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Soviet Union Left, But Birch Society Is Still Right Here

January 22, 1992|DANA PARSONS

Love 'em or hate 'em or just plain dismiss 'em, the John Birch Society occupied an interesting niche in post-World War II Orange County life.

Back in what now seems like the Ice Age of the great international Communist threat, Birchers saw enough conspirators in the federal government to make Oliver Stone by comparison look like a wide-eyed boy blowing out the candles on his fifth birthday.

But just as Stone is discovering today with his "JFK" theories, the more you yell "conspiracy" and the more culprits you identify, the more disbelief you're likely to generate.

Alas, that's the plight of the poor Birchers, who found a willing audience in Orange County's bedrock conservatism a generation or so ago as they railed about Communists and too much government interference. They had enough clout to be a force in local Republican Party politics and in such grass roots arenas as school districts. One of their own, John Schmitz of Tustin, was elected to Congress in 1970 (giving California two Birchers in the House of Representatives and fueling Orange County's reputation as a haven for political rightness it still carries today).

That seems like a long time ago. With worldwide communism wobbling, you have a sense that you'd have to blow the dust off a history book to discover the John Birch Society.

Unless, that is, you trundle out to the American Opinion Book Store in Orange, where the Birch Society still maintains a library of material on the ongoing conspiracy to subvert the U.S. way of life.

It's Kevin Bearly's job to keep the Birchers from becoming anachronistic. A former cop and former minister, the 41-year-old Bearly is the society's coordinator for parts of Southern California that include Orange County. Far from being dead, he said, the Birchers are lining up new members locally, many in their 20s and 30s, who are fed up with a wide array of national problems, from efforts on gun control to increased taxes.

Regardless of what brings them to the society, members are informed that the leaders of the U.S. government are still in league with other conspirators to create a one-world government that will ultimately strip Americans of their freedom.

So while you heard President Bush talk of a "New World Order" and thought it sounded nifty, the Birchers heard the term and said, " Dum-da-dum-dum ." It's what they'd been prophesying for years.

Bearly said he doesn't trust reporters, because big media like the Los Angeles Times are part of the conspiracy. But he talked for an hour and comes across as an earnest, disciplined and personable spokesman for the Birchers, even noting that he isn't crazy about the term "right-wing" because it has a pejorative sound.

The Reagan years hurt Birch Society membership because the group's conservative constituency thought it had an ally in the White House. But serious Birchers "never bought into Ronald Reagan" because they thought his anti-Communist stance was mostly rhetoric, Bearly said.

Subsequent events reinforced that feeling, leaving the Society with the belief that "this is the most critical stage we've ever been at in the fight. . . . We believe the agenda for these insiders is that they intend to have it totally consolidated--a one-world government--by the end of the '90s," Bearly said. When that happens, the U.S. constitutional guarantees of personal freedom and of U.S. sovereignty will be replaced by a U.N.-type charter that will usher in an era of ruthless repression, he said.

High governmental and rich, elite East Coast Establishment figures are linchpins of the conspiracy, believe Birchers, who cite as attendant strategies the "dumbing-down" of the American education system and the move for gun control. The education tactic is designed to produce people who "can't read, can't think, can't analyze" what's happening, while gun control is calculated to defuse any citizen uprising against authorities.

Another part of the strategy was to disparage the Birchers, who sought to reveal the truth, Bearly said. That resulted in "the largest smear campaign ever" during the 1960s, he said. "They said we go along with the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis--groups which we abhor everything they stand for."

Undaunted, the Society, seeing itself much like the Minutemen who fought for freedom 200-plus years ago, won't surrender, Bearly said. Not that it's easy.

"We can't recruit cowards, or people who are in it for glory. There's never been any glory. There's nothing glamorous about handing out bulletins, distributing pamphlets or asking people to watch videos. It takes dedication. And it's not fun having people lie about you. Being lied about and smeared, nobody enjoys that."

Isn't it exhausting, he is asked, fighting conspiracies that other people don't even see?

"It gets very tiring and we have a high burnout rate among the members of the Birch Society. It's very hard, but for me, I'm coming at it from the ministry, so ultimately I see the fight as between good and evil. The forces of Satan and the forces of the Lord--so I'm used to fighting this anyway. Evil is never going to go away."

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