The John Birch Society was MAGA before there was MAGA. Many would argue that without the John Birch Society, there may be no conservative Make America Great Again movement.
All three of Wyoming’s congressional delegates and 13 of state lawmakers have been honored by the John Birch Society for receiving high scores in the group’s newly released Freedom Index. The index rates lawmakers “based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements.”
“We are very very thrilled to see that Wyoming and the Republican Party, you got it right,” Leah Southwell, a program director for JBS, told the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee at its meeting Saturday, to enthusiastic applause.
Of the 435 members of the U.S. House, 21 members voted 100% of the time with the organization’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, which Southwell described as a “very, very sad state of affairs.”
One of these 21 exceptions is U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyoming, who Southwell thanked the audience for voting into office. Southwell presented a plaque on behalf of Hageman to her brother, Hugh Hageman.
“We appreciate her so very, very much,” she said.
U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis received 78% and 80% scores respectively. Southwell noted that only three of the 100 U.S. senators scored 100%.
“Giving us less than 5% of our U.S. congressman who understand the Constitution and actually adhere to it,” Southwell said.
At the Wyoming Legislature level, two senators and 11 representatives received 100% scores.
Tim French, R-Powell
Bob Ide, R-Casper
Bill Allemand, R-Casper
John Bear, R-Gillette
Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan
Tony Locke, R-Casper
Allen Slagle, R-Newcastle
Ken Pendergraft, R-Sheridan
Scott Smith, R-Lingle
Tomi Strock, R-Douglas
Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne
Jeanette Ward, R-Casper
John Winter, R-Thermopolis
Southwell said these results mean that about 15% of Wyoming state legislators are 100% in sync with the John Birch Society. All of the legislators are either members of or are politically aligned with the Wyoming Freedom Caucus.
“That’s probably better than most all states in the United States,” Southwell said. “Keep it up and let’s get even more of those legislators in office.”
Wyoming Republican Party Chair Frank Eathorne commended the county Republican parties “for helping make this a reality.”
The list of high scorers was almost identical to top scorers in other conservative ranking lists in Wyoming.
Sheridan Republican Gail Symons said she sees this commonality as highly suspicious and believes the John Birch Society was handed their results locally.
“I call BS,” she said.
Southwell said this consistency is what proves the index’s validity. She also parrots some of the same catchphrases commonly used by these ranking sites and in modern Republican circles like RINO (Republican In Name Only).
“We help them (the voters) answer whether they’re real Republicans or Democrats running as Republicans to get elected,” she said. “If you’re voting with the party below 50% of the time, are you a real Republican? It’s not what you say in your town halls, it's how you vote.”
Symons believes conservative ranking websites in Wyoming and the Freedom Index cherry pick what bills and votes they choose to include in their statistical analysis. At least on the congressional level, the John Birch Society analyzed 10 bills in the House and Senate.
Considering the volume of legislation at the federal level, Symons said a sampling of 10 bills is “really not statistically valid. It’s basically skewed results for partisan purposes.”
Southwell worries that the public is losing an understanding of what is a limited government and said her organization spent significant money researching bills and votes that it believes are interwoven with the Constitution. It has been decades, she said, since the John Birch Society did a ranking list like this.
“We look at bills impartially and see whether it is complying with the U.S. Constitution or not,” she said. “We see how they vote on that.”
Southwell said her group will rank more than 8,000 state legislators around the country this year. Since the Wyoming Legislature was one of the first to wrap up, it made it to the top of the list.
Fact Or Fiction?
Symons also believes the group is taking an opinion-based approach to the Constitution and comes to baseless conclusions about the arguments it makes. She cited one example the group made that by completely removing the federal government from health care, it would reduce costs in Wyoming.
“We’re 50th in population, the only way the market prices can be driven down is when you have a large enough market to match supply,” she said.
The John Birch Society has been credited by some for paving the road that led to the election of former presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. The group was a lightning rod for ultra-conservative thought in the 1960s, vehemently opposing the United States’ participation in United Nations and claiming the civil rights movement had put Communists in prominent positions.
Symons said these positions made the group “absolutely despised” by traditional conservatives of the time like Barry Goldwater and William Buckley.
“The younger people don’t know this,” she said. “They’ve wrapped up their platform into a nicer package. The things they’re saying are not even logical.”
The group’s prominence faded after the Vietnam War, but a resurgence in membership started developing in the 2010s and 2020s, according to Politico and the Texas Tribune.
Modern Birch Society
Today’s John Birch Society appears to be most focused on adherence to the U.S. Constitution and opposing big government and vaccine mandates.
Unlike other conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Prager University, Southwell said the John Birch Society specifically targets grassroot voting blocs like the Wyoming Republican Party for their “education” efforts.
“We’re not trying to influence or lobby the legislators,” she said.
Symons said it’s not that the John Birch Society has become more moderate in its views, but rather the Republican Party has become more similar to the John Birch Society.
“The MAGA Republicans have gone further to the right,” she said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.