Thursday, August 25, 2016

When William F. Buckley Plotted to Takedown the John Birch Society

I came across this report recently by CIA-operative and Skull & Bonesman, William F. Buckley where, just before his death, he detailed the plot he was involved in to take down the John Birch Society.

He wrote up a play-by-play of the plot, which was published in Commentary posthumously in March 2008:
In the early months of l962, there was restiveness in certain political quarters of the Right. The concern was primarily the growing strength of the Soviet Union, and the reiteration by its leaders of their designs on the free world. Some of the actors keenly concerned felt that Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was a natural leader in the days ahead.

But it seemed inconceivable that an anti-establishment gadfly like Goldwater could be nominated as the spokesman-head of a political party. And it was embarrassing that the only political organization in town that dared suggest this radical proposal—the GOP’s nominating Goldwater for President—was the John Birch Society.

The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man, who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in America could have conceived. His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled...

The society became a national cause célèbre—so much so, that a few of those anxious to universalize a draft-Goldwater movement aiming at a nomination for President in 1964 thought it best to do a little conspiratorial organizing of their own against it...

In January of that year I had a telephone call from
William Baroody. It was, he said, a matter of great national importance that I spend Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week with Senator Goldwater in Palm Beach, Florida. I would be one of three—along with Russell Kirk, the philosopher and author of the seminal 1953 text The Conservative Mind, and public-relations man Jay Hall, who had represented General Motors in Washington...

Goldwater was in Palm Beach visiting, incognito, with a sister-in-law who was resident there..

What followed was an hour of general discussion on the policies of President Kennedy and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Baroody noted Kennedy’s surprising drop in the polls: 61 percent of the public thought he spent money too freely, a third thought him unduly weak in opposing Soviet challenges in Berlin and elsewhere.

Moving on, Baroody brought up the John Birch Society. It was quickly obvious that this was the subject Goldwater wished counsel on.

Kirk, unimpeded by his little professorial stutter, greeted the subject with fervor. It was his opinion, he said emphatically, that Robert Welch was a man disconnected from reality. How could anyone reason, as Welch had done in The Politician, that President Eisenhower had been a secret agent of the Communists? This mischievous unreality was a great weight on the back of responsible conservative political thinking. The John Birch Society should be renounced by Goldwater and by everyone else—Kirk turned his eyes on me—with any influence on the conservative movement.

But that, Goldwater said, is the problem. Consider this, he exaggerated: “Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society. Russell, I’m not talking about Commie-haunted apple pickers or cactus drunks, I’m talking about the highest cast of men of affairs...

Kirk said he could not imagine Bozell disagreeing on the need to excommunicate the John Birch Society from the conservative movement.

But this brought another groan from Goldwater. “You just can’t do that kind of thing in Arizona. For instance, who on earth can dismiss Frank Brophy from anything?”


Time was given to the John Birch Society lasting through lunch, and the subject came up again the next morning. We resolved that conservative leaders should do something about the John Birch Society. An allocation of responsibilities crystallized.

Goldwater would seek out an opportunity to dissociate himself from the “findings” of the Society’s leader, without, however, casting any aspersions on the Society itself. I, in National Review and in my other writing, would continue to expose Welch and his thinking to scorn and derision. “You know how to do that,” said Jay Hall.

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

“How would you define the Birch fallacy?” Jay Hall asked.

“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”

“I like that,” Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”...


In the next issue of my magazine, National Review, I published a 5,000-word excoriation of Welch:

How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points . . . so far removed from common sense? That dilemma weighs on conservatives across America. . . . The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false, and, besides that, crucially different in practical emphasis from their own.

In response, National Review received the explicit endorsement of Senator Goldwater himself, who wrote a letter we published in the following issue:

I think you have clearly stated the problem which Mr. Welch’s continued leadership of the John Birch Society poses for sincere conservatives. . . . Mr. Welch is only one man, and I do not believe his views, far removed from reality and common sense as they are, represent the feelings of most members of the John Birch Society. . . . Because of this, I believe the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anti-Communism in the United States would be to resign. . . . We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.
The wound we Palm Beach plotters delivered to the John Birch Society proved fatal over time. Barry Goldwater did not win the presidency, but he clarified the proper place of anti-Communism on the Right, with bright prospects to follow.


  1. I once worked for the JBS, but I am no longer a supporter for several reasons - including issues both personal and ideological. But Robert Welch was a great man and Buckley was a creep. Answering the claim that Welch called Eisenhower a communist, the JBS says,

    "Fact: Originally detailing some of Pres. Eisenhower's history in a 1954 letter sent privately to a few friends, Mr. Welch's research grew over several years into a full-length book entitled The Politician (1963). Once the book was published, its very existence was ignored while critics continued to dwell on only one of several possible conclusions offered by Mr. Welch.The book provides 300 pages and 150 pages of footnotes and documentation, including covering one of Mr. Eisenhower's most immoral and despicable acts of authorizing "Operation Keelhaul"; which used American soldiers to repatriate anti-communist Poles to their certain death or torture. Read the book for yourself and discover what Mr. Welch did say and learn the role played by Mr. Eisenhower over his many years as one of our nation's military and political leaders."

    Regarding Buckley booting the JBS out of the conservative movement:

    "Fact: In the mid-1950s on more than one occasion, John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch financially helped an up-and-coming conservative leader, and recommended that others do the same, so this rising young star could get his new magazine off the ground. That newcomer was William F. Buckley and his magazine was National Review. A few short years later, Mr. Buckley attacked Robert Welch in a lengthy article in his magazine. Over the past several decades, Buckley carried out a campaign of attacking or disparaging Welch and the Society. On numerous occasions, he boasted to friends that he intended to destroy The John Birch Society. He didn't succeed. Read more in John McManus' book, William F. Buckley: Pied Piper for the Establishment."

  2. I both appreciate this write-up and Mr. Spock's further comments. Thank you both for the wonderful insights.

  3. "The Politician" is excellent. Kinda like "The Real Lincoln" by DiLorenzo, only written by an insider in real time. So is "The Actor" about John Foster Dulles by Alan Stang, "Invisible Government" by Dan Smoot, and anything by GE Griffin. All JBS guys, I think. They, along with McCarthy, were right about the creeping collectivism in the US gov't post WWII but just couldn't access enough everyday Americans to stem the tide.