Mark Twain is reputed to have said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”. The way conservatives have dealt with today’s QAnon movement and the John Birch Society of the ’50s and ’60s would be one of those historical rhymes.
On August 25, 1945, a missionary named John Birch was killed by a member of the People’s Liberation Army, 11 days after V-J Day, because he refused to surrender his weapon and argued with the Maoist soldier.
On December 9, 1958, a radical right anti-communism group that supported limited government was founded by millionaire Robert Welch and took the name ‘John Birch Society’. This group still operates today. In the 1950s and 60s, the John Birch Society supported issues such as the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren and opposition to the civil rights movement. An early opponent of globalization, the John Birch Society opposed the United Nations as a “one-world government“.
The John Birch Society found “Communist” plots everywhere, seeing the ERA as a communist attempt “to reduce human beings to living at the same level as animals.” Along with communist plots, John Birch Society supporters hinted at a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest.
In his book, The Politician, John Birch Society founder Robert Welch wrote of President Eisenhower,
The role he has played, as described in all the pages above, would fit just as well into one theory as the other; that he is a mere stooge or that he is a Communist assigned the specific job of being a political front man.Page 278 The Politician
with his knowledge and acquiescence as the price he consciously paid for their making him President.Page 279 The Politician
In the third stage the Communists have installed in the Presidency a man who, for whatever reasons, appears intentionally to be carrying forward Communist aims … With regard to this third man, Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.Page 279 The Politician 1963 Edition
After reading this columns George Sokolsky wrote about President Eisenhower:
Obviously, the former President is not a Communist; he is a golfer: Nor can anyone say that Jack Kennedy is a Communist; he is a Roman Catholic and a member of the Communist Party must be an atheist, a believer in dialectical materialism.George Solsky
Reasonable conservative knew that they needed to further distance themselves from the John Birch Society. William F. Buckley, Jr, publisher of the conservative “National Review” wrote Mrs. A.E. Bonbrake, board member of the “National Review” at the time, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals as I do repeatedly in my new book for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself (disavow objectionable conservatives).”
Robert Welch and the John Birch Society supporters thought that anything that went badly for the United States, must have desired, intended, and orchestrated by policymakers. William Buckley felt that the flaw in Welch’s reasoning was inferring “subjective intention from objective consequences”. That is, “Birch fallacy 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.” Buckley, referring to the “mischievous unreality” of extreme politics, went on to say, “Mr. Welch, for all his good intentions, threatens to divert militant conservative action to irrelevance and ineffectuality…By the extravagance of his remarks, he repels, rather than attracts, a great following.”
Reasonable conservatives were able to discredit the extremist John Birch Society and continue to build their movement, culminating in the Reagan administration. There are some similarities between the way conservatives dealt with the John Birch Society in the 50s and 60s and how modern conservatives are dealing with today’s QAnon internet extremist phenomenon.
QAnon is an internet conspiracy theorist. QAnon believes that an evil cabal of Satan-worshipping elites runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking, and the harvesting of a life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children. The origins of QAnon stem from October 2017 posting on 4Chan by “Q.” QAnon’s followers believe that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against the cabal and their evil deep state allies. Other QAnon’s followers’ fantasies include John F Kennedy Jr being alive, Jewish control of banking, and children being sold by furniture retailer Wayfair. Some of QAnon’s favorite villains are George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Tom Hanks.
QAnon’s posts consist of questions that lead the reader to discover the truth through their own research. QAnon has made specific predictions that have not come true, but this has not deterred the QAnon community. QAnon believers just change their dystopian narratives to account for QAnon’s inconsistencies.
QAnon’s extremist propaganda is even more devastating today than the old John Birch Society nonsense because of advances in electronic social media communications. The F.B.I. has stated, “The F.B.I. assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.” The F.B.I. considers QAnon to be a domestic-terrorism threat.
Watchdog organization Media Matters compiled a list of 77 candidates for Congress who support QAnon conspiracy theories. One believer, Marjorie Taylor Greene, will probably be elected to a safe Republican seat this November. President Trump, who has his own record of extreme views and authoritarian positions, says “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate” and that QAnon consists of “people who love our country”.
Conservative writer for today’s National Review, Jonah Goldberg, says that entertainment values have seeped into politics. “This helps explain so much of the kayfabe nature of the Trump presidency”. “When we suspend disbelief,” Goldberg wrote, ” we also suspend adherence to the conventions and legalisms of the outside world. Instead, we use the more primitive parts of our brains, which understand right and wrong as questions of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”Republican Party elected officials have been hesitant to distance themselves from Trump, QAnon, and extremism.
Many conservative intellectuals, writers, and activists feel that the Republican Party has left them. Influential conservatives are now working to convince their fellow conservatives and right-leaning independents to vote for the Democratic Party in the 2020 election. After President Trump praised QAnon, columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote that the Republican Party is a “refuge for bigots and wackos”. Political activist Karl Rove said that Trump’s response to QAnon was a “Big mistake.” “This is a group of nuts and kooks and he ought to disavow them. They might like him, but they like him because they think he is fighting an incredible war against forces of evil, and it’s just ridiculous — disavow them, get done with it.” Steve Schmidt, political marketing strategist says of Republican elected officials, ”They’re delusional to dismiss it as a powerless fringe” “The Republican Get together is changing into the house to an amalgam of conspiracy theorists, fringe gamers, extremists and white nationalists that’s out within the open in a startling means.”
Writer Bill Kristol has stressed the need to put the country before party. If elected officials don’t denounce extremism, he fears it may not even be possible to save the Republican Party. “It is not clear why anyone should think that a party or movement that cannot bring itself to perform these basic tasks would be salvageable,” said Kristol. “If the great majority of Republicans and conservatives are unwilling to do these things, then the cause of freedom and democracy in the 21st century will rightly leave the Republican Party and American conservatism, unpitied and unmourned, on the ash heap of history.”
The conservative movement survived and thrived after rejecting the extremism of the John Birch Society. Conservative intellectuals, writers, and activists are distancing themselves from extreme elements on the political right. The conservative movement will survive but whither the Republican Party?
Thanks and a tip of the hat for the image of William F. Buckley jr and Ronald Reagan to https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89602403 for the image.