Sunday, February 7, 2016


The armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in my adopted state of Oregon is sputtering to its inevitable finale. Just four pathetic, leaderless militants – who now are under federal indictment – remain holed up at the isolated refuge. Yet, the question remains: how could this all have happened? I believe one of the roots of this tragi-comedy has been short-changed in the media’s saturation coverage.

At first it wasn’t obvious. When I wrote “What the Heck’s Going On in Oregon?” at the start of their insurrection last month, I missed it, too. But then Ryan Bundy, one of the militants’ chief chuckleheads, explained his actions to a reporter:
“My Mormonism plays a large part in what I do – the biggest part.”
Of course. Relying on divine inspiration explains a lot about the cult-like behavior in any act of terrorism. And no faith is better adapted to creating a religion after one’s own, self-serving image than Mormonism.

Leaders of the takeover, the now-infamous (and jailed) Bundy brothers, Ammon (40) and Ryan (43), come from a seditious, Mormon family tradition. Their father, Cliven Bundy, led the highly-publicized 2014 armed, anti-government protest over paying grazing fees on public lands in southern Nevada.
The feds backed down and Cliven still owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees and fines. It seems self-evident that Cliven’s divinely-sanctioned success in facing down the federal government helped inspire others who claim their religious or political beliefs override the “tyranny” of government laws.

Cliven said God was on his side:
“If the standoff with the Bundys was wrong, would the Lord have been with us? Could those people that stood with me without fear and went through that spiritual experience…have done that without the Lord being there? No, they couldn’t.”
Cliven gave his 14 kids a lot to live up to. Ammon and Ryan apparently saw protesting the jailing of two ranchers, the Hammonds in Harney County, Oregon, who were convicted of arson on public lands, as their chance to live up to Dad’s example.

Spoiler alert: they failed. After getting arrested, Ammon said from jail that the remaining four occupiers should go home. Dad didn’t agree, and decreed (from his home in Nevada) that the refuge should stay in the hands of “the citizens.” “What this is saying,” he told a reporter, “is that Cliven Bundy is taking control of things.”
Ammon Bundy Speaks the Wisdom of the Lord:

Before he got thrown in jail, Ammon Bundy was the face to the world of the wildlife refuge occupation. Low-key with trimmed beard, in flannels, jeans and ubiquitous brown cowboy hat, Ammon used soft-spoken words that belied their fervid radicalism.
Ammon said he had prayed and God told him to go to Harney County to help the Hammonds, and all the other ranchers, miners and loggers, who should have unfettered access to public lands. The iconic Malheur National Wildlife Refuge should be “turned back” to “the people.”

In an online video, Ammon spoke earnestly into the camera, explaining that his mission to Harney County was a revelation direct from God:
“I began to understand that what we were supposed to do is…get together individuals all across this country that understood and cared about what was happening. That understood that our Constitution was being violated, that it is hanging by a thread…
“They understood what is happening to Harney County would happen to all the counties across the United States and go into all the ends of the earth if there was not a stand made. And so I began to understand that I was to call all these people together, to ask them to come and to unite together in Harney County, and that we were to create a defense for the people of Harney County so that they can begin to use their land and resources again…that they can get rid of the tyranny and the chains that are upon them...
“And I began to understand exactly how we should do it, exactly the steps that we were to take, and so I began to move in that direction… [These things] have only become more and more clear. They are wisdom of the Lord. And so I am asking you to come to Harney County to make the decision right now, of whether this is a righteous cause or not, whether I am some crazy person or whether the Lord truly works through individuals to get his purposes accomplished.”
He asked online viewers to join him in “this wonderful thing which the Lord is about to accomplish.”

Ammon and his band of true believers, armed with God, guns and gall, stormed the unoccupied, winter-shuttered refuge headquarters to make their stand on behalf of the Lord. Ammon said of their weapons:
“[W]e have them, and we’re willing to stand with them in our own defense as we exercise our rights, and as we restore our rights back to our brothers and sisters.”
He professed his “willingness to kill or be killed for my God and my countrymen.”
As if having Cliven Bundy for a father wasn’t burden enough, Ammon is saddled with a name straight from the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s (the religion’s founder) phantasmagoria as rich as Lord of the Rings. This helpful explanation from Wikipedia:

Ammon is the leader of a Nephite expedition from Zarahemla, sent to discover the fate of Zeniff and his people who have not been heard from for 75 years. Zeniff and his followers left Zarahemla and travelled to Nephi, their ancestral home, which was then in the possession of the Lamanites. Ammon is not a Nephite by birth but a descendant of Zarahemla and thus a Mulekite.”
All in the Bundy Family:

Cliven Bundy claims the right to freely graze public lands around Bunkerville, Nevada, (just down the road from southwest Utah) because his Mormon ancestors worked the land before the federal government took ownership (ignoring, apparently, Paiute use of those same lands prior to the Mormons’ armed takeover). Whatever the spurious merits of Cliven’s argument, there is no arguing that the Bundys’ Mormon roots are relevant to the mess the Bundy brothers created in Harney County, Oregon.
In the beginning, there was Dudley Leavitt, the Bundy boys’ great-great-great-grandfather on their mother’s side. He was among the very first Mormons on earth.

Leavitt was born in Canada in 1830, just north of the Vermont line. That same year, not far away in burned-over scrublands of western New York, a self-styled treasure hunter and seer, Joseph Smith, published the Book of Mormon and launched his new religion, declaring himself its Prophet.
In case you missed the Broadway play, here’s a thumbnail: In a vision, the angel Moroni came to Smith and directed him to buried golden plates inscribed with the history of an ancient American civilization between 600 BC and 421 AD. Smith translated the mysterious texts by staring at special stones in the bottom of a stovepipe hat, dictating his visions over several years. Taking a Pope-like role, he proclaimed that only he held the keys to the mysteries. Throughout his life Smith continued to receive “revelations” from God that would spell out the kooky rules for his new “latter-day saints,” such as “plural marriage,” special underwear, and how to get your own planet to rule after you die.

Leavitt’s parents were among the first to fall for Smith’s elaborate con, and gave up everything to follow him west to create the New Zion – a collective, utopian settlement that eventually would lead to theocratic rule over the whole earth. What they found was a real world violently hostile to their religion. Mormons were murdered, homes torched, and some, including Smith, were tarred and feathered. Smith and his followers moved again and again around the Midwest in fruitless efforts to gain their independence from niggling government interference with their affairs. Smith preached that Mormons were under no obligation to obey laws they deemed contrary to their “religious privilege” (e.g., polygamy).
In Missouri, Smith was arrested for “overt acts of treason” but escaped to Illinois. Five years later, he was again in jail for treason. That’s where Mormonism’s “Prophet, Priest and King” was murdered by a mob of 200 men who stormed the jail. (Smith left behind 40 wives, including at least ten who were married to other Mormons.)

At Smith’s funeral, thirteen-year-old Dudley Leavitt joined the line of believers who filed by Smith’s body. Already, the boy had suffered bloody noses at school for defending his religion and the Prophet who talked to God and angels. At that moment, staring into Joseph Smith’s dead face, Leavitt reaffirmed his dedication to Smith’s vision.
When Brigham Young was chosen as Smith’s successor as 1844, Leavitt was in the back of the audience. His new allegiance to Young would result, thirteen years later, in the absolute worst day of Leavitt’s long life.

In 1846, his family traveled the Mormon trail to Utah, where Leavitt started his own family, eventually marrying four women. The last was an Indian girl, who had been adopted by a Mormon family as an infant. Leavitt had been traveling away from home, trading molasses and dried fruit for essentials, and a church elder intervened and insisted that he marry the young girl. Imagine coming home from a business trip and surprising your family with a new wife in tow. And an Indian girl, at that.
Leavitt no doubt felt obligated to do his part to accelerate the whitening of the dark Indian race, as called for in the Book of Mormon. Native Americans, after all, were the cursed Lamanites that Joseph Smith said would eventually transition into God’s favored, white, “delightsome people.”

That’s how Mormons justified their common practice of buying Indian children from destitute parents, taking them in as part of their own families, all the while insisting the purchased children were not slaves. It was simply part of God’s plan to redeem the cursed Lamanites and turn them white.
The Other 9/11 – the Mountain Meadows Massacre:

On September 11, 1857, at Mountain Meadows, a rolling valley 30 miles north of St. George, Utah, a homegrown, ragtag Mormon militia murdered in cold blood 120 men, women and children traveling in an oxen-powered wagon caravan from Arkansas to California. Only the 17 youngest children were spared.
Dudley Leavitt was there that day and did his duty to the infallible Brigham Young and to God, in that order. As a leader in his Mormon community and church, Leavitt could no more refuse a directive from his church elders than swear an oath to the devil.

Those Arkansas emigrants got caught in a larger battle by Mormons against the federal government. Brigham Young, the Mormon President as well as Utah Territory Governor, had trumpeted, “Any President of the United States who lifts his finger against [my] people shall die an untimely death and go to hell!” Young railed against the tyrannical federal government infringing on their rights (e.g., polygamy) and ignoring their interests.
U.S. President Buchanan declared the Mormons in Utah Territory to be in rebellion, and war was in the air. Federal troops were on the way to oust Young as territorial governor.

Whether or not Brigham Young personally gave the order for the Mountain Meadows massacre is immaterial; the church had made it clear that outsiders were a threat to be given no help in their travels. To make matters worse for the Arkansas travelers, a Mormon missionary (Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfather) had just been murdered in their state.
And so the Mormon militia was called up and attacked the Arkansas emigrants during their breakfast. The first shot killed a child. The surviving emigrants were surrounded for four days, then on September 11 under the militia’s treacherous use of a white flag, were lined up. The order to the Mormon militiamen was given: “Do your duty!” What followed was an orgy of violence as all but the youngest emigrants were shot and clubbed to death, their bodies stripped naked, wagons and belongings looted.

Despite the enormity of their terrorist crimes, almost all those Mormons got away with it. Brigham Young and the church stood up to the feds, lied and blamed the Indians, and only one person (John D. Lee) was ever punished for the atrocity. Not Dudley Leavitt. Not church elders. And certainly not Brigham Young.
Whether or not Leavitt had actual blood on his hands that day (he claimed late in life he did not) is immaterial. This self-righteous man was part of it all and he was guilty as sin.

Eventually after years of dodging federal marshals charged with arresting polygamists, Leavitt and his family ended up in the polygamist community of Bunkerville, Nevada. He died peacefully at 78 and is buried in the Bunkerville cemetery, not far from where the Bundy family grew up.
It’s easy to caricature strange, Mormon fellows like Dudley Leavitt. But for most of his life he was happy and successful, respected by those around him, loved by his wives and adored by his children and grandchildren, and reportedly kind and generous to Indians. That someone is not solely a one-dimensional, anti-government militant, however, can’t exonerate their criminal acts.

Captain Moroni:
Take, for example, one of the Bundys’ biggest fans and participant in the Oregon wildlife refuge takeover – the self-named Captain Moroni, aka Dylan Anderson of Provo, Utah.

Upon arriving at the wildlife refuge occupation, he claimed to a radio reporter, “I didn’t come here to shoot. I came here to die.”
He didn’t die. Instead, Captain Moroni spent his 35th birthday (Feb. 5) rotting in an Oregon county jail with his Bundy buddies and six of their fellow conspirators.

In Mormon mythology, the “real” Captain Moroni (not to be confused with the Prophet Moroni, son of Mormon, who came as an angel to Joseph Smith to show him the golden plates) was a commander of the Nephite forces in America in the 1st century BC. According to Mormon scripture, he was “angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country” and as a result threatened to “take my sword to defend the cause of my country.” In addition to fighting the bad Lamanites, Captain Moroni had to contend with an evil man, Amalickiah, who aspired to be king of the Nephites. When Captain Moroni raised a “title of liberty” (writing on a torn piece of his coat on the end of a pole) as a call to arms for his people to govern themselves and worship as they saw fit, so many flocked to his call that the villain of the story, Amalickiah, simply backed off and went away.
Perhaps the modern-day Captain Moroni believes he is called by God to the same destiny: to make the federal government just go away. Like Moroni’s piece of torn coat, the militants want to pull a battered copy of the U.S. Constitution from their pocket, wave it in the air like the magical “title of liberty,” and expect the federal government to back off and go away.

Dylan Anderson is on Facebook (at least, was, before his unfortunate incarceration). He seems like such a mild-mannered Mormon, not a religious fanatic who would claim Captain Moroni as his alter-ego. In one post, he jokes, “Wonder if heaven is like church that never ends, or if that’s what hell will be.”
Two years ago in announcing his wedding plans to his Facebook friends, he fairly purred with Hallmark, quasi-racist sincerity:

“Here (sic) name is Cynthia. We must have wished on the same star at the same time. The ocean is deeply majestic & romantic to us both. Our honeymoon will be a not fully planned adventure down the Oregon Coast and down into Northern California... everything from a high dollar hotel with a (sic) ocean view to sleeping on the beach. She has a lot of Native American in her so it comes natural to her. I call her my squaw. And so our wedding theme shall be the ocean. Hope a lot of people who come will wear something like a blue tie or even a seashell necklace to add to the mood.”
(I’m reminded of Dudley Leavitt’s fourth wife, the Indian girl he wedded to help whiten the race of the cursed Lamanites. But I digress…)

From Anderson’s Facebook page, I learned that his favorite movie is Robin Hood (the Russell Crowe version), Man Vs. Wild is his favorite TV show, and his favorite quote is “Keep your friends close and your enemies at gunpoint.”
A favorite link is to a video, “The REAL Bundy Ranch Story: Feds Forced to Surrender to American Citizens. Here is the video you WILL NOT SEE on the mainstream media.”

One of his most recent posts: “Just because your (sic) paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” But not one word about Dylan Anderson's secret life as Captain Moroni.
The Bundys’ Martyr:

As everyone knows, one militant, Robert LaVoy Finicum was killed when the feds finally moved in on January 26 to arrest the wildlife refuge occupation’s leaders. After being unmolested by law enforcement for weeks despite their blatant crimes at the refuge, these guys had gotten so cocky that one day they all loaded up in a convoy of three vehicles and headed to the next county north of Harney County, where they expected a warm reception at a community meeting.

You’d have thought they were headed for a religious camp meeting, instead of the senior center in the tiny town of John Day. The lead van held the “Sharp Family Singers” – a single mother and seven of her of ten kids, who had driven 1,500 miles from Kansas in a blue van with “Spirit Driven” in big letters on the sides, to serenade the occupiers at the wildlife refuge with bluegrass gospel songs, just as they had done two years prior for Cliven Bundy’s insurrection in Nevada.
Finicum was next, driving a truck packed with video gear and speakers for the big show, along with four occupiers, including Ryan Bundy. Others, including Ammon Bundy, followed in a Jeep. They left the refuge mid-afternoon for the 100-mile trip and kept their vehicles spaced out for what they imagined was sensible security.

The lead van apparently drove right past the police, and the singing brood went on to sing their songs of Jesus and America to those gathered in John Day. But back on the deserted highway, police vehicles with flashing red lights pulled up behind the truck and the Jeep. Finicum reluctantly stopped in the middle of the highway. His front-seat passenger got out and surrendered. Finicum then told his other passengers to get down and he floored it.
At full speed, they drove right into a well-planned law enforcement roadblock down the road. Finicum swerved left, got stuck in the snow bank, jumped out of the car, and was shot and killed – reaching twice (or pretending to reach) for his gun. The FBI’s overhead video proves he was executed by the police, claim some of Bundy’s followers.

Of course it shows no such thing. Shawna Cox (59), a mother of 13 from Utah, was in the truck's back seat. She described the scene to The Oregonian, “[Finicum’s] running away from the vehicle, screaming, ‘Shoot me, shoot me, shoot me.’”
No one should be surprised that Finicum got himself killed on purpose.

Finicum was a neighbor of Cliven Bundy and shared his Mormon religion and radical politics. He wrote a novel entitled Only by Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom, the story of one family’s struggles to “survive in the face of devastating end-times chaos.”
On just the fourth night into the wildlife refuge occupation, Finicum sat in the snowy dark in a rocking chair, guarding the refuge's entrance road, covered in a blanket and blue tarp, a rifle on his lap. He told an NBC reporter, “They’re not just going to come with a guy holding a rifle and put cuffs on him.”

Like his Mormon forebears who were seeking the New Zion and just wanted the federal government to leave them alone, Finicum said of federal law enforcers, “I hope that they go home.”
When the reporter told him bluntly that he was obviously violating the law and an arrest warrant was inevitable, Finicum warned that he would never be taken alive:

“I have been raised in the country all my life. I love dearly to feel the wind on my face. To see the sunrise. To see the moon in the night. I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box.”
Three weeks later, in a split-second decision in a snowbank by the side of the highway, Finicum made good on his promise. The grandfather and father of eleven died one day before his 55th birthday.

Finicum, no doubt, held secret hopes of being a martyr to his anti-government cause. Besides, as a Mormon he could expect a pretty good package of after-life benefits. Not 72 virgins, but a pretty nice setup, nonetheless, depending on which of Mormonism’s three heavens he ended up in. Compare that to Finicum’s only other option – a “concrete box.”
His funeral back in Utah drew a huge crowd. Events for the “LaVoy Finicum’s Last Stand for Freedom” included a memorial horse ride and benefit concert. He was buried in a pine box.

Blame the Mormons:
There is a line running from Finicum’s death and the Bundys’ takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge straight back to Joseph Smith’s 19th century hallucinogenic visions and his new religion’s founding principles. As Ryan Bundy said, Mormonism was “the biggest part” of their motivation.

Nevertheless, religion is not the only factor involved in the conflict. The Bundys’ self-serving interpretation of their Mormon faith also coincides with a widespread animosity across the rural West toward government rules and regulations – an attitude not necessarily linked to religious beliefs. Not all of Bundys’ supporters are Mormons.
One unusual sympathizer is the Oregon sheriff of Grant County, just north of Harney County, Glenn Palmer. He’s big with the right-wing “Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association." (See High Country News’ Feb. 2 report, “The Rise of the Sagebrush Sheriffs: How rural ‘constitutional’ peace officers are joining the war against the feds.”)

It's no wonder the militants thought they were untouchable when they headed up to Grant County in search of more public support. They were convinced that Sheriff Palmer would protect them. Palmer has repeatedly insisted that under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has no law enforcement authority in his county. He met twice with the refuge militants, but refused to divulge what they discussed. On that fateful day when Finicum committed suicide by cop, Palmer was scheduled to speak at the militant’s community meeting in John Day.
I wonder if Sheriff Palmer feels any guilt over Finicum’s death. After all, but for his encouragement, tacit or otherwise, it’s doubtful the militant’s convoy would have made themselves sitting ducks to be ambushed by the FBI and Oregon State Police on that deserted highway.

Not all Mormons support the Bundys. Many find them an embarrassment. One Mormon blogger wrote, “Ammon Bundy does not represent my religion… I cringe every time I have to read articles linking his misguided messiah complex to my Mormon faith.”
The peculiar religious basis for the Bundys’ armed showdowns with the federal government is rooted in a strain of Mormonism founded after World War II by prominent right-wing Mormon leaders, such as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. They claimed to promote ideals of maximum individual liberty, free of (non-Mormon) governmental interference. It’s a fringe wing of modern Mormonism.

Ammon Bundy perfectly echoed its libertarian theology when he declared his intentions for the Harney County occupation:
“While we’re here, what we’re going to be doing is freeing these lands up, getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining, getting the loggers back to logging, where they can do it under the protection of the people – and not be afraid of this tyranny that has been upon them.”
Despite official denouncement by the Mormon Church of the Bundys’ actions in Oregon, its sanctimony rings hollow. The church has a history of persecution, victimization, violence, secrecy and antipathy towards the federal government. Its members are readying for the Last Days, certain they have a manifest destiny to fulfill. Mormonism’s self-righteous theology has propelled a few, like the Bundys, to take armed leadership roles in the anti-government movement always simmering in the West.

The Bundys might have found some other religion to justify their actions, had Joseph Smith never concocted his fantasy revelations way back when. But the fact is, the Mormon religion owns the Bundys. They share the same DNA. These militant extremists were created in the image of their religion’s founders. That’s why I say about the troubles in Harney County – blame the Mormons.

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