Claire was in eighth grade when her parents dove into the world of paranoid politics, a world dominated by the John Birch Society (JBS), the new anti-Communist, anti-federal government movement founded by Robert Welch in 1958.
“We’re taking back the country” was the seductive Birch mantra that turned Claire’s parents into lifelong crusaders and ultimately drove a wedge between Claire and her parents.
Stillwell (Jay) and Laurene Conner were the first two JBS members in the entire city of Chicago. Her father became a National Council member and remained in top leadership for thirty-two years until his death in 1992. When her mother died in 2007, she’d been a JBS member for 49 years.
Eager to gain the approval of her difficult parents, Claire embraced everything they embraced. When her father told her she was old enough to join the fight, she became a John Birch member herself. She was fifteen years old, Claire was one of the JBS members pictured in the Life Magazine report of May 12, 1961. Her appearance in a national magazine made her the focus of personal attacks by neighbors and classmates.
As she matured, Claire began to question the core JBS values. Claire broke with her parents over the Civil Rights Movement, which the JBS vehemently opposed. She disagreed with the JBS position that all safety net programs were unconstitutional and had to be eliminated. When Claire finally disavowed her parents; political extremism entirely, it created a rift that never healed.
When Claire recognized the old radical JBS ideas being spouted as solutions to our contemporary challenges, she knew she had to tell her story.
Her book, Wrapped in the Flag (named one of the Best of 2013 in Nonfiction by Kirkus Reviews) goes deep into the heart of the JBS, exposes the extreme ideas of that powerful political fringe group, and shows how they continue to impact America today.
Moving seamlessly between memoir and history, humor and pain, past and present, Wrapped in the Flag serves up keen insight into the impact of extremism on one woman, her family and, if unchecked, on our country.
Wrapped in the Flag is the culmination of five years of research and writing, but Claire’s preparation began long before she wrote a word. In 1967, she earned a degree in English (with honors) from the University of Dallas, Irving TX. Twenty years later, she completed her Master’s degree in Teaching English from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.
In 1988, Claire was named Student Teacher of the Year by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English. She taught English to seventh and eighth graders at the Marshfield Junior High School in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
For over ten years, Claire was the leader of the Marshfield chapter of Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life, now Wisconsin Right to Life. She spoke extensively to students in area high schools, to church and parent groups. Her rejection of the no-exceptions approach to women’s reproductive issues marked a major milestone in her personal and political evolution.
Claire Conner is the mother of four children and the grandmother of three darling girls. She lives in Dunedin, Florida with her husband, Bob, and their little doxie, Conner.
Claire speaks widely on the JBS and the dangers of the radical right. Her riveting presentations expose the plans of rich anti-government libertarians, religious zealots, and old John Birchers to take America back . . . back 100 years.
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