Ezra Taft Benson, January 23, 1963

-- January 23, 1963
[David O. McKay] "Elder Benson said the statement seemed to be leveled against him and his son, Reed, and also Brother [W. Cleon] Skousen. I told Brother Benson that it was intended to apply to them. I said that the statement made by him (Elder Benson) in favor of the John Birch Society was made by him, one of the Twelve, who is an international character and received international publicity, and that that is one reason the Presidency had to make the announcement in the newspapers." (1)

-- 31 Jan 1963
... President McKay [always sensitive to criticism] ... expressed concern by 31 January that "the First Presidency probably went a little too far" in its Birch statement. McKay's personal secretary confided that he was disturbed by "at least 25 letters vigorously protesting the statement of the First Presidency on the John Birch Society--many of them very intelligent letters." (2)

-- February 1963
The Birch Society's Bulletin for February 1963 gave [Hugh B.] Brown a reason to attack Benson's support of the group. The last "agenda" item was titled, "Write to President McKay." The Bulletin urged Mormon Birchers to write letters (in envelopes marked "Personal and Confidential") explaining why they had joined the society. The Birch Bulletin further suggested that the letters thank McKay for his own anti-Communist statements and praise "the great service Ezra Taft Benson and his son Reed (our Utah Coordinator) are rendering to this battle, with the hope that they will be encouraged to continue." The Birch Society saw this as a defensive response to the First Presidency's recent statement. However, to anti-Birch Mormons the February Bulletin appeared as an effort to subvert the statement and to encourage continued criticism of the presidency by Mormon Birchers.

Benson added an ironic personal touch to the February Birch announcement. That same month he sent newly-called apostle N. Eldon Tanner a copy of Benson's The Red Carpet: A Forthright Evaluation of the Rising Tide of Socialism--the Royal Road to Communism. As a Canadian cabinet officer, Tanner had been a member of the Social Credit Party. He therefore fell under the book's blistering condemnation for "Social Democrats" and even moderate socialists like Tanner. (3)

-- 15 Feb, 1963
[T]he church president instructed his secretary, Clare Middlemiss, to send a reply to Mormon Birchers who criticized the First Presidency statement. The letter affirmed: "The Church is not opposing the John Birch Society or any other organization of like nature; however, it is definitely opposed to anyone using the Church for the purpose of increasing membership for private organizations sponsoring these various ideologies." (4)

-- circa Mar 1963
One of [Hugh B.] Brown's biographers [Eugene Campbell] wrote, "[I]n the minds of quite a number of the Church members the goals of the Church and the John Birch Society were identical and they joined the John Birch Society feeling that they were in a religious crusade against communism and had the blessing of the President of the Church and other Church leaders in so acting." (5)

-- March 3, 1963
[Ernest Wilkenson] "I found out [from Cleon Skousen] that despite the manner in which he [Benson] is being criticized by President Hugh B. Brown, President David O. McKay is squarely behind him and has told him to keep up his good work." (6)

-- 5 Mar 1963
[Hugh B.] Brown told reporters that Benson was not "entitled to say the church favors the John Birch Society." Brown added that "we [the First Presidency] are opposed to them and their methods." (7)

-- March 6, 1963
[In a First Presidency meeting, McKay gives his version of his meeting with Benson]:

Following the publication of the [First Presidency] statement, I was asked to apologize for what was said against Brother Benson and his son Reed because if we had called them "we [Ezra and Reed] would have done anything that you suggested." I [McKay] said, "Yes, and nobody in the Church or in the world would have known that you were doing that, but everybody knew that you are a national character and everybody knew that you favor the Birch Society and that you approve your son representing it in Utah, and when the First Presidency gave that statement it received the same publicity which your statement received, and we offer no apology." (1)

-- March 12, 1963
Lela Benson, wife of Ezra Taft Benson's son, Mark, sent a handwritten request to McKay Secretary Clare Middlemiss. The letter gives the appearance of having been engineered by other Bensons: "Yesterday I talked to a Bishop who said he would like to see one of 'those' letters that President McKay has sent out regarding the John Birch Society. However he claims that it won't hold much weight unless it is signed by the President and not you. (I disagreed of course—but he stands firm!) Therefore, could you possibly send me one and have it signed by President McKay himself? I understand from Father Benson and his family that you are a dear, sweet, loyal, true blue soul." (8)

1 - David O. McKay diary as referenced in Greg Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
2 - Wilkinson diary, 31 Jan. 1963. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
3 - The John Birch Society Bulletin (Feb. 1963): 28-29; also summarized in George Rucker memorandum, 17 June 1963, folder 5, box 636, Moss Papers. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
4 - "Bircher" and "Birchers" are terms members of the Birch Society apply to themselves, as in Vie John Birch Society Bulletin (Oct. 1992): 6,14, 20. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
5 - Eugene Campbell's typed draft of Hugh B. Brown biography, chapter titled, "Responsibility Without Authority—The 1st Counselor Years," 11, Campbell Papers. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
6 - Ernest L. Wilkenson diary as referenced in Greg Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
7 - '"LDS Oppose' Birch Group," Salt Lake Tribune, 5 Mar. 1963,5; "Brown Says Church Opposed To Birch Society, Methods," Provo Daily Herald, 5 Mar. 1963,12. See Quinn, "Mormon Political Conflicts" for full cite and context.
8 - Lela (Mrs. Mark A.) Benson to Clare Middlemiss; Greg Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

LDS History Chronology: Ezra Taft Benson

Mormon History Timeline: the life of Ezra Taft Benson