Scrolling down a list of things to possibly do today, I came across an announcement for an appearance by John Birch Society president John McManus, who'll be in North Hollywood tonight talking about “America's Economic Meltdown.” The John Friggin' Birch Society! A wave of heady nostalgia swept over me. Here was a group that had been so Right — and so wrong — about every subject under the sun when I was a kid. Water fluoridation, racial integration, Medicare, President Eisenhower — behind all these the JBS saw Communist plots.

“Ice cream, Mandrake — children's ice cream?” — General Jack D. Ripper's line from Dr. Strangelove had to have been directly inspired by the JBS, and perfectly captured an epochal panic that had allowed its members to see every presidential administration steeped in murder and treason.

Founded by candy maker Robert Welch (he purportedly invented the Sugar Daddy), the JBS, once huge in Orange County and Glendale, is headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin  — which, as the birthplace of Joe McCarthy, serves as a kind of Bethlehem to the wing-nut imagination. The group's Web site projects a kindler, gentler face than from the old days, though — one image, titled, “Standing for Family and Freedom,” shows a group of smiling children. Some of the kids are black and one, quite possibly, could be Latino. Still, some of the site's links are virtual time portals back to the start of the Kulturkampf known as the 1960s.

One online feature

is filled with references to such old-school Reds as Pete Seeger,

Herbert Aptheker and Angela Davis — and this, in a piece about Sonia

Sotomayor! (Who, along with her supporters, we are told, should not be

described as merely “leftwing” but as “communist.” As if to settle the

question of the Supreme Court nominee's ideological leanings, the piece

comes with a photograph of a communist rally in Red Square.)


is government?” the Web site's primer on civics asks. “What purpose

should it serve? Should there be government at all?” The writer then

explains civilization by comparing society to a group of shipwrecked

castaways at war with one another — each castaway intent on stealing

the others' stuff.

Ah, to be a kid surrounded by paranoid grownups


“America's Economic Meltdown,” Beverly Garland's

Holiday Inn, 4222 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, $10; reception 7

p.m., program starts 7:30 p.m. (805) 937-8807 or (805) 338-8287.

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