One of the best things about newspaper digitization is that it’s now actually possible to identify crank letter writers from the 20th century and sketch out their biographies. It can be very revealing.

I’m going through James J. Kilpatrick’s John Birch Society crank letter file, and I came across this one.

It’s totally unremarkable—there are literally hundreds of letters like it—except that the author, James R. Baroffio, has a relatively uncommon name.
So, I ran his name through and found a 1964 news story about him from his hometown paper.

College of Wooster graduate, class of 1954, Army Corps of Engineers veteran, MSc geology from Ohio State, worked for Standard Oil, PhD geology Illinois 1964.
But wait, here's a brief bulletin about him 25 years later -- he's now the head of Chevron Canada!
Oh, and since he got his PhD from Illinois it's worth looking up to see what they've got about him.

Turns out he's still alive, was until recently on the board of Pioneer Natural Resources, and a prominent U of I donor.…
Now, none of this should be especially surprising. We already know that the core base of the John Birch Society was upwardly mobile white-collar professionals, and *of course* dudes in the petroleum industry would've been at the forefront.
But it's still, I think, incredibly useful to see this process play out among rank-and-file right-wing activists.
This particular crank letter, which holds the Warren Court was a "nest of socialists," was written by a man who bears more direct responsibility than most for our planetary ecological collapse.
Another example: here’s a letter from a Dorothy Malone Slade, demanding an apology from George Sokolsky for slighting the Impeach Warren campaign in a January 14, 1961 column.
Slade was one of the major leaders of the successful "Stop ERA" campaign in North Carolina in the 1970s (while also still serving as a local John Birch Society chapter leader).
Anyway, if for any reason you're reading letters to the editor for your research projects, make sure to run at least a couple of the names through the digital databases. You'll never know what you'll find.

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More from @DavidAstinWalsh

13 Jul
The politics of mid-century conservative academics in America make so much sense when you realize that they're always white men with cushy jobs they didn't have to do much to land and are married to former students 25 years their junior.
I am absolutely going to mention this in my book, because the self-regard and gentility of this particular social class is the basic reason why they sneered at the Birchers and George Wallace and were terrified of the New Left.
Two other not-so-stray thoughts on this:

Yes, it was incredibly easy for white men of a particular social cast to get jobs in the academy in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was all but impossible for women and minorities.
Read 4 tweets
13 Jul
There is nothing more depressing than reading correspondence between academics in the 1950s and 1960s and realizing just how goddamn easy it was for these people to get jobs.
“Dear XXX,

Can you get me a job? I’m almost halfway done with my dissertation at Hahvud and I should start planning for the future.

“Dear YYY,

Due to budget problems we’ll only be able to hire you for a silly Acting Instructorship, but once you finish your PhD we’ll be able to give you an Assistant Professorship.

Damned inconvenient, I know.

Read 9 tweets
13 Jul
Holy shit I’m older than The Simpsons.
First episode was aired 10 months after I was born.
I guess technically the shorts were from before my time, though.
Read 4 tweets
12 Jul
Right now the most plausible scenario for 2022 is for the Democratic Party to run against the left through a “not THAT kind of Democrat” campaign, lose the House and fail to take the Senate and set us all up for a massive constitutional crisis in 2024.
To be clear, I think that this scenario is likely regardless of how the Democrats campaign, but the odds of the center holding in our current political system is quite low.
The only real guardrail against this is the state of the economy in 2022, and since the neoliberals seem to be taking the upper hand again I’m skeptical that the politically necessary boom economy will take hold.
Read 5 tweets
10 Jul
Robert E. Lee was in fact a very bad general.
His two invasions of the North were strategic catastrophes for the Confederacy.

The Gettysburg campaign, in particular, was a colossal misallocation of limited resources, which Lee squandered away due to his immense arrogance.
Most of Lee’s army should’ve been transferred west to relieve Vicksburg.

This actually *worked* at Chickamauga two months later.
Read 5 tweets
10 Jul
The thing to never forget is that people literally gave their lives to tear this statue down. Image
Stonewall Jackson is coming down later today!
Stonewall’s time has come. Image
Read 10 tweets

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