A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism

Edward H. Miller. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-226-44886-2
In this immersive biography, historian Miller (Nut Country) traces the roots of today’s right-wing conspiracy theories to John Birch Society founder Robert Welch (1899–1985). Raised on a former plantation in North Carolina, Welch enrolled at the University of North Carolina at age 12 and, after losing his own successful candy company during the Great Depression, became wealthy working as the head of sales for his younger brother’s candy firm. Miller carefully documents how Welch’s opposition to the New Deal and “longing for a bygone era that government interference and rampant immigration had destroyed” evolved in full-fledged conspiracy mongering in the 1960s and ’70s, when he accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist agent and alleged that the Illuminati were planning to “revamp the United Nations into a strong one world government.” Though National Review editor William F. Buckley tried to marginalize Welch and the John Birch Society, Miller argues that Welch’s lack of pretension appealed to grassroots conservatives in a way that the patrician Buckley never could, and that the rise of Trumpism and QAnon shows that “Buckley would win many battles, but Welch won the war.” Scrupulously researched and lucidly written, this is an enlightening study of an overlooked yet influential figure in American politics. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 09/22/2021
Release date: 11/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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