Andy “Hirsh” Dlinn remembers the precise moment he decided to join the John Birch Society more than 30 years ago.
Always a strong believer in “limited government and liberty,” Dlinn was manning a libertarian booth at the South Carolina State Fair back in 1985, when a man operating the nearby JBS table struck up a conversation and encouraged him to join.
“I kind of backed away from him, because I heard they were anti-Semitic,” recalled Dlinn, who is part of the Pittsburgh Chasidic community. “I was worried about this guy. I said, ‘I can’t join because I’m Jewish.’”
But because the core principals of JBS aligned with his own, Dlinn elected to do his own research about the group to see if the perception that it was anti-Semitic had any basis in fact.
Dlinn called the Anti-Defamation League, “which is part of the problem, in some cases,” he said. “I said, if the ADL says it’s OK, I’ll join.”
A researcher at the ADL took a week to look into the organization, then reported back: “I couldn’t find anything, but stay away from that group,” Dlinn recalled.
“When he said that, I joined,” said Dlinn.
Now, three decades later, Dlinn, 64, is a leader in the organization, not just on a local level, but nationally. He was recently added to the JBS National Council and continues to serve as a volunteer JBS section leader in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“The whole point of the John Birch Society is to educate the electorate on constitutional, limited government and how to take action and get our representatives to go back to the law of the land, which is the Constitution,” Dlinn said. “We have to teach people what they need to know so they know who to vote for.
“The left is afraid of us big time, because we have boots on the ground,” he continued, adding that the JBS has chapters in all 50 states.
The JBS was founded in 1958 by businessman Robert Welch and others who were intent on exposing what they viewed as the growing leftist threat in United States. At the time, they believed the country to be 40 to 60 percent Communist-controlled, according to a 1961 report in Time.
Despite the anti-Semitic proclivities of some of its renowned members over the years, the organization itself does not espouse anti-Semitism, according to Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the ADL’s Center for Extremism.
“We consider the John Birch Society an extremist group, but not an anti-Semitic group,” Pitcavage said in a phone interview. “It originated in the 1950s as an extreme anti-Communist organization. It was concerned that a massive Communist organization had infiltrated the United States. They even were convinced that President Eisenhower was a Communist.”
After the Cold War, JBS switched its focus from communism to conspiracy theories, according to Pitcavage.
“They started talking about a ‘new world order,’” he said, and they began to align with “anti-government and conspiracy-oriented groups.”
Although the group itself is not anti-Semitic, it has had its share of anti-Semitic members as well as white supremacists among its ranks.
“Sometimes, it has been a gateway organization, with people coming in to get introduced to conspiracy theories,” said Pitcavage, “but then they leave because they get frustrated when the John Birch Society is not talking about Jews and blacks.”
Those former JBS members who did not find the group to have sufficient animosity toward Jews are Revilo P. Oliver, who helped found the group and is the author of “The Jewish Strategy,” which lamented Aryans having “their minds so deformed by centuries of cunning Jewish propaganda”; Jack Mohr, the author of “The Babylonian Talmud: An Instrument to Destroy Christianity”; and white supremacist, skinhead leader and former Klansman Tom Metzger.
Historically, there have always been Jews in the JBS, but their numbers are unclear.
“We don’t go around asking people what their religion is,” Dlinn said, adding that the organization has gone out of its way to provide kosher meals for him at JBS events and to change the dates of local programs scheduled to take place on Shabbat.
It is Dlinn’s service to the community that caught the attention of the national organization and led to his appointment to the National Council, according to Art Thompson, the CEO of the JBS.
“Andy has been a longtime member of the John Birch Society and a volunteer leader in our organization,” Thompson said in an email. “His service to our country and his community made him an excellent choice to serve on our National Council. Based on his experience, we felt that his advice would be a good addition to our deliberations.”
Dlinn has a long record of public service. Now a financial advisor, Dlinn served for 20 years as a public affairs officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh, the FBI Citizen’s Academy and the Citizen’s Police Academy. He is also the past president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and is the founder and director of the Squirrel Hill Citizen’s Patrol.
Dlinn also is active in the Republican Party, serving as the president of the Pennsylvania Republican Leadership Council and chairman of Pittsburgh’s 5th Council District Republican Committee. He also serves on the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee.
What sets Dlinn apart, said Thompson, is “his ability to combine his community service with the principles of our society, particularly in the area of support for the local police in his community. His interest has always been the safety of his neighborhood and of Pittsburgh in general.”
National Council members voluntarily serve “to demonstrate the caliber of the general membership, give advice to the CEO and name the successor of the organization,” according to a JBS press release. There are currently 25 members of the National Council who meet periodically throughout the year.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.