FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Beware the Mormon in the Grass

by CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM

In the beginning, as we know, was the Word of one Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Mormon Church, finder of the so-called Golden Plates from which he was able to translate the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith today in Mormon theology is considered “the prophet, priest and king.”    When Mitt Romney avows “My faith is the faith of my fathers—I will be true to them,” the father he invokes is Smith.

This should be highly troubling.  In the few authoritative biographies of the prophet Smith – the ones not censored by the Mormon establishment – he comes off both as a good-natured grifter and a venomous sociopath.  Kay Burningham, ex-Mormon and author of “An American Fraud: One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism,” writes that Mormonism “was founded on deception, and continues to build upon that deception.”  Its founders – Joseph Smith and family – “were opportunists, driven to create an organization where they could acquire the social status and financial resources that they lacked.”  Historian and ex-Mormon Will Bagley, author of many books of Mormon history, says Mormonism can be interpreted critically as “a religious Ponzi scheme and swindle.”

The swindle starts in 1829, after Joe Smith claims to “find” the Golden Plates buried in a mound in upstate New York.  According to Smith, the story on the plates had been carved in 421 A.D. by a lost tribe of white people living among Native Americans.  Smith was mighty pleased: He had found God’s word, and he would bring the good news to the world.  Smith, a semi-literate farm boy schooled in the soaring language of the Bible, had of course invented the Book of Mormon out of his perfervid imagination.

This was no small achievement.  He was a smart guy – like most grifters.  And he had a family schooling in the art of cheating the gullible: His father, Joseph Sr., had been repeatedly charged with currency counterfeiting in Vermont in the 1820s.

Joseph Jr. himself was hauled into court in the northeastern U.S. on multiple occasions, accused of confidence games and charged with fraud.  He was described in a New York court proceeding, in 1826, as “a disorderly person and an impostor.”  One of his preferred cons involved the help of his brother Hyrum.  While visiting a neighboring household, Hyrum would secretly hide a valuable heirloom.  When days later the victim complained that they could not find the prized object, Hyrum came to the rescue: He volunteered his brother Joe Jr. to show up, for a small fee, and put “magic stones” into a hat.  Joe would then put the hat over his face, and stare into the stone-filled darkness to see where the lost object was – the location of which his faithful brother had already provided.

Smith said his ethical rule was, “When the Lord commands, do it.”  This was convenient,  as it was decreed, by Joseph Smith, that the Lord would only communicate with – you guessed it – Joseph Smith.  Early on, he receives a message from the Lord about “plural marriage”: God commanded that all Mormon men, especially Joseph Smith, take multiple wives and establish the tradition of Mormon polygamy.  Even his wife at the time, the first among many, was skeptical.

On and on it goes.  The Mormon sect grows throughout the 1830s and 1840s, and so do the scams: Land theft, bank fraud, cattle rustling.  Historian Will Bagley describes what happened when the Mormons, fleeing westward, settled in Missouri and Illinois: “After stirring up a religious civil war in Missouri and being exiled to Illinois, Smith founded a kingdom on the Mississippi at Nauvoo, Illinois.  Having secured a charter that made him ruler of a city state and a wealthy land developer, Smith raised a private army, made himself America’s first lieutenant general since George Washington, and began seducing women and barely pubescent girls with an abandon that would make Bill Clinton blush.”

Other Mormon converts also began to look askance at sainted Joe, and today their accounts read like those of cult escapees.  “When I embraced Mormonism, I conscientiously believed it to be of God,” wrote a disaffected convert in 1831.  “I now know Mormonism to be a delusion.”  Mostly what the church wanted, as with modern-day cults, was the property and cash of converts, along with their free labor.  Joseph Smith’s own personal secretary watched the fleecing of those newly drawn into the fold and concluded that Smith and other church fathers were “confirmed Infidels, who have not the fear of God before their eyes.  They lie by revelation, swindle by revelation, cheat and defraud by revelation.”

Smith ended up murdered by a lynch mob in Illinois in 1844.  It’s not a surprising turn, given the level of animosity that Mormon criminality had evoked among non-Mormons – the “filthy Gentiles” who were Mormons’ preferred victims.

The Mormons fled still further west, looking for the Holy Land, the Zion of prophecy, where they could settle without interference from the Gentiles.  They discovered Zion in the stony sunblasted wilderness of Utah, where the new prophet, Brigham Young, soon ordered the slaughter of 150 men, women and children traveling across Mormon territory in the southern part of the state.  This was the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, prompted by an apocalyptic hysteria that the US government was planning to invade Utah and destroy Brigham Young’s people.  The apocalypse never came to pass; the US government did not care to crush the Mormons.  Meanwhile, 150 innocent people on a wagon train bound for California had been rounded up and murdered in cold blood, their bodies buried by Mormon authorities to cover up the evidence.

By the mid-1850s, W.A.F. Magraw, a personal friend of President Franklin Pierce, would conclude that civil law in the Mormon territory was “overshadowed and neutralized [by an] ecclesias­tical organization, as despotic, dangerous and damnable as has ever been known to exist in any country…all alike are set upon by the self-constituted theocracy, whose laws, or rather whose conspiracies, are framed in dark corners.”  An early official historian of the Mormon theocracy, John Corrill, who would later repudiate the church, had also seen Mormonism from the inside.  Corrill accused the Mormon leadership of “bad management, selfishness, seeking for riches, honor, and dominion, tyrannizing over the people, and striving constantly after power and property.”

Laws undermined by conspiracies; outrageous privilege coupled with unbounded greed and power-maddened mismanagement – this sounds a lot like a description of Corporate America today, which perhaps explains why our current Mormon moment is really about Mormonism’s engagement and success in the corporatocracy.  In this context, think about Mitt Romney: Here is a man who, as head of the leveraged buy-out firm Bain Capital, got rich as an opportunistic “vulture capitalist,” exploiting and plundering the hard work of others.  Romney indeed keeps the faith of his fathers.

Christopher Ketcham writes for Harper’s, the American Prospect, Orion, and many other magazines.  He can be reached at cketcham99@mindspring.com

Christopher Ketcham is a freelance writer.  You can write him at cketcham99@mindspring.com or see more of his work at christopherketcham.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail