Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Tracy A. Campbell

Abstract

Previous accounts of the development of the New American Right have demonstrated the popularity and resonance of the ideology in Southern California. However, these studies have not shown how contention surrounded conservatism’s ascendancy even in regions where it found eager disciples. “Save Our Republic” uses one conservative Southern California community as a vehicle to better understand the foundations of a wider movement and argues the growth of conservatism was not nearly as smooth as earlier studies have suggested. Santa Barbara, California, experienced a much more contentious introduction to the same conservative elements and exemplifies the larger ideological clash that occurred nationwide during the late 1950s and early 1960s between “establishment,” moderate Republicans and the party’s right flank. In California’s cradle of conservatism, the ideology’s birth was not an easy one.

Santa Barbara should have provided a bonanza of support for the John Birch Society, a staunchly anticommunist organization founded in 1958 by retired businessman Robert H.W. Welch. Instead, its presence there in the early 1960s divided the city and inspired the sort of suspicion that ultimately hobbled the group’s reputation nationally. Rather than thriving in the city, the JBS impaled itself in a series of self-inflicted wounds that only worsened the effect these characterizations had on the group’s national reputation. Disseminated to a nationwide audience by local newspaper publisher Thomas M. Storke, who declared his intention to banish the organization from the city, the events that occurred in Santa Barbara throughout 1961 alerted other cities of the potential disruption the JBS could inspire in their communities. The JBS would forever bear the battle scars it earned in Santa Barbara.

“Save Our Republic” argues the events in Santa Barbara exemplify the more pronounced political battle that was occurring throughout the nation in the 1960s as conservatives grappled to determine the bounds of their ideology. The threat from the right that caused so much handwringing in the halls of conservative power had an equally unsettling effect in the city’s parlors, churches, schoolhouses and newsrooms.

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