WAS MR. GRIFFIN A MEMBER OF THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY, AND ISN'T THAT AN EXTREMIST GROUP?
A reply by G. Edward Griffin, updated 2007 October 28
I can understand how mention of my association with The John Birch Society may cause some people to raise an eyebrow. The general impression among many is that the Society is an extremist organization made up of kooks, McCarthyites, and racists. So let me jump to the bottom line.
I am a life member of The John Birch Society and, for several years in the 1960s, served on the Society's staff as a Major Coordinator and official spokesman. From over forty years of personal contact with its members and leadership, I can say with authority that the Society is an excellent educational organization promoting limited government and opposing collectivism in all of its forms. There is nothing about it that is contrary to the highest standards of morality and ethical conduct.
DID WELCH CALL EISENHOWER A COMMUNIST?
When its rapid growth in the 1960s caught the attention of the collectivists who dominate our nation's power centers, the press launched a massive attack against it and successfully demonized it in the minds of most Americans. The attack centered around a statement made by the Society's founder, Robert Welch. He had written a book, called The Politician, which was a critical view of President Dwight Eisenhower's career. The purpose of the book was to show that, although Eisenhower was widely regarded as a conservative due to his affiliation with the Republican Party and also because of the excellence of his speechwriters, his actual deeds demonstrated that he was a collectivist. He went further by stating that Eisenhower's actions were largely supportive of the goals of communism. There was not much controversy over that, because Welch included an abundance of examples to prove his point. But then, in choosing a word to politically describe him, Welch chose the wrong word. He said that Eisenhower was a Communist.
As everyone in Freedom Force knows, Communism is merely a variant of collectivism. Had Welch used the more generic word, had he called Eisenhower a collectivist, there would be very little in his book that anyone could fault. But he did not. He used the wrong word, and this was the handle the press was looking for. Welch was demonized and made to look foolish, which was all that was necessary to turn the public against him and the organization he founded.
I knew Robert Welch well. In preparation for writing his biography, The Life and Words of Robert Welch, (published in 1975) I had the privilege of examining his private papers and personal letters dating back to boyhood. I interviewed members of his immediate family, including his amazing mother who, as a former schoolteacher, was instrumental in sparking and nourishing his powerful intellect at a very early age. I spent many hours in conversation with him on a wide variety of topics: everything from religion to economics; from mathematics to philosophy. I did not agree with him on everything. For example, he believed that the Darwinian concept of evolution has been scientifically verified, whereas I think it is a theory that is no more scientifically verified than the theory of special creation, and that both theories are based on belief systems. But these disagreements were minor compared to the major issues involving personal freedom and the proper role of government, issues on which we were in harmony.
THE BELMONT BROTHERHOOD
In 1963, a document was published entitled The Belmont Brotherhood, written by A.J. MacDonald. It claimed that the John Birch Society is a false-leadership organization pretending to be pro-freedom while actually being a front for the Freemasons. This document now is available on the Internet and, judging by the number of times it is referenced in search engines, it has received wide circulation.
I cannot agree with the thesis of this document for reasons that will be explained, but the issues it raises deserve to be addressed. Although MacDonald made numerous unsupportable claims and, in my opinion, reached too far into secondary relationships to fortify other claims, he nevertheless brings to light certain connections that are direct and primary.
Let’s start with the unsupportable claims. The Belmont Brotherhood says that J. Bracken Lee, is listed as a Mason in Who’s Who in America and was an early member of the John Birch Society Council. This may be true, but I can find no verification of Lee ever having been on the Council. However, in the book, The Mountain States of America: People, Politics, and the Power, p. 205, Lee is quoted as saying: “I liked Welch and what he was trying to do, but … I never did join up with him.” (Google Book Search) If anyone can provide documentation that Lee was a member of the Council, I will, of course, retract this objection.
MacDonald claims that the following members of the JBS Council were Masons: Robert Love, Ralph E. Davis, Frank E. Masland, III, and Cola Godden Parker. As his reference, he cites Who's Who in America and tells us that copies of the pertinent pages from that book are attached to the end of his report. Unfortunately, the Internet version of that report does not contain those attachments. Since I like to check things out for myself, I requested Who's Who to send me copies of the biographies of these men. The copies they sent contained no mention of Masonic membership for any of them. I have not been able to locate an original copy of MacDonald's report, so I have no idea what his attachments were, but it appears they were not from Who's Who.
It may be claimed that their membership has been confirmed by the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. The lodge maintains a web site called "Anti-masonry Frequently Asked Questions" and on page 17 it says: "A number of John Birch Society leaders have been freemasons" and then lists the same names given by MacDonald. Coming from a Masonic source such as this would seem to be reliable information. However, following each name is a reference to Who's Who, exactly the same as provided by MacDonald. Furthermore, this paragraph is within a discussion of The Belmont Brotherhood, so it is obvious that the lodge simply is quoting MacDonald rather than drawing on its own resources. Unless someone can provide reliable confirmation that these men actually were Masons, I must assume they were not. If I come into possession of any such documents, I will publish them in a future update of this analysis.
Elsewhere, MacDonald turns his attention to Harold Lord Varney, who was an occasional contributing writer for the JBS magazine, American Opinion. Varney began his political career as a radical Leftist and activist for the Wobblies, which was the nickname for members of the Industrial Workers of the World. However, on February 8, 1920, he made a complete break with the Wobblies in an article published in the New York Sunday World and the St. Louis Dispatch. From that point forward, he was an outspoken critic of Leftist programs, and it was because of his first-hand knowledge of these things that he was invited to contribute articles to American Opinion. MacDonald apparently was not aware of this history and he quoted Varney’s early writings when he was still a Leftist as proof that the JBS has a hidden affinity to the Left and pretends to be something it is not.
This is not the place to dissect The Belmont Brotherhood. There are other bones to pick; but, in the interest of brevity, let’s turn to the more important issue of what I consider to be the legitimate questions that this publication has raised.
FREEMASONRY AND THE JBS
The early JBS Council and staff did have a few Masons who apparently had achieved the rank of 33rd degree or higher. These included T. Coleman Andrews (Council Member) and Robert Bartlett Dresser (Editorial Advisory Committee). This is an insignificant percentage of those holding positions of importance in the first ten years of the Society’s operations, but the presence of any high-level Masons has been a point of concern to those who believe that the higher levels of the Order are incompatible with the goals of the Society. They are equally concerned that Welch did not share that view. In the October, 1973 John Birch Society Bulletin, he discussed the fact that some of the Society’s members are Masons and then said, “So What?” He added: “At least ninety-five percent of the four million ordinary American Masons are just as patriotic as you or I.” MacDonald was outraged by that statement because he felt it obscured the fact that no one was worried about the ninety-five percent of “ordinary” American Masons but only those in the 33rd degree and higher, perhaps the other five percent who may not be as patriotic as you or I.
Even though I worked closely with Robert Welch, I was not at that time interested in the Masonic connection because, with my limited understanding in those days, I would have tended to agree with the response, “So what?” I was not yet aware of the differences between the common and higher degrees nor was I aware of the role Masons have played in the revolutions of so many countries. I now am of the opinion that those in the higher degrees may have agendas that are different from those revealed to the lower degrees, agendas that would not necessarily be endorsed by the common man. Otherwise, there would be no need for secrecy. In retrospect, I think that MacDonald raised an important issue that should have been addressed in greater depth.
THE N.A.M. AND COLLECTIVISM
Another issue that only recently has come to my attention – and not mentioned at all in The Belmont Brotherhood – is the ideological orientation of the National Association of Manufacturers, the powerful trade organization to which many of the original Council members belonged. No one seems to have focused on that, including me, because it was not in the public consciousness in those days that corporate America was rapidly becoming collectivist. Without realizing it, we all got caught up in a battle between right-wing collectivism (the Nazi/Fascist model) vs. left-wing collectivism (the Soviet/Leninist model). We were expected to choose one or the other, not realizing that they were merely two wings of the same ugly bird. We were so concerned over the rise of global Communism (and rightly so) that we didn’t look very carefully at the ideology of those who opposed it.
The ideology of the NAM was not – and is not – much different than what we now call Neo-Conservatism, which is just another name for right-wing collectivism. Although it opposes Leninism for global dominance, it is amazingly similar to it. This was the beginning of what I call the Ollie North Syndrome: It’s OK to violate the Constitution, lie to Congress, topple governments, smuggle drugs, restrict personal freedom, and kill anyone who gets in the way provided it can be done under the banner of defending America from her enemies. On such a path, eventually we become what we oppose.
In the 1960s, the John Birch Society found itself in the middle of this one-sided, no-real-choice crusade. Tens of thousands of us joined its ranks to oppose Communism, and we hardly noticed the thing called fascism that was silently growing within our own government.
The significance of this fact is that early members of the Society's Council included a few regional directors of the Federal Reserve System, members of the Council on Foreign Relations, and some of them worked closely with operatives of secret government agencies. For example, William J. Grede, an industrialist on the Executive Committee of the JBS Council, was a director of the Federal Reserve Seventh District. Coleman T. Andrews was a member of the Bohemian Club. Spruille Braden, an ambassador to numerous countries who helped to topple their regimes, was an agent of The United Fruit Company, Director of the W. Averell Harriman Securities Corporation, an agent of Standard Oil, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ralph E. Davis was a director of the Wackenhut Corporation, a private security firm that has contracts for security and paramilitary services of various government agencies including black-box operations. Other Wackenhut board members included former FBI Director Clarence Kelly, former Defense Secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci (later known for his leadership role in the Carlyle Group), former Secret Service director James J. Rowley, and many others from the military and CIA. George Wackenhut boasted that his company maintained files on 2.5 million Americans who were suspected dissidents.
THE MYSTERY IS SOLVED (PROBABLY)
Although Robert Welch was never a top dignitary in the NAM power palace, he highly respected it, sought personal relationships with its leaders, and even emulated some of its features when he founded the JBS, notably the black-tie events called Council Dinners (ladies excluded from the head table). In private conversations, he tried to convince me that fractional-reserve banking was healthy for the economy, and he was extremely upset when I produced The Capitalist Conspiracy, a documentary that shows the similarity between the Illuminati and the Masonic Order. He never explained what errors had been made in the film. His only comment to me was that I was dealing with something I didn’t understand. All of this now makes sense. The mystery is solved. Some of his strongest supporters and financial donors were bankers and Masons, and he didn't want to offend them. At the time, however, I had no awareness of that, and these encounters were a source of bewilderment for many years.
The question about Welch’s possible Masonic membership probably will never be answered. My personal opinion is that he was not a member but was close to many who were and saw nothing dangerous in that. Based on my personal involvement with him under varied circumstances, social as well as business, I do not believe that he was a mole serving a hidden agenda. His early political career and especially his outpouring of political writing (most of which never found its way into The Life and Words of Robert Welch) were so genuine and passionate that it defies a sinister interpretation. It is still possible, however, that his crusade against Communism may have blinded him, or at least dulled his vision, when it came to recognizing a parallel ideology growing within the United States under a different name and under the leadership of some of the very captains of industry and banking with whom he associated.
Even though Welch was friendly with corporate leaders who may have been right-wing collectivists, we must not conclude that he endorsed their ideology. From the very first of his writings on such issues, he spoke eloquently about the dangers of big government. This was far more than tokenism. It was a major and recurring theme in all of his work. We must not assume that he was a closet collectivist just because he came from the corporate world. There are many in the freedom movement today who have traveled the same path but are totally sincere in their resolve to defeat collectivism. His defense of individualism was passionate and genuine.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
After Mr. Welch’s passing, after the passing of the original Council members, and especially after the so-called demise of Communism, the John Birch Society altered its crusade to focus more intensly on opposition to collectivism within our own government. It has become an outspoken critic of the Council on Foreign Relations and its globalist agenda. In 1994, it co-published several printings of my book, The Creature from Jekyll Island; A Second Look at the Federal Reserve and continues to sell it through its wholesale book division. Several years ago, the Society sent author, Ralph Epperson, on a speaking tour addressing the topic of Freemasonry, making a careful distinction between the agenda of the highest orders and those of the good-old boys that populate the common lodges. So, any suspicions one may have about some of the Society’s early members must be tempered by an objective appraisal of the organization’s activities today. “That was then. This is now.”
WHITE WATER AHEAD!
I learned a great deal from Robert Welch, and much of what I have attempted to encode into Freedom Force can be traced to his influence. Today, The John Birch Society is composed of some of the finest men and women you will ever hope to meet. The charges of extremism, racism, anti-Semitism, and all the rest are pure hogwash. But there is an important lesson in this story. The treatment given to the Birch Society is exactly the kind of treatment we can expect for ourselves when we become strong enough to challenge the collectivist stranglehold over the power centers of society. Once we come onto their radar, there is little doubt that they will attempt to demonize Freedom Force and, most likely, me in particular. So hang on to your hats. The ride is going to be rough. As the saying goes: There's white water ahead!
G. Edward Griffin
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FREEDOM FORCE AND THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY?
Shortly after this was posted to our web site, I received the following email from a member in the state of Washington:
Hi Ed, Well, once again you succeed in "pushing back the frontiers of ignorance" (Walter E Williams). From out of my liberal, hippie past I was still carrying the implanted idea that the John Birch Society was a bunch of nuts. I have been on their website for the past hour getting re-educated. So, thank you once again for setting the record straight. I am left however, with a question. If the JBS seems to be doing such similar work to Freedom Force, why have you created a separate organization? What are the differences in goals and/or tactics that set you apart?
Yours truly, Kevin Fisher
The answer to that question is contained in a chart that shows a side-by-side comparison of key features of the two organizations. The following link will take you to that document: Click here