I am a right-wing survivor. Thanks to my radical parents, I became a first-hand, in-the-room witness to the fear, paranoia, and hate unleashed by the radical John Birch Society. Over years, this perspective helped me connect the dots from the radicals I knew in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, to today’s right-wing extremists.
In 1959, my parents found their lifelong crusade inside the Birch Society, one of the most radical, anti-government organizations in US history. My parents were the first two members in Chicago and my father served in national leadership of the society for over thirty years. Our home in Chicago was “Birch Central,” giving me the opportunity to see and hear the plans of the Society’s leaders first hand.
“Taking our country back” was the Birch mantra that turned my father and my mother into lifelong crusaders. When the Birch Society labeled President Dwight Eisenhower a Communist agent, the accusation sparked a national scandal. Despite the media storm, my parents remained staunch Birchers for the rest of their lives.
At age 13, I became a member of the society and at age 15 I was part of a LIFE magazine photo of Birchers; a photo that has become an iconic image of right-wing extremists.
For years, I embraced my parents’ views, helped with scores of right-wing projects, and defended my parents and the John Birch Society. Gradually, I came to doubt the Birch ideology. When I finally repudiated the society and its radical beliefs, my parents called me a traitor to God and country. The rift between us never healed.
As a child, I learned, often with a harsh scolding and slaps, that my parents would never respond to anything I “felt.” They demanded that I had to “know things.” Because of that constant requirement, I studied the history of the United States and our evolution into the inclusive democracy we’d become. I hoped that my knowledge would change my mother and father. I was wrong. I never convinced my parents of anything, but I did discover the details of government and policy interested me.
I realized that political ideas can turn into laws. I also figured out that most Americans have no idea how laws are made or how government works. That lack of knowledge makes Americans vulnerable to politicians who fudge the facts and make promises that are impossible and/or harmful.
After the John Birch Society was repudiated by Republicans and Democrats alike, I told myself that the radical ideas of the John Birch Society would never gain mainstream acceptance. Then the Tea Party emerged and the Republican Party took a hard right turn. I recognized the new shift for what it was: the rebirth of the John Birch Society in a 21st century framework. I decided to share my story and help shed light on the dangers of extremists.
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. In my book, I dig into the specific policies of America’s uncompromising right-wing and expose the danger they pose to all Americans.
My book is over three years old, but it helps to answer the question: how did we get the radical right-wingers who control the government today?
What the John Birch Society wanted in 1960 (and has worked for ever since) is now what the GOP and President Trump want. Here are some examples:
- Slash the federal government and privatize as many functions as possible
- Block grant money to the states for poverty programs (Medicaid) with little federal oversight or regulation
- Shred the safety net from food stamps to unemployment insurance
- End regulation of the environment and deny the findings of Climate Science
- Restrict women’s reproductive choices including abortion and family planning services
- Make it harder to vote by reducing access to the polls and imposing voter ID laws
- Insist that voter fraud is a major problems despite all evidence to the contrary
- Fight all gun safety regulations including those that keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill
- Cut taxes in ways that benefit the wealthy and corporations no matter the impact on government revenue
- Oppose increases in the federal minimum wage
- Destroy public unions
- End Social Security and Medicare
- End regulation of business and banking
- Roll back all healthcare reform
- Deport undocumented immigrants without exceptions
Most Republicans in the House support these goals. Most GOP Senators support these policies. President Trump supports most of these policies, too.
For Republicans, their extreme ideas are the “intent of the framers” and the “will of God.” These same two “facts” were pounded into my head by my parents. Even as they approached the end of their lives, they tried to convert me to the only truth they knew–the truth as preached by the John Birch Society. Everything else was fake news that had poisoned my mind.
Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has devolved into an unruly and dangerous coalition of political extremists, anti-government libertarians, right-wing billionaires, and Christian zealots. Their plans for America mirror the same plans as the John Birch Society–taking us back to the early 1900s when the government was tiny, workers had no protection, and the wealthy had it all.
I have a degree in English (with honors) from the University of Dallas, Irving TX and a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. I’m the mother of four and grandmother to three precious girls. My family and my husband, Bob, are the great loves of my life. In the perfect world, I’d spend my days digging in the garden, playing with my Boykin spaniel puppy, and taking in the beauty of Florida.
In October of 2016, I dreamt of that sweet retirement. Instead, I find myself doing more social media, more blogs, and more interviews. Honestly, I wish I weren’t needed. But, with a dangerous man in the White House and a GOP as radical as it’s ever been, I’m determined to help bring the dangers of these extremists into sharp focus. My long experience and my understanding of radicals makes me part of the effort to protect American democracy and limit the damage from the Trumps and their allies.
I’m still hoping for that retirement time. If all of us get busy and stop the onslaught, my hope may become reality.