Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie

“Brethren and sisters, our friends wish to know our feelings towards the Government. I answer, they are first rate, and we will prove it too, as you will see if you only live long enough, for that we shall live to prove it is certain, and when the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they will have to call the “Mormon” elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forward and do it.”

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:182

A civil war has been underway in the American West for the past 150 years and “sovereign” activists are gearing up for the Western Freedom Festival this October in Cedar City, Utah – the heart of Dixie.

It is no coincidence this event is happening during a presidential election season. And, it is no coincidence it is being organized by Utah politicians.

The West’s Dixie

To understand why the “sovereign” movement’s focus has moved from the South and to the West let’s take a moment for Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) history.

Mormon people were persecuted. They were killed and driven from New York, then from Illinois to the territorial west. LDS culture to this day reminds members to never forget the persecution the “pioneers” endured. One could say it is a religion, like many others, with a complex.

The Mormon intent was to be separate from the United States – regardless of what the Louisiana Purchase had to say. Brigham Young sent people far and wide, into Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, California – even Mexico – to expand the boundaries of an eventual nation state. He developed an army to protect it, known as the Mormon, or Utah, Militia. They call it Deseret.

When the Mormons went west in wagons trains and handcarts, they had slaves with them, “property” of converts from the south.   The southwestern corner of Utah is still known as “Dixie,” in reference and deference to the American south. [1]

From the very start Mormons were considered seditionists. Like the South during this Civil War period, they wanted their own country, were a slave state, and rejected the authority of the United States Government.

This challenge to pre-civil war Federal authority was met with what is known as the Utah War, or Buchanan’s Blunder, whereby President Buchanan replaced Brigham Young as Territorial Governor and brought forth charges of treason to all citizens of Utah. He sent U.S. forces to Utah that were met by thousands of Utah Militiamen who believed they were fighting for their lives given the persecution of the past. Eventually, Young was replaced and all Mormons pardoned.

While no battles occurred, Utah’s Dixie is home to one of the worst “war time” tragedies at any time in American history: The Mountain Meadows Massacre. This is where the Utah Militia executed approximately 120 men, women and children. John Krakauer in his seminal work, “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith,” suggests Mountain Meadows is where the persecution complex and the LDS fight with the U.S. Government over an independent nation coalesced. [2]

Cliven Bundy – a Mormon – recalls his heritage this way, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro….I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”[3]

Tensions ran deep in Dixie 150 years ago. Some in Dixie are still fighting today.

Federal Blundering Empowers

The federal government has always struggled with how to respond to the LDS state, particularly regarding sovereignty and polygamy. To this day, the Federal government struggles with exercising its authority in this relatively lawless tri-state area known as Dixie.

Bundy has been illegally grazing in the Gold Butte and Lake Mead areas of the Grand Canyon of the Nevada Grand Canyon for over 25 years. Bundy owes the Federal Treasury over $1 million for past due grazing fees on public lands. He has had several rulings against him and he has been ordered to remove his cattle.   He states, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”[4]

In April 2014, the standoff in Mesquite was national news, as armed gunmen took aim at federal law enforcement officials who were, finally, coming to enforce the law and remove Bundy’s trespass cattle. The Oath Keepers were summoned by supporters of Bundy and took positions on high ground with sniper rifles. The federal agents were outnumbered and out flanked by some of whom could have been their very own, and retreated.

The Oath Keepers are composed of current and former law enforcement and military personnel who say they will not obey what they, themselves, deem to be unconstitutional orders. They actively recruit for law enforcement officials at all jurisdictions to join them. They are, by definition, seditionists.

After the event, federal officials were adamant that those who pointed weapons at federal law enforcement officials would eventually be brought to justice. To this day, nobody has been charged or brought to justice.

Because the Federal government is unable or unwilling to enforce the rule of law, there are consequences.

One consequence is that Bundy and the sovereigns have been empowered to challenge Federal authority elsewhere on public lands. They have become seditionists looking to provoke a fight. We have seen them show up in Oregon and Montana to provide an armed presence to prevent Federal lands managers from doing their jobs, and other areas like Ferguson, Missouri. To date, law enforcement at all levels have acquiesced to their demands.

A lesser-known LDS rancher and seditionist in the Arizona Strip has also been making similar claims as Bundy. LaVoy Finicum has become semi-famous in the states rights circles through supporting Bundy. He has recently published a book just in time for the Western Freedom Festival titled, “Only By Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom,” where he describes a family struggling to survive during a “national crisis….in the face of devastating end-times chaos.” [5]

In an August YouTube video, Finicum emphatically states the public lands on which he is standing are “his land”. [6] He, too, has not been paying his grazing fees and has been issued letters from the BLM to either pay up or get off. He’s not and his deadlines are fast approaching. Watch for him to call upon the Oath Keepers for help.

An Oath Keeper on which he can depend is former Graham County, Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack who is head of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association, board member of the Oath Keepers and a Mormon. A confirmed white supremacist, he engages in sedition through encouraging current law enforcement officials to not enforce federal law. Said Mack, “These are now sheriffs who are learning and willing to learn how to become oath keeper sheriffs.” [7]

In short, seditionist groups are having success recruiting current military and law enforcement personnel, that then leads to law enforcement professionals to be reticent in not only upholding lawful orders but also acting upon them. It is highly likely that the professions and their bureaucracies have been and are being infiltrated.

Yet another consequence of Federal inaction is the destruction of federal lands and the habitats they provide, including that for endangered species like the desert tortoise and bearpaw poppy.   This is one of the primary reasons for the removal of Bundy’s cattle.

The Friends of Gold Butte, a group dedicated to bringing federal recognition to this special area of the Grand Canyon, have prepared a report documenting the natural resource damage occurring to the lands that were formerly Bundy’s grazing allotment and on which his cattle still graze.

Friends documented an illegal water development with over a mile of underground pipeline, archeological sites denuded of lithic scatter, tire tracks and roads where there were none before through endangered plant species, and even documented robbed graves. Who knows what has happened to the area desert tortoise. They conclude that there is a complete lack of a federal presence in the area and that is why this kind of resource destruction is occurring.[8]

Of course, the Federal Government does not wish to see their employees threatened, as has happened in Cedar City where the Western Freedom Festival will be held.[9] And, nobody wants to see bloodshed and the possibility of another Ruby Ridge and Waco. No doubt, these life and death issues weigh heavily on the minds of federal law enforcement agents as they continue to deal with the rise in the “states rights” movement. It is akin to the “too big to fail” idea on Wall Street.

Nonetheless, justice is sometimes dangerous to serve and must be applied equally to all – even when law enforcement is under siege from seditionists within their ranks.

The Political Interest

But it is more than just Utah politics, small time ranchers and treasonous law enforcement professionals who are angry sovereigns.

The Koch family has a tie to the LDS Church through the uber free market, anti communist/socialist, John Birch Society. They have shared common economic and political ideologies for decades.

Fred Koch, father of the now infamous brothers, was a founding member of the John Birch Society. He died in Ogden, Utah in 1968. His sons, particularly Charles, continue to support the goals of the JBS to this day through Americans for Prosperity.[10] [11]

The LDS Church influence over the development and direction of the JBS is also well known and documented in literature. In the 1950s, Mormon First Councilor David McKay was a leader in the JBS and counseled Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, who was then President Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. [12]

Benson and his son, who was employed by the JBS, were so vociferous in equating JBS ideology with that of the church, even the LDS hierarchy were afraid of the public perception and told him to cool it, saying, “We deplore the presumption of some politicians, especially officers, co-ordinators and member of the John Birch Society, who undertake to align the Church or its leadership with their political views.”[13]

Notably, Joseph McCarthy’s very first stop was Salt Lake City after his 1950 speech in Wheeling, WV where he laid out his anti-communist stance.[14] I can tell you that my grandfather, a McCarthy/Goldwater/JBS Republican from Appleton, Wisconsin – the home of McCarthy and current home of the JBS – assisted the LDS Church in the late-70s and early-80s in bringing the group to my hometown.

The LDS influence over the JBS continues to this day. A scheduled speaker at the Western Freedom Festival is Don Fothingham. In 2005, Fothingham and former leader of the JBS G. Vance Smith, both Mormons, were involved in a very public breakup with the JBS over the influence of the LDS church within the JBS.[15] [16] Regardless, the JBS and Fothingham’s splinter group the Freedom First Society continue to work closely together.[17]

The Business Interests

According to excommunicated LDS member and Historian Michael Quinn, the Church has a “prosperity” doctrine, whereby making money becomes a spiritual affair.

“Theologically, Mormonism has never accepted the “worldly” distinctions between secular versus religious, civil verses theocratic, mundane versus divine. An 1830 revelation (to Joseph Smith) declared: “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither [unto] any man, nor children of men….””[18]

This has equated to a considerable financial empire, as the LDS Church has become, like the Koch family, one of the wealthiest for-profit organizations on the planet.

Bloomberg’s Caroline Winter wrote a wonderfully long and informative piece in 2012 for Bloomberg, titled, “How the Mormons Make Money.”[19] In it, she describes how difficult it is to trace the extent of the private financial empire of the LDS Church that is worth billions and interviewed church leaders who explain the spiritual underpinnings toward the accumulation and justification of capital.

Understand we are talking about LDS businesses as private corporations, not as a religious organization. As such, the Church has no requirement for public disclosure of financial information. And, they do not.

Winter and others have detailed some of the known investments, including Deseret Management Corporation and AgReserves. AgReserves and the agricultural interests of the for-profit arm of the Church are among the largest agricultural enterprises in the nation. The Church owns the largest cattle ranch in the country, Deseret Ranch and Citrus of Florida, and owns several other large ranches throughout the west including in Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma, California, and a 288,000 acre spread in the Sandhills of Nebraska.[20] Of course, the western ranches include federal grazing rights.

The LDS Church is also the largest producer of nuts in the country via their South Valley and Deseret Farms holdings in the Central Valley of California and Arizona. They have many additional holdings under a number of different names that produce a variety of agricultural products from potatoes in Idaho to peanuts in Texas to pears in Oregon.

In short, the LDS Church has a private, economic interest in public lands issues and how these relate to their for profit agricultural enterprises.

And, so do the Kochs.

Koch Industries’ agricultural holdings are among the largest in the nation. Their Matador Cattle Company that operates adjacent to Yellowstone National Park is #7 in the country and they also own large ranches in both Kansas and Texas. [21] [22]

Their holdings also include the timber giant Georgia-Pacific. With this enterprise, their concern is both timber production and biofuels and how both are affected by both the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. [23] Of course, their energy interests also come into play.

To the point, the Church and the Koch Brothers will oppose any policies that negatively affect their financial portfolios. It is any wonder they oppose any law or regulation that would affect these interests?

And, they both have never been shy engaging their supporters in the political process – even fomenting sedition – to protect their interests. The creation of the American Lands Council is indicative of their combined efforts.

The Cabal

St. George, Utah conservative talk show host Bryan Hyde – a Mormon like Glenn Beck – recently wrote of a cabal of Utah politicians that met at the Diamond Z Ranch near Cedar City in mid-July to coordinate what is now known as the Western Freedom Festival. [24] According to their website, the purpose of the Western Freedom Festival is, “an attempt to educate the world about the negative impact progressive policies are having on the health, safety and welfare of citizens in the West.” [25]

Hyde named State of Utah County Commissioners who attended. One is scofflaw Phil Lyman – a Mormon – who took his ATVs through archeological sites. Another alluded to is Doug Heaton, an LDS board member of the American Lands Council. Hyde did not say whether the Koch Brothers funded, American Lands Council President and Utah State Representative Ken Ivory – you guessed it, a Mormon – attended.

Hyde states, “Long held traditions are being regulated out of existence and for the first time in many generations, Southern Utahns are in danger of losing touch with their heritage.” He believes there has been, “(a)n effort to reprogram the thinking of Americans by attempting to cut them off from their history is already underway in many parts of the nation.”

Consider these statements in the framework of the LDS persecution tradition: Most non-believers have their history of Zion wrong, and we in Zion need to rise up and reclaim what is rightfully ours. A return to sedition.

It is no coincidence, then, that the Western Freedom Festival is being organized and held in Utah’s Dixie during the 2016 Presidential election season. Given the Republican party does not want to talk about reproductive rights, social and economic equality, or climate change, “state sovereignty” will be their salient topic. It has already taken center stage in Republican presidential politics. It has been done before.

Presidential Politics and Dixie

During the 2012 Presidential election season, several extremist groups sponsored a similar “Freedom Rally” in South Carolina, including the Oath Keepers and the John Birch Society.[26] At the time, Ron Paul was the featured speaker.[27] Now, it is Rand’s turn.

According to Bloomberg, when Rand Paul met with Bundy in Mesquite in late June, he cited “the positions of the American Lands Council, a conservative group campaigning to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing states.”” Said Paul in April, “I think the more private ownership the better. Initially, when the west was being settled, it was a big revenue raiser.” [28]

Utah LDS Congressmen Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Senator Mike Lee have been leading Ivory and ALC’s charge in Congress through their sponsorship of “The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act” that mandates the Secretary of the Department of the Interior to, “offer for disposal by competitive sale certain federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.”[29] Hyde did not mention if these Congressmen or their staff attended the July Cedar City cabal.

Presidential candidates and corporate agricultural groups have already gone on the offensive regarding the severe western wildfires and intend on using this as a rallying point for their troops. Says Western Freedom Festival organizer and Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman, “Federal agencies have failed miserably at their land management responsibilities, every summer we see the results of that as we watch our forests, watersheds, and millions of animals burn.”[30]

The Centrum Arena at the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah can hold 5,300 people. Quite a venue. While no presidential contender has yet announced they will be attending, I suspect at least Rand Paul will be there.

The Real Constitutional Crisis in The Heart of Dixie

Public lands in the United States are commons like nowhere else on the planet. These lands and their ideal are uniquely democratic and provide for an unmatched sense of freedom for all of the citizens of the United States.

However, the seditionists of the West outright reject this premise and are claiming these public lands for themselves and their economic interests – whether they are ranchers or international conglomerates. Each have enlisted the support of seditionist splinter groups like the Oath Keepers who decide for society what is constitutional, recruit current law enforcement at all levels of government, and have been successful at enforcing those beliefs using the threat of violence.

The Western Freedom Festival will occur in an area of the country that has for over 150 years has believed in seccession and is proud this heritage. Like the South, violence is a part of this tradition.

In mid-June 2015, shots were fired at water quality researchers in Bundy’s claimed Gold Butte area. While he denied involvement, he stated, “Those things are my private property, and I don’t want anyone monkeying with my property. It doesn’t matter whether they’re contractors or BLM officials, either way they’re trespassing on my rights. I’m not going to put up with this.”[31]

As a taxpayer, you own these lands. Would you feel safe exercising your right hang out in what could be America’s next national monument?

Given this history, I can only imagine the threats that federal land management officials of all agencies will encounter the weekend of October 23, 2015 throughout Dixie.

Private corporate interests – the LDS and Koch financial empires – have enabled these dangerous conditions through their support of the ideological American Lands Council, John Birch Society, American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans For Prosperity. They want to control how federal lands are managed to benefit their corporations, have created organizations to do so, and have consistently shown a willingness to mobilize their supporters.

In my view, there is a constitutional crisis in the United States and it is not the kind the “sovereigns” like to promote.

The crisis consists of a Federal government that, through its lack of conviction or outright inaction, has consistently emboldened seditionists who have a dangerous persecution complex by refusing to enforce the law of the land. In the case of today’s “sovereigns”, the Federal government is now refusing to protect public land rights, refusing to enforce the environmental laws that dictate their management, and refusing to hold accountable those who threatened them while performing their constitutional duties.

However, at its core and like the circumstances that lead to the Great Recession, it remains a constitutional crisis brought about by the greed of people and their organizations, how they manipulate people, and how a Federal government is beholden to those interests.


[1] Larson, Andrew (1992). I Was Called to “Dixie:” The Virgin River Basin: Unique Experiences on Mormon Pioneering. Dixie College Foundation, St. George, Utah. P. 185.

[2] Krakauer, Jon (2003). Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of a Violent Faith. Doubleday.

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/04/24/cliven-bundy-on-blacks-are-they-better-off-as-slaves/

[4] Strasser, Max. “For Militamen, the Fight for Cliven Bundy’s Ranch Is Far From Over”. Newsweek. April 27, 2014.

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Only-Blood-Suffering-Regaining-Freedom-ebook

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EWfGtQvyb4

[7] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2012/former-arizona-sheriff-richard-mack-seeks-%E2%80%98army%E2%80%99-sheriffs-resist-federal-authority

[8] http://www.friendsofgoldbutte.org/damagereport/

[9] http://fox13now.com/2014/05/08/authorities-investigate-death-threat-against-blm-employee-in-utah

[10] http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/07/187769/his-dad-charles-koch-was-bircher-new-documents

[11] http://www.thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/06/10/242334/john-birch-society-celebrates-koch

[12] http://m.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/28/1151495/-How-Mormon-Leaders-Built-the-John-Birch-Society

[13] http://www.mormonpress.com/ezra-taft-benson-and-politics

[14] http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/senatorjosephmaccarthys1950visittoslc.html

[15] http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/2425050/posts

[16] http://www.donfoth.com

[17] http://freedomfirstsociety.org

[18] Quinn, D. Michael. LDS Church Finances from the 1830s to the 1990s, Sunstone, June 1996, P. 17.

[19] http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2012-07-10/how-the-mormons-make-money

[20] http://www.beefusa.org/CMDocs/BeefUSA/Producer%20Ed/Directions_2014_Statistics.pdf

[21] See footnote 10.

[22] http://www.kochind.com/companies/Matador_Cattle_company.aspx

[23] http://www.politicsusa.com/2014/02/06/farm-bill-koch-brothers-richer-destroying-clean-water-act.htm

[24] http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2015/07/20/perspectives-western-freedom-festival-heritage-matters/

[25] http://www./westernfreedomfest.com

[26] http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/05/05/163973/gop-debate-oathkeepers-birchers/

[27] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF7AdgyTU_Y and http://youtube.com/watch?v=65GnCvmo3p8

[28] http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-07-01/when-cliven-met-rand

[29] https://www.govtrack.us/congress//bills/114/s361 and https://www.govtrack.us/congress//bills/114/hr435

[30] http://www.satprnews.com/2015/08/25/utah-elected-officials-announce-the-western-freedom-festival

[31] http://news.yahoo.com/bundy-denies-firing-gunshots-new-us-researchers-nevada-211733388

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Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

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