Seeing Red behind the Orange Curtain: The John Birch Society and Conservative anti-Communism in Orange County, California, 1959-1974


Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships


Social and Behavioral Sciences


This project examines the activism of the John Birch Society and related organizations as they pursued a mission to expose and combat an alleged “communist conspiracy” that sought to undermine American institutions. It is centered on Orange County, California, whose conservative political culture offered a propitious ambit for a multi-valanced anti-Communist crusade in the 1960s. A particular focus is the Birch Society’s presence and influence in public education. Strict scrutiny was applied to the educational views of school officials. Schools and colleges became contentious venues of conflict as JBS activists contended that certain practices would compromise or corrupt American resolve in confronting communism in its many guises. Members and supporters of the Society sought elective office ranging from elementary school boards to Boards of Trustees at area community colleges. The period saw Birchers and “fellow travelers” well-placed to influence both the policy and administration of education throughout Orange County. Special emphasis is given to examining attempts to censure and suppress oppositional views, especially those involving curricula, and student decorum and publications at area colleges and universities. Closely examining the anti-Communist impulse in Orange County will lead to a more fully articulated understanding of JBS and the legacies of conspiracy-based politics.