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FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Movement, the John Birch Society, and Michigan

The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has published a new study that looks at the links between the FreedomWorks faction of the Tea Party movement and the John Birch Society. It found that the FreedomWorks faction seems to have embraced the participation of John Birch Society members as a means of increasing its organizational size.

For those who don’t know, the John Birch Society is a long-time fixture in the far right in the United States. The new study summarizes the John Birch Society’s history and politics:

The Birch Society continued to grow in the 1960s, two of its strongest states being California and Texas.  Its official ideology was a well-tuned anti-communist conspiracy theory.  It opposed all civil rights legislation and attracted a number of racists and anti-Semites to its membership and national council.   University of Illinois classics professor Revilo P. Oliver was one of the most vociferous white supremacists on its first national council, regularly using Birch publications to rail against the “Rothschilds,” “Khazars” and “Zionists”–all code words for Jews. Oliver finally lost his perch in the Birch Society in 1966, after making a speech about how “…if all the Jews were vaporized at dawn tomorrow, we should have nothing to worry about.”  Other hardcore bigots stayed on, however, and helped define the Birch Society as beyond the reach of respectable politics.

The Birch Society went into abeyance in the early 1970s, as did most of the far right organizations.    Nevertheless, it was active in the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s.  And it continued to have a presence, due primarily to its Congressman, Larry McDonald from Georgia, who had joined the society in the 1960s and became its president in 1983. (McDonald died in August 1983 in the plane crash of KAL 007.)

The Birch Society moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to Wisconsin in 1989, and picked up new members again in the mid-1990s, growing alongside the militias and the newly re-invigorated Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist organization.

It currently publishes The New American monthly magazine, has a field staff of 20 people, and is omnipresent in the Tea Party movement.  Congressman Ron Paul regularly speaks at its events.  And just this year, the Birchers broke into the ranks of those allowed at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

One of the study’s prime examples of the connections between the John Birch Society and the Tea Party movement comes from Michigan:

Since the launch of the site, FreedomWorks staff and the FreedomConnector web team have posted at least fifty-nine different announcements that advertised John Birch Society events across the country. (See list in Appendix). Even a cursory look at this list of meetings, forums and protests demonstrates quite clearly that this is not an isolated incident or simple mistake that can be easily dismissed. FreedomWorks staff and the web team have posted an average of ten Birch events a month since the launch of this site. They have advertised Birch events in California, Florida, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In addition to the fifty-nine added by FreedomWorks team members, another twenty-two Bircher happenings have been posted by FreedomConnector members like Dawn Epson, the Tucson facilitator for the John Birch Society.  Epson even has been allowed to create a Tucson Bircher “group”–a hub for area Birchers to gather on the FreedomConnector site.  In total, 80 different JBS events were advertised on the FreedomWorks FreedomConnector site between the site launch and June 1, 2011.

Tonya Woodruff, a Michigan activist, provided a perfect example of the problem of the missing firewall when she posted a question on FreedomConnector to a participant in the Ludington Area Tea Party: “I was at the John Birch Society Meeting last night and the Birchers wanted to know if the Tea Party was still interested in a presentation? I will send you an e-mail today about this topic.”  Opposition to the JBS presence inside the FreedomWorks social network has been virtually non-existent.  Instead, these posts have received a warm reception.

The study is an update to their larger study of “Tea Party Nationalism” that provided an in-depth look at the rise of the Tea Party movement, its values, and its links to the far right.

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