William F. Buckley Conspired to Expose the John Birch Society

Mick West

Staff member
An interesting bit of conspiracy theory history comes from William F. Buckley's account of a 1962 series of meetings with Barry Goldwater and his advisors. The problem was raised that the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, and its leader Robert Welch were discrediting and corrupting the conservative movement with the "mischievous unreality" of the theory that President Eisenhower was a secret communist agent — as well as several other more outlandish theories.

There then followed an ordinary "conspiracy" of sorts where powerful men decided in secret upon a course of action:
Buckley was asked to define the "operative fallacy" of the Birch movement, and his answer hits upon one of the fundamental underpinnings of all conspiracist movements:
If something happened (the fallacy goes) then someone must have made it happen. With a more modern conspiracy; if the consequences of the 9/11 attacks were war with Iraq, then the intent must have been war with Iraq.

The anti-Birch "conspiracy" continued:
Again, note that was in 1962, the year before the JFK assassination.

This has similarities to the CIA's 1967 concerns about JFK conspiracy theories, and Cass Sunstein's paper "Conspiracy Theories". In all cases there's a genuine concern about false conspiracy theories causing harm (either to the nation, or to the interests of the group), and so there's discussion of how best to address this problem.

Of course this creates problems itself, something we deal with here. If you actually believe in a conspiracy theory then when you hear that other people are discussing how best to discredit that theory then it's irrelevant that their intentions are good and the "discrediting" is simply exposing the facts. The conspiracist just sees another conspiracy, rebuttals become evidence they are correct.

It is a complex problem with no simple solutions. But the more perspective we have the better, and I think these historical roots should shine light for both sides.
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