Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Rightby Claire Conner
Claire Conner was raised by parents who were in the inner circles of the John Birch Society. This is the story of her lifelong acquaintance with the psychology of the radical right. She wrote the book after seeing the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2010, which sounded all too familiar to her.
Though her parents tried hard to indoctrinate her, she had a mind of her own and was open to new ideas. Her parents were conservative Catholics who insisted their children attend only Catholic schools, which were often too liberal for the parents's comfort. Claire was mortified by her mother's numerous trips to the school office to complain about the curriculum. A sympathetic lay teacher gave Claire "plain wrap" books to read. (She literally had a shelf of books with plain brown wrappers on them, so Claire never knew what the book was until she opened it.) One was Black Like Me, which opened her eyes to the way racism operated in the Deep South. In the end, Claire went from devout Catholic to liberal Unitarian. (The pedophile priest scandal was the final straw.) I don't think her parents ever forgave her for abandoning the Church.
The book is well-written, informative and I had a lot of sympathy for Claire and her siblings. It can't have been easy to be raised by narrow-minded, paranoid conspiracy theorists, esp. since they were also controlling as well as emotionally and physically abusive.
I remember the Birch Society being derided as nutty extremists, and nothing she said here made it seem otherwise. The founder and long-time leader, Robert Welch, had some very strange ideas, as well as a lot of the common prejudices of the early 20th c. He was both bigoted and anti-semitic (as were Claire's parents) and saw a Communist behind every bush. A Southerner by birth, Welch was also a racist. Some of his wilder theories made me laugh, since they defy all internal logic and show an astonishing ignorance of history and economics. Welch thought Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy & LBJ were all pro-Communist. Huh? His other big bugaboo was the much-feared New World Order, which was somehow being fomented by Communists and Jewish bankers! Because we all know how well those two groups have gotten along, historically speaking. The only thing that ever seemed to throw them was Reagan winning the presidency (to their delight) then turning out not to be quite as conservative as expected.
Overall, Wrapped in the Flag is a fascinating yet disturbing look at the radical right and their commitment, dedication and relentlessness. And now, thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, they are allowed to spend more money than ever before on candidates and political activism. I admire the author's courage and honesty in exposing her life to public scrutiny, but I was a little discouraged when I finished it, though I think the book well worth reading.
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