On a sweltering July day, Mark Fulmer looked cool and collected in the bonus room at Spring Creek Barbeque in Bedford, a suburb outside of Fort Worth. He stood on a podium in front of a dozen right-wing activists who had come for the inaugural luncheon of the John Birch Society, a far-right group of conspiracy theorists founded during the Red Scare.
“I was talking to some people about John Birch at the Texas True Project meeting last night,” said Fulmer, the chapter’s founder and the event’s keynote speaker. “And some of them said, ‘John Birch? Isn’t that from the 1950s, and they’re still there? And I say, “Yes”.
(True Texas Project, a group that emerged from what was once the Texas Tea Party, was recently labeled an anti-government hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
In the audience were a number of Conservative activists and candidates. Taylor Mondick, a Republican candidate running for Texas House District 95, made brief remarks, as did Rosalie Escobedo, who is running for deputy Republican Party secretary for Tarrant County. A representative of Turning Points USA, a right-wing group formed by the controversial Charlie Kirk, also spoke.
Founded in 1958, the ultraconservative, conspiratorial and fiercely anti-communist organization had 100,000 members at its peak. Along with other ultra-conservative groups, he pushed more moderate conservatives to backtrack on issues such as the civil rights movement. The group defended police accused of brutality, denounced the use of fluoride in the water supply and called gun control a precursor to a communist takeover of the country. It was at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, but experienced relative decline in the following decades after facing public criticism from conservative establishment luminary William F. Buckley in 1962 and after the death of his founder, Robert Welch, in 1985.
But the central ideas and values of Bircherism have since become increasingly mainstream. Alex Jones, founder of the far-right InfoWars site, which peddles the conspiracy and traffics in many of the same narratives as the John Birch Society, called former President Donald Trump “the president of the John Birch Society.” Academic historians and journalists have pointed to the enduring influence of their ultraconservative ideas on contemporary politics, and have pointed to anti-vaccination rhetoric as a resurgence of such thinking. Much like the modern “MAGA” movement, Bircherism undermines the legitimacy of political opponents by suggesting that they are part of a widespread and sinister conspiracy.
Now that Bircher’s central tenets are effectively embedded in the fabric of the conservative movement, explicit interest in the John Birch Society seems to be growing. In 2017, an article by Austin freelance journalist John Savagenote noted a growing membership of the group across Texas. Local chapters in Dallas, Houston and Central Texas have been active in recent years. Now Fort Worth, where Birch himself attended seminary, has its own chapter.
“It’s a sign of the times,” says Edward H. Miller, historian and author of two books that focus heavily on the group. “I have always maintained that the ideas of the John Birch Society were what really drove a great deal of right-wing activity in recent years. I have never maintained that the John Birch Society continued to be so powerful as it was in the 1960s, even if it continued as an organization. But you are seeing a renaissance, I guess.
Today, North Texas continues to be an epicenter of Bircherism and the variety of far-right movements that have digested its ideas, some of which have more violent or extreme tendencies. Consider that North Texas is also home to a significant number of participants in the January 6 insurgency and has been a site and center of activity for extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Patriot Front and militias from extreme right like This Is. Texas Freedom Force (TITFF).
Other parallels include the deliberate move by right-wing activists to take control of school boards, a trend that has manifested itself over the past two years across Texas.
“Welch specifically argued that you should get out there and join parent-teacher associations and school boards,” Miller said. “That was one of the things he wanted the members to do.”
It’s not just that these bands speak the same language Birchers created six decades ago. They also network together. “No man is an island,” Fulmer said at the July 12 luncheon. “John Birch is all about recognizing and networking with important Patriot groups.”
Among the active members of the Fort Worth John Birch Society Facebook group is a member of TITFF, a group that has been labeled an extremist militia by the FBI, a designation the group has vehemently rejected. This same member was pictured alongside Proud Boys during a protest outside an LGBTQ+ pride-themed children’s storytime event at a public library in McKinney.
“The Birchers never explicitly embraced violence,” said North Texas historian Michael Phillips, author of the book. White Metropolis. “They never called for the overthrow of the government, but they network and overlap to such an extent that this development is really concerning.”
Phillips, an expert on right-wing extremism, is concerned about the overlap between extremist groups and law enforcement. Tarrant County Constable Scott Bedford was among those attending the Spring Creek Barbeque luncheon on July 12. Another local probate judge expressed disappointment via a Facebook comment at not being able to attend.
“There have been warnings about this for years, for a decade, about the tremendous inroads into law enforcement that we’re seeing with extremist groups,” Phillips said. “And I think that’s a factor in police brutality, no doubt, the fact that so many of these people take their uniforms off and then they go and meet Birchers or Three Percenters, and share that attitude that the Black Lives Matter Movement is an agent of a sinister outside force.
Phillips may be right. During Fulmer’s keynote speech at the Spring Creek Barbeque, he broached the subject of civil rights.
“We know one of the things that was going on in the 1950s and early 1960s was with the civil rights movement,” Fulmer said. “It is eerily reminiscent of what we are dealing with today with [critical race theory].”
Fulmer released a copy of The John Birch Society Blue Book read a quote. Published in 1959, the book is a transcript of a two-day presentation given by John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, which functions as a sort of manifesto for the group.
“An aversion to other races as a weakness of the human race. It is used by communists in America to stir up hatred and mistrust among innocent people,” Fulmer said. “Does this sound familiar to you?” »
Neither Fulmer nor Bedford responded to requests for comment.