As David Weigel notes, the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference is going to have something of a retro feel now that the John Birch Society has announced its co-sponsorship of the event. For those unfamiliar with the John Birch Society, the organization was founded in 1958 by businessman Robert Welch and quickly became the face of the conspiratorial and paranoid right-wing fringe. A rabid anti-communist, Welch accused just about everyone of being a secret Red, including Dwight Eisenhower, whom Birch called a "dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy." In the intervening years, the Birchers have embraced various wild conspiracies in their ongoing "defense" of freedom -- they oppose the United Nations because of the group's secret goal of creating a world government; they believe that there are efforts underway to merge Canada, Mexico, and the United States into a single entity; and they believe that the Rockefellers and the Illuminati are conspiring to form a New World Order.
And, of course, there's the whole anti-Semitism thing to consider. According to the New York Times, their long-time president John McManus has been "heard to say that militant Jews have influenced the Freemasons, who are 'Satan's agents,' 'the enemies of Christ Church.' " McManus also "lectur[ed] to Catholic groups that Judaism became a dead and deadly religion after the establishment of the Catholic Church." The combined effect of all this nuttiness was that most respectable conservatives refused to have anything to do with the Birchers.
But after years of exile on the fringe of conservative politics, they suddenly find themselves welcome participants at the year's biggest event in conservative politics. What happened? Well, as Weigel noted, the Birchers have made a concerted effort to rebrand their image, even if their positions haven't changed. Also, the conservative movement in America continues its rightward lurch in response to two straight GOP electoral disasters.
The Birchers have also had a little help from a very influential media figure who has done his part to mainstream these kooks -- Glenn Beck. Back in 2007, Beck played host on CNN to a Bircher spokesman who railed against the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an economic and security initiative that the Birchers believe is a vehicle "to stealthily merge the three North American nations." Beck prefaced the discussion by telling his guest: "I have to tell you, when I was growing up, the John Birch Society, I thought they were a bunch of nuts, however, you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me." And earlier this year Beck introduced his Fox News viewers to his intellectual guru W. Cleon Skousen, a '60s-era anti-communist crank who was a great supporter of the John Birch Society and even authored a pamphlet defending the Birchers from "Communist attacks."
So the Birchers are back, and, according to their press release, they'll be at CPAC disseminating "educational and promotional materials." Something tells me we're all going to learn quite a bit from this year's conference.