Robert Novak

In response to this column's inquiry, a Mormon Church spokeswoman in Salt Lake City Wednesday said: "The weight of historical evidence shows that Brigham Young did not authorize the massacre." She added that "the church has no comment on the 'September Dawn' movie."

John D. Lee, Young's adopted son who led the massacre, was executed by a firing squad 20 years after the killings -- the only person punished. "I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner," he said after his excommunication by the church and his conviction. In his autobiography, he said the attack was planned "by the direct command of Brigham Young."

I knew no Mormons growing up in Joliet, Ill., and my first experience with the church was watching the 1940 film "Brigham Young." It depicted the original Mormon settlers in Utah as persecuted and peaceful, and Young as prudent and wise. When some Mormons complained then that Young came over as vacillating, church president Heber J. Grant said of the movie: "I endorse it with all my heart. This is one of the greatest days of my life." He knew it could have been much worse.

Mitt Romney surely is not responsible for what kind of man Brigham Young was, but that question hurts his candidacy. Romney has been described by many Republican insiders as the perfect candidate: magnetic, smart and with an excellent record as an executive. His greatest liability has been religious bias against him. He has never seized this issue, thinking it so wrong-headed that it will go away.

Similarly, he has rejected efforts by the producers of "September Dawn" to reach out to him. I made three attempts without success to get his views of the movie. Neither watching it nor condemning it, he may just hope that Americans will not include this bloody tragedy in their spring and summer viewing.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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