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A historian details how a secretive, extremist group radicalized the American right


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today's political extremism has roots in the past. The organization that did more than any other conservative group to propel today's extremist takeover of the American right is the John Birch Society. That's according to the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." My guest is the author, historian Matthew Dallek. The society was known for its opposition to the civil rights movement, its antisemitism, its willingness to harass and intimidate its political enemies and for spreading conspiracy theories.

Communist plots were alleged to be behind many things the Birchers opposed, from the U.N., to teaching sex education in schools and putting fluoride in the water supply. The group was founded in secret in 1958 by the wealthy, retired candy manufacturer Robert Welch, whose candies included Sugar Babies, Junior Mints and Pom Poms. The people Welch first invited to join the society were also wealthy, white businessmen, including the Koch brothers' father Fred Koch.

Another decisive period for the American right is the subject of an earlier Dallek book called "The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan's First Victory And The Decisive Turning Point In American Politics." Dallek is a professor of political management at George Washington University. His new book is dedicated to presidential historian Robert Dallek, who Matthew Dallek describes as a great historian but an even better father.

Matthew Dallek, welcome to FRESH AIR. Give us a brief description of the John Birch Society.

MATTHEW DALLEK: Thank you so much for having me. The John Birch Society was a group devoted to fighting anti-communism that they said was inside the United States. It, at its peak, had about sixty to a hundred thousand members, and it combined wealthy manufacturers and businesspeople and elites with upwardly mobile suburbanites. And they viewed themselves, essentially, as shock troopers trying to educate the public about the alleged communist conspiracy that they said was destroying the United States.

GROSS: Sixty thousand to a hundred thousand people doesn't sound like very much, so they were much more influential than their numbers.

DALLEK: Yeah. Well, one of the points of the book is that, time and again, the activism, the money, the energy can be much greater, politically and culturally - much more powerful than the votes of millions of people because they could push issues onto the agenda that other people were not talking about. They could dominate news cycles. They could get people to respond to them and their ideas. They could be a kind of force - as I said before, a shock force - and people would have to take notice. So, as Welch once said of a campaign to impeach Earl Warren, we knew we weren't going to win, or it was unlikely that we were going to achieve a victory. But by the time we're finished, the enemy will know that we were there.

GROSS: My understanding from reading your book is that the John Birch Society combined right-wing politics with culture wars.

DALLEK: Yes. So I argue that the Birchers helped forge an alternative political tradition on the far right and that the core ideas were an anti-establishment, apocalyptic, more violent mode of politics, conspiracy theories, anti-interventionism and a more explicit racism and that - and then on top of that, as well, they were some of the first people on the right to take up questions of public morality, of Christian evangelical politics - banning sex education in schools, trying to insert what they called patriotic texts into libraries and into the classroom. And so they were quite early to - even the issue of abortion. They were quite early to a set of issues that would become known as the culture wars. And that women - at the chapter level, because they had chapters of 20 - roughly 20 people. Women, at the chapter level, were especially effective teachers, so to speak, teaching - trying to teach the public about the threats from a liberalizing culture.

GROSS: Women maybe played a large role in the John Birch Society. These were not exactly feminists. Phyllis Schlafly, who was, like, the leader of the anti-Equal Rights Amendment movement, she had been a Bircher.

DALLEK: Yeah. Well, the fascinating thing is that in the 1960s, Birch women, in some respects, capitalized on changes in the culture. It becomes more acceptable, of course, for women to go outside of the home to work not just in the workforce but to be active politically. And so even though Phyllis Schlafly and many other women are opposing busing in the schools, opposing civil rights, they are trying to take over PTAs and local school boards to take down mainstream conservatives allied with Richard Nixon - so their ends are, essentially, reactionary or harking back to an early 20th century notion of culture and gender identity - at the same time, they are extremely active in the struggle for power in the United States. And, of course, that's one of the interesting paradoxes or contradictions at the core of the movement.

GROSS: So the John Birch Society was founded by wealthy, white business leaders who were, you know, very successful. They owned or ran the companies that they represented. What was the business agenda of the group?

DALLEK: Well, it's an interesting question. They did not have an explicit business agenda, although about half of the founders came out of the National Association of Manufacturers, and they came out of this ultra-conservative wing. They had a fairly radical vision of the free market. They were deeply opposed to labor unions. They wanted a free enterprise system that was unencumbered by government regulations, where the New Deal, essentially, did not exist. And they viewed these rules and regulations as part of a creeping communist plot, essentially, that was slowly moving the United States toward where the Soviet Union was.

And, of course, they were not all business executives. They were interested in issues of morality and changes in the culture. They wanted to fight the United Nations. One of their slogans was get the U.S. out of the U.N. And so they thought that the whole post-World War II international order was corrupt and also dominated by international socialists, that the United States had, essentially, ceded its sovereignty to these international bodies. And they had a whole - and they were Christian, and they believed in imposing a Christian morality on the culture at large. So they had a number of ideas that were driving them but all labeled under the idea that they were communist-inspired.

GROSS: You draw a lot of parallels between the John Birch Society and the far right today. One of the things they had in common is conspiracy theories. So give us a couple of examples of outlandish conspiracy theories that they successfully spread.

DALLEK: Well, one of the most outlandish, although I don't know how successful it was, was Robert Welch alleging that someone had placed a radium tube inside the Senate seat - the upholstery - of Senator Robert Taft's Senate seat - Taft of Ohio - and that was the cause of the cancer that slowly killed him. Now, that was something that he wrote. He pushed on his members. I don't know that it was widely taken up.

The most infamous conspiracy theory was something that Welch promoted, although he did try to later walk it back to some extent or distance it from the Birch Society. And that was, of course, his charge that Dwight Eisenhower, the hero of D-Day, was a dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy.

Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement - and this was, I think, a more successful example - that King and civil rights was directed by the Kremlin, that it was a plot - a communist plot, not an organic struggle on the part of African Americans and some white Americans to achieve racial justice and social equality. It was actually a foreign movement that had - and that African Americans were being manipulated, essentially, by the Kremlin in support of civil rights.

GROSS: And, of course, the Birchers opposed civil rights on many levels. Like, their most hated decision was - Supreme Court decision was Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated desegregation of schools. They opposed busing. They opposed the whole civil rights movement. I mean, is it fair to just say they were racist?

DALLEK: Well, so this was actually a huge debate in the 1960s. And it's, I think, an ongoing debate about the far right. The Birch Society denied emphatically that they were racist, and they denied emphatically that they were antisemitic. They pointed to the existence of a handful of African Americans and Jewish Americans who were members of the movement. And it's true that they did have some Jewish Americans, they had some African Americans in the Birch Society. They also occasionally tried to police their ranks. So I found memos, for example, in which someone had written in to the Birch Society and said that the real problem in the United States is the Jews and that the Jews are behind the communists' plot against America and basically urging the society to become more antisemitic. Well, someone at headquarters wrote, is this guy antisemitic or what? And then someone else wrote on this memo, he's a wild man. Drop him.

And there were times where they did try to expel people, but they also drew a lot of racists and a lot of antisemites to their ranks. Why was that? The conspiracy theories, I think, were of a piece with what the KKK and white supremacists were arguing. There was one woman in Mississippi who wrote the Birch Society, the headquarters, and said that the biggest competitor down here in Mississippi for members is the KKK. So I argue that there was, at the heart of the movement, a more explicit racism. They drew energy from bigots. They had many racists and antisemites that we - I document in the book who were card-carrying members, and some of the leaders were bigots as well.

GROSS: Another conspiracy theory I want to mention is fluoride in the water. When I was growing up, I used to hear about this and not really understand, what is that about? Why is fluoride controversial? Why do some people consider it a threat? Of course, fluoride was put in the water to prevent cavities, particularly in children. So how did that become the subject of a conspiracy theory?

DALLEK: Well, it's such a good question. It's very hard sometimes to tease out the origins, right? Where does a theory sort of make it into the bloodstream of, in this case, the far right and the John Birch Society? In the 1950s, there were fears about government regulation of the public health, the government oversight and really the idea that government was going to tell you what to put in your body. And I think Robert Welch and other conspiracy theorists who - remember, conspiracy theorists usually do not have a single conspiracy theory, right? They are often conspiracy entrepreneurs.

GROSS: (Laughter).

DALLEK: They are selling - they're selling a product. And they're very effective salespeople. And so...

GROSS: Well, Welch especially. He was very effective salesperson.

DALLEK: He was - look, it's no accident that a salesperson headed this organization because he understood how to market a product. He understood how to pitch it. He understood how to defend it - right? - and to differentiate it. And they were actually quite insightful and innovative in that respect. And with these conspiracy theories, I think fluoride became a major - because it was very mundane, right? It was - and it was also unseen. So it was in the drinking water. You couldn't see it. The government was mandating it, right? It was saying that this is good for you. And to Birchers, but also other Americans who were not in the society, they looked at this, and they looked at it as part of a larger federal leviathan - right? - a federal effort to run and ruin the lives of Americans and tell them basically what to put inside their bodies. And so they viewed it as socialism run amok.

Now, there were other ideas, too, that maybe this was poison in the drinking water, put there by communists. But it was seen as - as one Bircher document warned - a wedge issue for socialized medicine. So it's really of a larger piece, right? It occurs in the context of proliferating theories about the federal government and about what the federal government was doing to destroy America, to destroy American liberties. And it was also very localized. I mean, it was right in everyone's community. So it was, in some ways, a perfect issue for the Birch Society.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with historian Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." He describes the Birch Society as the organization that did more than any other conservative group to propel today's extremist takeover of the American right. The Birch Society was active between the late '50s and early '70s.

So the John Birch Society was founded in 1958 by Robert Welch, a retired and very wealthy candy manufacturer. His company made Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, Pom Poms. He came from a family of Baptist preachers and farmers. He was home-schooled. What was his core mission when he started?

DALLEK: To fight what he saw as the conspiracy, the communist conspiracy inside America. To Welch and to many of his fellow founders - they looked around them, and they estimated that communists dominated 60, 70% of American life and major American institutions, including the federal government. So the idea was that they were going to take the fight to the communists, but not through the two-party political system. They were going to primarily take the fight through a mass education campaign because it was only by educating the masses that they felt they could save the country in time.

GROSS: Welch organized the John Birch Society in secret, and he invited several wealthy white men to be founding members. And he told them, this is totally off the record. It's totally in secret. You can't tell anybody. Why did he want to surround the founding in secrecy?

DALLEK: Yeah, he said - actually, at one point he told them not to coordinate their hotels and to - if anyone asked, to just say they were there on business. So it was very hush-hush. Look, he saw communists everywhere, more or less, and he did not want what he saw as his enemies and the enemies of this burgeoning movement to get wind of this movement, because he wanted this movement to be the most forceful, strongest anti-communist movement in the United States. And he wanted to build it up, to get it up to speed, so to speak, before the communists got wind of it and could destroy it. And so he believed that it had to be secret. And that's in part why they set up front groups so that they could hit the enemy, as they saw it, through individual issues on individual campaigns without exposing the larger effort, that John Birch Society, that was behind the front.

GROSS: What's an example of a front group that they set up?

DALLEK: Impeach Earl Warren was one of their most successful. The chief justice of the Supreme Court - they saw him as not only the architect of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, but as responsible for a number of decisions that gave the communists inroads into America, including a ban on prayer in public schools or giving more rights to criminal defendants. The Birch Society, through this front group, was able to erect billboards set all around the country that said, help save our republic - impeach Earl Warren. And these became sort of iconic.

GROSS: I grew up in Brooklyn. In my neighborhood, there weren't many lawns. So - because I know there were a lot of, like, lawn signs too - impeach Earl Warren. But when we would drive through the country in New York, I'd see a lot - when I was a child, I'd see a lot of those impeach Earl Warren signs. And of course, as a child I had no idea - like, what is that about?

DALLEK: Yeah, well...

GROSS: Of course, they failed in impeaching him.

DALLEK: Yeah, well, they - you know, Welch understood that they were not going to impeach him. But again, as he said time and again, whether the front group was support your local police or committee against summit entanglements, which was an effort to oppose and disrupt the Dwight Eisenhower-Nikita Khrushchev summit in late 1950s America, they wanted to take the fight to the enemy, let the enemy know that they were there and they wanted to build momentum for their cause. And so the billboards became iconic because people who - it was a firm minority of the country, but the people who felt that way could rally behind what they saw as this almost shocking, grassroots, in-your-face campaign to completely upend the New Deal and what was seen as, at the time, as the liberal consensus.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." We're going to take a short break, then we'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with historian Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." He describes the Birch Society as the organization that did more than any other conservative group to propel today's extremist takeover of the American right. The Birchers trafficked in conspiracy theories, opposed the civil rights movement, were antisemitic, opposed the U.N., and tried to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. The group was founded in 1958 by Robert Welch, a wealthy, retired candy manufacturer. The original members were white, wealthy businessmen, including Fred Koch, the father of the Koch brothers, who funded right-wing groups and causes during our time. The John Birch Society was active from the late '50s through the early '70s.

The Birch Society wanted to make inroads into politics, I think, with an emphasis, at least early on, on local and state politics. How far did they get?

DALLEK: They didn't get that far, although they did have a number of wins. They were able to win some local races for school boards. Welch - Robert Welch, the founder - had advised people to take over the local PTA. They were able to do that. There were a small handful of Birchers who were members of Congress - John Rousselot, Edgar Hiestand. I think, in total, over its history, Birch members maybe had four or five members of Congress. The - really the greatest success, though, I think, happened in the 1962 midterm campaigns and then in 1964. They were able to help defeat Richard Nixon, who was running - the former vice president running for California governor. They were able to back one of his opponents, a guy named Joe Shell, and take about a third of the primary vote. And that really hurt Nixon in the general election in '62.

And then, of course, most famously, in '64, many Birchers loved Barry Goldwater. They saw him as a true conservative. And Goldwater, of course - his famous proclamation from the San Francisco Cow Palace Convention stage in 1964 - extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. That really spoke to the Birchers, and they thrilled to that. But even though they helped nominate Barry Goldwater, many of them quickly soured on - some of them, at least, quickly soured on Barry Goldwater and other more mainstream conservatives.

And by the late '60s, they were backing a third-party candidate, George Wallace. And by 1972, they were backing another third-party candidate - two, actually, Birch Society leaders - John Schmitz and Tom Anderson, who received about 1% of the 1972 presidential vote - did not do very well. But they were really on the outskirts, in a sense, of the two-party system at that point.

GROSS: The Birchers used hate and harassment to intimidate its political opponents. And I'd like you to describe some of their tactics.

DALLEK: Yeah. I'll give one example. Patricia Hitt, who - I actually open the book with her. She was an aide to Richard Nixon and a very prominent supporter of Nixon. And she was on a Republican county committee in Southern California. And it turned out that the Birchers - the Birchers hated Richard Nixon. They targeted her, and she described, in an oral history, being the target of late-night phone calls harassing her, phone calls at all hours of the day. She and her husband had to switch to an unlisted number. They were getting hate mail. And she said that Birch members were calling people - voters in the community - and calling her, branding her a socialist, a communist, a pinko. And she was defeated. And she described them actually as, quote, "haters beyond anything I've ever seen in my life," essentially.

So it gives you a sense into how they weaponized politics but not just electoral politics. Schools, for example - in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, they were harassing principals and a superintendent. A number of teachers had to leave because, you know, the Birchers alleged that the school district was teaching anti-American texts and un-American ideas to the students. And so apparently they were trashing a principal's lawn. So the direct action oftentimes became ugly and was really far removed from civil discourse.

GROSS: A really interesting chapter of your book is about how the John Birch Society was infiltrated by the Anti-Defamation League because of so much antisemitism within the Birch Society. It was a spy operation known as the Birch Watchers. Why did they see the Birch Society as a threat worthy of being infiltrated?

DALLEK: Yeah. Well, they did sometimes call it the Birch Watchers or the counterreaction. The Birch Society, to them, harked back to authoritarian movements both in Nazi Germany but also McCarthyism. And to a lot of leaders of the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, in the 1950s and '60s, inaction was not acceptable because they had seen what had happened, of course, when brownshirts were allowed to basically run amok. And they saw - and what happened was the ADL was tracking a lot of people on the far right, including white supremacists, and they got wind of a new organization that was becoming active, especially in the northeastern United States, where the Birchers were being tracked. And the ADL was looking for examples of antisemitism, of anti-Black racism, threats of violence, statements against democracy. And they wanted to expose what they saw as this kind of cesspool of hate.

And, as one of the anti-defamation leaders said in the early '50s, we need, quote, "ammunition in the war for democracy." And they viewed it as a war to kind of safeguard democracy where Jewish Americans and other minority groups could be safe.

GROSS: So what did the Anti-Defamation League do to infiltrate the Birchers? Did they send out representatives who pretended to be interested in joining the society, interested in becoming active in it?

DALLEK: Yeah, I think all of the above. The agents had - there were agents. They had codenames - Bos No. 2, Bos No. 4, short for Boston. I don't know their real names. Some of them - one of them pretended to be a chapter leader from New Jersey who was just in town visiting headquarters to pick up literature. Other times, they were interested in joining the society. Some posed as white supremacists or as out-and-out racists. So, you know, really, it ran the gamut.

GROSS: It's surprising that the FBI and its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, worked in part with the Anti-Defamation League to infiltrate the John Birch Society. It's surprising because, I mean, Hoover himself was so conservative and reactionary.

DALLEK: Yeah, well, it is surprising. I think, though, Hoover - Hoover was not a fan of Robert Welch, and he was not a fan of Welch's conspiracy theory that Eisenhower was a communist. So Hoover thought that the Birchers potentially could sow violence against political leaders, and the FBI was running its own program. It was much more engaged with tracking the left, but it's running its own program to infiltrate the Birch Society. But I argue that the ADL was more, I think, more aggressive, more sophisticated and much more effective because they were able to expose a lot of the dark side of the Birch ideas and individuals.

GROSS: Some of the ADL agents posed as disgruntled Birchers in order to infiltrate white supremacist groups and assess their ties to the Birch Society. So tell us some of the things that are revealed in the ADL documents about this operation that you got access to. Tell us about some of the more amazing things that you learned about the Birchers and about white supremacist groups.

DALLEK: Well, there's a lot of stuff. The ADL found out that the Birchers were going to a gun store and purchasing large caches of weapons. One of them was very troubled by it. There were instances of Birch members giving speeches or talks in which, for example, they said that Buchenwald - the victims there, the bones found there were actually U.S. soldiers killed by Soviet communists, not Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

And so the ADL looked at all this information, looked at, for example, white supremacists funding the Birch Society. And they said, this is an antisemitic group. They are - they're - you know, another Birch was passing out "Protocols Of The Learned Elders Of Zion" or a version of it. So there was a lot of elements of hate and intimations of violence that they uncovered, and that deeply distressed them.

GROSS: The ADL fed some of their findings to the press. Why did they do that, and how effective was it?

DALLEK: Well, the ADL was very sophisticated and I think very effective in how it sort of branded the Birch Society as anti-democratic and bigoted. And they produced - the ADL produced its own books and pamphlets. But it also recognized that the media, the mass media, was a great communications tool. And so they worked the press kind of like an athlete jawboning a referee. And they were able to help plant stories, essentially, or feed reporters stories about Birch activities. Birchers were doing a phone tree harassing people in their community. And the ADL was able to help push that story into the public bloodstream.

Now, not all reporters and editors were sympathetic to what the ADL was selling. And so it wasn't as if - it wasn't like they were conspiring, per se. But the ADL was, I think, a significant source, especially for a lot of local newspapers. And the ADL was able to get a lot of damaging bits of dirt on the Birch Society into the public space.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with historian Matthew Dallek, author of the new book "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." The John Birch Society originally was organized into chapters of no more than 20 people. What was the logic behind that?

DALLEK: Well, part of the logic was that they were modeled after communist cells. And...

GROSS: And they were an anti-communist group. So that's interesting.

DALLEK: Yeah. Well, I think Welch and some of the other founders were fairly open about how they would mimic, mime some of the tactics of their enemies, which they thought were quite effective. I mean, they thought that communists had succeeded in taking over much of the United States, so they wanted to steal a page from their playbook, so to speak. So I think it also, though, speaks to the strategy around secrecy, the idea of control from the top - right? - that Welch and the dozens of people and headquarters wanted to have control. The way they did this was any time a chapter hit 20 people, a new chapter had to be formed. And the chapters were not allowed to talk to each other. So the idea was that chapters could not get into fights with one another, they couldn't overlap, that it would all be kind of controlled from the top. It didn't work out that way in practice, but that was the theory at least, or one of the ideas behind the case.

GROSS: The John Birch Society, basically, ceases being active in 1972. What are some of the things that contributed to its conclusion?

DALLEK: Yes. So the Birch Society, you know, it still exists. So it didn't really - it starts to fade as an organization in the early '70s. Two things I think contributed to its demise. One was the pushback from liberals, groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the mass media, politicians from both parties. I do think that they had an effect. The second thing, though, was that the Birch Society became more radical and more beset by internal dissension. And it had more white supremacists, more violent individuals. And it burned itself out, essentially.

GROSS: You recently wrote an article in The Atlantic about how far-right movements die and what the Republican Party can learn from the John Birch Society about how to disassociate from extremists. So what do you think are the lessons for today?

DALLEK: Well, I do think that institutions, as battered as they are today - institutions, whether they're government or non-government, can push back. And that pushback can have an effect. You know, there are about 1,000 January 6 people who have been rioters who have been convicted. And many of them are sitting in jail right now. You know, that, I think, is impactful. So you know, democratic society, civil society can have a way of pushing back against the extremes. There are certainly ways as well in which society can expose the level of hate.

And I do think that what we have seen in - especially in the recent midterm, in the 2022 midterm elections, where a lot of the most extreme election-denying candidates lost in very winnable races, that was another form of pushback. So you know, I don't want to be too Pollyannaish here, but the system, to some extent, is attempting to constrain extremists. And I think that there are at least notes of hope that have echoes with the 1960s and '70s.

GROSS: Since your new book is about the John Birch Society and the radicalization of the American right, what are you particularly focusing on now in looking at the new presidential campaign? It's in its early stages, but it's starting to develop.

DALLEK: Well, I'm very much interested in this question of containing extremism and, how can it be contained? You know, the assumption I think that I had, a lot of people had, is that if MAGA Republicans, Trump Republicans, if they lose enough elections, they might get pushed to the side because the only thing that will do that is if - is enough defeat. And yet, you know, three arguably - as Chris Christie and others are saying, three election defeats in a row and they're still not pushed aside.

And so I am wondering to see how institutions, the media, Republican voters and the Democratic Party and other individuals, you know, are they able to push to the side, a little bit more to the margins, the extremist ideas and tactics that we're seeing still atop the GOP? And I think that is an open question. But the 2024 campaign is going to be another test run and an important one, and then also down ballot, right? Who does the Republican Party nominate? Are they more election deniers, extremists? Or are they going to kind of be more mainstream and push back on these conspiracy theories? So you know, it's a fraught moment. But I'm watching to see. And, you know, we don't know if Trump's going to be the nominee. And, of course, that's really an important test.

GROSS: Matthew Dallek, thank you so much.

DALLEK: It's been such a pleasure to talk to you, Terry. Thank you.

GROSS: Matthew Dallek's new book is called "Birchers: How The John Birch Society Radicalized The American Right." After we take a short break, John Powers will review a new French crime film that swept the French equivalent of the Oscars. This is FRESH AIR.

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