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Religion and Politics in North America

Session Chair: N.N. | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Carmen Celestini

John Birch Society Protecting God, Country and Family in Cold War America

In 1958, Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society (JBS), which was promoted as a membership organization open to all faiths and races to combat the infiltration of Communism in America, yet my research unveils an organization founded on the overlapping beliefs of Christian Fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists. Motivated by apocalyptic beliefs foretold in the Book of Revelation, a call to return America to its Christian foundations, and a belief that the evil envisioned in the Bible was the Illuminati, members worked diligently to not only save America from Communism, (a tool within the hands of the Illuminati), but also to save Christianity. A plan established by Welch in his two-day speech to wealthy and powerful men, which instituted the JBS, included the mobilization of Americans to elect Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater to the presidency. Welch and his soon to be members were convinced that Goldwater represented their beliefs, and could change America for the better. The JBS mobilized and as history has shown, were able to secure Goldwater’s Republican Party nomination for the presidential candidate in 1964. Previous research on the JBS has focused on their conspiracy theories regarding the infiltration of Communism, not on their beliefs of the Illuminati control and apocalyptic thought. Previous scholarship has primarily focused on the secular representation of the JBS, in fact often using them in comparison to openly Christian anti-Communist organizations, but has not unveiled the Christian beliefs which spurred members across America to mobilize. What my research, and the topic of my paper for this conference will unveil, is that between 1958 and 1965, a Christian mobilization succeeded in the takeover of the GOP party, silencing moderates within the party, and securing the nomination of their representative Barry Goldwater. Previous scholarship has linked the rise of the New Christian Right to Billy Graham in the 1970s, my research moves that timeline back to 1958 and introduces the idea of Christian apocalyptic thought and conspiracy theory in the form of the Illuminati.


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