Robert Welch, left, founder of the John Birch Society, addresses a crowd at the River Falls, Wisc., State College grassroots political conference, Feb. 8, 1962. (AP/Gene Herrick)

The John Birch Society Sees a Renaissance in North Texas

Once sidelined, the decades-old right-wing group has seen a resurgence in the state.


On a sweltering day in July, Mark Fulmer looked cool and collected in the bonus room at the Spring Creek Barbeque in Bedford, a suburb outside of Fort Worth. He stood at a podium in front of about 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 a couple of them said, ‘John Birch? Isn’t that from the 1950s, and they’re still around?’ And I say, ‘Yes.’”

(True Texas Project, a group that emerged out of what used to be 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 nominee running for Texas House District 95, gave brief remarks, as did Rosalie Escobedo, who is running for assistant secretary of the Tarrant County Republican Party. A representative from Turning Points USA, a right-wing group formed by the controversial Charlie Kirk, also spoke.

Founded in 1958, the ultraconservative, conspiratorially minded, and rabidly anti-communist organization boasted 100,000 members at its peak. Alongside other ultraconservative groups, it pushed more moderate conservatives to tack right on issues like the civil rights movement. The group defended police accused of brutality, decried the use of fluoride in the water supply, and labeled gun control as a precursor to a communist takeover of the country. It was at its most powerful in the 1960s and 1970s, but fell into relative decline in subsequent decades after facing public criticism from conservative establishment luminary William F. Buckley in 1962 and after the death of its founder, Robert Welch, in 1985.

But the ideas and values central to Bircherism have since become increasingly mainstream. Alex Jones, founder of the conspiracy-peddling far-right site InfoWars that trafficks in many of the same narratives as the John Birch Society, called former President Donald Trump the “John Birch Society president.” Academic historians and journalists alike have pointed to the lasting influence of their ultraconservative ideas in contemporary politics and point to anti-vaccination rhetoric as a resurgence of such thinking. Not unlike the modern “MAGA” movement, Bircherism undermines the legitimacy of political opponents by suggesting they are a part of a widespread and sinister conspiracy.

Now that central Bircher tenets have effectively become embedded into the fabric of the conservative movement, explicit interest in the John Birch Society appears to be growing. In 2017, an article by Austin freelance journalist John Savagenote noted growing membership in 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, boasts 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. “It has always been my argument that the ideas of the John Birch Society were what has really driven a lot of the activity of the right in recent years. I’ve never argued that the John Birch Society continued to be as powerful as it was in the 1960s, even if it continued as an organization. But you’re 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 insurrection, and has been a site and center of activity for extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Patriot Front, and far-right militias like This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF). 

Other parallels include the deliberate move by right-wing activists to take over school boards, a trend that has played out over the past two years across Texas. 

“Welch specifically argued that you should go out and join PTAs and school boards,” Miller said. “That was one of the things that he wanted members to do.”

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It’s not just that these groups are speaking the same language that Birchers originated six decades ago. They’re also networking together. “No man is an island,” Fulmer said at the July 12 luncheon. “John Birch is 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 which has been labeled an extremist militia by the FBI—a designation the group has vehemently rejected. That same member was photographed alongside Proud Boys at a protest outside of an LGBTQ+ pride-themed children’s story time event at a public library in McKinney.

“The Birchers have never explicitly embraced violence,” said North Texas historian Michael Phillips, author of the book White Metropolis. “They’ve never called for the overthrow of the government, but they do network and overlap to an extent that this development is really concerning.”

Phillips, an expert on right-wing extremism, is concerned by the overlap among extremist groups and law enforcement. Tarrant County Constable Scott Bedford was among the attendees at the Spring Creek Barbeque luncheon on July 12. Another local probate judge expressed disappointment via a comment on Facebook that they would not be able to attend.

“There’s been warning about this for years, for the past decade or so, about what a tremendous incursion into law enforcement we see with extremist groups,” Phillips said. “And I think it’s a factor in police violence, without question, the fact that so many of these people take off their uniforms, and then they go and they meet with Birchers or Three Percenters, and share that attitude that the Black Lives Matter Movement is an agent of some sinister outside force.”

Phillips may have a point. During Fulmer’s keynote address at Spring Creek Barbeque, he turned to the topic of civil rights. 

“We know that one of things that was going on in the ’50s and early ’60s was with the civil rights movement,” Fulmer said. “It’s strangely reminiscent of what we’re dealing with today with [critical race theory].” 

Fulmer pulled out a copy of The Blue Book of the John Birch Society to read a quote. Published in 1959, the book is a transcription of a two-day presentation given by John Birch Society founder Robert Welch that functions as a sort of manifesto of the group.

“A dislike for other races as a weakness of the human race. It is used by communists in America to stir up hatred and distrust among innocent people,” Fulmer said. “Sounds remotely familiar?”

Neither Fulmer nor Bedford responded to requests for comment.