Years ago there was an organization called the John Birch Society. I can't recall their purpose. Can you enlighten me?

Years ago there was an organization called the John Birch Society. I can't recall their purpose. Can you enlighten me?

— Marjorie M.,

Jacksonville.

The group is still around, Marjorie. It's a conservative political group founded in 1958 to fight what founder Robert Welch described as threats to the Constitution, especially what Welch said was Communist infiltration of the federal government. Welch named the group after John Birch a U.S. military intelligence officer killed in 1945 by supporters of the Communist Party of China.

Welch, a retired candy manufacturer, gained notoriety for calling then-President Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy."

Many Birchers over the years have characterized Communism as part of an ongoing conspiracy beginning with the Illuminati and encompassing the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations and other groups.

Why, you may ask, is the group still active, since we don't have many communists to kick around anymore?

Birchers often take a Libertarian stance on issues. They have criticized the Bush administration and called for Bush's impeachment. Among the actions they have criticized are the Patriot Act and the telephone surveillance of suspected terrorists. The society continues to urge that the U.S. leave the United Nations.

The group probably reached its peak of influence in the early 1960s, a time when its anti-Communist petitions were often carried by volunteers who came to be known as "little old ladies in tennis shoes." The group was somewhat eclipsed in later years by the rise of various New Right groups.

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