Birch Watchers

Birch Watchers

Margot Metroland

Matthew Dallek
How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right

New York: Basic Books, 2023

A couple of months back I reviewed a biography of Robert Welch (A Conspiratorial Life) that I regarded as superficial and facile. [1] The author, Edward H. Miller, seemed to have no real feel for the issues that motivated Welch and his followers in the late 1950s and early 60s. In fact Miller displayed little sense of that time at all, as a political era I mean. His notions about Welch and the John Birch Society were funneled entirely through simplistic and disparaging journalism, from that era to the present. These were stories that pushed the idea that Welch was “a conspiracy nut,” and that the Birchers were a semi-secret, far-Right activist group that was somehow akin to the KKK though less overtly racist. The Birchers, Miller decided, were much like the recent QAnon people of a few years back, with their wild conspiratorial imaginings, or the PizzaGate nuts, or those “J6” insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol in early 2021. Or, better yet, Donald Trump himself, with his endless, irresponsible accusations about Mexican rapists and stolen elections. Miller presumably made all these comparisons to entice potential readers who didn’t know any better.

A very different book is Birchers. Maybe because he’s the son of biographer/historian Richard Dallek, Matthew Dallek knows how to keep the reader’s attention by serving up interesting facts instead of flyblown opinions and slogans. On the whole this book is marvelous stuff, an entertaining read and almost free of egregious errors. Dallek occasionally stumbles with silly political cant—he calls Charles Lindbergh the “antisemitic aviator” (ooh that Charlie Lindbergh!) — and/or mistaken identity (he refers to Medford Evans’s journal, The Citizen, as “the white supremacist newspaper Citizen’s Council“). [2] And at book’s end he tries lamely to establish a continuity between early-60s Bircherism and the popularity of Donald Trump. This strained thesis was probably tacked on here because Dallek’s editor thought it made the book more relevant to the Modern Reader. Dallek doesn’t beat this dead horse the way Miller did in A Conspiratorial Life, but the Trump comparison still looks obtrusive and facile, the publishing equivalent of clickbait.

Thankfully, for the most part Dallek rides an even keel, treating all comers fairly if whimsically. He’s appreciative and even enthusiastic when discussing the Bircher activity, at least in the early 60s. In Dallek’s telling the JBS crowd of that early 60s were an energetic and aware bunch of activists, ready and willing to infiltrate local school boards, chambers of commerce, political campaigns, and local media outlets. They did this with skill and imagination. I was doing my laundry when I got to this part in the book. I suddenly stood up and wanted to cheer, right there in my apartment building’s basement laundry room. Because the Birch Society was the sort of outfit you’d want to join back in the early 60s, if you were a young adult. Or even an older one!—one of those “little old ladies in tennis shoes,” as the saying went, describing the Birchers’ invaluable army of dedicated volunteers. Author Dallek is obliged to take an adversarial stance, but you can tell he really admires, even likes these people. They had gumption, they had daring, and mainly, they knew what they wanted.

And the story gets much more interesting, because these infiltrating Birchers themselves got well and thoroughly penetrated by anti-Birch spies and provocateurs, notably the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL). It was like a “Spy vs. Spy” cartoon in Mad: white-hat spy infiltrates the city council and the local Republican party organization; meanwhile black-hat spy slips into the white-hat group to find what’s going on, and maybe sabotage it. The spies don’t necessarily accomplish much, but they do have fun!

The ADL’s campaign against the John Birch Society is an old tale, first recounted back in 1964 in a book by the ADL’s own Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein, Danger on the Right [3] which inspired a similarly titled television documentary broadcast just prior to the Presidential election. What Birchers does is fill us in on the backroom information: that is, the practical details of the ADL’s spy operations against the JBS. According to Dallek, during the 1960s and  70s, ran a dedicated espionage program literally called “Birch Watchers.”

Dallek briefly chides the ADL for its deceitful, illegal activities, but cheerfully goes along with their “end justifies the means” rationalization:

Why did a venerable organization devoted to civil rights and civil liberties deploy subterfuge tactics that seemingly contradicted some of its core values? In 1952 the ADL’s general counsel Arnold Forster, and national director, Benjamin Epstein, hinted at an answer to this question. The ADL, they wrote, felt a duty to expose “a vast enterprise” of hate and to disrupt the “works of professional hatemongers” operating in the United States. Meier Steinbrink, the national chairman, spoke of the need for “ammunition for the war to make our land a more perfect democracy.” To the ADL these righteous ends justified the morally questionable means, which included outright spying. As the Birch Society emerged and gained strength, it became an ADL bête noire… By shining a bright, intense light on the far right’s dark side, through whatever means, the ADL hoped to stroke a blow for tolerance, progress, and democracy. (pp. 137-138)

And so on so forth, including the obligatory nod to the “Holocaust”—an anachronistic nod, inasmuch as the term would not acquire its current popular meaning until the 1980s. Read this in a Frontline narrator voice and try not to smile:

Inaction and silence in the face of fascism had enabled the Holocaust and brought dictatorship close to American shores. To the watchers, Birch criticisms of the civil rights movement as a communist plot and of the US foreign policy establishment as the pawns of international elites evoked Hitler’s scapegoating and persecution of Jews and racial minorities. (p. 137)

Wow just wow. Close to American shores! The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Nassau, you mean? The Dallek tongue surely was well within the Dallek cheek when he tapped out those lines. Or might you think he possibly wrote this unironically? Well, just after telling us that “the ADL went to great lengths to keep its spy program secret” (no, seriously?), he describes the Birch Watchers as “a motley crew bound together by a shared faith in the goal of making America a safe haven for Jewry and racial progress.”

In Dallek’s eyes the Bircher/Birch Watcher face-off was a pretty balanced match. Plenty of skullduggery and silliness on both sides, with no real advantage to either. Again, it’s “Spy vs. Spy.”

A most intriguing revelation comes at the beginning of Dallek’s “Birch Watchers” chapter, when an unnamed ADL spy (code name: Bos #4) goes to Belmont, Massachusetts and knocks on the door of the two-story, red-brick Birch headquarters. He’s met by none other than Mr. Welch himself, to whom the spy ingratiates himself by claiming to be head of a chapter in New Jersey, on his way back home and hoping to pick up some extra literature. In the course of amiable chitchat in the office, the fake Bircher from New Jersey asks why Westbrook Pegler hasn’t been appearing in American Opinion magazine lately. It turns out that it’s not because Pegler was going off on the Jews, as he sometimes did, it’s because he would write stuff about Chief Justice Warren, and say, e.g., he “wishes that Warren would break both his legs.” Welch wanted to “soften Pegler’s violent-sounding screed” (Dallek writes), but Pegler wouldn’t let him. Furthermore Welch “was furious that he still had to pay Pegler for his unprintable work.”

This report on Pegler must have been disappointing to the ADL home office. They wanted to report that Westbrook Pegler’s “antisemitism” was too much even for the John Birch Society, but actually the fight was about Earl Warren. Veteran columnist Pegler had recently been canned by his newspaper syndicate (Hearst’s King Features), leaving the Birch Society as his one remaining outlet. The ADL’s Forster and Epstein were so fascinated by the Pegler saga that they devoted much of their Robert Welch chapter in their Danger on the Right book to Pegler’s authorial tantrums and public outbursts, This includes the memorable if unpublicized occasion when Stork Club proprietor Sherman Billingsley ejected him from the nightclub, supposedly for carrying on a drunken tirade against David Ben-Gurion. “Peg” then sat down on the sidewalk. When showbiz columnist Leonard Lyons emerged with some friends, Pegler called him a “Jew-Communist” and “kike son-of-a-bitch.” Then Pegler shouted “nigger bastard” at Negro chauffeur who tried to help him to his feet. This is all supposed to have happened on Thanksgiving Day 1962.

This story comes entirely from the ADL, mind you, and you may judge for yourself how true any of it might be. Regardless, it’s a wonderful example of the ADL fixation upon Westbrook Pegler. As you might have gathered by this point, Dallek had access to a lot of ADL memoranda. This makes his endnotes very interesting, as compelling as the text. [4]

You may remember that back in 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin used an unattributed Pegler quote in her acceptance speech (“We grow good people in our small towns…”). An obscure quotation from a long-dead, unnamed newspaper columnist, and yet it was enough to send up a signal flare and get the opinion media raving for a week.

A notable thing about the ADL smear jobs against Rightists and Birchers is that they would compulsively claim that any book or pamphlet of a grandly conspiratorial nature was a “rehash of the discredited Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” Dallek has them saying this of Condé McGinley’s Common Sense newspaper in 1964, while Forster and Epstein’s Danger on the Right (published the same year) characterizes William Guy Carr’s Pawns in the Game the same way. I noted in my review of the Welch biography, A Conspiratorial Life, the ADL said much the same thing in 1972, post-election about Gary Allen’s None Dare Call It Conspiracy. The assertions are untrue. But from a propaganda angle that does not really matter, because the key point is that the writings are being dismissed as loonytoons “conspiracy” stuff, which is all pretty much the same.


[1] I completely missed Morris van de Camp’s 2022 in-depth review of A Conspiratorial Life, which treats author Miller rather more respectfully.

[2] But I want to cite a substantive error that comes near the beginning, in the summary Introduction, because it’s just a dumb mistake that cannot be blamed on bias or typographical error. Dallek claims that

Throughout the 1950s [William F.] Buckley published writers whose work also appeared in American Mercury, which had become an antisemitic magazine with ties to the Birch Society.

This was a clear impossibility. Buckley did not publish National Review “throughout the 1950s,” in fact he did not begin publication until the end of 1955. And then he declared a ban on Mercury-byline writers beginning about March 1959. (The Mercury had sent out a subscription flyer which, according to the ADL, associated Judaism with Communism and Zionism. Prior to this the Mercury had not be openly accused of “antisemitism.”) Finally, the John Birch Society wasn’t founded till the end of 1958, so any association with NR or AM couldn’t really have begun before then.

It may of course be arguable that nearly every conservative or Right-wing periodical from about 1959 to 1964 had some sort of tie, friendly or formal, to the JBS. This includes National Review, which published Revilo P. Oliver’s book reviews throughout this period. Prof. Oliver had been with NR since its founding, and did not break with the JBS until 1966.

[3] Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, Danger on the Right. New York: Random House, 1964. Still a delightful read fifty years on, and not nearly as rantingly paranoid as its title suggests. Besides a long and entertaining chapter on Robert Welch and the John Birch Society, the book’s other attractions include dissections of such other examples of “the Extreme Right phenomenon” as National Review and William Buckley; Human Events; and Young Americans for Freedom.

[4] An indication of the ADL’s, or at least Arnold Forster’s, obsession, comes out in correspondence between Forster and head spy Isidore Zack. “Any chance of our getting our hands on the typescript copy of that [Westbrook Pegler] article? I would love to see its anti-Semitism. We may need such evidence in the near future.” (February 3, 1964.) Alas, there was no damaging typescript to be had. Instead, for the John Birch Society chapter in Danger on the Right, Forster had to fill out his Westbrook Pegler attack with a description of a February 1964 Pegler appearance in Los Angeles, in which Pegler defended the use of the words “kikes” and “sheenies” and made fun of the lynching of Leo Frank.

Robert Brasillach & Notre avant-guerre: The Joie of Fascisme

Robert Brasillach & Notre avant-guerre: The Joie of Fascisme


Editor’s Note: March 31st marks the 115th birthday of Robert Brasillach, the French journalist, novelist,  film historian, and man of the Right who was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad for “intellectual crimes” he was alleged to have committed as a German collaborator during the Second World War.  The following translation is offered as a commemoration, and links to other resources regarding Brasillach’s life and work are at the end.


In our last episode of Notre avant-guerre, Brasillach was telling us how in the mid-1930s he was curious about the popular “Communist” mayor of Saint-Denis, Jacques Doriot. Doriot will soon evolve into a populist quasi-fascist, founder of the Parti Populaire Français, and leading collaborateur with the Germans during the Second World War.

Doriot split with the Left in 1936, at the time of the Popular Front, when Stalin pretended to cancel the Comintern in an effort to gather all Socialists and Communists under one big tent. But the practical result was that Do-It-Yourself Marxism like Doriot’s simply was simply not “on” anymore. If you were a Lefty who insisted on beating his own path, the Stalinists and their socialist catspaws in the Popular Front would call you a deviationist, a Trotskyist maybe. Perhaps even (as happened with George Orwell and some other writers) a “Fascist Trotskyite”! Alternatively you could accept the fact that your revolutionary populism really was a sort of “fascism,” and not take offense at that.

In explaining the attraction of French fascism, Brasillach’s repeatedly use of word joie, which means something other than a rush of happiness as “joy” means in English. Rather it is a soaring, magical transformation of the human spirit. “Exalted feeling, emotion pleasant and profound,” is how the idiomatic French dictionary Le Robert Methodique defines joie. For Brasillach it means elan vital, a creative force. It was used that way in popular song of the time.  Before entertainer Charles Trenet (aka “The Singing Madman”) produced his durable standards “Boum” (1938) and “La Mer” (1946) he had a big hit called “Y’a d’la joie” (1936). The title doesn’t really translate well into English, but the joie in the song is more than gleefulness, it’s more like the spiritual uplift Brasillach talks about.


From Notre avant-guerre:

We could see that this old Marxist, Jacques Doriot—longtime streetfighter, workingman, agitator—was coming to terms with the national reality, little by little. In 1936 he got himself elected again [to the Chamber of Deputies] as a non-Communist revolutionary. It was after this that he founded the Parti Populaire Français, with a platform of supporting legitimate workers’ strikes while denouncing strikes for political agenda. This endeared him to many workers. It also enraged the Marxists. Doriot brought to his new party the methods he’d learned from the Communists, with an organization made up of party cells. On some pretext or another, he was deposed as mayor of Saint-Denis. Bravely he gave up his position as a municipal councilor. He resigned, stood for re-election, and then after a very hard campaign, was defeated. So then, out of honesty, he relinquished his seat as a deputy.

We had some of his PPF comrades working at Je Suis Partout. And we had a great deal of sympathy with his movement. Unhappily the PPF fell victim to internal quarrels, and it was starved of donations from those big business interests who thought it wiser to subsidize the Radical Party. But still, the PPF shone with a vigorous, solid, populist spirit during those early years.

PPF meetings were magnificent. I still remember the one that took place the day after the Anschluss [in Austria; March 1938] when all the [French government] ministers had resigned. We had a hall full of delegates from France and the Empire, tough two-fisted lads, and they sent up the cry of «Doriot will win!» Which was just another way of saying «France will triumph!»

I also remember one night when we invited Jacques Doriot to a Je Suis Partout dinner. After dinner, with Alain Lambreaux [1] and Jean Fontenoy [2] we went to drink in the eaves of St-Denis to celebrate a PPF legionnaire who was returning the next day to Sidi-Bel-Abbès [Algeria, Oran province]. I looked at Jacques Doriot, that calm and solid giant: patient, energetic, in the midst of the braying of good, slightly tipsy boys who sang sentimental songs, and applauded our comrade Robert Andriveau [3] who, perched on a barrel, intoned an aria from Tosca. It was all very pleasant.

And so it was that out of these various influences and experiences, we formed something that our adversaries called fascism, a term we came to accept. This was the jargon of the time, in this immediate pre-war period. And it’s not hard to enumerate those aspects of our movement that characterized it as “fascism.” We knew that elsewhere, in other lands, there were many young men who resembled us despite the national differences. Some of them had suffered from war as children, others from revolutions in their countries, all from the economic crisis. They knew about their nation, they knew its past, and they wanted to believe in its future. In front of them the imperial imperative was constantly shimmering, scintillating. They wanted a pure nation, a pure race.

They loved the idea of bonding together in huge gatherings of people, where the rhythmic movements of armies and crowds were like the pulsations of a vast heart. They did not believe in the pretenses of liberalism, about the equality of mankind, or the will of the people. But they did believe that a nation is one, like an athletic team. A team that embraces the independent scholar and the industrialist; the poet, the scientist and the laborer. They did not believe in power itself, or that might made right. But they knew that a great joie could be born of such power.

The wrongheadedness of the anti-fascist crowd came out in their complete misunderstanding of fascist joie. It’s a joy that can be criticized, perhaps a joy that could even be called excessive and infernal—but joy nevertheless. The young fascist, leaning on his race and his nation, proud of his vigorous body, of his clear esprit despising the goods of this world; the young fascist in his camp, in the midst of the comrades of peace who might also be comrades of war; the young fascist who sings, who walks, who works. He dreams, but he is first of all a joyful being. Before judging this joy, it is first necessary to know that it exists, and that sarcasm will not engulf it. I do not know whether, as Mussolini said, «the twentieth century will be the century of fascism,» but I am sure that nothing will prevent the fascist joy from having expanded minds with emotion and reason.

Fascism was not, however, for us a political doctrine, nor was it an economic doctrine, it was not some imitation of a foreign creed. Our confrontations with foreign fascisms only convinced us more strongly of national uniqueness, and therefore our own. But fascism is a spirit. It is a spirit of non-conformism at first, anti-bourgeois, and disrespect for norms also had its share in it. It is a spirit opposed to prejudice, to that of class prejudice and any other. This is the very spirit of friendship, which we would have liked to have taken to the level of national friendship.

Chapter VII: September Storms

Years from now, people may not readily understand how it was that those who missed the war in their childhood, who grew up in a Europe full of illusions (and even if they did not believe in them, such fantasies nevertheless informed the whole atmosphere of their adolescence); yet who suddenly, for several years, expected war in spring or autumn.

I am not just talking about those big crises where, when you opened the newspaper one morning, you’d see the tensions escalating. No, I’m thinking of that subtle combination of influences, the sense of destiny that was doing everything to persuade us, day to day, hour to hour, that war was inevitable. War was inevitable, it would come. You might say it would come from from democratic stupidity, or blame something else, but however, it was going to come. And if you’re a man of thirty, you find yourself from time to time losing a little bit of—well, not courage so much, but rather confidence. Confidence, and moral health. You struggle with your nerves continually, so you cannot help getting beaten down by it all. For perhaps, deep down, you no longer cling to a comforting hope of some miracle. You know that the rationale doctrines are all spent. You do your job, your job of a man, a politician, waiting for something better, wondering if you will not soon give it up for the profession of war. And no matter how much you put an optimistic face to your fate, you experience a quiet form of hopelessness.

And as I conclude this account of our last pre-war year, it’s this hopeless feeling of inevitability that sticks in my mind. It had taken years to develop, but the first clear call we had was on July 25, 1934. There we were, unfolding our newspaper on the platform of a bus, and we learned of the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss. And summer was coming—how similar to another tragic anniversary! War was just as possible now as it had been after Sarajevo, twenty years before. And then there was the build-up of the German army, and most especially the remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936. That was when the French, without doubt, accepted the inevitably of war.

And there came Vienna, in March 1938 [the Anschluss]. All this was German business, of course, not ours. And whatever the danger, we never took seriously the idea of a war against Italy, against Spain. That was just too stupid, although fate can be stupid. Then, at long last, we had the most serious crisis, that of September 1938, the so-called White War.

For months it had been felt that a war born of this heterogeneous Czechoslovakia bordering on a powerful Reich had been approaching for months (and soothsayers, such as Jacques Bainville [4], had been predicting it since Versailles). After the Anschluss of Austria — did not an illustrious Czech statesman say, “Would you rather have the Anschluss than the Habsburgs?” — Czechoslovakia had tried in all haste to settle its internal problems, to come to an understanding with Germany. But it had three and a half million Germans, and propaganda was gaining ground every day. It would have been necessary to make Czechoslovakia a Switzerland, including respect for nationalities and cantons. Alas! it takes seven hundred years to make a Switzerland: Czechoslovakia was twenty years old. The Nuremberg Congress that year would take place in the pride of European expectation.

It had been going on for a month. After there was promised a certain degree of autonomy to the Germans of the Sudeten mountain region (which came to be known as the Sudetenland), we were told “that point of view was outdated” as they were now demanding something else. Germany wanted outright annexation. Yet, on the evening of September 12, at the close of the Nuremberg Congress, when Chancellor Hitler was shining the red flags at an angle among the torches and searchlights, he announced that he was renouncing any claim to his western frontiers, we began to shudder again.

After this, each day brought its color, its brightness, its fear. People were already approaching each other in the street, and explaining the Czechoslovak problem in their own way:

— After all, if three million Germans want to be German, that’s their affair. Not ours.


The following additional resources concerning Brasillach’s life and work are available at Counter-Currents:

Writings by Brasillach

From Notre avant-guerre:


About Brasillach




[1] Alain Lambreaux, 1899-1968. Theater critic and contributor to Je Suis Partout.

[2] Jean Fontenoy, 1899-1945. Journalist, liaison to Pierre Laval, finally propagandist for Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism.

[3] Robert Andriveau 1897-1958, writer for Je Suis Partout.

[4] Jacques Pierre Bainville, 1879-1936. Geopolitical theorist and figure in Action Française. Critic of the Versailles Treaty in Les Consequences Politiques de la Paix.



Robert Welch, Grape Juice, and the John Birch Society

Edward H. Miller

A Conspiratorial Life:

Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the
Revolution of American Conservatism

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021

Margot Metroland

A writer friend of mine, now long ensconced in the Condé Nast glossies, used to regale us with his mother’s nutty ideas on matters of politics and society. For example, when the kids were young and at the Safeway in Palo Alto, mom would loudly refuse to buy Welch’s grape juice or jelly—even the grape jelly that came in Flintstones glasses—because that would be giving money to the John Birch Society.

If memory serves, this mom was a nurse. In my experience, nurses tend to be gullible and incurious. (No special aspersion on the nursing profession; much the same can be said of schoolteachers.) So I imagined this was just some scuttlebutt she’d overheard one day at the nurses’ station. Mom never bothered to research the matter herself, or she would have discovered that there was absolutely no connection between John Birch Society founder Robert Welch and the grape juice people. That Mr. Welch, and his brother James, were actually candy tycoons. The James O. Welch company made Junior Mints and Pom-Poms and Sugar Babies. The sort of stuff you found mostly in movie theaters, or at the bottom of your Halloween sack when all the Hershey bars and Milky Ways were gone. I would guess my friend and his siblings ironically ate their share of this geedunk growing up, even while being denied the sublime pleasure of collecting Flintstones jelly glasses.

The author of A Conspiratorial Life is guilty of the same wide-eyed naivete and goofy commonplaces as my friend’s mother. His basic thesis, iterated over and over, is that a) modern conservatism is fueled by Conspiracy Theories and Conspiratorial thinking; and b) it all began with Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. And not just conservatives as we generally understand them. Donald Trump gets pulled into this lazy, facile argument as well, with author Miller accusing Trump of all sorts of false claims and imaginary outrages that Miller imagines are in the tradition of Welch and the Birchers. There may be a parallel between Donald Trump and Robert Welch, but it lies mainly in the exaggerations and pure inventions thrown at them by the Leftist press and broadcast media.[1]

The facile comparison to Donald Trump is put there because without it, the book has no “hook.” It’s not 1964 anymore. Robert Welch and the Birch movement are so far off most people’s radar, no book on Birchers is going to get attention unless you stuff it full of sensationalism and Trump. (A 2022 book, Birchers: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right, by Matthew Dallek, offers a more focused and detailed history of the JBS and conservatism since the early 1960s. Yet even here, the book’s dust-jacket blurb is obliged to begin with: “Long before Donald Trump and QAnon spread far-right conspiracy theories, there was the John Birch Society.”)

More than anything else, Miller’s take on the Birchers reminded me of a strange piece that appeared in Mad magazine in mid-1965, in which somebody “interviews a John Birch Society policeman.” All the media clichés are here. The Birchers insist their aim is to fight Communism, yet fundamentally they’re sloganeering hoodlums who use that as a pretext for displaying racial prejudice, xenophobia, suspicion of Jews. And of course they want to “Get US out of the UN,” and impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren (not because of his Commission’s fake “investigation” of the Kennedy assassination, but because of that Brown v. Board of Education decision back in 1954).

A running joke in the Mad story has the thuggish cop repeatedly wondering what the interviewer’s last name, Ross, is short for. He keeps calling him “Rossenkrantz,” “Rossiwicz,” “Rossokovski.” The guy works for Mad, after all! [2]

This is about the level of analysis we get in A Conspiratorial Life. Author Edward H. Miller, an “associate teaching professor at Northeastern University,” isn’t particularly interested in presenting tenure-track history about what motivated Robert Welch and the Birchers. He mainly wants to tell us how they appeared in pop culture. The result is the sort of thing you come up with when your basic modus operandi is doing internet searches for incendiary opinion pieces. Which is perfectly okay with me, so long as no one mistakes this casual journalism as serious research.

Still, we end up with a presentation is often too naive by half. When I saw that Miller was trying to claim that “conspiracy theories” in politics began with Robert Welch and the JBS, I immediately went to the index to see if Miller had ever heard of Richard Hofstadter. Hofstadter was a Columbia history professor who famously published an essay in Harper’s called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Robert Welch and the Birch Society are not mentioned in this November 1964 piece because they are not the main target of the essay. That would be Senator and Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (also not named) who was at the time being smeared “mentally ill” and “paranoid” in other publications.[3] But Hofstadter didn’t have to mention anyone by name. in the fall 1964 he and the Harper’s editors had merely to mention paranoid politics to put across the innuendo that Goldwater and his supporters (Bircher-types, notably) were suffering from a mental malaise, a pathology that Hofstadter claimed was recurrent in American political history. Hofstadter took his “conspiracy” thesis all the way back to the 1700s: to theories about the Illuminati, and then fear of Freemasonry, the Jesuits, the Holy See, the Habsburgs, and finally the subversive networks of the Abolitionists. Often shallow and frivolous, the essay doesn’t directly discuss contemporary 1960s politics. Regardless, Hofstadter confutes Miller’s pinwheel notion that Conspiracy Politics were something new in the early 1960s, sprung from the loins of the John Birch Society.

On the other hand, true facts are often dull. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” As I say, it’s the cockeyed legend of the John Birch Society that Miller is really after. Sixty years ago the JBS was commonly portrayed in the media as a shadowy group of “extremists.” “Extremism” in fact became a sort of journalistic synonym for Bircherism. When Barry Goldwater gave his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican Convention and said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” this was widely understood as giving the high-sign to the John Birch Society. In racial matters Birchers were mostly pro-segregation, or at least anti-integration, and they opposed the rash of Civil Rights legislation. And they put up “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards.

Birchers were said to be a lot else besides quirky and extreme. From the beginning there was believed to be an undercurrent of anti-Jewish policy in the Bircher movement. Welch was very chary of this rumor, because he knew it was a smear used against any nationalist movement, going back at least to the America First Committee of the early 1940s, to which Welch belonged. In the early 1960s Time magazine and even President Kennedy suggested that Welch’s movement was somehow akin to Hitler’s. (Who planted that suggestion, one wonders?) Nevertheless you’d be very hard put to find any suggestion of anti-Jewish or pro-Nazi remarks in the lengthy, soporific essays published in American Opinion. Welch was so nervous on the subject he insisted his editorial staff vet any article written by Revilo Oliver or Westbook Pegler, the two likeliest offenders.

This chariness about the JQ and other sensitive matters is what led to the eventual falling out between Oliver and Welch. In A Conspiratorial Life, Miller claims that Welch “fired” Prof. Oliver. This is based on the sanitized memoranda that Robert Welch left behind, and to which Miller had access. But Revilo Oliver told a very different tale, denouncing Welch as a hypocrite, liar and coward.

Birch geopolitical analysis seemed obscurantist, like nothing you’d read in Foreign Affairs or the New York Times. It was dense, often quirky, reinventing usual assumptions about international relations. For many years the  magazine, American Opinion, published an annual “Scoreboard Map” of the world, showing what percentage of “Insider” subversion each country had thus far succumbed to. It was hard to say what criteria were being used here. The USSR and Red China were of course 100% enslaved, but then you had Western European countries with quasi-socialist economies, and they seemed to be halfway there. The International Communist Conspiracy seemed to be mainly an juggernaut aimed at economic freedom.

In this respect, JBS ideology of 50 or 60 years ago was very similar to what you’d find with militant Libertarians. Questions of race, religion, ethnicity, in-group preference and social cohesion were off the table as debate issues, as they were seen as distracting and anti-individualist. Birch writings would discuss such matters only in the most roundabout way, as when Citizens’ Councils spokesman Medford Evans (father of M. Stanton Evans) would write about Communist control of the Civil Rights movement. The Big Conspiracy was really a war against the individual and in favor of group-think and collectivism.

Libertarianism and Bircherism had much in common, but like most commentators Miller misses that completely. The main reason for their similarity, I submit, is that their ideology provided a protective “duckblind” for anti-liberal political agenda. You were against integration and the Civil Rights movement not because you were a prejudiced bigot, or you were a race-realist bore with degrees in anthropology, but because you opposed intrusive Federal legislation and believed in freedom of association, yada yada. Such talking points were very useful for someone selling JBS or Libertarian agenda to wishy-washy Republicans. It’s no accident that notable conservatives such as Phyllis Schlafly, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan were friendly to both camps.

The Libertarian-Bircher overlap was illustrated succinctly in a Birch paperback called None Dare Call It Conspiracy. Prepared for mass-distribution during the 1972 Presidential campaign, it carries a foreword by American Independent Party candidate John Schmitz. In less than 100 pages None Dare Call It Conspiracy offers a political primer touching on every conspiracy cliché you’ve ever heard, and some you haven’t (with the notable exception of The Protocols of Zion [4]). You get the Illuminati, the Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, Cecil Rhodes, Colonel House, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and that esteemed Georgetown professor Carroll Quigley, who spilled the beans on the Conspiracy “Insiders” in his monumental doorstop, Tragedy and Hope.

You also get a clear explanation of how you’ve been lied to all these years, with political models that pretend Fascism and Communism are opposites, at outer extremes of the political spectrum. None Dare Call It Conspiracy sets the record straight, demonstrating that both types of dictatorships are really collectivist and socialist! Real extreme right-wingers are actually anarchists! How’s about that? Look, we have charts here and everything…

The top bar chart is of course a rendition of the “horseshoe theory” of politics, which claims that political extremes are really very similar. “They meet at the ends,” as the saying goes. The second chart is how Libertarians and Birchers prefer to see the world. Or at least did, in the early 1970s. There was a great of cross-fertilization among Rightist theorists in the 1960s. Barry Goldwater’s speechwriter and adviser Karl Hess eventually evolved into a Libertarian near the anarchist range.

It’s not clear why the JBS did not take on a clear Libertarian identity as time went on. Undoubtedly some Birchers did redefine themselves that way, taking on the protective coloration of the American Enterprise Institute, the Mises Insitute, the American Institute for Economic Research, and other outfits that present themselves as free-enterprise think tanks that don’t mess around with such touchy subjects as culture, race, nation.

Another aspect of the Robert Welch/JBS story that author Miller avoids is how and why Welch was at once a brilliant organizer yet a stubborn crank who was forever painting himself into a corner. Welch was a genius, undoubtedly; taught himself to read at 2 or 3, graduated from college at 16, then on to the United States Naval Academy and Harvard Law School, often supporting himself along the way by tutoring other students in mathematics and languages, in both of which he had great facility.

My impression is that, having been a child prodigy, and being measurably brighter than nearly everyone else he ever met, Welch became a confirmed autodidact, untrusting of anyone’s opinion unless it conformed with Welch’s own. Most people were gullible, Welch could see that clearly; through his life he remained suspicious of popular beliefs and consensus opinion. If Welch did not discover a useful fact or come to a conclusion on his own, that information was probably wrong, or not worth knowing. This would be the case even if the argument came from another prodigious mind, such as Revilo Oliver’s.

With his personality and gifts, Robert Welch was doomed always to be at odds with the world; impetuous, obstinate, impatient. He sailed through Annapolis and Harvard Law—but then dropped out before graduating. He started a candy business because he could run it on his own, and was certain he could do better than anyone else. Self-assured and innovative, he invested too much too soon in expensive equipment just as the Depression came into sight. And then he went bankrupt, and was forced to go to work for his younger brother…selling Sugar Daddys and Pom-Poms for the next 25 years, for the James O. Welch candy company of Cambridge, Massachusetts.



[1] The book’s Introduction begins with a nice summary of the book’s confused thesis. Supposedly Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the 1989 “Central Park 5” gang-rapists, even after the five Urban Youth of Color were all exonerated by DNA testing. (Except of course they weren’t exonerated by their DNA, nor were their convictions based on DNA.) Author Miller says Trump propounded a “baseless” claim that Obama was born in Africa. (He didn’t.) He claims Trump said all Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug runners. (No.) And that Trump threatened to jail Hillary Clinton in 2016 for her illegal e-mail server. (Not quite . . . but you get the picture.) None of these resemble claims made by or against the John Birch Society.

[2] A very odd piece for Mad in those days, as the magazine generally specialized in lighthearted absurdity, not mean-tempered political smears. I did not recognize the writers of the piece, Ronald Axe and Sol Weinstein, as regular Mad contributors, so darkly suspected that the article had been an ADL plant, perhaps as some trade-off to help the publisher, Bill Gaines, get wider circulation at newsstands. Whatever the true story behind it, Axe mainly wrote TV sitcoms (Get Smart, The Mothers-in-Law), while Weinstein did spy spoofs for Playboy about a Jewish James Bond. Meanwhile the artist selected to illustrate the comic strip was none other than Joe Orlando, of EC Comics, Classics Illustrated, and the long-running comic-book ads for Harold von Braunhut’s brine-shrimp “Sea Monkeys.” Usually a very precise draftsman, Orlando turned out the four pages of “JBS Policeman” in an unusually loose, slapdash manner. Was he drawing badly on purpose?

[3] Ralph Ginzburg’s Fact magazine was successfully sued for running a 1964 cover article asserting that over a thousand psychiatrists regarded Goldwater and mentally ill and unfit for office.

[4] The Anti-Defamation League kept mum about the book, and the American Independent Party, until after the November 1972 election. Then the ADL put out the word that John Schmitz and None Dare Call It Conspiracy were part of a new wave of Jew hatred: “The book is saturated with anti-semitism of the kind disseminated by anti-Jewish propagandists for more than 50 years,” said a spokesman, quoted in the New York Times (November 20, 1972). There was nothing at all in the book about Jews, nor had there been anything like that in the Schmitz campaign.

My (Belated) End-of-Year Book Roundup

This was supposed to be a year-end book roundup, but I had a difficult end of year. So for the present I’ll pretend this is the 53rd or 54th week of 2023 (a nasty year altogether).

When my husband died a few weeks ago, I found a number of “overdue” library books in all manner of places. I stacked them by the door. That’s pretty much how we did things here. He’d take out a lot of books and then, when he saw me making an exit, he’d go, “Oh, if you’re going out, could you take those back to the library?” He’d say that even if I was just going out to the trash bay. Some months back The New York Public Library stopped charging fines when you didn’t return a book on time. Thus “overdue” became a mere figure of speech. I don’t think this has worked out well for the NYPL. They recently stopped Sunday operations because they were running out of money.

Like newspapers when you’re painting the walls, books on the floor acquire a special appeal they lack on the shelf. I found that two of the big ones here were immensely readable. Slouching Towards Utopia [1], a great thwacking doorstop of an economic history (180,000 words, supposedly, plus index and apparatus) can be opened at any random page and found lucid and enjoyable. It’s very much a big-think book, as author Brad DeLong wants to sell us his Grand Unifying Theory. However, this Cal Berkeley professor has been writing this theory and its related components for about thirty years now (and blogging it for most of that time, first on his own website, then on Typepad, now on Substack), so he’s capable of being both engaging and abstruse at the same time.

I haven’t exactly read this book. I have dipped into it, and I have read about it, mainly through book reviews that are mostly similar (no doubt because they’re recapitulating the flyleaf blurb and the publisher’s press release). But I’ve seen enough of it to form an opinion, and that is that DeLong’s Great Unifying Theory is fun but ramshackle. Sort of like Toynbee. He believes we recently ended a very long era of economic growth, and we are not yet acclimated to the new crises that face us. As related by a reviewer in The Atlantic at the time of publication 16 months ago:

[DeLong] decided that the era that had begun in 1870 ended in 2010, shortly after productivity growth and GDP growth had collapsed, as inequality was strangling economic vibrancy around the world and revanchist political populism was on the rise.

“Inequality [is] strangling economic vibrancy.” “Revanchist political populism.” You see where this is going. DeLong is a progressive, an economic liberal, the sort of person who derides motives of an idealistic, transcendent, nationalistic nature. Our best interests cannot possibly involve cultural and racial preservation, or morality: we must bow down instead to peace and productivity, to materialistic growth and gain.

We’re used to such tendentious arguments from quasi-libertarian outfits like American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, and from public-policy anarcho-libertarians such as Jeffrey Tucker. As a philosophy it’s just the sterile butt-end of the Whig School of History. The best that can be said for it is that it has proven itself unworkable and, as DeLong admits, has collapsed. And it’s collapsed because of its inherent contradictions. “Revanchist political populism” is in the ascendant because, in the end, people and nations will do what they have to, in order to survive.


Another “overdue” book I must take back to the library is Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, by Tariq Ali [2]. Tariq Ali has one job in this world, and that is to be furious and contrarian. Winston Churchill is a perfect target. My husband used to love to watch Tariq’s many YouTube videos, simply for their entertainment value. The one I just linked pertains to this biography (one might cheerfully say “hatchet job”) of Churchill.

Tariq’s Leftist twitch is often annoying—it all seems to derive from being an aggrieved Asiatic in Britain who thinks he’s under-appreciated as an intellectual because he’s an ancient Paki—but it works very well in this instance. He throws everything he can think of at old Winnie. How Churchill crushed the Jewish revolutionaries in Sidney Street in 1910; how he sent armed cavalry against the Welsh coal miners in Tonypandy in 1911; and of course, the stories about the Black and Tans in early-20s Ireland, and the suppression of the General Strike in 1926; as well as minor sidelights such as his mockery of the Bengal Famine in 1943 (“Then why isn’t Gandhi dead?”). So on, so forth. I wonder whether the author considered that many readers who didn’t like Churchill before, will now begin to have warm and fuzzy thoughts about him.

Tariq delights in Churchill quotations that might be called “racist,” and adorns the back cover with them, e.g.,

I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

Not bad, eh? We even get the 1964 Gerald Scarfe caricature of WAC on his last day in the House, shown above. (Drawn for The Times, which wouldn’t run it, thus given to Richard Ingrams at Private Eye, who did.)

Only rarely does the author bore us with rote Marxian nonsense such as Fascism being an end-of-life stage of Capitalism. That formulation puts me in mind of Scott Fitzgerald’s musing that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” (From “The Crack-Up,” Esquire, 1936.) I suppose Tariq Ali passes that test. But, really, must he?

Traitor King [3], about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, is not as scurrilous and scandalous as it might have been. That would have required Andrew Lownie to surpass Andrew Morton’s 17 Carnations (2015), a book which took its name from one of the many smears against the Duchess, alleging that she had sexual relations with Joachim von Ribbentrop seventeen times, after which Ribbentrop sent her 17 carnations every day.

There are many things wrong with Lownie’s Traitor King, but lack of research diligence and fluency are not among them. Andrew Lownie is a one-man book factory. He’s a successful literary agent and author and appears to do his own legwork. What he is not is a fact-checker, or discriminating judge of dubious stories. He is thus prone to errors small and large. At one point he describes a March 1941 directive from the British Embassy in Washington, that the Windsors not visit Puerto Rico, “where its president, Rafael Trujillo, is thought to have important Nazi connections.” At this time the Duke of Windsor was governor of the Bahamas and kept under close scrutiny.

This directive seems to be typical of British diplomatic and intelligence communiqués of the time. It’s factually wrong, hilariously wrong. Trujillo was the Dominican Republic’s strongman, while Puerto Rico was a U.S. territory and did not have a president. But more importantly there’s the deliberate innuendo that the Windsors are sneaking off from their exile in the Bahamas to break bread with their Nazi friends. The factual basis here seems to be that Mrs. William Leahy, wife of the ambassador to Vichy, France—Admiral Leahy had recently been governor of Puerto Rico—heard a report that the Duchess, Wallis Windsor, had visited San Juan. This story found its way to the U.S. consul in the Bahamas, who told the State Department in Washington, who told the British legation, for whom it was just catnip.

The story of the Windsors in the Bahamas is just littered with innuendo of this sort. Earlier in that winter of 1941, Alfred P. Sloan, head of General Motors, visited the Bahamas with his colleague James D. Mooney, president of General Motors Overseas Corporation. There’s no evidence at all that this wintertime sojourn to the islands was a rendezvous with Nazi industrialists or even a skull session with the Governor of the Bahamas. Yet that is how diplomatic channels were eager to portray it. George Messersmith, a somewhat unhinged American diplomat who had been keeping tabs on the Duke (officially and otherwise) ever since the Abdication, now filed a State Department report describing GM’s Mooney “as mad as any Nazi” and one who hopes to become “our Quisling or Laval” when “the United States may turn fascist.” Above all, there was constant suspicion and surveillance of Axel Wenner-Gren, the Swedish Electrolux tycoon. Wenner-Gren owned Hog Island (present-day Paradise Island) near Nassau, where he built an estate that gave employment to 15% of the black Bahamian population. Through his far-flung contacts in government and industry, Wenner-Gren had been lobbying to end the war through a negotiated peace. But for the War Party in Britain, and their American sympathizers, “negotiated peace” was code for “appeasement” and “letting the Nazis keep what they’ve won.” But there’s no evidence that Wenner-Gren was ever anything more than a philanthropic tycoon, with a proud legacy and ongoing foundation.

The smears against the Windsors, Wenner-Gren, and Sloan, Mooney and GM, all have the earmarks of a coordinated black-ops campaign. I have no doubt that much of this campaign was helmed by William “Intrepid” Stephenson, who was already running his British Security Coordination spy-and-disinformation agency out of the International Building in Rockefeller Center. But there were also people like Messersmith, who would join in the fun for free, just for the sport of it. (Messersmith had been doing similar numbers on Joseph P. Kennedy the previous year, when Kennedy was ambassador to England.)

It’s not clear whether Lownie himself is simply gullible when reproducing this dubious material. Perhaps he’s just making a sound business decision. (Did the editors of News of the World sweat and swinge over their headlines?) His treatment of the Marburg Files simply burnishes the account shown in The Crown: there were German Foreign Ministry papers, there were documents signed by Ribbentrop, there were communications relating to the Duke of Windsor in the Phony War period, and during the Windsors’ initial flight to Spain and Portugal before their Bahamian exile. But, in a word, the Marburg Files are chickenfeed. The drama surrounding them is the real story. And much of that is undoubtedly fiction. We are expected to believe that an American officer named David Silberberg, a German-born Jew, just happened to be strolling through the Harz Mountains when he came across an abandoned vehicle with German Foreign Ministry papers scattered over it. That is the story Silberberg told. And this supposedly prompted him to visit local castles, on the off-chance that there were more papers. And what do you know—there were! An “almost complete archive” of the Ministry, in fact! Quelle coincidence!

Lack of discernment does not seem to have been the problem with the most ludicrous bits Lownie throws into the book. He has long, purple, thumbsucking passages where he discusses whether or not the Duke was “gay.” Twice he quotes lurid postings from the online homosexual gossip forum Datalounge (see Chapter 19). Lownie doesn’t mind that it’s scurrilous; he puts it in because it’s scurrilous. And sells books, I guess.

And then we have Scotty Bowers of Full Service fame, the gas-station jockey who for 50 years was supposedly Hollywood’s favorite pimp. From his own first-hand experience, Scotty assures us that “Eddy” (the Duke) was a whiz at fellatio.

If I object too strenuously to the foregoing nonsense, I’ll look like a bluenose who can’t enjoy the joke. Yes, I get it—it’s all in fun. But here’s a bad joke I can’t enjoy: the title of the damn book. “Traitor King” is an oxymoron. Treason, at its core, is betrayal of your king, and giving aid and assistance to the king’s enemies. Whatever you may think of King Edward VIII, afterwards Duke of Windsor, he did not betray himself or give assistance to his enemies. Others may have switched sides and tergiversated, but this gentleman forever walked a straight line.


Hollywood: The Oral History [4] is a mixed bag.  It follows the basic template created forty years ago by Jean Stein’s oral bio of Edie Sedgwick. But while that worked very well for Edie, wherein the subject lived just a short while, and the memories were mainly from the 1960s, here we have recollections from many more people, and they stretch through most of the 20th century. They are taken from talks and interviews beginning in 1969 at the American Film Institute. I don’t think of 1969 as being that long ago (I mean, that was Woodstock, maaan), yet I find it somewhat astonishing to think that most of the big-name directors and stars of the Golden Era—even those of the Silent Era—were still very much alive in 1969 and even into the 1980s.

We have the unsinkable Lillian Gish (1893-1993) telling us how in the early days Hollywood was a great place for women to get ahead because there were so many opportunities. “I got to direct a film when I was twenty. With my sister Dorothy.” Well that would have been 1913, and with D. W. Griffith standing nearby I can’t imagine the technical challenges were particularly onerous.

The book suffers from a superfluity of empty encomiums, with far too many cinema veterans gushing at us, “Oh that Mister Mayer, he was such a doll! MGM was such a great place to work! More stars than there were in Heaven!” I much prefer the sourpusses, such as the director John Cromwell (father of actor James) who has a great story about Darryl F. Zanuck taking no prisoners:

In talking about a story point in conference one day, he [Zanuck] talked about a millstone when he met milestone. The writer, new to the studio, used the correct word later rather emphatically. After the writer left, Darryl turned to the producer, and said, “Where did that guy come from?” Upon receiving the answer, he said, “Fire him.”

Cromwell was not a member of the L. B. Mayer fan club:

I met Mr. Mayer, of course and found him to be the type of man I could not admire. To me he was domineering, ruthless and humorless…

This is immediately followed by Pandro S. Berman, who must have been a real brown-noser:

Right. Oh, Louis Mayer was a great man. There’s no question about it. He was not necessarily a nice man, and a lot of people had a lot against him. But he was a great man in his job.

And now here’s Pandro Berman on RKO founder/conglomerateur Joseph P. Kennedy:

I worked for RKO for so many years… I remember many times when I was in contact with old man Joseph P. Kennedy during his operation of the company when he would come out here for a few months at a time or a few weeks. In fact, I once talked him into giving me a $5 raise when I couldn’t get it from anybody else in the organization… He was a nice man, Joseph P. Kennedy. I liked him. He had the studio filled with Bostonians…

What’s missing from the book, because it was missing from the AFI lectures, is input from the gearheads and wirepullers who made the train run. We know movie theaters went from silents to talkies in the space of about one year, 1928-29, but the technical details are left a mystery. When Al Jolson briefly sang in The Jazz Singer in 1927, the noise was coming from a gramophone record, synchronized and amplified (if all went well). Talkies took over not because of this clumsy novelty but because of an RCA optical-sound technology that printed a code near the edge of the film strip, which could then be read and broadcast by a new series of projector. This basic technology remained standard for the next forty years. Mr. Kennedy bought up about 800 vaudeville-circuit houses, wired them for the new RCA/RKO sound system, and by 1929 rival studios and chains had to follow suit. How many other technical innovations do we take for granted or put down to discreet natural evolution?

The London Review of Books assigned this book to John Lahr to review. It was so difficult for him to get a handle on, that Lahr spent the first 2000 words telling about how he sold his first novel (The Autograph Hound) to Hollywood 50-odd years ago, and was glad-handed by everyone, especially by his showhorse director Sydney Pollack. He even let them change the story so it was set in Los Angeles (much cheaper) rather than New York. Then a studio head decided the movie wasn’t to get any international sales, and the project was axed. Lahr thereupon flew back to London, back to subsisting on pin money from reviews and essays. I think he’s stayed there ever since. John Lahr had been born in L.A. but he was not of L.A. He left as a babe when his father Bert found there would be no more Cowardly Lion roles, and took the family back to New York, where Broadway always beckoned.

The prolific Sam Wasson is co-curator of these reminiscences. He wrote one of the best Hollywood histories ever, The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, which tied together the unbelievably intertwined stories of the lives, misfortunes, and drug frenzies of screenwriter Robert Towne, his wife Julie Payne (son of John), Robert Evans, Jack Nicholson, his girlfriend Anjelica Huston, and finally Roman Polanski—whose 1977 arrest for sex-play with a 13-year-old in Jack Nicholson’s Jacuzzi came about ultimately because cops came to the house later and found drugs in Anjelica’s handbag. It’s complicated. Wasson’s latest book is a biography of Francis Ford Coppola, probably my next read.

The Washington War [5]. Excellent. A not particularly fetching title for a book, and even less attractive when you find out it looks like another rehash of office politics during the Second World War. This is done in the same revisionist vein as Nigel Hamilton’s three-volume enshrinement of Franklin Delano Roosevelt a few years back. Hamilton made Churchill look like a complete ass, forever proposing to squander men and matériel on daffy, far-flung raids and invasions in the eastern Mediterranean and up through the valleys and mountains of Slovenia. Churchill, like Alan Brooke and most of the British high command, was thoroughly fearful and defeatist about making a cross-Channel landing in France. This is how traumatized the British command still was, in 1942-44, over the events of May 1940.

Author James Lacey, an instructor at the Marine Corps War College, takes Hamilton’s theme even farther, making Churchill not only a time-wasting ditherer, but a deceitful incompetent, forever agreeing to a strategy with FDR, then immediately trying to wheedle his way out of it when the plan is to be put in motion. Lacey’s account is equally devastating with regard to George Marshall, the most inept and overpraised “Architect of Victory” in history. From America’s entry into the War, Marshall was all for leading an immediate crusade into Normandy, even though as Army Chief of Staff he knew he had no army to speak of, and would need at least 20 divisions to begin to imagine a D-Day assault. Another inept, more sinister character in the cast is Henry Morgenthau, who seriously, deeply, wanted to pastoralize Germany and starve 40 million Germans to death, never mind what the knock-on effects would be for the rest of Europe. The Morgenthau Plan was not of his own making (Harry Dexter White, the Red-tinged Lithuanian Jew, was the actual author), but Morgenthau backed it, and pressed it upon a failing Roosevelt who was often non compos mentis and later had no recollection of ever signing off on it.


Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas I was tempted to search for a book I’d once had to read for a Henry Ashby Turner history course, Weimar Culture [6]. Editions abound, but there are very few copies available of the paperback version I had. This is important, because its cover design is the only one that actually shouts its title. It’s in Paul Renner’s 1927 Futura font, as Bauhaus as you can get. The font was ubiquitous in the later Weimar years, and was also popular throughout the Nazi period and for decades afterwards:

What prompted my search was some whiner on social media saying, “Nobody knows anything about Weimar Germany! Nobody teaches it!” Which is nonsense, because many of us got it up the wazoo. So on eBay I found this near-mint paperback edition, identical to the one I had in college. I eagerly addressed it, curious to know if it was eye-glazingly dull and impenetrable as it seemed the first time around. And you know what? It was! It is!

I remember learning exactly one thing from it, back in the day: the word cartelization. It means making a monopoly, or trust, of similar businesses, so they don’t waste money and effort competing with each other. Everything else worth knowing—Bauhaus architecture, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—you can easily pick up elsewhere. Trying to toss everything from 1919-1932 Germany into a big pot and making of a meal of it, is a hopeless enterprise. So the book is still dense and impenetrable, each page littered with a dozen obscure names venturing an obscure opinion. Any one of the chapters could probably be expanded into a PhD dissertation, and indeed, that is what the book might be best considered, a bibliographic source.

Peter Gay’s original name was Peter Joachim Frölich, and he was a very un-Jewish-looking Jew from Berlin, born 1923. He and his parents were booked to sail on the St. Louis to Havana in 1939, but then discovered a ship that was sailing two weeks earlier, and took that instead. At college in Colorado he changed his name to Peter Jack Gay. Then he went to Columbia for graduate school. My mother had recently transferred from Penn to the School of General Studies (Columbia’s non-collegiate college), and somehow she and her brother got to know Peter, though I could never get precise details.

“Oh we knew Peter Gay. He was over at our apartment many times,” my mother would say in her blasé way, when she saw me with a copy of Weimar Culture.

“But what did he do? What did he say?” I insisted.

“Oh he was a guest in our house many times,” my mother would say again, in her impenetrable way.


[1] J. Bradford DeLong, Slouching Towards Utopia. New York: Basic Books. 2022.

[2] Tariq Ali, Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes. London and New York: Verso. 2022.

[3) Andrew Lownie, Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. London: Blink Publishing. 2021. Also: New York: Pegasus Books. 2022. Lownie himself does a very good spoken-word version available on Audible. There are some slight differences in the various editions. E.g., the mixup about Rafael Trujillo was excised in the American edition, along with other obvious errors. These corrections may well be what are meant by the “Fully updated with new research” on the British paperback edition displayed.

[4] Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson, Hollywood: The Oral History. New York: Harper. 2022.

[5] James Lacey, The Washington War: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Power that Won World War II. New York: Bantam. 2019.

[6] Peter Gay, Weimar Culture. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970 (this edition).


How to Ruin a Good Kim Philby Story

It ought to be mighty difficult to make a bad production—be it documentary, fictionalized, semi-fictionalized—out of the career of master spy Kim Philby. Yet somehow the makers of the 6-part mini-series A Spy Among Friends have succeeded in that grim task. (First broadcast a year ago in England on ITVX; in America it’s streaming on MGM+.) This is not from lack of talent or production values. Rather the problem appears to be poor knowledge of the subject, and lack of respect for the available material, most notably the wonderful Ben Macintyre book of the same title, which inspired the TV series but did not inform it to any great extent—alas! [1]

The producers admit that they’ve taken many liberties with the Macintyre book, and historical facts in general. Some of the major characters in the series are conjured up out of thin air. Worse yet, some major players from the true-life story are entirely left out or diminished to unrecognizability. This completely distorts the plot.

For example: when Philby was rumbled in 1962, it wasn’t because of dogged sleuthing on the part of the intelligence services. No, Philby was caught because of a vendetta stirred up against him in London by an influential Russian-Jewish woman, who resented the anti-Israel bias she perceived in the pieces Philby wrote for The Observer. Kim was then stationed in Beirut, working for SIS, but under journalistic cover as stringer for both that newspaper and The Economist. You can watch this series over and over again and never see a hint of the grudge motive in the story. The woman in question does appear several times as a character in the series, but we’re not told her background or the reasons for her vindictiveness towards Philby.

Kim’s colleagues at SIS weren’t particularly interested in catching and punishing him, even when they had evidence he’d worked for the Commies once upon a time. When his best friend and fellow spook Nicholas Elliott visited him in January 1963 and told him the jig was up, all Elliott wanted from Philby was a detailed confession, so SIS could put their historical record in order.[2] At this point, Kim was pretty harmless. In Beirut, he still had a Russian handler, but he was washed up as double-agent; just a lazy, bibulous journalist who now and again passed tidbits to both London and Moscow. (Moscow didn’t even think too much of his contributions; they seemed to be rewrites of his Economist articles.)

The script of A Spy Among Friends ignores this context. Instead it builds its plot around an investigation of Nick Elliott, and asks why he and SIS were bound and determined to cover up Kim Philby’s beastly past. This makes for thin stuff plot-wise, because a) we’re never given a clear answer, and b) such a cover-up never really happened. When Kim was first suspected in the early 1950s of being a KGB asset, his SIS friends gathered ’round because they honestly did not believe he could ever have sold his soul to the Soviets. When a few more facts tumbled out in the early 60s, it was all old, stale material from the 1940s, easily explained away as the product of counter-intelligence tradecraft. (Philby had been “trailing his coat,” perhaps, letting the KGB know he might be available.)

Why would the writer and producers substitute a bad, weak story, when the factual one is so much more thrilling? My guess is that their thinking went sort of like: “Well, the ‘Cambridge Spies’ have been done to death, and LeCarré basically spent his career fictionalizing the Philby story over and over. Let’s come up with something bright and new and clever!” But what we end up with is something dim and dark and muddled, flashbacks and fast-forwards folded into each other, with most of the series shot in less light than the opening scene of The Godfather.

The scriptwriter’s most egregious invention is a character called called Lily Thomas, a Security Service (MI5) officer tasked with interrogating Kim Philby’s old buddy Nicholas Elliott (Damian Lewis). Elliott of course is suspected of letting Philby slip out of Beirut and defect to Moscow in January 1963. As played by actress Anna Maxwell Martin, Lily Thomas speaks in broad Yorkshire and wears the sad, droopy face of a bloodhound. Again, there was no Lily Thomas, or even a Lily Thomas type. Nor was there sustained investigation of Nicholas Elliott by the munchkins of the Security Service.

Even more incredibly, the dogfaced Yorkshire lass is married to a black Caribbean doctor with whom she lives in the outer suburbs of London. Prompting the question: how common could this have been? And how likely is it that this ménage would not arouse constant comment, inside and outside of the intelligence services? Miscegenation may have been a popular subject in early-60s British drama and film, but that was plainly for its shock value, not because of acceptability and popularity. I feel sorry for the dour, bearded black actor, who rejoices in the name of Gershwyn Eustache, Jr. Poor Gershwyn does a lot of cringing, turning his face away from the camera. He knows he should be with his own people, not with Miss Dogface.

This sort of fictitious stuff takes up at least half the running time, and makes the story drag terribly. Conversely the most engaging bits of the series are those rooted in hard facts. Two or three times we get to see Guy Pearce (as Philby) reenact Kim’s 1955 Pathé newsreel interview with NBC’s Edwin Newman. The care taken with authenticity is impressive. They’ve got Kim’s mother’s 1750 Chippendale tall chest in the frame, they’ve got Kim’s foulard necktie, they’ve got the fake Kim’s hair perfectly-imperfectly slicked down with hair oil. Pearce has Philby’s tics and phrasing down pat. The director even managed to get an actor who does Ed Newman’s flat nasality reasonably well.

Ben Macintyre has described the friendship between Nick Elliott and Kim Philby as a “very particular British sort of male friendship—forged in war, and based largely on alcohol, cricket, and off-colour jokes.” Occasionally the mini-series is able to illustrate this aspect, again with a sort of reenactment of a real event. Here we have scene at a drunken club party during the War. Elliott and Philby are enacting some old SIS colonel’s surprise that Elliott’s family know that his “secret” work isn’t all that secret:

(Philby as stuffy old Colonel): Does your wife know what you do?

Elliott: Yes.

Colonel: How did that come about?

Elliott: She was my secretary for two years and I think the penny must have dropped.

Colonel: Quite so. What about your mother?

Elliott: She thinks I work for SIS, which stands for Secret Intelligence Service.

Colonel: Good God! How did she come to know that?

Elliott: A War Cabinet fell on her at a cocktail party . . . no, a member of the War Cabinet told her at a cocktail party…

This is funny because it’s true, as they say. It comes straight out of Ben Macintyre’s book, and from the memories of Nicholas Elliott.

Less successful is a music-hall fantasy Elliott has toward the end of Episode 1. He gets dressed and goes to the West End with his wife to see a comedy troupe perform. It is 1963. The troupe, vaguely based on the Crazy Gang, or Beyond the Fringe, perform a Morecambe & Wise television number you can find on YouTube. While watching and presumably enjoying this, Nicholas Elliott suddenly imagines traitorous old friend Kim on stage, singing “Are you lonesome tonight?” This is indulgence, and as usual with this series, contrary to fact. Elliott wasn’t lonely for Kim in 1963, he was quite angry and bitter about Kim’s defection. A defection that in Elliott’s eyes was completely unnecessary, since the Service was going to let Kim off scot-free; and pointless, too, as Kim wasn’t going to be of much use to the Russians in Moscow.

The worst misdepiction in this series is its treatment of Flora Solomon. Flora Solomon is the abovementioned Russian-Jewish lady who got angry with Kim and decided to shop him to the Security people. They’d known each other since Kim was a small boy. At one point in the 1930s Kim had even tried to enlist Flora as an asset for Soviet intelligence. Daughter of a gold and oil tycoon from the Russian Empire, she came to London when young, married a Jewish army officer, and established herself as quite the Mayfair socialite, with a regular salon in the 1920s and 30s. As Ben Macintyre writes in A Spy Among Friends, “Russian soul, Jewish heart, British passport,” is how she described herself. Flora liked to pose as high-minded at times, and had considerable achievements. She set up an employee-welfare office at Marks and Spencer in the 1930s, to guarantee that their lowly wage-earning employees would have time off, health care, and other benefits. This became the envy of other retailers, and perhaps a template for the British Welfare State as well. It all seems very laudable, although we should consider the obvious possibility that Flora found it easy to condescend to the rabble, and feared only her betters.

Anyway, this colorful and dramatic soul is someone any sensible scriptwriter should want to highlight. Instead she’s made into a grouchy old Englishwoman. No Russian accent, no Zionist soul, no hint that the real Flora, with her friend Victor Rothschild, set the anti-Philby train in motion. From the Macintyre book:

“How is it The Observer uses a man like Kim? Don’t they know he’s a Communist?” observed Solomon. Rothschild was startled by the certainty in her voice…

“You must do something,” Flora Solomon told Rothschild in her imperious way.

“I will think about it,” he told her.

Victor Rothschild was a veteran string-puller. He did more than think. On his return to London, he immediately reported the conversation to MI5…

After which the MI5 boys managed to persuade Flora to sit for an interview. Although they appreciated confirmation that Kim was an old-time Commie, they didn’t much care for Flora. “Flora Solomon was a strange, rather untrustworthy woman, who never told the truth about her relations with people like Philby in the 1930s, although she clearly had a grudge against him,” wrote Peter Wright in Spycatcher (1987). One reason why she might have had a grudge against him, besides of course the Israel thing, is that Flora introduced Kim to her friend Aileen Furse, who eventually married him, bore him five children…and then drank herself to death in 1957 when Kim deserted her and moved to Beirut. [3]

The rich dramatic possibilities here make one wish a different writer and producer would give the story another go.

The most far-reaching effect of the Philby defection is something that seems mild and innocent compared to spycraft itself. I speak of its effect upon literature. Spycraft literature, mainly, both fictive and otherwise. The public’s appetite for this stuff was indirectly whetted by the Philby story. When Kim’s defection became public knowledge in 1963, John LeCarré was a young SIS operative in Hamburg Station. He’d eventually lose his job, because Philby’s debriefings in Moscow divulged the names of the SIS network in Europe, including David Cornwell (LeCarré) himself. But by then LeCarré had a new novel out, called The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963). It was all about double-agenting and defection, and it made the market for serious spy thrillers for decades to come. Later, and even more memorably, LeCarré recycled Philbyana into Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a fictionalized reimagining of the Kim story. Not a patch on the real thing, but still a compelling enough narrative to spawn one of the finest TV mini-series ever made (the 1979 BBC version with Alec Guinness) as well as an interesting but ill-conceived feature film (2011, with Gary Oldman)[4]; in addition to two sequel novels in the so-called “George Smiley Trilogy,” The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People (the latter becoming fodder for another BBC mini-series in 1982).

Having made the leap to Moscow, Kim pretty much had to spill the names of British intelligence operatives in Europe. The KGB didn’t trust him at all. They wondered if they’d taken in a ultra-clever mole who knew where all the bodies were buried. Then, after rolling up the British networks, Kim’s KGB handlers had him write a heavily skewed memoir, My Silent War (1968). The purpose of the book was to show the West how Philby and the Soviets had outsmarted the Western intelligence agencies at every turn, particularly during the War and early Cold War years. This memoir broke off in 1947; the stories of how Kim betrayed Soviet defectors and Albanian freedom-fighters were stale, and so perfectly safe to reveal and brag about. It was Philby’s later doings, when he was First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, and later a secret SIS asset in Beirut, that were still too risky to reveal.

In his Afterword to the book A Spy Among Friends, John LeCarré quotes Nicholas Elliott saying Philby probably wrote a second memoir about this later career, which the KGB held back. “My guess is, they’ve got another book in their locker.” But maybe not. At least it’s never seen the light of day. [5]

 *  *  *

Let me finally add that this mini-series is particularly bad in its portrayal of Americans. Fortunately there aren’t many. Mainly you have Jim Angleton, CIA’s chief of counterintelligence from the 1950s to 70s, and bosom buddy of Kim Philby during the War.

James Jesus Angleton was an American-born, English-public-school boy (Malvern College in Herefordshire) who was raised partly in Italy, where his father ran National Cash Register. After Malvern he went to Yale, where he founded a literary magazine called Furioso. It carried poems by his friend from Italy, Ezra Pound. After he graduated, his friend and faculty advisor Norman Holmes Pearson suggested Jim join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) early in WW2, and so he did. Off to England Pearson and Angleton went, where Jim soon met and lunched regularly with Kim Philby. As they would again in Washington, 1949-1951, when Kim was First Secretary at the embassy and Jim was at the CIA.

You might expect a sort of mid-Atlantic accent from the real Angleton, but actually his speech was as un-nuanced and un-regional as you could get. What you would not expect is the harsh, grating bark we get here, as though poet Angleton were a helicopter reporter from the Chicago School of Broadcasting. Why is it that Americans easily hear the difference between Yorkshire and Lancashire, but Brits, or Brit casting directors, can’t distinguish between Evansville, Indiana and Down East, Maine? I ask merely for information.

Anyway there’s one good joke here, in a Nick Elliott–Jim Angleton exchange. A couple of CIA/MI6 moles get rooted out and shot by the KGB. This gives Nick Elliott, on the phone to Angleton, the opportunity to zing out a classic line:

“She’s dead, Jim.”


[1] Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc; and New York: Crown Publishing (Penguin Random House); both 2014.

[2] In popular parlance SIS is often referred to as MI6, while the Security Service is called MI5. The two agencies are somewhat analogous to the American CIA vs. FBI. I’m generally using the official terminology here, though the popular ones are easier to remember.

[3] in his Afterword to the Macintyre book, John LeCarré quotes Nicholas Elliott saying that Flora Solomon discovered that “Kim Philby was working for Colonel Teague, who was Head of Station in Jerusalem, and Teague was anti-Jewish, and she [Flora] was angry. So she told us some things about him.” LeCarré, or Elliott, claims this information was passed on to “Five” (MI5) but they did nothing. That is not quite true.

[4] Once again, I cannot resist commending Peter Hitchens’s hilarious excoriation of the 2011 film: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Travesty.”

[5] In my first job after college in 1983, I was working near Rockefeller Center and briefly allowing myself to be recruited by Clandestine Services down in McLean, Virginia. I backed out in the end. Meantime they gave us potential new hires a reading list of some very cheesy-sounding books (The KGB! Its Role Today!), but I believe My Silent War was also on the list. I thought it would be great fun to write a fan letter to Kim Philby telling how much I enjoyed reading about his exploits. I didn’t really enjoy the book; it’s spotty and heavily redacted. Anyway I discovered that the TASS office was just a couple of blocks away. So I mailed the letter there, figuring those Russkie press officers would know how to pass on a letter to Kim, who I imagined was now a decorated general in the KGB. (He wasn’t; I think I had him confused with Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.) As my letter wasn’t returned, it presumably found its way to Moscow. No reply, though.


Postscript to Isolde Yockey

My recent piece on Isolde Yockey’s death, drafted here on this scratchpad-blog a few days ago, haunts me with its circumlocution and errors of omission. I had completely forgotten about Isolde, and so started from scratch in searching for her, in newspapers and genealogy databases. I went on a wild goose chase for an hour or two, hunting down an entirely different Yockey family simply because it had a Fredericka in recent generations, and Isolde’s sister was named that.

Only when I had the right Isolde in hand, traveling hither and yon with her sister and mother and grandmother (and sometimes father or uncle), did I begin to wonder why she might have been killed. She might have been murdered out of revenge or soulless hatred by someone who hated her father for being a “fascist philosopher.” She might have met misadventure by moving in the wrong circles.

I was delighted to learn that I’d had a passing connection to her aunt Vinette’s daughter and son-in-law, both long connected with prominent conservative, nationalist organizations of a Christian (in fact Catholic) slant. They do not quite carry on Uncle Frank’s torch, but they are intellectually rigorous and radical, and so resemble him in that respect. Furthermore, the orgs they’ve been associated with are bound to be despised by the same sort of people who would hate FPY.

Vinette Coyne and brother FPY, in court, 1960.

Only after writing that piece did I bother to consult the two extant biographies of FPY to see if Isolde was mentioned, and of course she is. Paradoxically I made minor contributions to both books (was interviewed by Kevin Coogan in 1993; provided useful factual details and asides to Kerry Bolton around 2014-2015), yet when writing my essay it didn’t occur to me to check either book to see if Isolde is listed. You can put this oversight down to my arrogance and forgetfulness.

Coogan mentions that she disappeared in the mid-1970s, something that I did manage to squeeze into a footnote before filing the story. Bolton’s book I did not consult at all, until just now. A search for “Isolde” on Kindle brings it up three times, all in the 1964-69 period, and pertaining to Willis Carto’s publication of Imperium. Mrs. Alice Yockey is looking to get royalties for her two daughters (pp. 432-433 in my Kindle edition). Carto responds by saying there’s been no profit as yet, and he’s still in the hole for taking out a loan to publish a paperback edition. Perhaps, he suggests, the National Youth Alliance, to whom he intends to deed the copyright, will earn enough money from the book to provide royalties.

Carto’s prediction did not, however, come to pass. When I bought my first paperback copy of Imperium in the early 1980s, some ten years after reading a hardbound edition from Sterling Memorial Library, it still bore the imprint of Carto’s Noontide Press. Relations had become fractious between Carto and Lou Byers (of Youth for Wallace/National Student Alliance/National Youth Alliance) around 1969, and Byers’s organization was no longer coupled with Carto’s Liberty Lobby.

In an amusing touch, Carto ends his last letter to Alice Yockey by inviting Isolde and Brunhilde/Fredericka to join the NYA!

Kerry Bolton corrects some of Kevin Coogan’s more egregious errors, e.g., the claim that German-born Valentin Yocky could not have been FPY’s grandfather because Valentin died in 1883 whilst FPY’s father Louis wouldn’t be born until 1886. Coogan got Louis’s birthdate off a gravestone, and genealogists know that gravestones are often wrong.

Documents from the life of Louis Yockey, in Michigan, Illinois, France and Belgium, show him to have been born in May 1883. He was not a posthumous baby. His father had been sickly and died in December the same year. I believe I was the person who tipped off KB about Coogan’s error. Coogan and others tried to weave the error into a far-fetched theory that FPY’s Germanophilia was thoroughly artificial, and he might in fact have been part Jewish along with mostly Irish. (James Madole seems to have promoted that last rumor.)

But Kerry Bolton makes the similar mistake of believing daughter two, Carlotta Fredericka Yockey, was originally named Brunhilde. As I pointed out in my recent essay, the second Yockey daughter was known as Fredericka from the time she was a baby. We see her called Fredericka in passenger manifests from the late 1940s, through mid-1950s. Then in the San Antonio Light in 1957 she’s Brunhilde, as she is called at Houston’s Lamar High School, class of 1963; and Rice University, where she is a literary society pledge for Pallas Athene (listed as Pallas Athens) in early 1964.

No yearbook photos have yet turned up for her, though there’s a Bruni Yockey listed with the Rice Class of ’67 headshots. I find this lack of yearbook pictures suspicious in itself.

Equally noteworthy is that the Houston ophthamologist calling herself Dr. Fredericka Yockey, MD, has been practicing in the area for 42 years, but there are no recent photos of her online. Her medical training was in Paris. “She graduated from PARIS V – UNIVERSITI RENI DESCARTES / U.F.R. BIOMIDICALE DES SAINTS PERES in 1981,” says healthgrades-dot-com.

Another needless error in the Bolton book is the claim that Isolde and Fredericka were born in Germany. That would have been difficult, as they were born in 1944 and 1945 (actually in Detroit, Michigan, where their young-attorney father was working). For most of 1946 and 1947, however, they did live in Germany.

And finally there’s the place-origin of the German Yockeys. FPY’s grandfather Valentin Yocky was born in Bavaria, writes Kerry Bolton, which he describes as being in southeast Germany, to which Valentin’s Jacky forebears had evidently migrated from Switzerland, where the name originated. Indeed, here are Valentin’s parents, from Ancestry-dot-com:

The trouble here is that Rumbach, Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) is nowhere near Bavaria or southeast Germany. It is in fact near the extreme southwest of Germany, near Alsace, or about midway between Saarbrücken and Strasbourg. In olden days, however, this section of Pfalz or Palatinate was under the rulership of the Elector or King of Bavaria, so the “nation” to which it belonged was said to be Bayern. It is similar to how during the mid-19th century German unification the Rhineland came to be under the Prussian crown, and so the little town of Rumbach would be said to be in Prussia…even though it’s about as far from the original Prussia (out by Koenigsberg) as you can get.

An honest error, liable to be made by anyone for whom the incongruity of “Pfalz, Bayern” does not immediately leap out from the page.


Postscript to Postscript, 22 December 2023:

It didn’t occur to me till now to ask whether Imperium is still in print. It is not, at least not in hard copy, and publisher Noontide Press does not sell it anymore. In fact, Noontide doesn’t seem to sell much of anything anymore. Imperium is still available in impossibly expensive used and back copies, and in Kindle edition from Invictus Books, “free” for downloads with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. (I wonder if Dr. Yockey and her mother ever received any royalties at all from Willis Carto’s editions of the book?)

Long and curious review of Imperium, from the L.A. Review of Books: America’s “Mein Kampf”: Francis Parker Yockey and “Imperium”. The writer is clearly new to this world and cribs a lot of biographical material from elsewhere, and gobbles opinions wholesale from Deborah Lipstadt.

FPY with sisters Vinette Coyne and Alice Spurlock, June 1960. ©Bancroft Library, University of California. Reproduced with permission.


Bof the Skinhead (1988)

There were many more strips that didn’t get perfected, but this was the original and classic. Pretty much written by Keith Stimely and drawn by me in low-tech steel-nib pen points and Winsor-Newton shellac-laced India ink, summer or fall of ’88.

Why “Bof”? I dunno

This partly reflected Keith’s notions of what the East Portland (OR) skinheads were like. Meanwhile his friend Adam Parfrey was pushing a hoax in L.A., about fag-bashers who called themselves the Blue Boys. Good times!

Who Killed Isolde Yockey?


Isolde Yockey, circa 1967

One of America’s oldest missing-person mysteries was solved this past July in Texas. DNA tests identified the remains of a woman who’d been murdered in Colorado County, TX, most likely in 1975. The dead woman had a sister, the sister finally came forward, and forensics found a match.

The woman’s name was reportedly Isolde Deirdre Yockey [1], and she was about 30 years old at the time of death. Isolde was the elder of two daughters of Francis Parker Yockey by the former Alice O’Rear MacFarlane of San Antonio.

We don’t know how Isolde was killed, or who killed her, or whether we should even be suspicious. Francis Parker Yockey was an adventurer and risk-taker, and it may well be that his murdered daughter had followed in his footsteps and took her risks of own. All we know for now is that she had been in touch with her mother and sister in San Antonio and Houston in the months before she was killed. They expected to see her at Christmas 1975 and didn’t suspect anything was amiss until she didn’t turn up. The following August, some decomposing human remains, identified as female, were discovered near Sheridan, Texas (between Houston and San Antonio). But an anonymous corpse is not something that would come immediately to the attention of the Yockey relatives in 1976. And so this missing-person/unidentified corpse mystery just hung around, unsolved, until Isolde’s younger sister Fredericka agreed to submit to a DNA test in 2023.

FPY married Alice MacFarlane, a young mathematics teacher, in Texas in 1943. Daughters Isolde and Fredericka were born in 1944 and 1945. In 1946 the tiny tots accompanied their mother Alice, and possibly their MacFarlane grandmother, to join their father in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1946-47, when FPY was an assistant counsel for some of the minor war crimes tribunals. According to some reports, FPY’s behavior was erratic to the point where Alice forced him to leave the family’s flat. Then, in late 1946, FPY was fired from his job with the tribunals, and moved to Zurich, after which he went back to America and lived for some months he lived with his sister Vinette and her naval officer husband William Coyne in Illinois. It’s after this that FPY famously retreated to Brittas Bay, Ireland, where in 1947-48 he wrote Imperium. [2]

Thereafter we find Isolde, Fredericka, and mother Alice (and often grandmother Mary Agnes MacInerney MacFarlane) going back and forth between Texas and Europe, finally moving to Beirut, Lebanon for about five years, 1951-1956. [3]

When living in Beirut, Fredericka wanted learn piano, but there were no pianos available, so she learned keyboard on the pianoforte’s immediate ancestor, the harpsichord. And when they returned to Texas in 1956, Alice and Fredericka took home an English-built harpsichord, shiny and new. This got featured in the San Antonio Light in October 1957. Fredericka here looks like the sort of gifted child who in a later era would brighten up a Counter-Currents conference.

Fredericka’s birth name was Carlotta Fredericka Yockey, but supposedly her father nicknamed her Brünnhilde or Brunhilde. [4] If she’s calling herself that in Texas in 1957, this suggests to me a deep and abiding bond between FPY and his daughters. We know he spent time in the Mideast in the 1950s, and surreptitiously he must have visited the kids.

The newspaper article also tells us that while harpsichords would seem to be everywhere in the 1960s (The Addams Family, William F. Buckley Jr.) they were very much a novelty item in the 1950s. In San Antonio and elsewhere, only antiquarian musicologists even knew what a harpischord was.

As for the doings of sister Isolde in the 50s, she’s completely off the map. Not in newspapers, not in yearbooks, not in passenger manifests, not even in a Public Records Index. After sailing with her sister, mother, and grandmother from Beirut to Boston in August 1956 (below), Isolde completely disappears, age 12, from the public record.

When I was given this news story about Isolde Yockey, it brought back vague memories. Over the years I’d read here and there that one of Francis Parker Yockey’s daughters disappeared without a trace in the 1970s. I think I first got that story from David McCalden in his “Truth Missions Revisionist Newsletter” back in the 1980s. David, you will recall, was the original director of the Institute for Historical Review, but had a falling out with Willis Carto in 1981. So then he went solo, asking for donations from all the friends and supporters he had met in his time at the IHR helm. He also interviewed at least one of Yockey’s sisters, Alice Spurlock, who was now living in Gilroy CA, world-renowned “garlic capital” and home of the annual Garlic Festival in Santa Clara County. From McCalden’s newsletters, Kevin Coogan learned that one of FPY’s daughters had mysteriously disappeared in the mid-1970s, and he put that into Dreamer of the Day; but he had nothing more to add.

Was Isolde killed because she was somehow continuing her father’s work? I have no proof whatsoever for this, but I’m suspicious of anyone who manages to fly beneath radar for many years and then suddenly meets misadventure. I’ll leave that open question for later researchers.

Anyone who studies the Yockey kin senses they are a close-knit and supportive clan. When FPY was being surveilled for his cloak-and-dagger activities in the 1940s and 50s, and when he got nabbed for passport fraud at the Oakland airport in 1960, his family rallied ’round him. When his sister Alice Spurlock was widowed, she moved cross-country to Virginia to live with her niece Connie Marshner, a well-known traditionalist-conservative writer and activist, and author of Blackboard Tyranny, an early (1978) hammer-and-tongs attack upon the social-engineering agenda of the National Educational Association. Mrs. Marshner’s husband is William Marshner, long-ago editor of Triumph magazine (of which I wrote when hunting down the late, mysterious Lawrence R. Brown a few months ago), and co-founder and professor emeritus at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. I detect a very mainstream “social-conservative” coloration here, nothing at all like the incendiary radicalism we associate with the author of Imperium and The Enemy of Europe. But it’s interesting that Yockey relations are still keeping their hand in.



[1] Isolde appears in the 1950 U.S. Census as Isolde A. Yockey, the A. almost certainly for Alice, the name of her mother and aunt and many women on both sides of her family.

[2] This chronology comes mainly from Kevin Coogan’s Dreamer of the Day (1999) and is sketchy at best.

[3] Alice’s brother Charles MacFarlane Jr. was an executive in the Arabian American Oil Co., with office base in Beirut, and interests throughout Europe and the Near East. He married his wife Mary Langdon in St. Peter’s Basilica in 1958. Charles had been an undergraduate at Notre Dame when FPY was at law school there during the early 1940s. That presumably was the link between Yockey and the MacFarlane family.

[4] Kevin Coogan writes in Dreamer of the Day that FPY’s second daughter changed her name to Francesca when she grew up. I can find no record of this. From the time she was a toddler on passenger manifests, she’s listed as Fredericka.

The Mysterious Lawrence R. Brown

Who Was Lawrence R. Brown?
Biographical Notes on the Author of The Might of the West
(September 1, 1903 – March 31, 1986)

Yearbook photo, c. 1920

It is intriguing, and often maddening, to research an author or historical figure, and discover that there’s very little material to be found. With today’s newspaper and genealogical databases, such lack of information is itself suspicious. Perhaps the person just didn’t want to be found, or spent his life trying to keep his name out of the newspapers. And there’s always the possibility that for practical or professional reasons our subject wrote mostly under pseudonyms, like “Lewis Carroll” or “Ulick Varange.”

Researching the life of Lawrence R. Brown presents us with yet another obstacle, what you might call the “James Jones” gambit. If you’re an author with a common moniker, you might be able to sign your name to your writings and “hide in plain sight” if you like. Lawrence R. Brown often looks to be an example of such self-willed obscurity. He wrote one immensely readable philosophy of history, The Might of the West (first edition, 1963, second hardbound edition 1979), which was very well received in certain quarters. But little else was known about him.

While sorting through the many possible Lawrence R. Browns in the online databases, I briefly became briefly convinced that Brown held a sensitive Defense Department position for many years. Alas, my favorite candidate turned out to be an interesting guy but the wrong guy. His relatives never heard of him publishing any sort of book.

The necessary clue came from syndicated columnist John Chamberlain, who praised Brown and his book in 1966. [1] His encomium for Brown is an eye-opener, and alerted me to the varied interests of that polymath. Under the headline ‘Is United States “Banana Republic”?’, Chamberlain’s column mocks the single-assassin verdict of the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President Kennedy. His piece de resistance is a recent article by our obscure Mr. Brown, here described as both “engineer” and “philosopher of history.” A couple of paragraphs from the Chamberlain column will serve here as a précis:

So let’s turn to a remarkable article by Lawrence R. Brown, “Kennedy’s Assassination: Let’s Solve It,” which appeared in September in the first issue of a new Catholic magazine called Triumph. Mr. Brown is an engineer, but on the side he is a gifted philosopher of history, as his only book, a bulky tome called The Might of the West, abundantly proves.

Brown goes about establishing a thesis the way Charles Lindbergh prepared for his pioneer flight across the Atlantic, leaving nothing to chance. His article on the assassination does not deal in motives; it simply concentrates on what might be called the “hardware” questions. One such question is raised by the author’s insistence that spectrographic analysis could not establish that all the bullets or metal fragments came from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. Brown suggests that two separate sets of bullets may have been involved, or that there may have been “planted clues.”

(John Chamberlain column, November 30, 1966, King Features Syndicate.)

Based on Chamberlain’s claim that Brown was an engineer, it appears that the real Lawrence R. Brown was Lawrence Roscoe Brown, a chemical engineer who worked for 37 years as a senior manager for Publicker Industries, a Philadelphia beverage distillery and industrial-chemical manufacturer. He was born in Stonington, Connecticut on September 1, 1903, and died in a Burlington, Vermont hospital on March 31, 1986. [2] In between, Brown lived in New York City, suburban Philadelphia, and the southern Maryland exurbs of Washington DC (La Plata, MD). [3]

Chamberlain’s column also tell us that Brown has written a soon-to-be-published second book, an in-depth technical criticism of the Warren Report. This book appears to be lost to history. Why? Perhaps it was too granular and techie: Brown’s mastery of spectrographic analysis and other abstruse metrics would not readily be imparted to a wide audience. (That three-page 1966 Triumph article is eye-glazing in its detail.[4]) Or maybe Brown couldn’t find a publisher because the market was thought to be saturated with JFK assassination “conspiracies.”

And then there’s the fact that Brown didn’t have good relations with his old publishing company, which had passed to unfriendly hands shortly after publication of The Might of the West. In his 1979 review of the second edition, Revilo Oliver suggests the new owners of the publishing house actively suppressed distribution of the book.[5]

The Might of the West, 1979 Edition

Brown contributed essays and commentary to Triumph sporadically from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. In December 1966 he turned to Catholic liturgy, presenting arguments for the preservation of the Tridentine Mass, in a piece called “The Language of the West.” Vernacular liturgy is deficient, he writes, because it makes divisions along national and linguistic lines. “National churches” are popularly understood as a direct result of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, yet that was not (writes Brown) the Reformers’ intent. They merely wanted a reformed, more democratic, universal church.

“And now,” Brown grieves,

exit the Latin Mass. The Christian West, even in its bare form, cannot be said to exist when there is no longer so much as a symbol of it surviving, if only as a memorial to a common civilized past.

(Triumph, December 1966.)

This bears close comparison to parts of The Might of the West, particularly Brown’s depiction of the unity of the Christian West during the Middle Ages. In his gracious and appreciative 1979 review of that book, Revilo Oliver basically upheld that viewpoint, refusing to be distracted by Brown’s distinctly Catholic apologetics. The Protestant Reformation was a disaster, Prof. Oliver agreed, dividing the West into petty-state rivalries and fratricidal wars.

A more surprising piece of commentary came in March 1969 when he wrote a long letter to Triumph, taking a MacArthurish, “No substitute for victory” stance on America’s Vietnam policy. He slammed the undeclared war as a defeat, inasmuch as

our military forces have failed to attain the political objective which has been publicly declared to be the purpose of the use of military force in this area: the elimination of externally supported Communist military operations in South Vietnam… [The clear political intention of U.S. policies] is: “Avoid any action that will seriously irritate the Soviet Government.”

(Triumph, March 1969.)

Triumph had recently taken an editorial stand against the war, on the practical grounds that America didn’t really want to win it. This drew a fierce letter (January 1969) from professor/sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle in Los Angeles, denouncing Triumph editors for defeatism.

Triumph immediately responded with an editorial, same issue, denying its defeatism while denouncing both the ongoing Paris Peace Talks and the war itself. Lawrence Brown’s disgusted response in the March issue manages to agree and disagree with both sides. A mildly interesting fracas over one of the more dismal geopolitical topics of the time.


[1] John Chamberlain, an economic historian and journalist, is scarcely remembered today, but he was very influential in the Conservative movement of the 1950s and 60s. Among other things he wrote the introduction to God and Man at Yale, a boost which former Yale Daily News Chairman William F. Buckley, Jr. later credited with “changing the course of my life.” Chamberlain was a columnist for King Features for 25 years.

[2] Burlington (VT) Free Press obituary, April 4, 1986.

[3] Residential information gathered from, and Triumph magazine, March 1969.

[4] Lawrence R. Brown, “Kennedy’s Assassination: Let’s Solve It,” Triumph, September 1966. Available at Internet Archive.

[5] Revilo Oliver’s review has been reproduced in many places, including Instauration (December 1979), Counter-Currents, and National Vanguard. The last-named includes Prof. Oliver’s intriguing notes on how it was originally published by (entrepreneur/ investment banker) Ivan Obolensky, who then sold off his book company to someone who had no interest in Brown’s big-brained tome. Oliver’s notion that The Might of the West was deliberately suppressed almost certainly came from the author himself.

That original 1963 Obolensky edition is readable today at Internet Archive; but not, alas, the 1979 edition, which Prof. Oliver informs us was a photo-offset reproduction of the original edition’s pages. Used copies now go for $200 or more online. Further trivia: the 1979 edition was brought out by Joseph J. Binns Publisher (Washington DC and New York), a company that appears to have specialized in lush “coffee table” travel-picture books, but also published works by Martin A. Larson, Ph.D., freelance scholar and longtime columnist for The Spotlight.

[6] Triumph (1966-1976) was founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.’s brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell, Jr., a sometime National Review editor who disliked the lukewarm conservatism and cultural secularism of that magazine. Triumph‘s masthead and contributors’ list overlapped a good deal with National Review‘s, though it was much more Catholic, boasting Willmoore Kendall, Jeffrey Hart, Russell Kirk, Otto von Habsburg, Hugh Kenner, Jerry Pournelle, and Bill Buckley’s younger brother F. Reid Buckley. Eventually the two magazines disavowed any connection. Lawrence R. Brown is frequently listed on the masthead as contributor or contributing editor. The major advertisers, unsurprisingly, were conservative book publishers and Rightist Catholic businessmen. Arlington House books, Conservative Book Club, and Patrick Frawley’s Schick razor blades bought prominent full-page insertions at the front of the book or back cover. When Triumph folded in 1976, its torch was carried on by another Bozell creation, the Christian Commonwealth Institute, and Christendom College in Virginia.