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Impeachment Rally in Georgia

By Fred Clarkson

Some 350 people packed a small auditorium at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta, Ga., for the first National Town Hall on Impeachment. The March 14 event, organized by a small group called Citizens for Honest Government and a reinvigorated John Birch Society, was designed to create the appearance of a unified, popular and spontaneous outpouring of support for impeaching President Bill Clinton. The staged rally is only one piece of a multifaceted far-right strategy to hobble the Clinton presidency. Hillary Clintons claim not withstanding, this effort is less a "vast conspiracy" than a detailed plan conceived and implemented by political leaders and skilled operatives to whom the future of God and country -- or at least the conservative revolution -- is at stake.

The rally was held in support of HR 304, a resolution of inquiry sponsored by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) that represents the first stage of an impeachment process in the House. The Barr resolution, currently backed by 22 members of Congress, was conceived at a meeting last June of the political action arm of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a super-secretive conservative leadership forum (see Right Wing Confidential, August 8, 1994). The rally epitomizes the dynamics of the Republican Party in the `90s. Cobb County sits just north of Atlanta, straddling the congressional districts of Barr and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. One of the main purposes of the rally, which was held in Gingrich's district, was to send the speaker a "message."

Outside, volunteers urged passersby to pick up John Birch Society literature and organizers sold anti-Clinton videos. Inside the auditorium, an eerie mood and serious demeanor marked the uniformly neat, white-skinned and often white-haired crowd. The speakers, wearing time-warped black suits and white shirts, could just as well have been railing against the Kennedy administration. In addition to Barr, they included: Howard Phillips, the 1996 presidential candidate of the Christian nationalist U.S. Taxpayers Party (see "On the fringe with the U.S. Taxpayers Party," September 16, 1996); Catherine McDonald, widow of the late Rep. Larry McDonald, whose seat Barr now holds; former Rep. Bill Dannemeyer (R-Calif.); militia maven Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Id.), who spoke on the telephone; and John McManus, head of the John Birch Society.

McManus, who also heads a special project called Impeach Clinton ACTION, was promoting a special "impeachment edition" of the Birch Society magazine, The New American. McManus said he believed that Clintons ultimate goal was to "surrender" the United States to "Red China" or possibly the United Nations. Other speakers suggested that Bill Clinton and others in his administration had committed "treason" by soliciting campaign contributions from China in exchange for transferring military and computer technologies. Barr darkly alluded to "classified information" that he had seen, but about which he could say no more. While these claims might seem outlandish, they are the stuff of a conspiracist world-view that animates the ideology of many on the far-right, particularly the anti-Clinton movement.

The audience, a well-disciplined contingent of Barr's core constituents from the John Birch Society and the Taxpayers Party, provided plenty of standing ovations for the benefit of the news cameras. Local television covered the rally, and that evening ABCs World News Tonight punctuated its ongoing Zippergate coverage with a piece on the event. Left out of the news was anything about the people, institutions and ideology behind it.

On their way to the rally, many would have traveled on the Lawrence P. McDonald Freeway, a slab of interstate which winds its way through Cobb County. The road commemorates the late congressman, a fierce anti-Communist who died when the Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets in 1983. But in Cobb County and other right-wing bastions across the country, McDonald is better remembered as a chairman of the John Birch Society.The society, founded at the end of the McCarthy era, was a major catalyst for Barry Goldwaters 1964 presidential campaign. It subsequently fell into disrepute in some conservative circles for being conspiratorial and anti-Semitic. Membership dropped form a peak of about 100,000 in 1964 to about 25,000 at the time of McDonalds death. As the society declined, many of its leaders became the ideological founders of the Christian right, as Christian nationalism began to eclipse anticommunism as a potent political strategy. Retooled for the `90s, the society is re-emerging as an important player in right politics. Currently, it is trying to rally public opinion toward the impeachment of President Clinton.

While the Birchers provided the bodies, the logistics of the rally were the responsibility of Citizens for Honest Government, a project of Creative Ministries Inc., a Westminster, Calif., nonprofit.

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