Friday, February 1, 2013

Paycheck "Patriotism" or Lucre before Liberty (part two)

"I don't expect Will to take this [i.e., being fired for no definable, let alone defensible, reason] lying down.... If he would go quietly and pursue his own interests, I would think better of the man."

Jack McManus e-mail to Art Thompson, October 3, 2006 (mistakenly cc'd to me)

In our last installment, we met Jack McManus, the President of the John Birch Society and Publisher of The New American magazine. In those roles he is the arbiter of the organization’s ideology, which – as I pointed out – is troubling, given that he has explicitly endorsed (among other things) the use of unconstitutional military tribunals to try people accused of terrorism. Under his direction, the JBS’s Support Your Local Police Committee has embraced the idea that there is literally nothing the police can do that would merit organized opposition to their actions.

The other half of the JBS’s ruling dyad is Chief Executive Officer Art Thompson, whose role is to raise money for the organization and define its action program (such as it is). Although they find their current partnership to be mutually beneficial, Thompson and McManus aren’t exactly Damon and Pythias.

In 2000, when Thompson was the head of JBS fundraising (a role in which he didn’t excel), he collaborated with then-CEO G. Vance Smith to remove McManus as JBS President. Rather than being fired, McManus – who was already receiving Social Security – was given a pay cut and appointed to the JBS Council, a group that is depicted as an advisory body but that has little material influence on the organization’s agenda.

Five years later, after Thompson had been fired for his secretive efforts (carried out on company time) to undermine Vance Smith, Thompson made an alliance of convenience with Jack McManus to oust Smith as CEO. 

Smith, who became JBS CEO in 1992, never liked Jack McManus, in large measure because of irreducible personality conflicts. In more substantive terms, McManus had become an institutional liability because of his decades-long hobby of peddling anti-Semitic nonsense – something that was in direct conflict with black-letter JBS policy established by Robert Welch.
In 2000, acting on Smith’s direction, Thompson compiled a dossier on McManus’s extra-curricular anti-Jewish activism; this included excerpts from a videotaped speech in which Jack waded neck-deep in classic Jew-baiting tropes and themes. Thompson also wrote a detailed tactical memo describing how Fed-connected “watchdog” groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center could exploit the damage that Jack had done (see the excerpt below):

"If we're attacked by [Morris] Dees [and the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC], many Birchers will rally but some will question leadership,” warned Thompson in the 2000 memo. “It may be [that] Dees quietly shows McManus material around without a major public outcry.... Dees needs something solid with which to fully demoralize the membership. Does the [anti-Jewish] language of McManus do that? Maybe.... More than likely, Dees will hint that some Birchers are less than tolerant, not all, but some, while showing the McManus material to key locals: police, D.A., etc...."

By this time, Alan Stang – a key JBS figure in until the 1980s – had set up a website that was being used as samizdat for disaffected JBS members and understandably aggrieved former staffers who had been purged from the ranks. Thompson somehow convinced himself that Stang, McManus, and Morris Dees would ally themselves in an attack on JBS “leadership”:

This is why Thompson insisted that McManus had to be removed. He was the one who put together the material that would eventually be used by Smith in 2005 in an attempt to blackmail McManus:

Notice that item “G” on Thompson’s proposed action plan in dealing with McManus was to “get involved in a SYLP [Support Your Local Police] program to counter a possible upcoming negative campaign.”

That is the same SYLP program, of course, in which JBS members are urged to render unconditional, unstinting support to local law enforcement irrespective of what they do. 

Once again, here is the relevant excerpt from the SYLP “start-up manual”:

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....” (emphasis added).

In other words: When the police violate the Constitution and injure innocent people, don’t you dare criticize them – because if they pay attention to your complaints this might make it more difficult to acquire the military hardware they need to be efficient agents of state terrorism.

This is undisguised collaboration with the enemy – and it has its origins in the bigotry and dishonesty of Jack McManus and the self-obsessed opportunism of Art Thompson. 

Is there any reason not rooted in Art Thompson's self-interested calculations why Jack McManus would be reinstated as JBS President in 2005?

In 2000, Thompson warned Smith that McManus’s anti-Semitic paper trail made the JBS vulnerable to blackmail. In October 2005, Smith made precisely that use of the dossier Thompson had compiled: By way of proxies he approached several people, myself among them, with a “sizzle reel” containing some of McManus’s most repelled soundbites, accompanied with the ominous suggestion that the material might be leaked to the media. That threat was also made to McManus himself by one of Smith’s allies. 

This prompted me to write a letter of resignation. I had a young family, some (very little) money in the bank, and no job prospects, but I wasn’t going to work for an organization in which leadership disputes were settled through blackmail. 

Two days later, Smith was ousted and took a handful of associates to seize control of Robert Welch University (RWU), a now-defunct JBS affiliate. Jack called me and all but begged me to rejoin the staff – primarily, I suspect, so that I would be sitting next to him and Art Thompson when they announced the new “leadership” team. 

Thompson and McManus filed suit to take back RWU, and eventually lost. The key figure in that debacle, from my perspective, was Alan Scholl, who was supposed to be a key witness for the JBS side of the dispute but got his ass handed to him on the witness stand. At the time, Scholl was Chief Operations Officer of the JBS, in which capacity he pissed away more than a quarter of a million dollars by hiring two very expensive – and entirely ineffectual – “Madison Avenue” PR men in a doomed effort to “re-brand” the JBS.

Prior to those assignments, Scholl was an inept and unproductive field coordinator in the Bay Area. His ruinous performance as COO was rewarded with an appointment to head the JBS’s “Freedom Project” educational program, which offers redundant proof that the JBS has a Soviet-style management system in which politically favored personalities fail upwards through the bureaucracy. 

During the October 2005 leadership struggle, Thompson and McManus denounced Vance Smith as a petty control freak; for his part, Smith described Thompson and McManus as incompetent, dishonest opportunists. This is one of those rare conflicts in which each side told the unvarnished truth about the other.

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