. You'll understand what unchecked extremism could do to our country.  

On a personal note, I hold a degree in English with honors from the University of Dallas and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. I live in Dunedin, Florida and speak widely on the John Birch Society and the impact of the radical Right.  

Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right launches on July 2nd from Beacon Press. It will be available in hardcover, ebook and Audible book. You can pre-order right now at on-line booksellers or reserve a copy from your local bookseller. You'll find more about me, my book and my upcoming events on my website.
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