Extremism broke my family; I don't want it to break my country. This is my story.
Part One: The Good Old Days
I’m Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right, coming July 2013 from Beacon Press. In this diary, and in several more, you'll discover how my parents dove into radical right wing politics. By the time I was thirteen, I lived in the world of conspiracy theories, secret Communists all over the place and Taking Back the Country.
I was born on August 16, 1945, the day after the Japanese surrendered to General Douglas McArthur, ending World War II. Depending on how you look at it, I was either one of the last war babies or one of the first baby boomers.
From our 2013 perch, it’s easy to think that the 1950s were “the good old days” when everything in America was Mom, S&H green stamps and apple pie. It was a long time before I learned that the country faced gigantic post war challenges. The economy had to be retooled to peace time production.
Millions of GIs needed jobs and across the globe, Red boots were marching through Eastern Europe and Asia seemingly unopposed. As the Iron Curtain descended, Americans grew afraid.
By the time I was six, I could put my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I knew that I lived in God’s favorite country and I could name three great Americans: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and “Tail Gunner Joe.”
I wasn’t sure who that last fellow was, but my parents talked about him so often, I knew he was important. It took a while, but eventually I put a first and last name on that guy: Joseph McCarthy, the firebrand anti-Communist senator from Wisconsin.
When McCarthy died in 1957, my parents were devastated. “They killed him because he knew too much,” my mother said.
“It’ll take a lot more Joes to save the country,” Dad added.
Fast forward 18 months and my father had become a Communist fighter just like his hero. My father had discovered the John Birch Society. Before long, he would be a national leader, our house was all Birch all the time and I was a new recruit in the Birch society.
For 32 years, my father marched at the head of that anti-Communist army. He never faltered and he never, ever retreated. He was a true believer.