For the first time since his semisecret John Birch Society became an open issue. Founder Robert Welch last week went on public display to tell California audiences about his far-right organization that labels even Dwight Eisenhower "a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy."
Welch, pink-faced and natty at 61, was booked into Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium by the Freedom Club of the First Congregational Church. At $1 each, all 6,658 seats were sold out ten days in advance. Ninety minutes before speech time, crowds of young, well-dressed Birchites began lining up at the doors and muttering at a handful of desultory pickets: "Go back to New York." In his speech, sponsored on television by Dr. Ross dog food, Welch droned like a P.T.A. treasurer, but fascinated his audience as he declared that some 7,000 members of the U.S. clergy were "Comsympseither Communists or Communist sympathizers." Warned Welch: "Protestant ministers do not become Communists, but Communists do become Protestant ministers."
Moving next day to Santa Barbara. Welch told a TV audience that on the whole he thought President Kennedy was "less a captive of Communist influences" than President Eisenhower. Speaking in a high school auditorium. Welch once again drew an S.R.O. audience, but his speech fell flat because it was precisely the same one that had been televised into the area the night before from Los Angeles. Cracked one student who sat outside in the cold night to hear Welch over a loudspeaker: "If that's the candy king who's going to save us all from Communism, then I'm an all-day sucker." Moreover, when subjected to sharp questioning after his speech, Welch declined further comment and soon withdrew from the premises.
Elsewhere, the Birch Society made more news:
¶ Ending a golf holiday in Palm Springs. Calif., Dwight Eisenhower said of Welch's attack on him: "If I thought the American people thought I was anything but a dedicated enemy of Communism, I would certainly be disappointed."