Right-Wing Paranoid Blues: The Role of Radicalism in Modern Conservatism
This study examines the role of radicalism within the conservative movement of the mid-twentieth century United States, specifically by analyzing the strategies and activism of the Radical Right. The onset of the Cold War after World War II created an atmosphere ripe for anti-communism, and it also paved the way for a conservative backlash to liberalism and the mid-century revival of fundamentalist evangelicalism. This zeitgeist of Cold War anti-communism and frustrations with liberalism facilitated the formation of the Radical Right—a loose network of ultraconservative organizations and leaders that used conspiracy theories and grassroots tactics to energize the right-wing base. This dissertation examines multiple groups and individuals within the Radical Right that promoted far-right ideals and functioned as a vocal minority within modern conservatism: Robert W. Welch Jr., and the John Birch Society; Billy James Hargis and the Christian Crusade; Protestants and Other Americans United For the Separation Between Church and State (POAU); Texas cowman-agitator J. Evetts Haley; and Kent Courtney and the Conservative Society of America (CSA). The leadership of these groups mattered because the organizations were often dominated by ideologues that incorrectly conflated liberalism with communism and employed conspiratorial rhetoric to foment political change. The Radical Right found a modest constituency in the Sunbelt; organizational chapters for the John Birch Society and the CSA proliferated in key states like Texas and California. Though far-right activists had limited electoral success, the Radical Right played a role in the ascent of modern conservatism by acting as a foil for, and thereby helping legitimize, mainstream right-wing values.