The Freedom First Society was created around 2007 as a result of a bifurcation within the John Birch Society. The Freedom First Society (FFS) was organized by former John Birch Society (JBS) leaders in response to issues they saw coming from within the ranks of the JBS.
While a different organization, many of their talking points parallel the JBS. The FFS still fights to defend the constitution. They also claim to champion freedom while exposing the conspiracies threatening our liberty.
Founding members, G. Vance Smith, and Tom Grow resigned their positions at the JBS to start the FFS. Smith, who served as CEO for 14 years, left because of an internal power struggle. Then, because of what he saw as a leadership vacuum in combating the new world order, Smith created the FFS. (1)
Per the FFS website, the group’s focus is on freedom first. They champion freedom’s principles “ahead of the seductive promises of collectivists and ambitious power-seekers.”
Collectivists is an interesting word choice. According to dictionary.com, collectivism is the political principle of centralized social and economic control, especially of all means of production. This is a direct reflection of the JBS anti-communism/socialist stance.
This anti-collectivist stance is the basis for their approach to reducing/removing government. The capitalist society we live in requires some measure of government to make things run. Yet, the FFS seeks to encourage a healthy distrust of those entrusted with power. To create this distrust they promote an “influential Conspiracy…and its diabolical plan to build a tyrannical New World Order.” (2)
The Origins of Their Philosophy
As with any knockoff group, traces of the original JBS remain throughout the FFS philosophy. JBS founder Robert Welch is a primary source of the group’s direction.
The JBS mission statement is to bring about less government. They want more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world. They do this by providing leadership, education, and organized volunteer action using moral and Constitutional principles. (3)
Also, according to their Organizing Policies, they “seek to provide monolithic leadership to enable patriots to build an organizational body that will inform Americans to rout the Conspiracy’s influence, restore our Republic, and help rebuild our nation’s layers of strength.” (4)
What is interesting about the term monolithic leadership is it resembles the stance of North Korea towards its leadership. In a 2014 KBS World Radio article, Kim Jong-un is quoted as stressing the importance of monolithic leadership. (5) A Google search for the term returns many references to the North Korean Ideology. The Korean’s philosophy is in a supreme leader that all must follow. While the FFS society opposes communism, it is interesting to note their usage of the term monolithic leadership.
The Freedom First Societies Religious Ties
An ardent supporter of the JBS in the sixties, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson(August 4, 1899-May 30, 1994) often spoke against communism and its evils. In a 1965 letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Benson wrote about his support of the JBS. He said, “It is my conviction that this organization is the most effective non-church group in America against creeping socialism and godless communism,” (6). Benson later served as the 13th President (1985-1994) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Due to Benson’s comments and support of the JBS, the FFS has incorporated many of his thoughts into their philosophy. Additionally, CEO G. Vance Smith is a member of the LDS church who is not afraid to use those ties. In 2014, the FFS lobbied the LDS church to allow them to use church meetinghouses to hold recruitment meetings. Citing their meetings weren’t about politics, but about policies, they argued for the opportunity to use the buildings. The church declined to allow them to use any church property. However, during a meeting at the City Hall building in Chubbuck, Idaho, Vance used a familiar quote by LDS church founder Joseph Smith. (7)
At another recruitment meeting held in Blackfoot, Idaho on April 3, 2019, Vance quoted bible verses and talked about modern prophets and their prophecies pertaining to the constitution. (8) Vance Smith referred to the Bible scripture Isaiah 5:20, which says, “ Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” As well as stating, “I believe the modern prophets have said the constitution is divinely inspired.” He fears that modern-day forces are seeking to change the Constitution through stealth-like, secretive methods. (12)
Much of what the FFS does comes from a religious and moral foundation. They use quotes by John Adams and George Washington to support this position. “Our Constitution,” said John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And a quote used from George Washington is, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” (9)
Often in their defense, FFS supporters use religious and moral arguments. They do this because they believe “the primary justification for defending freedom is not economic, but religious and moral.” (sic) The question arises: what religion and what group morals become the gatekeeper for the United States government?
The Freedom Scorecard
One of the tools they use to push their agenda is the Freedom Scorecard. This scorecard measures legislators’ effectiveness on the issues that FFS is concerned about.
The Freedom First Society Congressional Scorecard helps Americans force Congress to return the federal government to its constitutional limits. (11) In determining scores, they rely on the wording of the Constitution along with their interpretation of the framers’ intent.
At the heart of the debate around their scorecard is the methods they use. According to their website, they select specific legislation to score. They do check every bill that passes through the legislature. They are selective in what they score. What muddies the water is they do not share the methodology used in scoring individual votes. A mechanism to analyze debate, amendments, or nuances within each piece of legislation is not readily available to a voter.
The FFS system doesn’t seek to score votes by party. They claim this allows them to reduce partisan voting. They claim this is a more accurate reflection of an individual’s real position. For example, they may only score Republicans on a bill presented by Republicans. Or they would only score Democrats on legislation Republicans are sure to oppose.
While there may be value in a scorecard, it can be problematic when using only select pieces of legislation. This is a problem because these scores can influence public policy and/or opinion. Without knowing the full methodology the scorecard becomes a dangerous weapon used on the uninformed.
The Final Analysis
In the end, the FFS is an updated version of the JBS. They have updated their philosophy to not reflect the anti-communism stance as much as JBS. FFS uses the Legislative Scorecard as JBS uses the Freedom Index, they appear to be fairly synonymous with just different names. The two groups have similar agendas, operating strategies and love for conspiracy theories.
As the FFS society works to expand its base in Idaho they will repeatedly use small group cottage meetings to control their narrative within an echo chamber. They will continue to use their affiliations with religious organizations and quote scripture and doctrine to back up their arguments and remove any roadblocks. And finally, they will continue to tout the use of their scorecard to “inform” citizens and influence legislators.
Kassidy Ellis-Telford is a registered nurse and rancher from Blackfoot Idaho. She works at a local hospital and with her husband on their ranch. They work along side his parents as well as hers in their ranching operation. She has two toddlers that keep her running!