Robert Henry Winborne Welch Jr. (December 1, 1899 – January 6, 1985) was an American businessman, political activist, and author. He was independently wealthy following his retirement and used that wealth to sponsor anti-Communist causes. He co-founded the conservative group the John Birch Society (JBS) in 1958 and tightly controlled it until his death. He became a highly controversial target of criticism by liberals, as well as by some leading conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr.
Welch was born in Chowan County, North Carolina, the son of Lina Verona (née James) and Robert Henry Winborne Welch Sr. As a child, he was considered "gifted" and received his early education at home from his mother, a school teacher. His boyhood home was Stockton near Woodville, North Carolina. Welch enrolled in high school at the age of ten and was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the age of twelve. he was a fundamentalist Baptist and, by his own admission, was "insufferable" in his attempts to convert his fellow students to the cause of Jesus Christ. He later became a Unitarian, remaining so for most his life. Welch attended the United States Naval Academy and Harvard Law School but did not graduate from either one.
Welch founded the Oxford Candy Company in the Brooklyn, New York, a one-man operation until he hired his brother James to assist him. James Welch left to start his own candy company in 1925. The Oxford Candy Company went out of business during the Great Depression, but his brother's company, the James O. Welch Company, survived, and Welch was hired by his brother. The company began making caramel lollipops, renamed Sugar Daddies, and Welch developed other well known candies such as Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Pom Poms. Welch retired a wealthy man in 1956.
Early political activism
From his teenage years, Welch had been an opponent of communism. He was a strong believer in various conspiracies in which he believed a wide range of individuals and organizations were part of an international communist plot. In his own words, the American people consisted of four groups: "Communists, communist dupes or sympathizers, the uninformed who have yet to be awakened to the communist danger, and the ignorant."
Welch joined the Republican Party and then ran and lost an election in 1950 for the post of Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. In 1952, he supported Robert A. Taft's unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination and was a prominent campaign contributor to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's re-election campaign.
John Birch Society
Welch founded the John Birch Society (JBS) in December 1958. Starting with eleven men, Welch greatly expanded the membership, exerted very tight control over revenues and set up a number of publications. At its height, the organization claimed it had 100,000 members. Welch distrusted outsiders and did not want alliances with other groups (even other anti-Communists). He developed an elaborate organizational infrastructure in 1958 that enabled him to keep a very tight rein on the chapters. Its main activity in the 1960s, says Rick Perlstein, "comprised monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace".
In October 1965, William F. Buckley Jr., in his magazine, National Review, denounced Welch as promoting conspiracy theories far removed from common sense. While not attacking the members of the Society directly, Buckley concentrated his fire upon Welch in order to prevent his controversial views from tarnishing the entire conservative movement. Divergent foreign policy views between Buckley and Welch also played a role in the break. Being in the tradition of an older, Taftian conservatism, Welch favored a foreign policy of "Fortress America" rather than "entangling alliances" through NATO and the United Nations. For this reason, Welch combined a strong anti-Communism with opposition to the bipartisan Cold War consensus of armed internationalism. Beginning in 1965, he opposed the escalating U.S. role in the Vietnam War. In the view of the more hawkish Buckley, Welch lacked sufficient support for U.S. political and military leadership of the world.
Welch was the editor and publisher of the Society's monthly magazine American Opinion and the weekly The Review of the News, which in 1971 incorporated the writings of another conservative activist, Dan Smoot. He also wrote The Road to Salesmanship (1941), May God Forgive Us (1951), The Politician (about Eisenhower) and The Life of John Birch (1954). A collection of his essays were edited into a book. The New Americanism, which later became the inspiration for The New American.
In the 1960s, Welch began to believe that even the Communists were not the top level of his perceived conspiracy and began saying that communism was just a front for a Master Conspiracy, which had roots in the Illuminati; the essay "The Truth in Time" is an example. He referred to the Conspirators as "The Insiders", seeing them mainly in internationalist financial and business families such as the Rothschilds and Rockefellers, and organizations such as the Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. As a result of his conspiracy theories, the John Birch Society became synonymous with the "radical right."
Welch's The Politician
Republican criticism of the John Birch Society intensified after Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower a possible "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy". Welch went further in a book titled The Politician, written in 1956 and privately printed, rather than by the JBS, for Welch in 1963. It was his personal "fact-finding" mission and was not part of the materials or the formal beliefs of the JBS.
Welch claimed President Franklin D. Roosevelt had known about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance but said nothing because he wanted to get the U.S. into the war. The book spawned much debate in the 1960s over whether the author really intended to call Eisenhower a Communist. G. Edward Griffin, a friend of Welch, claims that he meant collectivist, not Communist. The charge's sensationalism led many conservatives and Republicans to shy away from the group.
In the published edition that excises the allegations mentioned above, there is a footnote on page 278 (footnote 2) and its text appears on pages cxxxviii–cxxxix at the back of the book. That text is as follows:
"At this point in the original manuscript, there was one paragraph in which I expressed my own personal belief as to the most likely explanation of the events and actions with this document had tried to bring into focus. In a confidential letter, neither published nor offered for sale and restricted to friends who were expected to respect the confidence but offer me in exchange their own points of view, this seemed entirely permissible and proper. It does not seem so for an edition of the letter that is now to be published and given, probably, fairly wide distribution. So that paragraph, and two explanatory paragraphs, connected with it, have been omitted here. And the reader is left entirely free to draw his own conclusions."
- On page 278 of The Politician, Welch summarized, from his perspective, the only two possible interpretations of President Eisenhower's motives: "The role he has played, as described in all the pages above, would fit just as well into one theory as the other; that he is a mere stooge or that he is a Communist assigned the specific job of being a political front man."
*On page 279, Welch discusses the three stages by which Communists came to control the U.S. Presidency. In stages one and two, FDR and Truman were "used" by Communists. In Truman's case, according to Welch, he was used "with his knowledge and acquiescence as the price he consciously paid for their making him President."
*Then, with respect to Eisenhower, from page 279 of the 1963 published edition of The Politician: "In the third stage the Communists have installed in the Presidency a man who, for whatever reasons, appears intentionally to be carrying forward Communist aims ... With regard to this third man, Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason."
The original formulation of this comment from the 1958 unpublished version of The Politician is as follows:
"In the third stage, in my own firm opinion, the Communists have one of their own actually in the Presidency. For this third man, Eisenhower, there is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason."
There are many other passages in both the 1963 published edition and the 1958 unpublished version of The Politician wherein Welch makes clear that he considered Eisenhower to be a Communist and a traitor. Below are a few examples from the unpublished version (aka "private letter") which was mailed by Welch to friends and acquaintances in the summer of 1958:
- "In my opinion the chances are very strong that Milton Eisenhower is actually Dwight Eisenhower's superior and boss within the Communist Party."
- "We think that an objective survey of Eisenhower's associates and appointments shows clever Communist brains, aided by willing Communist hands, always at work to give the Communists more power, and to weaken the anti-Communist resistance."
- In discussing Eisenhower's appointment of Philip C. Jessup, Robert Welch refers to Eisenhower as "he and his fellow Communists."
- In discussing Eisenhower's appointment of James B. Conant, Robert Welch refers to "the appointment of Conant... made by a Communist President..."
- "For Eisenhower and his Communist bosses and their pro-Communist appointees are gradually taking over our whole government right under the noses of the American people."
- Welch refers to Eisenhower's actions in Europe which "show his sympathies with the Communist cause and friendship for the Kremlin tyrants..."
- "For the sake of honesty, however, I want to confess here my own conviction that Eisenhower's motivation is more ideological than opportunistic. Or, to put it bluntly, I personally think that he has been sympathetic to ultimate Communist aims, realistically willing to use Communist means to help them achieve their goals, knowingly accepting and abiding by Communist orders, and consciously serving the Communist conspiracy for all of his adult life."
- "But my firm belief that Dwight Eisenhower is a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy is based on an accumulation of detailed evidence so extensive and so palpable that it seems to me to put this conviction beyond any reasonable doubt."
- "To paraphrase Elizabeth Churchill Brown, 'the only enemies the American people have to fear are the enemies in their midst.' The most conspicuous and injurious of these enemies today, I believe, is named Dwight David Eisenhower. He is either a willing agent or an integral and important part of a conspiracy of gangsters determined to rule the world at any cost."
Welch accused Presidents Truman and Eisenhower of being communist sympathizers and possibly Soviet agents of influence. He alleged that Eisenhower was a "conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy", and that Eisenhower's brother Milton was the President's superior in the communist apparatus. President Eisenhower never responded publicly to Welch's claims.
"Wherever he looked, Welch saw Communist forces manipulating American economic and foreign policy on behalf of totalitarianism. But within the United States, he believed, the subversion had actually begun years before the Bolshevik Revolution. Conflating modern liberalism and totalitarianism, Welch described government as 'always and inevitably an enemy of individual freedom.' Consequently, he charged, the Progressive era, which expanded the federal government's role in curbing social and economic ills, was a dire period in our history, and Woodrow Wilson 'more than any other one man started this nation on its present road to totalitarianism' ... In the 1960's, Welch became convinced that even the Communist movement was but 'a tool of the total conspiracy.' This master conspiracy, he said, had forerunners in ancient Sparta, and sprang fully to life in the 18th century, in the 'uniformly Satanic creed and program' of the Bavarian Illuminati. Run by those he called 'the Insiders', the conspiracy resided chiefly in international families of financiers, such as the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, government agencies like the Federal Reserve System and the Internal Revenue Service, and nongovernmental organizations like the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission."| Sean Wilentz, Princeton University historian, October 2010
Welch was married to Marian Probert Welch and had two sons. He died on January 6, 1985. James Welch, who had publicly distanced himself from his brother's political views, died less than a month later.