>Birthers and Birchers: Hiding Behind Stars and Stripes
by: Loretta J. Ross
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 Chris tian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the White supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of J ews 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..