Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paycheck "Patriotism," or Lucre before Liberty (part one)

We must not only know the truth, but face the truth, if it is to set us free or to keep us so.

Robert Welch, The Blue Book of the John Birch Society 

If all men (and women too, of course) … would simply resolve tomorrow always to be truthful, about everything – to the best of their knowledge and understanding – and would then abide by that resolution, I believe that fully half of all the troubles and grief of the human race would disappear within six months.

Robert Welch, The John Birch Resolutions (1970), No. 2.

The unvarnished truth about the John Birch Society is this: Since the death of Robert Welch in late 1985, the organization he founded exists primarily to provide job security for a small group of people who would otherwise be  unemployable. 

I’m not referring to the field coordinators, who have a supremely difficult and indifferently compensated job. I would also exempt from that description the home office staff below the executive level, who are likewise people of great competence – and occasional brilliance – who actually work for a living. 

To be brutally candid, I’m referring to the organization’s CEO, Art Thompson; its President, John F. McManus; Gary Benoit, the editor of the organization’s magazine, The New American; and Alan School, the unreconstructed religious bigot and full-throttle authoritarian who presides over the so-called Freedom Project, the purpose of which is to turn home schools into little nationalist madrassas. 

All of those individuals have excelled at the useless art of risk-free “patriotism”: They have found a comfortable and mildly profitable niche in the kind of activism that riles people up over the loss of their freedom, while doing nothing to threaten the power of freedom’s enemies.

As a JBS staffer for thirteen years – twelve of them at the organization’s home office in Appleton – I learned how to identify the kinds of initiatives that would actually make a material difference in the struggle to restore individual liberty. They were the ones that would be rejected by JBS Upper Management with the words, “We have to pick our battles.” That ritual invocation, properly understood, meant: We have to pick only those “battles” that would be conveniently open-ended – and thus conducive to career security – and inoffensive to the Power Elite – and therefore not at all risky. 

Here’s one very timely illustration of how the JBS formula for “activism” works in practical terms:

The JBS will condemn gun confiscation and the federalization of law enforcement – and then create a campaign urging members to render unconditional support to the local police as they carry out federally subsidized campaigns that injure innocent people and undermine what’s left of the Bill of Rights.

I do not exaggerate. Here’s a relevant excerpt from the JBS’s official Support Your Local Police manual:

“We urge all responsible citizens in this community to...[s]upport our local police in the performance of their duties [and] oppose all harassment or interference with law enforcement personnel as they carry out their assigned tasks.... [We must accept] our responsibilities to our local police, to defend them against unjust attacks, make them proud and secure in their vital profession, and to offer them our support in word and deed wherever possible…. The local police are not your enemy. Your committee is not here to attack them, blame them for violating the Constitution or your civil liberties because they are enforcing a measure of the Patriot Act or conducting a joint Federal and State anti-terror drill. Those are federal issues, which the local police in some cases may have already have little to no say if they are to continue receiving their additional Homeland Security funds, new equipment and weaponry....” (Emphases added.)

Had the JBS’s Support Your Local Police Committee existed in 1938, it could have organized chapters in Germany and used a letter-perfect translation of its official manual without incurring the displeasure of the Nazi regime. There is nothing in the formula outlined above that would have been objectionable to the “local” police who rounded up Jews and political dissidents; they also demanded that citizens “accept [their] responsibilities to our local police” by giving them uncritical support and making them “proud and secure in their vital profession.”

Here’s another very useful illustration of JBS Upper Management offering an unblushing embrace of centralized power and official lawlessness. 

In the November 20, 2009 installment of The Hill newspaper's "The Big Question" feature, JBS President John F. McManus endorsed the creation of unconstitutional military tribunals for terrorism suspects – and obliquely endorsed the undeclared, unconstitutional wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The decision to try the 9/11 defendants in a civilian court opens up the likelihood that the defendant's right to what is called `discovery' will require providing the defense team with intelligence that will surely make its way back to terrorist allies," insisted McManus. "These trials should be held in military courts where no such rights exist. Their crimes were acts of war (didn't we go to war as a result?), not the acts of ordinary criminals."

In addition to being President of the JBS and Publisher of The New American, McManus is the official arbiter of the organization’s ideology. He wasn’t simply offering a personal opinion; he was speaking ex cathedra on behalf of the JBS (a role that McManus, a schismatic Catholic whose views are borderline sedevacantist, might find ironic).

The official position of the John Birch Society includes these two propositions:

1) The “local” police – which, as JBS Upper Management acknowledges, have been entirely federalized – should be free to do whatever they want without organized resistance or opposition;

2) The government should be free to dispense with legitimate trials for anybody it designates a “terrorist.”

Once those two propositions are accepted, what “freedom” remains to be defended? 

How did the JBS become what it is today? Part of the answer is found in the fact that Robert Welch – who founded the organization out of conviction, rather than in search of a career – did not make suitable provision for organizational continuity. That led to predictable and routine power struggles and factional fights – the most recent of which took place in October 2005, and prefigured similar upheavals in organizations like the Cato Institute and, especially, FreedomWorks. I’ll offer details in my next installment.

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