Kirkus Reviews: One of the Best Non-Fiction Books of 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, with the echoes of the profoundest aspects of family life providing the links between then and now.
Her parents, Stillwell and Laurene Conner, were among the 1958 founders of the Birch Society, an organization that opposed racial integration, welfare programs, the United Nations and other seemingly progressive programs and organizations. Conner’s parents were involved with the organization’s national leadership for more than 30 years. Like her parents, the Birchers went too far with their anti-Semitism and extreme economic and social theories.
Conner details how Birchers were pushed out of the Republican Party and shows how they adopted what the author calls “Plan B,” in which monied Birchers redirected their funds into think tanks and foundations. Among them was Fred Koch, founder and national leader of the Birth Society and father of current tea party backers David and Charles Koch.
In 1993, some Birchers, including the author’s mother, even offered mild support for the Oklahoma City bombers for “defending the rest of us from the government.”
Conner’s parents employed threats and violence to condition her to represent her parents’ politics to the broader world and accept the consequences of physical retaliation, ostracism and ridicule in return.
The author’s personal struggle to free herself from those whose minds “the facts never changed” shapes her memoir and enriches the accumulating literature on the tea party. An invaluable contribution to understanding the mentality of extremist conservatism and its supporters.” —Starred KIRKUS Review
Tampa Bay Times: One of the Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013
Wrapped in the Flag deftly combines Conner’s autobiography with an insider history of the John Birch Society and the extreme right over more than half a century. She describes personal memories of such figures as William F. Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly and Fred Koch (father of Charles and David). She explains the Birchers’ and her parents’ enthusiasms (Joseph McCarthy, Goldwater, Ronald Reagan when he opposed Medicare, but not when he signed the biggest tax increase in American history) and bitter enemies — they believed Dwight Eisenhower and the Kennedys were all Communists, and that both Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were tools of the Insiders, a group bent on one-world government (and that Dick Cheney is one of its puppetmasters).
Conner regrets the fracturing of her family, but she doesn’t sweeten her bitter recollections. Her most vivid childhood memory of her mother is the image of her at the dining room table, writing piles of letters or combing through textbooks, cigarette in one hand and glass of scotch in the other, while Conner and her siblings did the chores. Near the end of her mother’s life, Conner’s two sons came out as gay, and they all agreed they could never tell their grandmother — she was adamant that the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment for homosexuality, abortion and contraception in the United States.
Yet Conner portrays her parents with respect, painting a picture of the world they created for themselves and the process by which it became an echo chamber in which opposing viewpoints — even those of their own children — were dismissed out of hand, and the cause was so great it was worth every sacrifice.
Library Journal: Recommended
“This insider’s view of the most radical right-wing organization of the Cold War era describes the seeming paranoia and questionable logic of the most devoted JBS members. Conner provides colorful descriptions of many of the eccentric JBS leaders, including founder Robert Welch. . . . Readers interested in learning more about this example of the Cold War era’s ultraconservative political trends will be fascinated by Conner’s description of the perpetual fear of JBS members regarding communist takeovers and communist infiltration of the highest levels of our government. Recommended.” —Library Journal
Publishers Weekly: Top 10 Title to Watch for in Politics
“[A] combination of personal and political can be found in Claire Conner’s Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right. Based on records, documents, and firsthand knowledge (her father was the first Chicago member of the John Birch Society), progressive and activist Conner presents a history of that radical right-wing organization. Though unlikely to please conservatives, Conner’s book will likely add a human dimension to the movement’s heated rhetoric.”
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 extremism in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The opinions of Revilo Oliver, who became a well-known Holocaust denier, and the writings of Fred Koch (father of David and Charles Koch, who are major funders of right-wing political groups) were frequently heard at the breakfast table. Conner’s political awakening is typical of college students in the 1960s, but her starting point was far more extreme than most young adults at the time. As late as 1961, Birch Society founder Robert Welch espoused the belief that former President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist and that the civil rights movement was part of a larger plan for a unified world government. Conner’s secret teenage dissent prompted her and her siblings to find paths to mentally escape the family’s politics without disturbing the peace. “My parents and I were in different universes,” Conner writes. While she effectively sketches out the political divergence within her family, more could have been done to explore the psychological gap caused by her parents’ zealotry and her emergent liberal beliefs.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Reviewed on: 04/29/2013