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 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.