Among the U.S. brotherhoods dedicated to the fight against Communism, nothing is quite like the John Birch Society. Except for an elite corps of leaders, its members shun personal publicity, and their names are held by the society in strictest secrecy. Its cells, of 20 to 30 members apiece, take orders from society headquarters, promote Communist-style front organizations that do not use the John Birch name. Carefully avoiding normal channels of political action, the society accepts the hardboiled, dictatorial direction of one man who sees democracy as a "perennial fraud" and estimates that the U.S. is 40% to 60% Communist-controlled. In other times, other places, the John Birch "Americanists" as they call themselves ¶might seem a tiresome, comic-opera joke. But already the society admits to cells in 35 states, and its partisans have made their anonymous and unsettling presence felt in scores of U.S. communities.
In Wichita, Kans., student members of the society are trained to tell their cell leader of any "Communist" influence noted in classroom lectures; by phone, parents belabor the offending teacher and his principal for apologies and admissions of guilt. A Wichita businessman who planned to make a modest contribution to a University of Wichita fund was dissuaded because members of the society were demanding that certain professors and books be thrown out. "My business would be wrecked," said he, "if those people got on the phone and kept on yelling that I am a Communist because I give money to the school." Society members in Nashville, Tenn., started telephone campaigns to warn homeowners that some of their neighbors were suspected Reds. The project with current top priority is the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren, and activities in a dozen cities range from the "spontaneous" circulation of petitions to a rash of letters to newspapers, and a HELP IMPEACH EARL WARREN banner strung across the main street of Pampa, Texas (and taken down by the police a few hours later).
The Red Plot. All society activity comes under the firm thumb of a balding, deceptively mild-mannered, retired businessman from Belmont. Mass., named Robert Welch. Son of a North Carolina farmer. Baptist Welch, 61, spent 25 years as an executive with Cambridge's famed candymaking James O. Welch Co. (run by his brother). After the war, Welch began to bone up on Communist literature; eventually he decided that such schemes as social security and federal income tax laws were part of a Red plot to ready the U.S. for Soviet conquest. Welch left candy for fulltime anti-Communist pamphleteering in 1957. He founded the John Birch Society the next year, naming it for a U.S. Navy captain killed by Chinese Communist guerrillas after V-J day.
Welch's Mein Kampf is a masterpiece of invective called The Politician. Shown only to close friends, the book is now being withdrawn from circulation, largely because its judgments on contemporary leaders repelled more people than they attracted. Some Welchian estimates:
¶The Eisenhower brothers: ". . . Milton Eisenhower is actually Dwight Eisenhower's superior and boss within the Communist Party . . . For [the former President], there is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason."