In 1958, the ultra-conservative, anti-Communist John Birch Society was founded. They were such a fringe group, at one point they even suggested President Eisenhower was “pro-Communist.”

Loosely organized, today we have another odd group known as “the Birther Movement.” They claim that President Obama wasn’t born in America, and therefore is not legally president. I’m reminded of the classic line from the Peanuts comic strip, “Good grief!”

When he took office six months ago President Obama inherited perhaps the most challenging set of circumstances of any president in history. FDR had the Great Depression, but he didn’t have two wars and climate change. Because of these enormous problems, I naively hoped our country might experience a widespread spirit of unity, much like after 9/11.

In that patriotic spirit, Ian, a right-wing friend of mine, pledged he would not criticize the new president for two years! However, that barely lasted two weeks as he was soon mocking Obama. Ian is an avid Birther.

Here are the facts as reported by CNN: Last year Political Fact Check, a non-partisan group, went to Chicago and actually viewed the birth certificate. The governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, a Republican no less, authenticated the certificate. Both Hawaii’s major papers, the Honolulu Advertiser and the Hawaii Star bulletin, have records of Obama’s birth announcement on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14, 1961.

There’s more. This past Monday, state officials in Hawaii once again confirmed that President Obama is a natural-born American citizen. Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino said, “I have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii.”

The above would seem to end the debate. But the stated goal of many of these people, who, ironically, consider themselves ultra-patriots, is to “destroy Obama.” I’ve always been opposed to the war in Iraq, but I can’t imagine taking pleasure in its failure.

Among the more infamous Birthers is right-wing radio talk-show host, Gordon Liddy, a convicted Watergate felon. In 1972, it was Liddy’s quaint idea to firebomb the Brookings Institute, a plan that was thankfully vetoed, though after some consideration.

On MSNBC’s “Hardball” TV show, Chris Matthews showed Liddy a copy of the birth certificate on camera. Embarrassed by evidence, Liddy stammered, “Well, it’s worth looking into.” He didn’t once suggest firebombing anything, which, I suppose, is progress. Or just that he’s gotten old.

Another Birther with dubious credentials is James Von Brunn, 88. His “prominence” came about this past June when he allegedly shot and killed a security officer inside the Holocaust Museum.

On the other end of respectability scale is CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who if not a Birther, is at least peddling the story. This, even though his occasional replacement, Katy Pilgrim, had totally refuted it the day before. (When he’s off, doesn’t Dobbs at least check in on his own show?) For big Lou, ratings appear to trump beliefs.

The Birthers are even attacking each other. (Talk about too much free time.) Politico’s Ben Smith reports that, like East versus West coast rappers, the Eastern Birthers, led by Philip Berg, has filed suit against the Western branch, led by Orly Taiz, a blonde dentist/lawyer/real estate agent with a heavy accent whom Jon Stewart refers to as “the lost Gabor sister.”

Given the urgent problems we face, the Birthers seem a terrible harbinger for the country. This opinion was expressed by former President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan, chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C.

In 2008 Ms. Eisenhower left the GOP because the Rush Limbaugh’s, and more than a few Birthers, have hijacked her party. One headline read, “Canary in the Coal Mine Moment: Susan Eisenhower Leaves the Republican Party.” (Want another canary? Glenn Beck makes $30 million a year spouting “Obama profoundly hates whites” when he’s half-white and was raised by white grandparents.)

During its heyday the John Birch Society rallied against school desegregation, and the U.N. It was founded by Robert Welch, a stern man who, curiously, developed and manufactured the famous candies Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Pom Poms. (My boyhood diet while watching Saturday matinee movies.)

The John Birch, for whom the organization was named, was a CIA agent killed by the Chinese Communists in 1945. JBS.org is on the Web. I also phoned them for a quote. They’re “keeping an open mind” on the Birther issue. As for their claim that Ike helped Communists, they feel even stronger about it today. To me it’s madness, just like the Birthers. All I can do is quote Charlie Brown, “Good grief!”

Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.