This biography of Robert Welch, the candy magnate and white supremacist founder of the John Birch Society, documents how the man's paranoid philosophizing has continued to infuse right-wing politics in America. The John Birch Society was long seen as occupying the farthest reaches of the political spectrum but became central to Republican grassroots operations during the Reagan presidential administration, and its influence can still be felt today.
Miller’s study of Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, presents a plausible account of America’s slow descent from the 1950s into the abyss of post-truth politics ... Miller is alert to the many stages of the American right’s ‘theme park journey’: the careers of Joe McCarthy, Barry Goldwater and George Wallace; the conversion of blue-collar ethnic Catholics in the North and white supremacists in the South to a new model of Republicanism ... Of course, the slow unfolding of right-wing delusion falls short of explaining our present grotesqueries.
... Welch’s white supremacy is addressed in direct terms, though the book’s discussions of his antisemitism are less clear ... A Conspiratorial Life is the first comprehensive biography of Robert Welch. It is revelatory about his role in the development of modern American conservatism.
Edward H. Miller’s eye-opener of a biography claims that reports of Welch’s banishment have been greatly exaggerated—at least when measured by the enduring influence of his thinking. Miller argues that today’s politics of fact-free conspiracies owe much to Welch, an interesting character who (paranoid conspiracy theories aside) was a serious player in conservative politics from the 1950s through to the 1980s. He emerges from Miller’s telling as an example of the symbiosis of anti-tax,
anti-regulation Main Street businessmen, anti-Communist ideologues and social conservatives who helped shape the modern GOP ... Several lessons from Miller’s biography of Welch are worth remembering .... If one approaches Robert Welch’s life expecting a sociopath, a narcissist, a con artist or a compulsive liar, Miller’s estimable book will disappoint ... The portrait that emerges is antique but neither hateful nor deranged. The scariest lesson of Welch’s life is that the attachment to paranoid conspiracies as a way to explain the successes of disliked candidates and policies is still with us.