Make no mistake.
Donald Trump would like to be America’s dictator. Based on primary election results, a majority of the Republican party is okay with it. As of today, the GOP establishment, Evangelical Christians, Tea Party types, anti-government groups, and rank-and-file Republicans are falling in line with Trump. If you ever thought the GOP was conservative, it’s time to stop. The GOP in 2016 is the radical right-wing party.
While Trump spews unending hate against anyone who questions his fitness for the presidency, his spokespeople and the GOP pundits make every excuse for his policies and behaviors. It’s all about projecting power so he can make America great. He’ll be a great president, they say. He’ll enforce his will on our allies and our enemies. He’ll be presidential. What they don’t want to admit is this: they are supporting the man who would be dictator.
I learned, as a child, that radicals love dictators. My parents taught me with their devotion to their favorite dictator: General Franciso Franco–the fascist dictator of Spain. They made every excuse for his reign of terror. After all, he was the Catholic general who’d beaten back Communism and restored the true church. General Franco made Spain great again.
In 1958, my parents made their first trip to Spain where they took in the marvel that was Franco’s Spain. For weeks they traveled the country and everything was — in their minds — marvelous. The evening they came home, we all gathered in the dining room for our first family dinner in two months. At the time, my older brother was 13, I was 12, my younger sister was 9, my little brother was 5. The baby was only 3 months old. She was fortunate to sleep through this dinner.
Join me at the dinner table as my mother takes us inside Franco’s Spain.
Mother blotted her mouth and set the napkin aside. She pushed her chair out from the table, crossed her right leg, tapped a Viceroy from the pack and lit it. She inhaled deeply and exhaled smoke from both nose and mouth.
“Children, I have a story to tell you about Spain and patriotism,” she started. “It was marvelous to see our holy faith flourishing. In every village, the church is the center of life. Children flock to daily Mass with their parents.The Rosary is prayed, and devotion to Our Lady is strong.”
“This grand Catholicism flows from Spain’s leader, General Franco. Because of him, Spain shines as a monument to faith and freedom,” Mother explained.“Twenty years ago, the Spanish were fighting a great civil war against the Communists, who wanted to make Spain into Russia. Franco led the fight to save his country.”
My father explained who was who in 1930s Spain. “The good men, under Franco, were the Nationalists,” Dad told us. “The bad guys, the Communists, were the Republicans. Commies and left-wingers from all over the world flocked to Spain to help the Republicans. Even Commies from the U.S. got in on the act. Ultimately, Franco won, but at the time of your Mother’s story, no one knew who would win.”
Mother continued, “In Toledo, a town south of Madrid, there were terrible battles. The Republicans attacked the Alcazar (held by Franco’s forces) over and over; they committed atrocities too terrible to mention. In the face of this, however, the Nationalist general refused to surrender. Instead, he used skill and prayer to best the enemy. Then, during one ferocious battle, the Communists captured the general’s thirteen-year-old son and imprisoned him in a secret location.
” ‘ Release your prisoners by nightfall or you’ll never see your son alive,’ the Communists said. The brave general refused.
“In a last desperate attempt to get what they wanted, the boy was put on the phone to talk to his father. The general had a message for his son: ‘Say your prayers, my son, and die like a True Spaniard.’ The general hung up the phone.
A Communist put his gun to the boy’s head and pulled the trigger.
Mother raised her napkin to wipe her wet eyes, and looked at me. “That’s real sacrifice,” she said. “True devotion to duty.”
“Did the boy die?” I asked.
“Yes, Claire, the boy died. I don’t know the other details, but I do know the young man was an obedient son and he died for his country.”
Years later, when I studied about Spain, I came to realize that my mother and father were blind to the fascist leanings of the Franco regime because the general was a staunch anti-Communist and a strict Roman Catholic. They paid no attention to his ruthless suppression of dissent and his destruction of the Spanish economy.
For my parents, a Roman Catholic, anti-Communist dictator, no matter how brutal, was always one of the good guys.
* * *
Later that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I stared at the ceiling above my bed and I thought about that poor boy, all alone in a cold prison cell. He must have cried for his mother. He must have prayed for his father to rescue him. I could“see” a snarling man push a pistol to the boy’s head. I heard the trigger cock just before . . . blackness.
I finally fell into a restless sleep swirling with guns, shots, and screams.
Suddenly, I heard my father’s voice: “Claire, say your prayers and die like a true American.”
I sat up in bed, shaking and crying, “Please come for me, please.”
Something happened to me after that night. I had frequent headaches and stomachaches. A rash appeared on my neck, arms, and legs. It itched so much that I scratched until my arms bled. The doctor prescribed creams and ointments, but nothing seemed to stop the onslaught.
Bad dreams disrupted my sleep. Sometimes it was the Spanish nightmare. Sometimes it was some other ghoulish imagining. When I woke up frightened and shaking, it was hard to get back to sleep.
I didn’t connect all of this with my parents. But I did realize that Mother and Dad had returned from Europe with a heightened fear of the Communists. It was easy to assume that the culprit in all of this was Uncle Harry, but as I became more aware of my parents’ connections with Robert Welch, I was less willing to heap all the blame on the Captain.
I do know this: Before I’d turned thirteen, I was terrified of the Reds. I was positive that they had already identified my parents and singled them out for execution. After Mother and Dad were dead, I knew that one of the Commies would put a pistol to my head and pull the trigger.
Facts about this story and General Franco
- This story was told by both sides in the Civil War. No one actually knows if it happened or if the father was a Nationalist (Franco’s army) or a Republican.
- The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) left 500,000 dead.
- Another 200,000 – 400,00 prisoners died in the concentration camps and work camps Franco built.
- At least 50,000 people were executed when Franco took power and purged his opponents.
- Under Franco (1939-1975), Catholicism became the state religion. To hold office, a man’s religious practice had to be proven.
- Women were not allowed to hold any offices. Their place was at home. Single women had a particularly difficult time during the Franco years.
- Franco merged the monarchist and fascist parties in Spain to form his Falange party.
- After the civil war ended (1939), Franco made himself dictator under the title “El Caudillo,” the Leader.
- Franco held enormous political rallies where the people were encouraged to shout “Franco, Franco, Franco.
- Spain had ties to Nazi Germany but did not fight during World War II. Instead, Spain gave military and industrial support to the Axis powers.
- Historians differ on the question of Franco being a pure Fascist. He did have close connections with Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. Franco himself described Spain as a totalitarian dictatorship.
Kirkus Reviews May 1, 2013 "Prompted by the rise of the modern-day tea party, Conner writes of her experiences as the child of leaders in the radical right-wing John Birch Society. “My parents are back.” That was the author’s response to the rise of the tea party after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In this memoir/history, she opens new insights into the conservative political movement, … Read more...
April 13, 2013 I know what extremism looks like," declares Conner in the preface to her memoir. Her parents were leaders of the ultraconservative John Birch Society (JBS). From early adolescence, she was expected to be part of her parents' JBS activities, doing everything from serving refreshments at recruitment meetings to writing letters to political figures. As Conner grew up, however, the … Read more...
April 14, 2013 Conner’s memoir of being raised in a family whose political beliefs were shaped by the radical right-wing John Birch Society is an affecting portrait of late-20th-century America on the fringe. The eldest daughter of Stillwell “Jay” Conner, a national spokesman for the John Birch Society, Claire grew up in Chicago in a house of harsh discipline and even harsher political … Read more...
Review: Growing up on the right wing Colette Bancroft, Times Book Editor After Barry Goldwater's crushing defeat in the 1964 presidential election, college student Claire Conner said to a friend who proclaimed it would be "a cold day in hell" before another conservative was nominated, "'The whole right wing is kaput. My parents and the Birchers just became ancient history.' "Good … Read more...
Growing Up Right Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right By Claire Conner Boston: Beacon Press, 2013, 264 pp., $29.95, hardcover Reviewed by Kathleen Blee In Wrapped in the Flag, Claire Conner recounts the pain of growing up in a household in which “all reason went out the window,” as her parents slid further into the John Birch Society (JBS). … Read more...
Review of Wrapped in the Flag written for the Hampshire Daily Gazette by John Sheirer, author and political blogger August 10, 2013 Where did these people come from? Back in 2009, a friend saw a tea party rally on Fox News and asked me, “Where did these crazy people come from, the John Birch Society?” She was joking, but like all the best jokes, this one was grounded in reality. Wrapped in … Read more...
What separates Wrapped In The Flag from other critiques of the far right is my personal connection to the John Birch Society, which paved the way for the Tea Party. In my book, I open up about growing up in an ultra-conservative household and the beliefs that drive the radical right. This excerpt is reprinted here with the permission of Beacon Press. I Know What Extremism … Read more...
. . . Five Minutes Later, He Was Dead From my book, Wrapped in the Flag, © 2013. With permission from Beacon Press. Texas Nice At 11 a.m. on Friday, November 22, 1963, I stood in the crowd on Main Street. The early morning rain had stopped and it was nearly seventy degrees. For a Chicago girl used to bundling up in November, that morning in Dallas was glorious. I stripped off my light jacket … Read more...
My parents had gotten their views about African Americans and the civil rights movement from Robert Welch, an old Southern boy [and co-founder of the John Birch Society]. He’d always thought the Negroes had it good in the United States, a view he explained in a pamphlet published in the early 1960s, Two Revolutions at Once. In it, Welch claimed that “educational opportunities [for Negroes] have … Read more...
My parents had barely unpacked from their trip to Spain when they announced a new rule To my surprise, my parents had barely unpacked when they announced a new house rule: my brother and I were instructed to bring our schoolbooks home every day. “We want to know what you’re being taught,” Mother explained. “What do I tell Sister?” I asked. “We are only allowed to take workbooks out of the … Read more . . .
Let me introduce you to the Koch Brothers and their father, Fred, infamous John Birch Society founding member. This video is an outtake from my interview with Jen Senko, documentary filmmaker. Her new film, "The Brainwashing of My Dad" premieres on March 18, 2016. It is impossible to understand where the radical right got its mojo without knowing the Kochs. David and Charles are the architects of … Read more...
I've spent a lot of time connecting the dots between old right-wing radicals, particularly John Birch Society radicals and today's new radicals in the Republican party. At first, I felt like I was the only one who realized that the GOP absorbed so much Birch thought that they had become nearly identical twins. The GOP doesn't like the comparison. The older establishment Republican types remember … Read more...
Let me introduce you to the Koch Brothers and their father, Fred, infamous John Birch Society founding member. This video is an outtake from my interview with Jen Senko, documentary filmmaker. Her new film, "The Brainwashing of My Dad" premieres on March 18, 2016. It is impossible to understand where the radical right got its mojo without knowing the Kochs. David and Charles are the architects of … More...
Intelligence Report, Spring 2013, Issue Number: 149 Bringing Back Birch by Don Terry SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a hotel near the outer limits of California’s capital, just down the hall from the pain management conference and the baseball card show, three banquet tables along the back wall of the Cherrywood Room are covered with dozens of … Read more...
Growing Up in the John Birch Society A new memoir exposes the trauma of growing up in an extreme-right-wing family—and the way those traumas were visited, politically, on the rest of us. By Rick Perlstein August 6, 2013 Old Enough to Save the Country Claire Conner was about 13 years old when her parents handed her a John Birch Society membership … Read more...
. . . and Its Relevance Today By Rachel Tabachnick, on January 21, 2014 Rachel Tabachnick is a PRA research fellow and member of the Public Eye editorial board. She researches the impact of the Religious Right on policy and politics in education, economics, the environment, and foreign policy. The John Birch Society, Libertarians, and Nullification Founded in 1958, the John Birch … Read more...
by Robyn E. Blumner, Columnist/Editorial Writer If you've ever wondered what happened to the John Birch Society, author Claire Conner of Dunedin can tell you. The radical right-wing group that was briefly a player in national conservative politics in the 1960s is back, under a different name: tea party. She should know. Conner's new memoir Wrapped in the Flag: A … Read more...
Make no mistake. Donald Trump would like to be America's dictator. Based on primary election results, a majority of the Republican party is okay with it. As of today, the GOP establishment, Evangelical Christians, Tea Party types, anti-government groups, and rank-and-file Republicans are falling in line with Trump. If you ever thought the GOP was conservative, it's time to stop. The GOP in 2016 … Read more ...