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The Sinfulness and Destructiveness of Conspiracy Theories

And what if their goals are reached? Paradise will still not be achieved because man is inherently sinful. There are always unforeseen, unintended consequences.

Few people remember that Buckley was the main figure in banishing Robert Welch and his conspiracy theory laden John Birch Society from the Republican Party. Ironically, it was a real conspiracy between him, Russell Kirk, Senator Barry Goldwater and a few others who met secretly in 1961 in Palm Beach, Florida. For those under forty, Senator Goldwater was the spokesman of the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the Senate. He was the Republican nominee for president in 1964, and was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in that election. The Palm Beach group brainstormed what to do about the John Birch Society’s growing influence on both the Conservative movement and the Republican Party.[14]

Robert Welch

The John Birch Society was founded just after World War II by Robert Welch, a businessman, to counter the rise of communism. This laudable goal was marred by a cluster of conspiracy theories about why communism was advancing, as in for instance, the fall of anti-Communist Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao’s Communist “Peoples’ Republic.” Robert Welch believed it was due to a Communist takeover of the American government that ultimately allowed the triumph of Mao’s Red Army. Among other things Welch believed that President Dwight Eisenhower was a “conscious agent of communism” and American foreign policy was a sly scheme to turn the world over to communism, just as in China. Other conspiracy theories of the Society included the belief that the fluoridation of water was also a communist conspiracy to ruin the health of the American people.[15]

At the Palm Beach meeting Senator Goldwater, who was preparing to run for president, expressed both his admiration and concern for the John Birchers. They were enthusiastic anti-Communists and great donors to the Republican Party. But these crazy conspiracy theories, what was wrong with them? Buckley answered that the fallacy was “the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”[16] This of course is at the heart of many conspiracy theories.

Senator Barry Goldwater

Goldwater thanked Buckley for his insight, and those at the meeting agreed on a plan to finesse the Birchers out of the Republican Party. Goldwater proceeded to publicly attack the Birchers’ conspiracy theories, while still lauding its members as patriots. Buckley used the National Review to publish a series of searing articles, by himself and others, on the Society and Robert Welch. In a letter to the National Review, Goldwater publicly affirmed Buckley’s position:

I think you have clearly stated the problem which Mr. Welch’s continued leadership of the John Birch Society poses for sincere conservatives. … Mr. Welch is only one man, and I do not believe his views, far removed from reality and common sense as they are, represent the feelings of most members of the John Birch Society. … Because of this, I believe the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anti-Communism in the United States would be to resign. … We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.[17]

The “Palm Beach Conspiracy” ultimately worked. Although Welch did not resign, and the John Birch Society continued in its conspiracy theories, it was shunned and marginalized by the Republican leadership and faded from influence. The Republican Party became rationally conservative (i.e. reasoned argument which avoided conspiracy theories) and became the party that ultimately got Ronald Regan elected president.

An anthology of conspiracy theories, The Blue Book of the John Birch Society.

Unfortunately, in the recent decade some of the John Birch Society’s now gray-haired veterans and their literature have influenced the Tea Party.[18] Several commentators on both the left and right of American politics have lamented that at the present moment there is no one among American conservatives with the prestige, intelligence and authority of Buckley to place the Tea Party and its conspiracy theories, including the Jade Helm conspiracy theory, in its place.[19]

A Classic American Conspiracy Theory: Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor

When I was in high school, our history teacher was a fervent Republican and an avowed Roosevelt hater. He was a believer in the conspiracy theory that FDR enticed the Japanese into attacking the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in order to get the United States into World War II. Further, Roosevelt prevented the American fleet from being forewarned of the attack. That conspiracy theory was based on a book written in 1944 and subsequently elaborated in other works. The conspiracy theory was thrashed about in the 1950s and 1960s, but rebutted by reputable historians. It made a new appearance in 2000 with the book Day of Deceit.[20] Again, reputable military historians have dismissed it. It supposes a large and extremely close knit group of conspirators all the way from General Marshall, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man of enormous integrity, to mid-level and junior offers all over the Pacific.

The USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Day of Deceit is elaborate nonsense that confuses the mistakes and oversights with conspiracies. Militarily informed reviewers, such as Dr. Conrad Crane of the US Army War College, have lambasted the book as inaccurate at its critical points.[21] But many anti-Obama Republicans enjoy reading Day of Deceit, as it confirms their suspicion that in the past there was another Democratic president as destructive and evil as Obama.

The movie Tora, Tora, Tora gave an excellent presentation of what really happened and how the sneak attack was almost intercepted. Part of the conspiracy theory was that the US Pacific Fleet moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in order to lure the Japanese into an attack. No, the intention was to dissuade the Japanese, who were already in a war with China, form further attacking the Dutch East Indies and other areas in the Pacific. The move was a form of intimidation.

Roosevelt and his military planners in the US really wanted to postpone war with Japan while limiting its advances, and fight Nazi Germany first. The Administration was indeed moving to get the American public to go to war with Germany. In fact there was an undeclared destroyer vs. submarines war with Germany for weeks before December 7 in which one U.S. destroyer had already been sunk.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2015

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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