Trump and Republicans are Following the Goldwater Model with Qanon. That Didn't End WellRoundup
tags: conservatism, Barry Goldwater, John Birch Society, conspiracy theory
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, which will be published in the fall by Johns Hopkins University Press.
In 1962, conservative journalist William F. Buckley flew to Florida to meet with Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. Buckley’s main goal was to persuade Goldwater to run for president on the Republican ticket in 1964. But he also wanted the senator to distance himself from the John Birch Society, which had already indicated its support for Goldwater.
And that was bad news for the GOP, because the Birchers were — in Buckley’s term — nuts. Their leader, a candy manufacturer named Robert Welch, charged that over half of the American government was “communist-controlled.” Most notoriously, Welch insisted that former President Dwight Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.”
Like Goldwater, Buckley shared the strong anti-communism of the John Birch Society. But the Birchers’ claims were “so far removed from common sense” that they threatened to undermine the cause, Buckley wrote. “The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false.”
The same problem faces the Republican Party this fall, but in a different form. It’s called QAnon, and it’s every bit as removed from reality as the Birchers were. It, too, imagines that the government is in the grips of a conspiracy, this time hatched by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. The plot is supposedly led by prominent Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton, who eat little children (yes, you read that right) to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.
A recent investigation by the Guardian found more than 170 QAnon groups, pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram, with over 4.5 million followers. That’s the kind of breadth the John Birch Society could only dream of, back in the predigital era. By most estimates, it enlisted fewer than 100,000 members.
And whereas the Birchers fantasized about putting Barry Goldwater in the White House, QAnon already has its man there: Donald Trump. Indeed, it claims, President Trump is the only man who can stop the conspiracy eating America (literally and figuratively) from the inside.
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