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Profile: American Liberty League

a.k.a. ALL

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American Liberty League was a participant or observer in the following events:

American Liberty League logo.American Liberty League logo. [Source: David Pietrusza]Prominent Democrats and Republicans join together to form the American Liberty League (ALL). The organization, according to the founders, exists “to combat radicalism, preserve property rights, uphold and preserve the Constitution.” ALL spokesman Jouett Shouse says ALL will fight to preserve “traditional American political values.” According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, ALL was organized by “disgruntled business conservatives, Wall Street financiers, right-wing opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and defeated rivals within Roosevelt’s Democratic Party.” ALL is financed by, among others, industrialists Pierre, Irenee, and Lammot du Pont; former Democratic Party chairman John J. Raskob; financier E.F. Hutton; and executive Sewell Avery of the department store chain Montgomery Ward. Most of the politicians in the organization are Republicans, but these are joined by anti-Roosevelt Democrats such as Alfred E. Smith, who ran for president in 1928. Many ALL members were once part of the Association against the Prohibition Amendment, which fought to re-legalize the US liquor industry. ALL unsuccessfully fights to block federal regulations and additional taxes on business, the creation of public power utilities, pro-labor barganing rights, agricultural production controls and subsidies, New Deal relief and public jobs programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Social Security, and other Roosevelt-era programs and initiatives. According to the Encyclopedia, “critics effectively lampooned league members as champions of privilege, ungrateful critics of an administration that had saved capitalism, and vindictive and selfish individuals seeking revenge on a president for betraying his social class.” ALL works diligently, but unsuccessfully, to unseat Roosevelt in 1936, backing Republican contender Alfred M. Landon. After Landon loses in a landslide to Roosevelt, the organization fades in prominence. The Encyclopedia concludes that ALL’s “legacy of fund-raising tactics, ideology-driven issues research and public education, and coordination with partisan legislative and electoral campaigns foreshadowed today’s political action committees and independent-expenditure organizations.” (New York Times 8/23/1934; Encyclopedia of the Great Depression 1/1/2004) In 2003, columnist Ralph De Toledano will write, “The Liberty League was laughed out of existence by New Yorker cartoonists, who depicted its members looking out over Fifth Avenue and snorting that doomsday was here and Josef Stalin lurked in the bushes.” (De Toledano 9/2/2003) In 2010, writer Kevin Drum will compare the American Liberty League to the tea party movement (see September 2010). (Drum 9/2010)

Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. (Rich 8/28/2010)

Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum compares the “tea party” movement to earlier organizations, each formed, he writes, to oppose Democratic presidencies. “[T]oo many observers mistakenly react to the tea party as if it’s brand new, an organic and spontaneous response to something unique in the current political climate,” he writes. “But it’s not. It’s not a response to the recession or to health care reform or to some kind of spectacular new liberal overreach. It’s what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League (see August 23, 1934 and After). When JFK won the presidency in the ‘60s, the John Birch Society flourished (see November 1963). When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the ‘90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it’s the tea party’s turn.” While differences between the various groups are substantive, Drum writes, the similarities are overwhelming. Drum notes that industrialist Fred Koch, an early backer of the Birchers (see 1940 and After), gave way to his sons, David and Charles Koch, who helped launch the organization that would become FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are major funders and organizers of the tea party movement (see 1979-1980 and 1984 and After). Tea partiers rely on a 50-year-old radical reinterpretation of the Constitution, W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000 Year Leap; Skousen’s anti-Communist polemics were popular with the Birchers. And Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), believed that the 17th Amendment, which affirms the direct election of US senators, was what Drum calls “a poisonous concentration of power in the federal government.” Tea partiers and Fox News hosts hawk this same theory today (see October 16, 2009, April 8, 2010, and June 11, 2010). Drum writes that, far from being motivated by personal economic hardship (tea party supporters tend to be more affluent and less affected by the economic downturn than the average American—see April 14, 2010) or even because of a dislike of President Obama because of his race, the tea party exists because “[e]ver since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.”
Constitutional 'Purity' - One similarity is the focus of each group on what they term the “purity” or “sanctity” of the US Constitution, even as they apply their sometimes-radical reinterpretations of constitutional mandates. “The Liberty Leaguers… spoke of it with ‘worshipful intensity,’” Drum writes. “The John Birch Society—which is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010)—says of itself, ‘From its earliest days the John Birch Society has emphasized the importance of the Constitution for securing our freedom.’ And… study groups dedicated to the Constitution have mushroomed among tea partiers” (see May 2010).
Fear of 'Creeping Socialism' and Tyranny - Drum writes: “Other shared tropes include a fear of ‘losing the country we grew up in,’ an obsession with ‘parasites’ who are leeching off of hardworking Americans, and—even though they’ve always received copious assistance from business interests and political operatives—a myth that the movement is composed entirely of fed-up grassroots amateurs” (see 1984 and After, Late 2004, January 2009 and After, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Above all, though, is the recurring theme of “creeping socialism and a federal government that’s destroying our freedoms.” The American Liberty League fought to stop the Roosevelt administration from establishing Social Security, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and what Drum calls an “alphabet soup of new regulatory agencies.” In the 1960s, the John Birch Society (JBS) felt the government was being overrun by Communism and “collectivism.” Drum notes that JBS founder Robert Welch’s mantra, “Less government and more responsibility,” echoes central tenets of tea party beliefs. In the 1990s, then-Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) became House Speaker in large part because of his opposition to the Clinton administration and his leadership in the right’s battle to defund federal social-net programs. Today, tea partiers echo the JBS in their insistence that Obama is a closet Marxist or socialist, and echo fears from earlier groups that Obama, the Democrat, intends to turn American democracy into a tyranny.
Conspiracy Theories - Drum echoes conservative writer Jonathan Kay by noting the tea partiers’ “insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories” (see February 4-8, 2010). Welch argued that the federal government was bowing to Communist manipulation by fluoridating the water supply (see 1945 and After), but more importantly, promoted the idea that a mysterious group of “insiders” had been running the world since at least 1776, when the Illuminati took over most European governments. The “insiders” continued their influence, Welch avowed, through the years, taking over France after the French Revolution, Russia and other nations after the advent of Communism, and continued to exercise control through such organs as the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. The same groups are at the center of many conspiracy theories embraced by numerous tea partiers. Drum points out the fondness of the “anti-Clinton zealots” for their “colorful and ever-growing bestiary of shadowy plots,” most surrounding their belief that Clinton was a rapist, a murderer, and a drug peddler. Similar conspiracy theories were promulgated by the JBS about John Kennedy. “Today’s conspiracy theories are different in detail but no less wacky—and no less widespread,” Drum writes. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which holds that Obama is not a natural-born citizen, is quite popular with tea party supporters, and many more believe that Obama intends to place conservatives such as themselves in internment camps, a theory peddled by the JBS in the early 1960s. And many believe that ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the now-defunct community service organization, somehow took control of the Democratic Party, destroyed banks by forcing them to make loans to indigent minorities, crashed the economy, and installed Obama into power.
Effectiveness Improving over Time - Drum writes that each iteration of this right-wing phenomenon is more successful than the last. The Liberty League made no impact whatsoever on President Roosevelt’s 1936 re-election attempt. In 1964, the JBS succeeded in helping right-wing libertarian candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) win the Republican presidential nomination. In the 1990s, Gingrich rode the wave of far-right activism to become speaker of the House, and the activism culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton and the election of President George W. Bush. Drum predicts that the latest wave, the tea party movement, will for all intents and purposes take over the Republican Party. In each iteration, moderate Republicans resisted the wave of right-wing change, but, Drum believes, not enough moderate Republicans exist in any position of power to resist the tea party transformation. The GOP has been shifting ever rightward since the 1970s, Drum notes, and the tea party movement has profited from a transformed media environment, where it can present its ideology almost nonstop on Fox News and rely on social media such as Facebook to connect with new recruits. Drum calls the paradigm shift “the mainstreaming of extremism.” In 1961, Time magazine disparaged the JBS as “tiresome” (see March 10, 1961); in 2009, it hailed Fox News personality Glenn Beck as “gifted.” Moderates have virtually no chance in today’s environment of pushing back against the tea party’s rightward surge. “Unlike the Birchers, or even the Clinton conspiracy theorists, the tea partiers aren’t a fringe part of the conservative movement,” Drum writes. “They are the conservative movement.” Drum believes that even with all the tea party’s current success, it will eventually burn itself out, “while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that’s been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that’s been breeding for a long time.” (Drum 9/2010)


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