Birthers and Birchers: Hiding Behind Stars and Stripes

By Loretta J. Ross; posted with permission from On The Issues Magazine.

Sustaining a progressive movement based on shared politics requires not only unification on positive values, but an understanding of the opposition and their tactics. Analysis of the various elements of opposition can do much to improve our own eyesight and path forward.

Birthers" may be the newest manifestation of right-leaning conspiracy theorists. It is unlikely that most of the “birthers" who believe that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen belong to the John Birch Society (JBS). But I believe they are at least sympathizers with the nativist, racist tendencies of the John Birch Society, which has been stirring animosity and paranoia, often with coded language and convoluted theories, for over 50 years.

What unites the “birthers” and the Birchers on a single trajectory is well worth understanding. Progressives should not ignore the people who share this particular worldview: it’s easy to dismiss them as nutters and whackos enlarging the far right. Yes, they are the “angry white people” who foment trouble at townhalls and seek to torpedo all efforts to achieve full human rights in the United States, including health care reform.

But the real threat, especially in today’s rapid-fire headline rotation, is that their opinions from the netherworld of reasonable debate re-circulate and dominate mainstream news, filling the airwaves with the sensationalistic biases of these flat-earthers. Through time and repetition, the views of the far right have a distressing tendency to become mainstream. Absurd myths of reverse discrimination that surfaced during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor threatened to derail the rise of the first Latina to the nation’s highest court.

John Birchers Hide Behind Flag

The John Birch Society has its roots in the 1950s when it opposed the U.S.’s affirming the human rights principles of the United Nations. It was used as a grassroots corollary to McCarthyism, insisting that imagined Communists were standing behind every light pole, ready to end the world as we know it. It still sees itself as fighting Communism, as well as the New World Order (whatever that is!), big government, the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, wealth redistribution and more. You are not likely to hear the John Birch Society using epithets or spewing base language; its values are more carefully hidden behind flag-waving and obscure and irrelevant legal principles. Its words are cloaked in concern for the “direction of the nation.”

John Birchers opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying it violates the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and overstepped the rights of individual states to enact laws regarding civil rights. On its website, the John Birch Society complains that “President Obama — the man who got fawning media treatment for no reason, was elected with a thin resume and exalted without even being a king — has now been given the Noble Peace Prize.” The John Birch Society also opposes health care reform, gun control, public schools and a host of other progressive causes.

The Right-wing “watch” group, Public Research Associates, notes: “(T)he Birch society pioneered the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric White racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the White supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII. Throughout its existence, however, the Society has promoted open homophobia and sexism.”

Because it is more “libertarian" than openly racist, anti-Semitic and sexist, the John Birch Society is often not characterized as a hate group like the Ku Klux Klan or the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), at least as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center. One way the John Birch Society escapes that designation is because it receives support from prominent politicians and elected officials. Birchers work hard to mask the anti-human rights beliefs that underlie their opinions.

This may be where their similarity to the “birthers” begins.

“Birthers” Find Support for Absurdisms

The birthers so resent the election of an African American president that they are willing to support and reiterate debunked claims that President Obama is nota U.S. citizen. They have even introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act (HR 1503), a bill that would challenge the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits slavery and affirms citizenship rights to everyone born in the U.S. Their arguments are laughably farfetched – as if some prophetic conspiracy occurred in the 1960s to forge a birth certificate for President Obama in Hawaii in case this bi-racial child ever ran for president.

The fact that these extremely marginal people and their claims are endorsed by Republican elected officials like U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) or U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), or racist demagogues masquerading as news analysts like Glenn Beck or Patrick Buchanan, gives them a veneer of credibility and respectability, just like the John Birch Society enjoys.

And it’s not just President Obama’s birth the Birthers question. They also oppose same-sex marriage, immigrants’ rights, “socialism,” abortion rights, and – of course – health care reform. Their website features American eagles and emulates the print of the U.S. Constitution, claiming as their goal: “We seek strict adherence to the Constitution of the United States of America, regardless to the momentary passions of the body politic,” and using the motto, “Dedicated to the rebirth of our Constitutional Republic.”

Claiming that the name “birthers" was first applied to mock them, they write: "We accept their name, the Birthers, for wanting to give rebirth to that which we as Americans hold dear. To return the favor of giving us a name in which we can find a common identity, we in turn give them a name that must be our polarizing opposites, ‘the O-Borters,’ for they are seeking to abort the fabric that has held America together, the Constitution of the United States of America." The irony that they are seeking to undo the 14th Amendment to that same Constitution (and for which the Civil War was fought) seems to escape them.

The obvious goal of the Birthers is to thwart President Obama and create a Republican resurgence for the 2010 mid-term elections, the same tactics employed in 1994 when the ultraconservative Newt Gingrich, as Speaker of the House, led his minions to oppose everything that the Clinton Administration proposed. The idea now is the same – to force Congress to oppose everything the President supports.

As noted anti-fascist researcher Leonard Zeskind writes, “The psychological, social and political space between conspiracy minded whizbangs outside the beltway, and the anti-immigrant congressmen supporting the Birther Bill then shrinks to invisibility. They are distinct without a difference that matters. The nuttiness of the conspiracy mongers becomes less salient than their search for a brighter, whiter tomorrow.”

While white supremacist notions date to the founding of the nation, this bleak outlook does not have to be our future. The challenge is not to casually dismiss the Birthers and the Birchers as irrelevant. Progressives need to call out their racism, sexism and homophobia. But, more importantly, we need to build a united human rights movement that won’t allow wedge politics to divide us.

And regarding President Obama, we need to avoid becoming a circular firing squad aiming at other progressives and liberals, rather than keeping our eyes on our true opponents – those who want to reverse our progress towards freedom and human rights.

Check out the latest edition of On The Issues Magazine, Race, Feminism, Our Future.

Loretta J. Ross is National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a Consulting Editor on this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Photo credits: TOP - Masks II by Helene Ruiz; BOTTOM - Licker by Gloria Holwerda-Williams

  • Preston

    Judge Land and now judge Carter, smack down the crazies (case dismissed), poor little Birthers.

    Not even “Fake News” Bill O’Reilly believes the crazies, how funny.

    And honestly who in their right mind would listen to Pat, he is another loser.

    To all the birthers in La, La Land, it is on you to prove to all of us that your assertion is true (TOUGH WHEN YOU KEEP LOSING CASES), if there are people who were there and support your position then show us the video (everyone has a price), either put up or frankly shut-up. I heard Orly Taitz, is selling a tape (I think it’s called “Money, Lies and Video tape”). She is from Orange County, CA, now I know what the mean when they say “behind the Orange Curtain”, when they talk about Orange County, the captial of Conspiracy Theories. You know Obama has a passport, he travel abroad before he was a Senator, but I guess they were in on it.

    In my opinion the Republican Party has been taken over the most extreme religious right (people who love to push their beliefs on others while trying to take away the rights of those they just hate) and that’s who they need to extract from their party if they real want to win. Good Luck, because as they said in WACO, “We Ain’t Coming Out”.

    I heard that she now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC).

  • ernie1241

    Loretta Ross’s article “Birthers and Birchers: Hiding Behind Stars and Stripes” is a malicious caricature of the John Birch Society and it contains malicious innuendo that the JBS is an organization with “nativist, racist tendencies.”

    It is obvious that Ms. Ross has no genuine factual knowledge about JBS beliefs or its membership characteristics and her hyperbole discredits her argument.

    For example:

    (1) How does Ms. Ross explain the fact that hundreds of JBS members are African-American (or other minorities)?

    (2) How does Ms. Ross explain the fact that the JBS Speakers Bureau has included such members of African-American or latino descent as Rev. Steven L. Craft, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Andy Ramirez, Wilton Alston, Sam Antonio, Julia Brown, Lola Belle Holmes and Gerald Kirk?

    (3) How does Ms. Ross explain the fact that JBS member Rev. Delmar Dennis infiltrated the White Knights of the KKK of Mississippi and Rev. Dennis played a major role in the convictions of several Klan members. After Rev. Dennis surfaced as an FBI informant and testified, he was hired by the JBS as a Coordinator for the Society. Is that the behavior of a “racist” organization?

    (4) And how does Ms. Ross explain the fact that the famous African-American writer and intellectual, George S. Schuyler, was a JBS member and speaker?

    (5) How does Ms. Ross explain the fact that the former Senior Editor of the Birch Society magazine, William Norman Grigg, is of Mexican ancestry? Why would he be interested in working for a “nativist” or “racist” organization?

    (6) Traditionally, nativist organizations in the U.S. have been anti-Catholic, so how does Ms. Ross explain the fact that in its formative years (and afterward) about 40% of JBS leadership was Catholic and its National Council included Catholic priests such as Rev. Francis Fenton?

    (6) How does Ms. Ross explain the fact that over the past 50 years the JBS has been endorsed by prominent Americans such as are shown on the list appearing below? Does Ms. Ross think these individuals would be receptive to “racist” or “nativist” appeals?

    * lawyers and legal scholars such as M.T. Phelps (former Chief Justice of the AZ Supreme Court; Clarence E. Manion, former Dean of the Notre Dame Law School–which, incidentally is a Catholic school)

    * Hollywood actors like Walter Brennan, John Wayne, Zasu Pitts, and Adolphe Menjou

    * famous novelists, authors, columnists, such as Taylor Caldwell and George Schuyler

    * prominent politicians such as Charles Edison (former Gov. of New Jersey), Meldrim Thompson (former Gov. of NH), J. B. Lee (former Gov. of UT), and, Congressmen John Rousselot, Edgar W. Hiestand, Thomas H. Werdel, and James B. Utt (CA), Ron Paul (TX), Howard Buffet (NE), James Simpson Jr. (IL), Kit Clardy (MI)

    * CEO’s of major corporations many of whom were prominent officials of the National Association of Manufacturers

    * former FBI Special Agents such as Dan Smoot and W. Cleon Skousen

    * former FBI informants such as Matt Cvetic, Delmar Dennis, Julia Brown, Lola Belle Holmes, Gerald W. Kirk, and Ruth Gordienko

    * former high-ranking military officers such as Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, Brig. Gen. Richard B. Moran; Lt. Gen. Edward M. Almond, Brig. Gen. William L. Lee, Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, Maj. Gen. Robert Blake, Lt. Gen. Sumter L. Lowry, Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, and Lt. Gen. Charles B. Stone; Col Laurence E. Bunker; Vice Admiral C.S. Freeman, Rear Admiral Paulus P. Powell, and Vice Admiral T.G.W. Settle

    * prominent U.S. diplomats and government officials including: U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden, U.S. State Department historian Bryton Barron, and IRS Commissioner T. Coleman Andrews

    * religious figures and editors of religious journals including Cardinal Cushing of Boston, Richard Ginter, Francis E. Fenton, and Mormon Church leader Ezra Taft Benson

    So — in view of all this data, I am curious how Ms. Ross arrived at her conclusion that the JBS has “racist” or “nativist” tendencies?

  • Lurline Depalma

    Where did it go? Why does nobody ask queries any more? Are we that sluggish? There does not need to be a conspiracy theorist in the midst of any of this – just a citizen who acknowledges what a citizen is; that you vote and can dispute to anything you are told. Do not accept that serious voice that assures you ‘Sir, you must do it the way the corporation/government tells you.’ No you don’t! In fact if the voice is so very serious and the suit merely that bit firmer than yours, you can bet your last dollar they are pulling the wool over your eyes. Corporations answer to stockholders – us, regimes to voters – us, and so on. And you are 1 of millions of us. If you need a conspiracy theory look in the mirror. You, America, have conspired to sequester yourselves from the reality of going out and living a life; see and be interested, don’t be fed knowledge; study to build in the same way your forebears built up this nation, don’t sit in a cube and push buttons; ask questions, don’t be fed anything you don’t understand; unite in concert in your residential area to become politically alive.