The Mormon messianism of the Oregon occupiers

Print More
Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces from approximately 74-56 BCE. Artist's interpretation. Digital ZSculpt by Josh Cotton.


Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces from approximately 74-56 BCE. Artist's interpretation. Digital ZSculpt by Josh Cotton.

Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces from approximately 74-56 BCE. Artist's interpretation. Digital ZSculpt by Josh Cotton.

Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces from approximately 74-56 BCE. Artist’s interpretation. Digital ZSculpt by Josh Cotton.

The militia that has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters represents a strain of right-wing Mormonism that took shape after World War II.

That was when laissez-faire economics, accompanied by staunch anti-Communism, began to supplant traditional Mormon communitarianism in the Mountain West. The key figures in the shift were Ezra Taft Benson, the former Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration who became president of the LDS Church in 1985; Benson’s son Reed, an active member of the John Birch Society; Ernest Wilkinson, president of Brigham Young University; and W. Cleon Skousen, a sometime member of the BYU faculty who worked for the F.B.I. and later served as chief of police in Salt Lake City.

In The Mormon People, Matthew Bowman points out that by the 1970s, Benson’s “moralistic libertarianism had gained a vocal following in the church.” Concurrently, dispensationalist theology was borrowed from Protestant fundamentalism by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce McConkie, LDS leaders whose influential theological writings wove elements of premillennialism into traditional Mormon ideas of the End Times — what Mormons refer to as “the last days.”

Smith’s and McConkie’s approach was adopted by Skousen in a series of popular books that made much of the Book of Mormon’s sacralization of the American continent and preached a revived view of the United States as guarantor of individual liberty and place where Christ’s church would be restored. In such late works as The Majesty of God’s Law: It’s Coming to America and The Cleansing of America, Skousen went so far as to predict that America would be reborn as a “Zion society” with the entire population organized into Mormon wards, and a restored U.S. Constitution that eliminated political parties and popular voting for the president. In the latter volume, written in 1994 (though published posthumously only in 2010), Skousen envisioned an American Zion purged of wickedness that would serve as a refuge for Mormons from around the world while Planet Earth suffered through an End Times scenario culminating in the Battle of Armageddon.

Among the Malheur occupiers is Lavoy Finicum, a Mormon rancher from Arizona who is the author of Only By Blood and Suffering, a novel about one family’s efforts to “survive in the face of devastating end-times chaos.” Yesterday, Finicum told reporters yesterday that he’d prefer death over prison. Ammon Bundy, the leader of the Malheur occupation, and his father Cliven, who gained national notoriety for a similar standoff at his Nevada ranch in 2014, likewise belong to the Skousenite wing of contemporary Mormonism.

At a conference at Brigham Young four years ago, LDS Elder Dallin Oaks warned against their ilk.

Another example that I understand to be current among some members in this part of this church is the influence of right-wing groups who mistakenly apply prophecies about the last days to promote efforts to form paramilitary or other organizations. Such groups might undermine the authority of public officials in the event of extraordinary emergencies or even in cases of simple disagreement with government policy. The leaders of the church have always taught that we should observe the law and we should not try to substitute our own organizations for the political and military authorities put in place by Constitutional government and processes.

It’s hardly an accident that Salt Lake took little time to condemn the Malheur occupation.

Asked his name by a reporter, a Malheur militiaman identified himself as “Captain Moroni,” a military leader in the Book of Mormon whose anti-government stand for liberty has made him a hero on the Mormon right. As my RNS colleague Jana Riess has explained, the Book of Mormon delivers a more mixed verdict on Captain Moroni than some of his devotees make out.

“I still want to be like Captain Moroni,” writes one such devotee, “but armed with further knowledge I realize how nuanced and difficult this quest will be as the last days before the second coming of our Lord and Savior unfold themselves before our eyes.” I suspect the Malheur militia is about to learn just how nuanced and difficult that is.

  • Ken Dahl

    So I’m thinking the Mormon church should consider launching a line of breakfast cereals to augment their vast and diverse non-religious holdings — with a sugary vitamin enriched Captain Moroni as the inaugural brand.

  • mindcentric

    I’m a mormon embarrassed by this right-wing extremist crap. Just creeps me out.

  • Good Reason

    In your genealogy of this group, you have forgotten Bo Gritz and his followers in the 1990s. They actually went off the grid, as I remember, somewhere in Idaho. I believe most were eventually excommunicated. There is also still a deep sympathy for this viewpoint among those who take emergency preparedness to an extreme. The Mountain West has many with this mindset . . .

  • If you read Ephesians 3:21 you will find Christ’s church would never be lost from the earth. Therefore the claim that His church had to be restored is false.

  • Randy Jackson

    I am not Mormon but have strong concerns about government run amok. I/we donot have all of the facts on Lavoy’s killing, but I am worried that since the FBI and OSP control all of the information we may never know the whole truth. Second, he never deserved a DEATH sentence for exercising his 1st amendment rights. There were easily a dozen different ways to end this. This engineered ambush was the worst choice possible. The laws they broke never rose to the level to kill. The actions of the BLM, EPA and Forest Service have become very burdensome to ranchers, making it harder every year to make a living. Refer to the 1970’s ‘ Sagebrush Rebellion”. This has been going on for decades, but has become more extreme in the last few years. The citizens have become subjects. All of history have much evidence of what happens when government controls too much.

  • Pingback: Requiem for Lavoy Finicum()

  • Jeffrey Dickerson

    The OSP and FBI do not control all the information. The Deschutes County Major Crimes Team — at the behest of the Harney County Sheriff and District Attorney — are conducting the post-shooting investigation in accordance with Oregon Law. There will be no coverup. The truth will be made known.

  • Randy Jackson

    I have doubt in all government entities and the coercion from the feds, but I hope you are correct. This country has many very serious problems.

  • SP

    Not understanding how anyone can think this man was innocent of any crime. Leads an armed occupation of something that he clearly does not own, using the threat of violence as a means to an end.

    As the video clearly shows instead of stopping and facing the police he leaves the road in an attempt to evade them. gets out of the vehicle and runs adn is clearly seen reaching for his pockets.

    If this were some non-white person in the inner city all of you would be saying he got what he deserved.

    Somehow, the conversation has been turned to how he was framed and the ambush was staged. Incredible if you think about it.

  • Randy Jackson

    Start from the beginning of my thread. My primary problem is that he received a death sentence. I do AGREE he and the others broke laws, but none of them rise to the level for death. During the time they were at the refuge they were routinely talking to various authorities and I can’t find a single article where they overtly threatened officers. The refuge could have been put under siege and time would have brought them out……. alive. I am not a Mormon, rancher or militia member. I am a veteran and a concerned citizen. I also donot know who you are or where your views fall. I am only stating it didn’t need to end the way it did.

  • Andrew

    Mendela, MLK, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and so many more have broken laws for injustice, to include armed insurection. Sometime laws have to be broken to bring the injustice to the light. Our government has overstepped it’s Constitutional bounds, and we need to stand as a nation of citizens and tell them enough is enough. They have forgotten that the government is to serve the people not the other way around!

  • JD Wolfe

    Amen brother … I say AMEN !

  • JD Wolfe

    I take it you’re going to lock-n-load and join them in Oregon ………. please do so. they need at least on non-Mormon up there.

  • JD Wolfe

    In your post you allude to the Mormon right-wing as starting up after WW II. This in itself is accurate, However I think your dates are off for the Mormon idea or concept of the government as “enemy” and the Mormon people as “persecuted” — as preached in the Mormon Church — as that goes right back to J. Sm. jr’s arrest and trials and guilty verdicts on conning people, with his magic rocks (in the 1820’s) before he used the same rocks to con people out of their money and property in the name of religion — the Mormon religion. The government in its many forms, and the public, went after Smith and his minions (in the 1830’s through the 1850’s) for:

    1) counterfeiting US currency;

    2) murders of non-Mormons;

    3) assassination attempts of political figures;

    4) driving citizens (non-morons) off their property and then squatting on same (farms);

    5) (continued in nest post)

  • JD Wolfe

    5) thefts and burglaries from non-Mormons (especially of hard to get hardware items and things a blacksmith would have made back then);

    6) rape (or sex with) children (often done in the name of religion);

    7) sex with the wives of other Mormons; (adultery ?) under the guise of religion — including stealing the wives of others for the profit Joseph Smith and others high up in their church;

    8) creating a phony bank under false pretext and without minimum funding — ie. lying about funds and refusing to return deposits in US currency but only in so-called Mormon (printed) money;

    9) did I mention the Mountain Meadows Massacre yet ? that wasn’t their only attack on innocent US Citizens, just the most famous one (mass murder of US citizens, including women and children — who we now know from reciently discovered forensic evidence were shot from point blank in the face — who “surrendered” to Mormons who claimed they were protecting them from Indian attack);


  • JD Wolfe

    10) attempted take over of several counties in Missouri — including driving US Citizens off their farms and then squatting on same;

    11) Mormon Church pushing political issues and insisting members vote the church approved way;

    12) defrauding creditors en mass, ie. as a group action (in Nauvoo, JS encouraged his followers to go to other towns and buy on credit — but not pay any on the bill as they would just transfer the court proceedings to Nauvoo — where all would be declared innocent by a Mormon judge ! )

    13) defrauding banks throughout the country with loans to their phony bank;

    14) defrauding both businesses and wealthy investors with basic cons (Mormons lost in all cases that went to court — cases totaling several hundred thousands of dollars)

    15 cattle thefts from non-Mormons;

    16) no legal protection for non-Mormons in Mormon controlled lands (both in civil maters and criminal matters — continued on next post —

  • JD Wolfe

    16) continued – for example the sad case of the framing for murder, and the execution of, labor reformer and song writer Joe Hill)

    17) Mormons dressing up as Indians in the Utah Territories and raiding wagon trains traveling through the UT — then blaming the Indians for the attacks;

    — of special note is:

    18) the US Army was sent out to the Utah Territory in the late 1850’s in an attempt to restore order and protect US Citizens — however the Civil War caused the recall of that army from UT to back east to fight an even bigger conflict. Even in this, the Mormon Church has lied continuously;

    — all this in the 1800’s, long before WW II
    — there’s much more — do I need to go on ??? or do you get the point .
    — I haven’t even brought up polygamy — as I think that borders on some sort of religious value or teaching and thus might be a right.

    (sorry this is taking so long — but Mark’s blog leaves so much out)
    — one last continued —

  • JD Wolfe

    Now as you can see, I am not addressing any of their wacko religious ideas because I do believe in religious freedom — that is the freedom to believe in anything related to religion:
    (like for example: Joseph Smith preached that “more people live on the Moon than on Earth” !)
    (like for example: Joseph Smith claimed that the American Indians were Jewish but wrote in what JS called Reformed Egyptian, as Hebrew was too wordy to fit on a Gooooolden Bible ! — and since he actually left written examples of such, we now know that his fake “translations” of actual Egyptian papyruses involved ridiculous claims of finding “The Book on Moses” “The Book of Abraham” and so on ( modern Egyptologists now recognize these and his “Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” as just made up nonsense mixed with Masonic symbols and meaningless squiggles ! )
    — and now they think they can range Mormon cattle on US lands without paying the very small fees — (sorry, just one more continued, I…

  • JD Wolfe

    (having trouble with the reply box) JD Wolfe final remark:
    ( this should have fit in my previous box — look below if this is out of place)
    — and now they think they can range Mormon cattle on US lands without paying the very small fees — and lying about the numbers of cattle — and that they can occupy US Government buildings with armed Mormons as some sort of right of citizenship or right of religion !

    WOW !

    thanks for your attention to this issue,