Monday, November 19, 2012

Interview with the SPLC: Round Four

*Do you ever attend JBS functions? You resigned from the magazine, but are you still a member of JBS? If so, why?

I remain on very cordial terms with members of the JBS here in Idaho and elsewhere, and I'm often invited to attend local functions. Owing to my family's circumstances I rarely do.

I must point out that I was fired by the JBS; I didn't resign. Prior to October 2006 I was a life member of the JBS. By early 2007, Appleton stopped sending me the monthly JBS Bulletin, which suggests to me that I've been formally purged from membership in the Society.

*You mention attending protests against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War sponsored by left-leaning organizations. How did your bosses at JBS feel about that?

I neither asked their permission nor made a point of letting them know about my involvement, but I have reason to believe that this (along with the fact that I was involved in a local rock band in my free time) left me in bad odor with JBS management. One candlelight vigil against the war we attended in Appleton was covered by several local TV stations, and my oldest daughter, Katrina, was shown on the evening news holding a candle, so I have little doubt that upper management was aware of our anti-war activism.

*When you attended, how did the left leaning folks receive you?

There was some initial suspicion -- right-wingers are hardly the only people inclined to demonize their political opponents, after all -- which would usually dissipate pretty quickly.
During one Labor Day event sponsored in Milwaukee by an anti-war veterans' group, I explained to the organizers that we were "right-wing Christians who oppose the war."
"Oh -- you mean that you voted for Bush?" one of them inquired.
"Oh, heavens no; I actually work for the John Birch Society."
As I recall, this piqued a great deal of friendly curiosity. Several of the organizers went out of their way to treat our children (who were very young at the time) with special kindness. It made a lasting impression on them. For all of my abundant shortcomings as a parent, I am gratified to know that our children all understand that war is an unalloyed evil, and aren't afraid to say as much when the subject comes up.

*You also mentioned a former Coordinator who had a lot of success doing the same thing. Can you introduce us?

I would love to arrange an introduction, but he's now working overseas and I've lost track of him.

*Are there any upcoming large JBS events that would be good for me to attend to get a feel for JBS?

I can't be of any help in this respect. Have you tried to contact Bill Hahn, who is in charge of public relations for the JBS?

*JBS has been accused of being racist. Is it? I know there are black members, such as Rev. Jesse L. Peterson in LA, but how many more African Americans belong?

Robert Welch was not a racist in any sense. Nor was John Birch, for that matter. In my experience it was practically impossible to find a volunteer member or staffer who could honestly be described as a "racist" (I say this as someone who doesn't presume to have a window into the souls of others, of course).
At one speech I gave in San Diego back in 1997, the chapter leader who acted as MC was a black female ex-Marine, the invocation was given by a local African-American pastor, and the Mexican/Irish speaker was introduced by another chapter leader of "Native American" ancestry. Granted, this wasn't a typical meeting of its kind, but I had more than a few experiences that were quite similar.

It wasn't difficult to find other Latinos in the JBS, and it wasn't all that uncommon to find African-Americans as well. I rarely encountered Birchers who were obsessed about melanin content.

The JBS has an official policy forbidding members to be involved in racist or anti-Semitic groups or activism, and it takes this policy VERY seriously. This is why Jack McManus's extra-curricular activities prior to 2000 became such a scandal: A JBS member or a chapter leader who did what Jack had been doing would have been expelled immediately.

I should point out that my initial interest in the JBS was prompted by the organization's opposition to the first Gulf War back in 1991. I was also impressed with a TNA cover story from that era that examined the abominable treatment of the American Indians; in fact,it was that cover story that inspired me to contact Appleton and inquire about submitting some freelance work.

*How was life in the JBS for a half Irish, half Mexican writer?

Until the very unpleasant events that occurred between September 2005 and October 2006, my time in the JBS was very rewarding. The rank and file membership consists of some of the most decent and generous people I've ever met. The same is true of the people who are employed in the field staff. It remains an enduring source of perplexity to me that an organization with so many capable and principled people consistently generates "leadership" of the kind that presently afflicts it.

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