Group Research Records: Grassroots Right-Wing Iconography

Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library has launched "Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records," an online exhibition now available on the Libraries’ website. The exhibition was curated by Nicholas Osborne, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Columbia. Nick also wrote this blog post. (Above: The Church League of America presents Ronald Reagan on the Welfare State, date unknown.)

Drawing from the diverse resources of the Group Research, Inc. Records, "Choosing Sides" showcases the imagery that helped to build right-wing political and social movements in the second half of the twentieth century. Flyers, brochures, books, newsletters, record albums, bumper stickers, and other physical objects produced by conservative artists and designers both provide an example of the richness to be found in this collection and help to demonstrate the critical role that visual media played in the recruitment and publicity strategies of right-wing activists as they helped shape the discourses of modern American conservatism.


(Above: Mel-Belle Enterprises of Springfield, Ilinois, What Kind of Country Are You Leaving Me?, circa 1967)

Journalist and one-time Democratic Party insider Wesley McCune founded Group Research, Inc. in 1962 as a way to monitor, publicize, and pass comment on the activities of those individuals and organizations he deemed "extremist." Almost exclusively these extremists came from the political right. To support his mission, McCune gathered information widely. He scanned the nation’s newspapers and magazines for journalistic coverage, joined right-wing organizations’ mailing lists and subscribed to their newsletters, collected brochures and other published material at rallies and conferences, and cultivated an active network of sources that gathered these and other materials for him. Apart from simply accumulating information, McCune publicized his findings by authoring occasional articles in mainstream periodicals and a regular newsletter, The Group Research Report. He also held the ear of influential journalists and politicians—including several congresspeople and even presidential candidate George McGovern—and made his organization’s archives available for research to those in the know.


(Above: Myron Fagan, Cinema Education League, Illuminati, puts the Council on Foreign Relations in a gun’s crosshairs, 1967.)

Advancing in age, McCune finally shut down Group Research in 1996, having amassed a remarkable trove of information documenting the rise of the modern political right in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library purchased the collection. Amidst 215 linear feet of material in the Group Research, Inc. Records are represented individuals and organizations ranging from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan, from the John Birch Society to the Moral Majority, and beyond.


(Above: Billy James Hargis, The Christian Crusade, For God and Country, 1961.)

The Group Research, Inc. Records are available for use at the RBML and comprise more than 500 document boxes of archival material related to right-wing organizations spanning the years 1955-1996. More than 1,400 published titles written by or about conservatives comprise the related Group Research Collection of printed materials, also owned by the RBML. Taken together, these collections provide an unparalleled overview of the development of right-wing US politics in the second half of the twentieth century.


(Above: Center for Constitutional Rights, Get With It! to end "confiscatory and unconstitutional taxation," 1974)

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