Conservatives once tried to cast out their conspiracist wing, but the right-wing fringe has now taken hold of the Republican Party.
National Review founder William F. Buckley worked to sideline the John Birch Society from the conservative movement in the 1960s, when the anti-communist reactionary group had a large following, but the organization's paranoid mindset has come roaring back since the conspiracy-minded Donald Trump entered politics, argued The Bulwark columnist Robert Tracinski.
"Looking at American politics today, it sure looks like this seminal conservative achievement is unraveling," Tracinski wrote." The Birchers are back. And they’re winning."
Buckley, with the help of conservative luminaries Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, eventually drove the Birchers to the fringes, but Tracinski said the present-day conservative movement has fully embraced their conspiratorial mindset.
"We have a conspiracy theory that explains everything conservatives think has gone wrong in the world by positing the machinations of a secret cabal that controls everything from the intelligence agencies to the schools," he wrote. "We have the rapid spread of these crackpot theories to otherwise normal and respectable people in the rank and file of the movement. We have an attempt to make the conspiracists into the ultimate representatives of opposition to totalitarian communism, and a corresponding attempt to dismiss any conservative critics of the conspiracists as weak-kneed appeasers handing over the country to its enemies."
"We have the uneasy balancing act of conservatives in the media and in politics who don’t want to denounce the crackpots for fear of angering their party’s base," Tracinski added. "Isn’t this also precisely the state of conservatism today?"
The John Birch Society itself remains active, if diminished from its civil-rights era peak, but its worldview has been reborn in the right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory, which Trump eased into the mainstream by refusing to denounce their lunacy and has inspired new conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and violently anti-LGBTQ smears against Disney and Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.
"From the top down, the Birchers have won," Tracinski wrote. "They now own the conservative movement and the Republican party."