THE BLOG
09/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bloodstained Politics

Shocked to find the Right Wing using lies, mobs, and loaded guns against the health care debate? Why? In the early days, it didn't shrink from murder.

This is not wild talk. In the mid-'70s, right wing groups like the John Birch Society (JBS), the Posse Comitatus, and the Liberty Lobby were promoting something they called a miracle cancer cure; laetrile. The problem? It didn't cure anybody; it killed them. Many studies proved that the active ingredient in laetrile is hydrogen cyanide, which the liver turns into pure cyanide.

Among the most active laetrile promoters: Dr. Larry McDonald, President of the JBS. McDonald was elected to Congress in 1974; when he declared for the Seventh District, he turned his laetrile practice over to a Dr. Robert C. Shuman of Marietta. According to a series that ran in 1976 in the Atlanta Constitution (now the Journal-Constitution), Shuman would only treat patients with laetrile if they wrote checks to the Larry McDonald for Congress Committee--and joined the John Birch Society.

In other words, physicians tied directly to the John Birch Society were committing murder by prescribing something they knew, or should have known, was deadly--and useless against cancer--and used the money to finance their political activities.

Considering that these patients were mostly desperate, dying people who'd exhausted alternatives in conventional medicine, this is a long way from the Hippocratic Oath's charge to "do no harm," and "...give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel."

Just to make matters more interesting: According to the series in the Constitution, McDonald wouldn't treat patients with laetrile unless they obtained Federal firearms licenses, and was being investigated at the time by the Treasury Department for using those patients as "...go-betweens to disguise his purchase of firearms." What he was doing with those guns wasn't reported.

What has this got to do with the health care riots? Plenty. One of the major groups behind them is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which says it's also behind the so-called "Tea Parties," and has close ties to the JBS.

The AFP was founded by billionaires David and Charles Koch, well-known right-wing activists who also founded the Cato Institute. Their father, Fred, was a JBS founder, though the brothers themselves deny any connection to the JBS.

The AFP, which has a bus running around the country cheering on the troops, is the source of many of the lies being screamed in town hall meetings and the right-wing press. A press release issued by Patients First, an AFP group, quotes one of its policy advisors, Amy Menefee, this way:

"These proposals would change everything about health care as we know it....We wouldn't be able to keep our current plans, despite what the president keeps saying. The government would dictate what health insurance we have to have, how much it costs, and how it works. Instead of patients and doctors making decisions, it would be government bureaucrats. We would have no protection from the government deciding who does and doesn't get care."

From the 1950s to Ronald Reagan's election, the John Birch Society was a visible, active force in American politics. It backed Barry Goldwater for president, sponsored California's Proposition 13 (the reason for much of the state's current fiscal crisis), and built a lavishly-financed grass-roots network by targeting school boards and local governments.

This attracted too much attention, especially to some of its wilder accusations--like founder Robert W. Welsh Jr.'s claim that President Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist agent. So it switched tactics, choosing obscurity, and operating under the radar, through a number of fronts that typically spin away any connections to it. But its influence over today's political landscape is seminal, profound, and little-understood.

Did the JBS e-mail some memo to its followers, ordering the health care riots? It doesn't matter, because it's been the well-head of many of the Right Wing ideas that have been planted in the American mind over the past 30 years.

Among them:

• Original Intent, an idea about the Constitution that rejects 200 years of legal history (including James Madison's own explanation of the Constitution in Federalist Papers #44);
• America is on the road to Socialism;
• Socialism and Fascism are the same thing;
• Supply-side economics;
• Markets can regulate themselves;
• Feminism is a plot to undermine the American Family;
• The Federal Reserve is illegitimate;
• NAFTA, the United Nations, and the Law of the Sea treaty are all part of a plan to create a global government, the "New World Order";
• When your opponent asks questions, attack his patriotism and personal life.

Any of that sound familiar to you?

The truth is, the John Birch Society has been framing one side of this country's political debate for years. Among its leaders: people like Phyllis Schlafly and Richard Mellon Scaife-- the billionaire JBS member who financed the drive to Bill Clinton's impeachment. Now, it's trying to derail health care reform by changing the topic to whether lies are the truth--an archetypal Bircher tactic.

There are the people riding the bus, the people steering the bus, and the people who own the bus. The people behind organizations like the John Birch Society own the bus. The JBS doesn't own the right wing--many of the ideas it champions have been around since George Washington's day--but they have an important seat at the Right Wing table. And based on the evidence, it stops at nothing to get what it wants.

In fairness, the members of the mobs aren't trying to derail health care reform per se: In their minds, they're patriots, trying to save their country from what the JBS and its friends have told them is a totalitarian future. That's another classic Bircher tactic; accusing the enemy of your own goals.

They're going to come after me with much of their political toolbag for writing this. But that's a side issue. The real question is: Are we going to let ourselves be bullied by some billionaires' mob? Aren't we tougher than that?

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