The Inside Story of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Crusade against the John Birch Society

While both Buckley and Welch lamented the military and diplomatic setbacks that befell the United States in the early years of the Cold War, they disagreed as to the causes. Buckley attributed policy outcomes such as the stalemate in Korea, Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, Soviet acquisition of nuclear weapons, the Communists’ victory in China’s civil war, and the success of Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in Cuba to misguided policies and lack of resolve among Western leaders. Welch considered them the result of Soviet penetration into the highest echelons of the U.S. government. In 1961, he estimated that 50 to 70 percent of the United States was “communist controlled.”

.. They had different takes on the impact Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago would have. Buckley thought it would set back the Communist cause. Welch thought it to be a piece of Soviet propaganda. Welch took it upon himself to advise Buckley that Henry Kissinger, a young Harvard academician whom Buckley had proposed be named to the board that would assess the effectiveness of Radio Free Europe, was a Communist.

.. one of the USSR’s principal agents was none other than the president of the United States. Dwight Eisenhower, he concluded, was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.” He also identified as Communists who took their orders from Moscow Eisenhower’s brother Milton, then president of Johns Hopkins University; his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles; Dulles’s brother, Allen, then director of Central Intelligence; and former secretary of state George Marshall, among others.

.. In time, Buckley would say that Welch inferred “subjective intention from objective consequences” — because things went badly for the United States, policy makers must have intended those results and worked to achieve them; because China fell to the Communists, by Welch’s lights, those heading the U.S. government must have planned that outcome.

.. The JBS founder protested he had sent the manuscript to many people and that only Buckley “completely disagreed” with its hypotheses.

.. However, Goldwater voiced identical objections. “If you were smart,” he wrote Welch, “you would burn every copy you have.”

.. Welch decreed that the John Birch Society would be autocratic in its governance. Any other organizational method, he insisted, would leave the society open to “infiltration, distortion and disruption.” He proclaimed the very word democracy a “deceptive phrase, a weapon of demagoguery, and a perennial fraud.”

.. Its members paid close attention to book acquisitions by local libraries and pressed for the banning of certain titles.

.. They organized boycotts of stores that carried goods imported from Communist countries.

.. Birchers pressed local governments to impose heavy taxes, fees, or regulations on such merchants.

.. the JBS took on, its campaign to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren drew the most attention from the mainstream media. Welch pointed to a litany of actions the Supreme Court had taken under Warren’s leadership that facilitated a Communist takeover of the United States: its striking down loyalty oaths; its extension of First Amendment protections to Communists; its ban of school prayer in public schools; its imposition of the “one man, one vote” principle in legislative apportionment; and, above all, its overturning of the “separate but equal” doctrine, which put the nation on a path to desegregation. Welch turned his disagreement with the Warren Court and its decisions into a national crusade.

.. His sister Jane Buckley Smith, who had joined National Review’s staff, patiently explained to those writing in that a jurist’s written opinions, however inflammatory, did not constitute “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment.

.. a National Review staffer suggested that Eisenhower and several of his friends were determined to make Welch pay a price for slandering the former president.

.. voiced concern that National Review might become a casualty in the upcoming crossfire. As the staffer had anticipated, once Welch’s assertions about Eisenhower began to circulate, reporters began to take an interest in the JBS’s more prominent supporters and members.

.. Buckley’s aide urged him to speak out against the JBS, lest he and National Review be harmed in an “atmosphere of smear.”

.. Neil McCaffrey and Bill Rusher urged that the magazine stay silent, fearful that a strong stand against Welch and his organization would put National Review in jeopardy.

.. Rusher, worried about losses in readers and revenues, recommended founding a grassroots conservative organization that would act as a counterweight to what Welch was attempting through the JBS.

.. While he disapproved of Welch and his antics, Goldwater was hesitant to denounce the JBS. He did his presidential prospects no favors when he called its members the “type of people we need in politics” and proclaimed the Birchers were some of the “finest people” in his community.

.. One of the challenges he faced was keeping John Birchers from infiltrating Goldwater’s campaign.

.. Buckley never tired of quoting Kirk’s response when the subject turned to Welch’s attack upon Eisenhower: “Eisenhower is not a communist; he is a golfer.”

.. Buckley criticized Welch for failing to distinguish between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectual anti-Communist Liberal.”

.. Of Welch’s refusal to allow dissent within his organization, Buckley wrote, “He anathematizes all who disagree with him.”

.. Mail protesting the editorial was so voluminous that Buckley responded by form letter. “I have letters from some . . . which are the quintessence of intolerance, of a crudeness of spirit, of misanthropy,”

.. In the first of these columns, Buckley listed the society’s take on ten policy matters, all culled from a single issue of American Opinion. Each of the magazine’s positions took as its premise Communist control of a federal agency or branch of government. He inquired how the society’s membership could tolerate “such paranoid and unpatriotic drivel.”

.. Another urged him to ask Congress to take testimony from one Colonel Goliewski, who would prove that Eisenhower was a Communist. One of his favorites of the mail he received was a piece of paper with a single word written on it in magic marker: “Judas.”

How William F. Buckley Became the Gatekeeper of the Conservative Movement

The founder of National Review’s crusade against the John Birch Society helped define American conservatism.

In the 1950s, William F. Buckley, perhaps unintentionally, fired the opening salvo in what would become a major battle between him and Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.

In the 1950s, William F. Buckley, perhaps unintentionally, fired the opening salvo in what would become a major battle between him and Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.

He was also impressed by how CIA operatives, after the book had been published in the West, with the help of a member of the Italian Communist Party, managed to print the novel in its original language, smuggled it back into the USSR, and disseminated it throughout the country. Buckley considered this action among the CIA’s major ideological victories during the Cold War.

.. in 1961, Kennedy spoke of “discordant voices of extremism.” He said the real danger to the nation came from extremist elements within rather than from foreign powers without. The President was referring to the John Birch Society

.. “Because [John Birch Society founder] Robert Welch has written that Eisenhower was a communist, it is insinuated by the political opportunists that all who dare raise their voice in protest against the foreign policies of the President are the kind of people who think that poor old Ike is a commie.”

.. After having barely defeated Nixon in 1960, Kennedy had lost considerable support in the South because of the stand he had taken on civil rights. As Reston noted, JFK needed to offset this loss by maximizing his support from other segments of the electorate.

.. All could be targets of opportunity for the Democrats if they could cast the GOP as having been taken over by fanatics

.. On his retirement as editor of National Review in 1990, Buckley cited among his own greatest achievements “the absolute exclusion of anything anti-Semitic or kooky from the conservative movement.”