Saturday, November 17, 2012

More Q&A with the SPLC

 This is another installment in my e-mail interview with a reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

*Are the Council Dinners a kind of JBS recruiting tool? How often are they held?

Like most organizations of its kind, the JBS uses all of its public functions for outreach and recruitment. This includes Council Dinners, which include private business sessions for members of the Council and the Executive Committee. Council Dinners are generally held twice a year.

*You said your older brother was briefly a member of JBS. Why did he quit?

My brother didn't formally quit the JBS. He joined as a teenager and eventually got involved in other activities.

*Where did you grow up?

Some people contend I managed to pass from adolescence to middle age without actually growing up. I was born in Burley, Idaho, spent part of my childhood in Vale, Oregon (which is near the border with Idaho), and went to High School in Rexburg, Idaho.

*Why didn't your parents ever join JBS? After all they voted for Schmitz. Wasn't he a JBS heavyweight?

My parents, who have always been very immersed in church activities, generally didn't have time for political activism. They've also been commendably suspicious of political organizations of any kind. Their vote for Schmitz was an act of protest: They were mortally disgusted with Nixon (what decent person wouldn't be?), but couldn't support McGovern.

*What did the leadership struggle in 2005 do to JBS in terms of morale of the staff and membership?

Any time there's a schism of this kind in any organization, morale is going to suffer. During the two weeks in which the conflict came to a head, the atmosphere at the home office was positively Gothic. After the leadership change, I left Appleton for Idaho, as I had planned to do, and I was fired before I ever returned, so I didn't directly experience the atmosphere under the new regime.

*Did other people quit JBS, as you did, because of the tactics used?

I'm not aware of anybody who did so.

I'll take the next four questions in a group:

*Wasn't there a power struggle over control of Robert Welch University going on at the same time? Vance Smith and Tom Gow won control of RWU, right? I think I found RWU in Colorado Springs. Is it still operating? When Smith and Gow left JBS they eventually started Freedom First Society. Does Freedom First have any influence at all?

Vance Smith and Tow Gow, along with two members of the Executive Committee, took control of RWU. Thompson and McManus filed suit to take back the institution, and lost. RWU, as far as I know, was dissolved after it had served as a temporary institutional refuge for Smith and Gow until the Freedom First Society (FFS) was started. I don't think the instrument has been invented that can measure the influence of the FFS.

*You say that there are "younger, more perceptive, and more capable people who could and should be at the head of JBS.'' Who are those people?

The corporate culture of the JBS is one in which upper management takes careful note of young, capable people -- and identifies them as potential threats to be neutralized. In that respect I suppose it's indistinguishable from most corporations. I wouldn't be helping the people to whom I'm alluding by identifying them.

*Speaking of younger people, what is JBS doing to recruit them? What was JBS doing when you were there to recruit younger people?

The answer to the first question is, "Nothing -- or at least, nothing that will work." While I was on staff the JBS ran a summer youth camp program that did have some benefits for recruitment, but that was discontinued shortly after I was fired. There is an educational affiliate called the Freedom Project that focuses on homeschoolers. I don't know what success they've had, if any. Until recently there was a college affiliate called the Campus Liberty Alliance, but it appears to have been shut down.

Right now, the JBS is ruled by an authoritarian gerontocracy who seem to believe that they can repeal the Rock Era by decree. Interestingly, they are the same age as Ron Paul, who has tremendous appeal to youth precisely because he is a principled and consistent defender of individual liberty, and can make common cause with left-leaning people of good will without acting as if such contact will contaminate him.

The Society remains a monolithic, top-down organization in an age of social media. At a time when most politically aware students and young adults are worried about the economy and the accelerating erosion of civil liberties, the JBS management remains obsessed with the supposed strategic threat posed by Russia.

During my last year on staff, I repeatedly urged Appleton to reach out to other organizations -- of whatever ideological provenance -- who were fighting on behalf of the Bill of Rights. In fact, before I left Appleton I took part, along with my family, in protests against the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War that were sponsored by left-leaning organizations. At least one former Coordinator had a lot of success doing the same thing in the mid-south region. Both of us left the staff under less-than-favorable conditions.

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