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Unda' The Rotunda

Birchers Still Kicking; Idaho bill asks Congress to protect us, please, from an invasion

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Some legislation is driven by economic or philosophical motives. Some bills come from left field.

And then there are the bills that come via e-mail. From the John Birch Society.

Sen. Shirley McKague, a Meridian Republican, joined the far-right, anti-Communist group in the early 1970s, at the tail end of its heyday. She describes herself now as an inactive member.

"Education is their strategy, truth is their weapon," McKague told me recently from her desk on the floor of the Idaho Senate.

McKague hopes to educate Congress and the president about an apparent invasion of our country. It is the Feds' job after all to protect us—the states—from invasion, under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution.

And it was written: "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a Republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion."

In case you had not heard about it, or read it yet on News.Google.com, the United States has been invaded by Mexicans. Just ask the Birchers.

"They're coming in uninvited, and we don't know where they are," McKague said of this invasion. "The key word is 'illegal.'"

I polled a few of her six co-sponsors of the bill but could not find anyone who knew of the Birch Society connection.

"I don't care who wrote the thing," said Challis Republican Rep. Lenore Barrett, who is not an official co-sponsor.

Sen. Mel Richardson, an elderly radio personality from Eastern Idaho who is co-sponsoring the bill, said that recent spikes in illegal immigration are "like" an invasion: "It's like an invasion of people trying to get a job."

The bill, Senate Joint Memorial 110, originally urged four things: Secure the border; stop illegal immigration; end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants; and reject amnesty.

McKague keeps a copy of the Constitution on her desk. And birthright citizenship­—the right of anyone born on U.S. soil to become a citizen­—is also in the Constitution.

It's only an amendment, of course: the 14th. It's been there since 1868. But after McKague read the Constitution, she decided to take the demand to end birthright citizenship out of the bill.

It was a good catch on her part, but it's hard to comprehend how the Birchers who e-mailed her missed that little detail. Because the Birchers are all about the Constitution.

"We're an educational organization that simply tries to raise the level of education on Constitutional issues," said Dale Pearce, a local coordinator for the John Birch Society.

Pearce lives in Nampa and is the older brother of Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth. He coordinates parts of Idaho, Washington and Oregon for the Cold War-era group and said there are five chapters in the Boise area, but they are not that involved in legislative issues.

Pearce would not disclose membership numbers, but said the group is like the pea in the children's tale the Princess and the Pea.

He also said his baby brother is not a member, and Sen. Pearce told me he didn't know anything about McKague's bill's connection to the group.

The John Birch Society has had an uneasy relationship with mainstream Republicans ever since its leader called President Dwight D. Eisenhower "a dedicated agent of the Communist conspiracy," according to the watchdog Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch.org.

Having opposed civil-rights legislation in the 1960s, the society is often criticized as a veiled front group for white supremacy.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but Dale Pearce seemed to confirm both critiques as he spoke to me about his poor, deluded friends who voted for President George W. Bush, the tax-and-spend president: "He's got a white hat, rides in on a white horse, lives in a house that is white and is married to a beautiful white woman."

One of the biggest "educational" issues for the Birch Society these days is halting the formation of a greater "North American Union" including Canada (the socialistic) and Mexico (the criminalistic), to the detriment of—you guessed it—the Constitution.

This is an echo of a 1960s Bircher campaign to withdraw from the United Nations.

McKague's bill asserts that the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America are being used to "nullify the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution."

This surprisingly well-accepted theory has been intentionally inserted into the most recent national debate on immigration policy by groups like the John Birch Society.

Rep. Phil Hart, a Kootenai County Republican, jumped on the NAU bandwagon with a critique of NAFTA. "It's a backdoor way of blending the United States with Canada and Mexico," he said.

Last year, in House Joint Memorial 5, Rep. Jo Ann Wood, R-Rigby, got the Legislature to approve a call for the United States to withdraw from any efforts to form a North American Union. She was apparently inspired by a plan to divert federal highway funds for a trans-American highway.

Then there is freshman Rep. Curtis Bowers, R-Caldwell. Bowers claimed in a column for the Idaho Press-Tribune earlier this year that he had infiltrated a Communist Party meeting in Berkeley in 1992 and that the Communist agenda is still alive and well.

The cloak-and-dagger tactics claimed by Bowers are the exact tactics advocated by the Birchers. The group is, or was, split into cells to mirror supposed Commie organizing across the nation.

In October 1964, the Idaho Statesman reported on the activities of the Birch Society, claiming that the group was spending $10 million a year disseminating its propaganda through radio and television broadcasts.

According to SourceWatch.org, the Statesman wrote: "By virtue of saturation tactics used, radical, reactionary propaganda is producing an impact even on large numbers of people who, themselves, are in no sense extremists or sympathetic to extremists' views ... When day after day they hear distortions of fact and sinister charges against persons or groups, often emanating from organizations with conspicuously respectable sounding names, it is no wonder that the result is: confusion on some important public issues; stimulation of latent prejudices; creation of suspicion, fear and mistrust in relation not only to their representatives in government, but even in relation to their neighbors."

Unda' the Rotunda is trying hard not to be conspiratorial here. But does the recent barrage of talk radio berating immigrants and positing that the Republic is about to be dissolved by minions from the south sound like a repeat of the 1960s?

Sen. Richardson on last year's "comprehensive immigration reform" deal: "Talk radio just hammered the daylights out of that."

The 1964 Statesman editorial went on: "An unchecked increase in this kind of propaganda is degrading the American political dialogue to such a point as to damage our self-respect at home and our reputation for public responsibility abroad. These radical, reactionary positions are undermining American democracy."

And they are alive and well at the Capitol Annex.

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