John Birch Society claims legislation
In the 1960s, the John Birch Society was active as a right-wing organization that specialized in exposing communist conspiracies. While the society has been marginalized over the years, it is now back in New Hampshire - and taking credit for drafting two resolutions that passed the New Hampshire House this week.
One resolution urges Congress to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement. The other urges Congress to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations 'so that the United States may retain its sovereignty and control over its own funds and military.'
Both were sponsored by Rep. Norman Tregenza, a Silver Lake Republican and first-term representative who belongs to the John Birch Society. The NAFTA bill passed the House, 172-124. The UN bill passed, 189-107. After the vote, the society sent out a press release stating that 'Both resolutions were drafted by the John Birch Society.' While bills are drafted by the Office of Legislative Services, members can suggest language and Tregenza confirmed that the society wrote the bills and he introduced them.
Democrats said they were not surprised by the bill's origins. 'The bottom line is how many ways can we politely say, 'Are you nuts?' ' said Robert Theberge, a Berlin Democrat and member of the House State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, which considered the bills.
Tregenza said the bills reflected important issues. 'Industry is leaving America because of a variety of reasons, of which NAFTA is a key reason,' Tregenza said. He said NAFTA increased regulations on businesses, forcing companies to move manufacturing jobs overseas to remain competitive.
Tregenza said withdrawing from the U.N. is an issue of sovereignty and money. The United States pays a large portion of U.N. costs to help other nations, and U.S. taxpayers pay diplomats' salaries.
Republican leadership did not take a position. Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt voted against the NAFTA withdrawal and for the U.N. withdrawal.
'House leadership is made up of many strong supporters of free trade,' Bettencourt said. 'Obviously, the State and Federal Relations Committee came up with a different perspective.' That committee recommended both bills along party lines.
Asked about the John Birch Society, Bettencourt said, 'It is not our policy to judge the value or merits of a piece of legislation based on the personal and sometimes private affiliations or associations of the sponsors, which are tolerantly protected by the United States Constitution.'
The John Birch Society was founded in 1958 and named after an American intelligence officer killed by communists. It was active during the Cold War, with a mission of exposing communist influence in government.
Michael Birkner, professor of history at Gettysburg College and a scholar on 20th century American history, called the society 'an extremist organization with views that have been repudiated by even leading conservatives.' Birkner said after Soviet Russia fell, the group had to shift away from its anti-communist mission and 'find new dragons to slay,' like the international monetary fund or NAFTA.
Birkner said the society has a few active chapters but not generally in the northeast.
The John Birch Society has two dozen members in New Hampshire, according to section leader Bill McNally of Windham. It is co-sponsoring a pro-nullification conference in Manchester today.
McNally said the group's biggest crusade is trying to stop organizations that are asking states to request a federal constitutional convention. The group has also been fighting NAFTA.
'It's about government regulation, intrusion and losing jobs,' McNally said.
The group opposes foreign aid because it is not included in the Constitution. It also opposes the United Nations. 'The founders of the U.N. were dozens of communists,' McNally said. 'We've been trying to expose that for years.'
In a legislative guide, Tregenza lists among his priorities repealing the Federal Reserve Act, which created the Federal Reserve and allowed it to print money, and urging the NAFTA repeal.
The NAFTA bill that passed the House urges Congress to withdraw from NAFTA, stating that it is a step toward a merger of all North America. 'The gradual creation of such a North American Union from a merger of the United States, Mexico, and Canada would be a direct threat to our freedoms under the Constitution and our nation's independence, and imply an eventual end to national borders within North America,' the resolution reads.
Rep. Lucien Vita, a Middleton Republican, wrote in a recommendation on behalf of the majority of the State-Federal Relations Committee that NAFTA resulted in the loss of American jobs and wages to other countries. The U.N. bill states that money given to foreign countries could be better used in the U.S.
'Many of the member nations of the United Nations are not friendly to the United States and support many things that are detrimental to this country and against its interests, yet expect the United States to provide the finances and manpower to solve all of the world's problems, even putting the lives of this nation's military forces in danger,' it states.
Several representatives co-sponsored both bills. 'I haven't seen good results coming out of either of them that benefits this country,' said co-sponsor Rep. Paul Lacasse, a Claremont Republican. 'They're great for other countries, not too good for this one.'
Theberge, who opposed the bills on the House floor, said the state's congressional delegation has more important things to deal with. He said the United Nations 'provides us with a means of sitting down at the table and negotiating concerns relative to other countries.' While it's not perfect, Theberge said, 'It's a vehicle to address issues and resolve problems in a peaceful manner.'
Theberge said NAFTA provides 'economic security' since economically entwined countries are less likely to go to war.
'It provides a vehicle to address human rights issues and environmental problems so we can negotiate that as we develop these treaties,' Theberge said.
Theberge said he is glad the resolution goes to the Senate before it can reach the congressional delegation. 'Hopefully they are more mature and have a higher IQ than people over at the House,' he said.
(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or email@example.com.)