In politics, a Bircher is an adherent to the teachings and philosophies of the John Birch Society, an anti-communist organization founded in 1958. The heyday of the Bircher movement was in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the organization had 60 staffers and over 100,000 paying members, in addition to an estimated 4 to 6 million followers nationwide.
Most active in the aftermath of the McCarthy era and into the 1970s, Bircherism has mostly been defined by its support for limited government and an antipathy towards wealth redistribution, unionization, communism, workers’ rights, and socialism.
While active in mainstream politics, Birchers have long had a reputation for being mainly a fringe organization. From The Conversation:
Birchers expressed a belief in domestic communist conspiracies. They went so far as to accuse President Dwight Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren of being communist dupes and agents – building on the legacy of Sen. Joseph McCarthy whose movement of predominantly Midwestern Republicans found the society’s agenda appealing.
Positions over the years have been controversial and wide-ranging, including opposition to Civil Rights and the Equal Rights Amendment for women’s equality, and a hard-line stance on immigration.
The Birchers’ most notable presidential endorsement was in 1964, when they backed right-wing firebrand Barry Goldwater. A Goldwater spokesman was once quoted as saying about the Birchers: “All those little old ladies in tennis shoes that you called right-wing nuts and kooks…they’re the best volunteer political organization that’s ever been put together.”
Among their most complicated relationship was with Richard Nixon, who the Birchers considered an enemy, in part because of the group’s fervent anti-Vietnam War beliefs. In turn, Nixon once said that the Birchers were a fringe group that will “pass.” Yet even with a history of being anti-Nixon, Bircher chief Welch was quoted in 1975 New York Times article as calling his ouster part of an “international communist conspiracy.”
While most of the tenets of Bircherism fell out of favor during the last few decades with the rise of neoconservatism, the presidency of Barack Obama and the subsequent election of Donald Trump has led to resurgence in Bircher philosophies, particularly in the Deep South states such as Texas, and are fueled mainly by conspiracy theories.
From a 2017 Politico article:
This is what the 21st-century John Birch Society looks like. Gone is the organization’s past obsession with ending the supposed communist plot to achieve mind-control through water fluoridation. What remains is a hodgepodge of isolationist, religious and right-wing goals that vary from concrete to abstract, from legitimate to conspiracy minded-goals that don’t look so different from the ideology coming out of the White House.
Political scientists today draw a straight line from the Birchers of the 1960s and 1970s to political heavyweights such as the Koch Brothers and the emergence of the Tea Party Patriots in Republican politics.