Lawrence McEnery, an emergency room doctor from Atlanta and passionate advocate for the ferociously anti-Communist John Birch Society, begins his career and life trajectory with an air crash in 1956, a political awakening in the early 1960s and eventually nascent aspirations for public office. A chance meeting with Ronald Reagan in an L.A. hotel room launches his political career. McEnery’s anti-Communist fervor and his unlikely involvement with the rock band Refraction (discussed in Episode 13) inject new uncertainty into the political landscape for the upcoming 1972 Presidential election, and the future of American politics.
This is a rather unusual episode of Age of Confusion in that it focuses mostly on a single character. Larry McEnery, mentioned briefly in Episode 9 where he makes an appearance at an anti-Vietnam War rally, is a fictional character. However, certain aspects of his life and career are based on the real-life person of Lawrence McDonald, U.S. Congressman from the state of Georgia, who was a doctor, and who in real life rose to become the second-highest national official in the John Birch Society. McDonald, ironically, really was murdered by Communists. He was aboard Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was shot down by Soviet aircraft when it accidentally strayed into the airspace of the USSR on September 1, 1983.
Larry McDonald (1935-1983) is a loose inspiration for the fictional character of Lawrence McEnery. Despite being a Democrat, he had the most conservative voting record in Congress at the time of his death in September 1983.
The background and history of the John Birch Society, as given in this episode, is absolutely accurate, as is their bizarre fixation with the conspiracy theory that President Dwight D. Eisenhower–and in fact all U.S. Presidents–were secretly Communist agents. The JBS, founded in 1958 by candy magnate Robert W. Welch, is still a force in conservative politics in America today. Several people arrested in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 have ties to the JBS, including John Schaffer, former heavy metal guitarist of the band Iced Earth, whose father was in the John Birch Society for many years.
This episode opens with the story of the crash of U.S. Air Force TB-25N 44-29125 into the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania in January 1956. That incident really did happen. McEnery, being fictional, was not aboard of course, but the rest of the incident as related here is true. Here is an article about the crash and the mystery of what happened to the wreckage of the bomber itself, which still has not been located after more than 60 years.
Next Episode: November 21, 2021