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Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right Hardcover – July 2, 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 173 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Both of Claire Conner’s parents were deeply involved in the cult of far right politics: they knew that Eisenhower was a secret Communist and they idolized Francisco Franco. Wrapped in the Flag is at once the heartbreaking and intermittently hilarious story of her coming of age and a first-hand history of the far right since the 1950s. Conner’s book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the sources of the conspiratorial, hate-filled tropes of the right today—whether they emanate from the Tea Party, the gun movement, race realists, Sovereign Citizens, or, increasingly, from elected officials in the GOP." —Arthur Goldwag, author of The New Hate: Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right

“An invaluable contribution to understanding the mentality of extremist conservatism and its supporters.”  —Kirkus, starred review

“The John Birch Society had a huge impact on American politics. They were responsible for the lurch into insanity. The religious right, the Tea Party and the takeover of the Republican Party by extremists can't be understood unless you understand the paranoid xenophobia Birchers injected into America. This book is about a journey through and out of that Bircher netherworld. It's a vital piece of the puzzle to understanding the madness that overcame America and a moving story about one person's journey back to sanity.” —Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God

"Experiencing this splendid volume is like reading a history book inside out: events you only knew about from afar are revealed anew, with the striking ground-level intimacy of a fine family memoir. I've been waiting for a book like this: one that demonstrates the shockingly effectual continuity of the John Birch Society as a force in American political life: from its early days discrediting the Cold War credentials of JFK, to its outsized role building up grassroots momentum in the Clinton impeachment, to its sudden eruption into mainstream Republican thinking with the rise of the Tea Party movement." —Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland

“This passionate, personal history of the John Birch Society is timely and important.  At a moment when Tea Party activists have embraced many of the Birchers' most outrageous notions, Claire Conner has performed a great service by reminding us of the origins of some of most virulent ideas that continue to pollute our body politic.  As the skeptical daughter of two passionate Birchers, Conner may be the only person who could have written such a clear-eyed, insider’s account of the persistent dangers of right-wing extremism.” —Charles Kaiser, author of 1968 In America and The Gay Metropolis

“An affecting portrait of late-20th-century America on the fringe." —Publishers Weekly

“This insider’s view of the most radical right-wing organization of the Cold War era describes the seeming paranoia and questionable logic of the most devoted JBS members. Conner provides colorful descriptions of many of the eccentric JBS leaders, including founder Robert Welch. . . . Readers interested in learning more about this example of the Cold War era’s ultraconservative political trends will be fascinated by Conner’s description of the perpetual fear of JBS members regarding communist takeovers and communist infiltration of the highest levels of our government. Recommended.” —Library Jounal

About the Author

Claire Conner’s father was a national spokesperson for the John Birch Society for more than thirty years; her mother was also a staunch follower. Conner holds a degree in English with honors from the University of Dallas and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. She lives in Tampa, Florida. 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 7.6.2013 edition (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080707750X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807077504
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Claire Conner is the author of "Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right," Beacon Press, 2013). Her book was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 pick for Political Books, Spring 2013. In addition, Wrapped in the Flag received a STARRED review from Kirkus Review and a RECOMMENDED from the Library Journal. The Tampa Bay Times called her book "deft" and "memorable." Numerous readers on Amazon and elsewhere praise "Wrapped in the Flag" as "unable to put down."

Excerpts from her book have been featured in Salon.com, the National Memo.com and Crooks and Liars.com. Claire speaks around the country about the John Birch Society and the dangers of right-wing extremism. As she says, "Right-wing extremism broke my family. I don't want it to break my country."

Claire was twelve years old when her parents dove into the world of paranoid politics, a world dominated by the John Birch Society, an anti-Communist, anti-federal government movement. Her father, Stillwell J. Conner, became a National Council member and remained in top leadership for thirty-two years. Her mother was a partner in all things Birch.

At first, eager to gain the approval of her mercurial parents, Claire embraced everything they embraced. As she matured, however, she began to disagree. At first, it was just a whisper here and a tiny "no" there, but every little rebellion made her stronger.

The final break from her parents caused tremendous upheaval, leaving a rift that never healed.

Wrapped in the Flag is the culmination of five years' work, but Claire feels that her preparation began long before she wrote a word. In 1967, she earned a degree in English (with honors) from the University of Dallas. Twenty years later, she completed her Master's degree in Teaching English from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point campus.

For over ten years, Claire was the leader of the Marshfield chapter of Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life, now Wisconsin Right to Life. She spoke extensively to students in area high schools, to church and parent groups. Her reconsideration of the no-exceptions approach to reproductive issues marked a major milestone in her personal and political evolution.

Claire's community involvement gave her numerous opportunities to hone her speaking skills. She has addressed the Marshfield Rotary Club, the Lions Club and numerous church and school groups over the years she lived in Marshfield, and she looks forward to discussing Wrapped in the Flag with audiences large and small.

Claire is the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of three lovely girls. "I dedicate every word I write to my family and to all Americans who want to understand what's happening in our politics," Claire says.

Claire lives in Florida with her husband, Bob, and their little dog, Conner.

Photo Credits: Hank Charneskey

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Claire Conner is my big sister by three years. We shared twin beds in our Chicago home and I can attest to all her stories. I was there. At just 13, Claire was roped into the world of the John Birch Society. If she wasn't at school, she was stuffing envelopes and attending meetings. I was assigned to help with dinner and then go upstairs and keep my younger brother and baby sister quiet during the meetings. That's why Claire is on the full page Life Magazine spread and I am not. I was probably changing a diaper.

Dinner at our house was unlike dinner at any home I've been in then or since. The only topics worthy of discussion were politics and religion. I've never met anyone else whose dinner conversation included how the Communist Chinese tortured women. It was tough to swallow your meatloaf but you better be quiet. Those who tried to change the subject or introduce another way of thinking paid a high price.

If Claire's book was only a memoir about "What it was like to grow up in a cult," it would be interesting and important. But it is so much more. For a couple of years now, we've called one another and said, "Sheesh, did you hear what so-n-so in the right said NOW?" We recognized all of it. It is all old JBS stuff. We know. We had the bumper stickers and pamphlets to prove it.

I've heard so many people wonder aloud, "Where DID these people come from?" Well, Claire answers that question in Wrapped in the Flag. It would be nice to think that the old John Birch Society faded away, but it hasn't. It's larger and stronger than it ever was. And it is influencing our political thinking and language whether we know it or not. I am so grateful that Claire asked herself a lot of hard questions about what we were told, and generously shares her very open and often painful story of learning how to think and speak for herself.

I hope this book makes you think and speak for yourself. It certainly has made me remember.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a book I've been waiting for for many years. I, too, grew up a "Birch kid" and Claire Conner's story resonates deeply with my experience of having grown up in the intellectual cult known as the John Birch Society (JBS).

Conner's family moved from the Chicago area to Mauston, Wisconsin. My father was president of the local JBS chapter in Madison, Wisconsin, at the same time, in the late 1960's. At that time Madison was churning with anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights activities. To say I grew up in a world of head-turning political extremes is an understatement. Given the very closed - even secretive -- circle of JBS extremists, my guess is that my father and mother knew Claire's parents.

Conner's book was the first time I felt anyone else had any idea what it was like to grow up in the cauldron of far right wing paranoia, hate and rigid thought control that is the JBS. Certainly, over the years I have spoken about my experience with close friends but there quickly comes a point where the person I am speaking with is clearly not getting what I am describing; it's too absurd. Truly, you have to have been there for years on in to really "get" what it was like to grow up in the JBS political cult. While personal stories, like Conner's or my own, of growing up in such an environment can make for a good read there is a larger story here that affects everyone in America.

What we are talking about with the John Birch Society is the cult of right-wing authoritarianism; a rigid world view of absolutes.
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WRAPPED IN THE FLAG is a well-written, compelling memoir of a political movement that most Americans know almost nothing about. During the Cold War, the John Birch Society defined the far-right wing of American politics. Born in the aftermath of the McCarthy Hearings, it was originally organized to continue McCarthy's work--to oppose communism in all of its forms and to root out communists and communist sympathizers in American government and culture. As the group developed, it folded more and more conservative causes into the general umbrella of the "International Communist Conspiracy"--a highly organized and well-funded superorganism that included labor unions, civil rights organizations, universities, public schools, the news media, and, minimally, two American presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

The essential facts about the Birch Society are now part of the historical record. What Conner gives us are the feelings of a thoughtful, intelligent young woman who grew up in and around the Society and had to learn how to balance family loyalty with her growing discomfort with what the Birchers stood for. Claire Conner had a front-row seat at the birth and development of the John Birch Society. Her parents were personal friends of JBS founder Robert Welch, her father was a longtime member of the organization's leadership team, and much of her life was defined by the extremist politics of her parents and their friends. She writes poignantly of being a high school student and reading John Howard Griffen's BLACK LIKE ME, or of watching Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech on TV, and realizing how inadequately her received opinions had prepared her to understand the role of race in America.
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