I’m delighted that you’re here.
If you found this website because you read something about me on another site, you probably have lots of questions. If you already know me from Facebook or Twitter, you may wonder why I post and tweet about the radical right.
I was a first-hand, in-the-room witness to the radical John Birch Society. My unique perspective connects the dots from those old radicals to today’s right-wing extremists.
My experience with the radicals started in the 1950s when I was a little girl growing up in Chicago.
At the age of six, I could name three great Americans: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and “Tail Gunner Joe.” I had no idea who that last fellow was, but I knew he was important because my dad and mother talked about him all the time.
Before long, I figured out that Joe was Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Republican firebrand from Wisconsin.
While McCarthy was searching high and low for Communists in our government, my parents were applauding. When the senator was censured by the Senate, my parents were angry. When he died, they mourned.
Eighteen months after McCarthy was buried, my parents found their political home in the John Birch Society, an anti-Communist, anti-federal government movement founded by Robert Welch in 1958. Mother and Dad had been friends with Welch for over three years. They joined the Birch society with no hesitation and spent the rest of their lives on the front lines of the Birch crusade.
“We’re taking back the country” was the Birch mantra. That meant taking back the country from Communists, Socialists, and Democrats by eliminating every government program since the turn of the 20th century.
My parents-Stillwell (Jay) and Laurene Conner-were the first two JBS members in the city of Chicago. My father became a National Council member and remained in top leadership for thirty-two years until his death in 1992. In his leadership capacity, he met and became friends with Fred Koch and other prominent members of the radical right.
Eager to please my parents, I embraced everything they embraced. When my father told me I was old enough to help save my country, I became a John Birch member myself. I was thirteen.
I was fifteen when I was one of the JBS members pictured in the Life Magazine report of May 12, 1961. My appearance in the most recognized national magazine of its time made me the focus of teasing and criticism from classmates and neighbors.
Until my late twenties, I followed the John Birch Society line on most issues. I helped with scores of Birch projects and defended my parents when they faced criticism. I even supported John Schmitz –John Birch Society national councilmember and personal friend of my father — when he ran for president in 1972 on the American Party ticket.
When I finally broke with extremism, my parents called me a traitor to my God and my country. The rift between us never healed.
Until recently, most Americans completely forgot about Birchers. After the Society named President Dwight Eisenhower as a committed Communist, the group had been drummed out of the GOP, labeled as crackpots, and pushed to the right-wing fringe. The idea that they would ever gain mainstream acceptance seemed ridiculous.
Then, in 2008, the GOP lurched to the far right. It took me only a few minutes to realize that the hate, fear, and paranoia unleashed by Sarah Palin and her followers sounded very John Birch. It was clear to me that the new GOP talking points were old John Birch ideas in a 21st century costume.
I have experience with an uncompromising right wing and I understand their radical agenda:
Slash the federal government
Shred the safety net
Kill environmental protection
End regulation of business
Restrict women’s reproductive choices
Cut taxes for the rich and corporations
End Social Security and Medicare
Demonize immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities
Restrict the right to vote
These plans were touted as the “intent of the framers of the Constitution” and the “will of God” back in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the right-wing continues to fly the “intent of the framers” and the “will of God” to justify their extreme policy prescriptions for the country.
My book, Wrapped in the Flag — named one of the Best of 2013 in Nonfiction by Kirkus Reviews and the Tampa Bay Times — goes deep into the heart of the Birch society, exposes the extreme ideas of that powerful political fringe group, and shows how they continue to impact America today. My book was mentioned as a Publishers Weekly Top 10 pick for Political Books, Spring 2013. In addition, Wrapped in the Flag received a STARRED review from Kirkus Reviews and a RECOMMENDED from the Library Journal. The Tampa Bay Times called my book “deft” and “memorable.” Numerous readers on Amazon and elsewhere praise “Wrapped in the Flag” as “unable to put down.”
2016 is a critical year in American politics. Electing one of the radical right-wingers who call themselves Republicans would give political radicals and religious extremists control of the White House.
As a first-hand, in-the-room witness to a radical right-wing movement, I am able to connect the dots from those old radicals to today’s extremists.
You can help me share my story by ordering your own copy of Wrapped in the Flag, joining me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and getting involved in political campaigns in your area.
It really is up to us to determine what kind of America we will be.