65: Who is Ezra Taft Benson (and what is the John Birch Society)?

Clay hosts a discussion with Greg, Matt and Heather about the 13th President of the LDS church: Ezra Taft Benson.


Main Source:
Quinn, D. Michael — Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts

Other Sources:
Benson, Reed & Shari Dew — Benson, Ezra Taft – The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Benson, Steve — Drawing the Line on Religion (From The Arizona Republic, 1994)
Benson, Steve — It’s Become Red Square on Temple Square (From The Arizona Republic, 1994)
Davidson, Lee — FBI files shed light on Ezra Taft Benson, Ike and the Birch Society
Dew, Shari — Ezra Taft Benson – A Biography
Prince, Gregory — David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
Quinn, D. Michael — The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power

Speeches by Ezra Taft Benson:
A Message of Hope & Warning
A Witness & a Warning
Beware of Pride
Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion
Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon
I Testify
Our Divine Constitution
Our Immediate Responsibility
Prepare for the Days of Tribulation
Prepare Ye
Stand Up For Freedom
The Constitution will be Saved
The Proper Role of Government
To The Fathers of Israel

Speeches by Ezra Taft Benson on BYU Website

Other Links:
Documentary: John Birch Society
Mormon History: Ezra Taft Benson (1 of 2)
Mormon History: Ezra Taft Benson (2 of 2)
Speech by Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society


  1. RN2

    I was at Ricks College in 1977-78, and I remember Benson giving a devotional there. Jeffrey R. Holland was Pres. of Ricks at the time, and he got up and cracked a few jokes and warmed up the crowd, as he always did. Then he introduced Elder Benson. Benson came to the podium with a huge stack of index cards, which he SLAMMED on the podium and said sternly, “I’m not here to tickle your ears!”. The crowd was shocked and fell totally silent. He then gave a talk on the constitution which went WAY overtime and made everyone late for their next class.

    Reply Mar 12, 2014 @ 12:59:09
    • Expositor's Heather

      Egads. What a charmer. Did his attitude annoy you or did you feel “chastened by the Lord”?

      (Also, by any chance does your username refer to your profession? Because my mom was in the RN program at Ricks in 77 and 78. What a coincidence if you happened to know her…)

      Reply Mar 12, 2014 @ 13:14:26
    • brandt

      I don’t think Holland was ever president of Ricks College, but Eyring was president in the 70’s.

      Wikipedia tells me that Eyring was president from 71-78, while Hafen was president from 78-85.

      For the record, Oaks was president of BYU from 71-80, while Holland took the helm from 80-89.

      Reply Mar 12, 2014 @ 13:46:55
  2. darth_bill

    Still listening…No conspiracy people on the left? You should see my FB feed. Monsanto is one. I’m still fiscally conservative but socially liberal. I get it from both sides.

    Reply Mar 12, 2014 @ 13:34:36
    • Greg Rockwell

      Darth, I stand corrected. I promise, I do. I think I bring it up more forcefully later in the conversation. There are DEFINITELY plenty of conspiracy theorists on either side of the political divide.

      Personal bias fallacy. Noted.

      Reply Mar 12, 2014 @ 15:56:09
  3. F

    Here’s a fantastic look at the John Birch Society from a young Bob Dylan: http://youtu.be/eCxi5VOYKOY

    I’m a complete outsider here, but I thoroughly enjoy the podcast. Nice work!

    Reply Mar 13, 2014 @ 05:46:11
  4. Ramman

    Wow, no evidence to support conspiracy theories??? Mainstream BS!!

    Reply Mar 13, 2014 @ 20:34:44
  5. Kathy

    Interesting podcast. I grew up in the sixties and seventies in Oregon. As I recall when I was really little only stake presidents and maybe bishops went to conference and if we were lucky we could hear the Sunday morning conference on the radio and later on tv. They had an early Sunday morning conference session called the welfare session, and if I’m remembering right, that is where they had the rs pres speak and she was the only woman to speak at conference. I never grew up hearing woman speak., at least as far as I can remembe
    I just say all this to wonder how much of the church general population heard Bensons talks. As a young girl I never remember him quoted. However I do remeber one time in Sunday School they called a family out of the audience and challenged them to live off their food storage for the next month. That night at sacrament meeting they had to speak about how prepared they thought they were.

    Reply Mar 16, 2014 @ 16:08:09
  6. LDSRevelations

    Great podcast on something I knew very little about. Thanks for your research on the topic. While I knew Benson was a supporter of the John Birch Society it’s interesting to see the specifics of what went down and to look at how it affects the LDS Church and the politics of it’s members now.

    Reply Mar 18, 2014 @ 10:44:50
  7. fouryearsbehind

    Hey folks, long time listener but suddenly can’t download your podcasts (nor expressions) via my home wifi; I use downcast app on iPhone which continues to work for all other podcasts and my wifi is working fine. I contacted app maker to be sure and they thought the problem was on your end….so wanted to ask if you have heard/know of any issues like this from other subscribers? Again this just happened within the past 2 or 3 episodes. Thanks a bunch, great shows!!

    Reply Mar 21, 2014 @ 19:03:31
  8. swittle

    I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s. Both my parents were Democrats and LDS. My father was very active in the Democratic Party and was the county chairman. He also was a political scientist and followed and tracked radical groups. He became alarmed because he noticed that some extreme right-wing groups, besides the John Birch Society. were having Elder Ezra Taft Benson talk at their meetings and some were giving him awards. Some of these groups openly called for violence and sedition against the U.S. Government. My father wrote a letter to President Hugh B. Brown explaining his concerns. My father later received a reply in which Present Brown thanked him for the information and that he passed it on to President McKay. My father was not a fan of Elder Benson and especially took offense to one conference talk in which he said “No member can be a Liberal Democrat and also be a faithful Latter-day Saint.”

    Reply Mar 23, 2014 @ 21:10:33
  9. swittle

    One thing I forgot to mention is in the reply from President Brown he acknowledged that the Brethren were concerned about Elder Benson’s activities and rhetoric.

    Reply Mar 24, 2014 @ 10:45:03
  10. swittle

    I found the quote from Elder Benson. It was not a conference talk, but an interview:

    “In February 1974 Apostle Ezra Taft Benson was asked during an interview if a good Mormon could also be a liberal Democrat. Benson pessimistically replied: ‘I think it would be very hard if he was living the gospel and understood it.’”

    John Heinerman and Anson Shule, The Mormon Corporate Empire, p. 142

    Reply Mar 24, 2014 @ 10:59:40
  11. David

    Great Podcast and I loved the Ezra Benson/Cleon Skousen = Glen Beck comparison :) I am surprised no one mentioned that Benson was a possible third party VP candidate with Governor George Wallace (famous for saying Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!”)…. and is Heather a closet conservative??? I hear a lot of push back from Heather/semi apologist tones :)

    Reply May 28, 2014 @ 19:40:15
  12. 95: The Honor Code and FreeBYU

    […] Links: The BYU Honor Code Website The FreeBYU Website Dialogue: Ernest Wilkinson and the Transformation of BYU’s Honor Code 1965 – 1971, by Bryan Waterman KUTV: BYU students speak out against Honor Code policies to accreditation board Mormon Expositor Episode 65: Who is Ezra Taft Benson & what is the John Birch Society? […]

    Reply Apr 22, 2015 @ 22:37:08
  13. Susan M. Cook Blake

    I was a teenager living near Salt Lake in the 1960’s, and I remember the anti-Communist rhetoric in General Conference. It also seemed as if everyone was talking about the John Birch Society. There was so much prejudice and fear-mongering in those days, which was very disturbing to young people. Thanks so much for this discussion, which taught me a lot that I hadn’t been aware of as a teenager.

    Reply Feb 08, 2016 @ 20:35:41
  14. Matt Harris

    This thread interests me. I am writing two books on Ezra Taft Benson, both of which will be published by university presses. I have been privileged to see archival material on Benson that has not been previously available to scholars. I can say categorically that the Brethren were very concerned about ETB’s Birch crusading. If FP counselor Hugh B. brown had his way Elder Benson would have been kicked out of the Q12.

    Reply Dec 27, 2016 @ 20:12:48
  15. Rebecca

    Considering the way the church disciplines, it is a source of fury to me that Benson was not only not kicked out of the Q12, but that he wasn’t excommunicated. He repeatedly set up the Birch Society as doctrinal, was repeatedly asked by the First Presidency to cool it, yet he kept doing it. This is personal for me. Hardly without knowing it, the conservatism molded by ETB was in my life as a child and was axiomatic, forming the basis for my politics for decades.

    The church, by tolerating ETB and by not making a public example of his apostate behavior, exposed the general membership of the church to political toxins that are now coursing through American life full force today, no doubt a huge factor in support for Donald Trump.

    In essence, Ezra Benson took some of the worse of communism and adopted it in his character and action. On second thought, maybe it was already there within him, but regardless it is inexcusable. He was warned, the folly of his arrogant beliefs were clearly exposed but he did not listen and he helped to perpetuate the poisoning of generations. Blech.

    Reply Jul 10, 2017 @ 04:45:56

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