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Friday, January 6, 2012

What's wrong with Mitt Romney?

Aside from his demonstrated talent for assholery, the prime qualification for those little deities we call CEOs, Mitt Romney seems to be following a precedent for ruthlessness established in the history of his creed.  He operates with the menace of a faction within the Latter Day Saints called the Danite band, which terrorized people in Missouri and whose offenses were a large part of the motive of people in Carthage, Illinois, for killing Joseph Smith, the founder of the sect. 

A native of western Illinois, I was aware of Nauvoo, Illinois, the city-state the Mormons established and abandoned along the Mississippi River in the 1840s.  However, not until I reached college age and became involved in matters dealing with the history and culture of Illinois regarding the American Indians, the African Americans, the settlers, and the geographical features of the region did I learn of a continuing controversy regarding the Mormons at Nauvoo.  While an undergraduate at Augustana College in Rock Island, a sister Lutheran College was Carthage College in the town where Joseph Smith met his end.  Carthage College did not come to the town until after its episodes with the Mormons, but the history of those episodes pervaded academic aspects of the college.  I visited Carthage College for athletic events and some academic exchanges, and found that faculty and students seemed vaguely troubled by the history of the town as it involved the one-time residents of  Nauvoo.

It is very difficult to find a definitive history of how the Mormons came to Nauvoo and why they left.  That is because the Mormons have a massive and effective propaganda program that controls all information about the church and its history.  Pursuant to a violent conflict between the Mormons and the rest of the population in Missouri in 1838, the Governor issued an edict banning Mormons from the state.  They moved east to Illinois to create the city-state of Nauvoo for which they received a special charter that exempted it and its residents from laws of the state and allowed it to operate under its own laws, which were determined by the church leader, Joseph Smith.  An aspect of history for which the Mormons were driven out of Missouri was replayed in Illinois, and was part of the motive for the uprising of citizens against Mormons, which led to the death of Joseph Smith.  While in Missouri, the Mormons comprised a block of voters who voted as instructed by church leaders to obtain and maintain influence over the state government in its dealings with the Mormons.  In Illinois, Nauvoo became the largest settlement in the state during the 1840s and exerted a dominant influence on state politics.  That is one of the reasons that it obtained the status of a city-state, and operated under its own laws.  The citizens of Illinois resented the fact that the power and influence emanating from Nauvoo overruled their own interests and concerns. 

The Danite band was a group of militia organized to maintain discipline among the Mormons and to deal with the growing animosities and threats coming from the citizens of Missouri.  However, among state law enforcement agencies in Missouri and the surrounding states, the Danite band gained a reputation for engaging in criminal activities, including murder for hire.  

The history of the uprising against Mormons in Illinois seldom reflects the full reasons for the distrust and actions of the citizens against the Mormons.  The story of Joseph Smith's death, however, is one of ambiguous and complicated motives.  Some Mormon dissenters in Nauvoo started a newspaper which opposed Smith and charged him with corruption.  Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, ordered his militia to destroy the press, which was done.  This led to charges against Smith who was tried and acquitted three times  by Mormon juries in Nauvoo, but the Mormon dissenters and the people around Nauvoo filed complaints against him in state courts.  He was charged with riot and treason for the destruction of the printing press, and at the urging of the Governor he came to Carthage to turn himself in and await trial before a circuit court.  The Carthage jail was attacked by a mob of men who had painted their faces black and opened fire on the jail and its occupants.  Smith and his brother were killed.  Five men were charged with the murders, but were all acquitted.

The part of the story seldom told about why there was hatred directed toward Smith and  the Mormons involves the role Nauvoo played in the region.  During this time, a loose but very large band of criminals operated in the region and held the people in terror.  They were called the Banditti of the Prairies.  They openly robbed and killed citizens.  One of their ploys was to have a confederate act as a traveler and approach a farm home asking for food and lodging for the night, which was the custom of the time for people wending their ways across the prairies.  The confederate would "case" the household for money and valuables, then report what he found to the banditti, who would later burglarize or rob the household.  This violation of hospitality so angered the settlers that the region became an armed camp and the settlers took to shooting anyone they suspected as being part of the Banditti operation and asking questions later.  Among the victims of the Banditti was Col. George Davenport, a trader and early business man for whom Davenport, Iowa, is named.  He was killed when banditti came to his home on Rock Island in the Mississippi River to rob him during a Fourth of July celebration.

When law enforcement officers got on the trail of banditti, the trail often led to Nauvoo where the bandits came to hide and liquidate their loot.  As Nauvoo operated as a city-state, law enforcement officers had no authority inside the the town and the Mormon militia protected those who sought refuge there and prevented law enforcement officers from pursuing them or recovering stolen goods.  The citizens assumed, whether it was the  case or not, that the feared and detested Danite Band ran the protection and fencing operation.  The citizens, including the Governor and state officials, wanted the Mormons out of Illinois because they were at the center of so much trouble.  The mob that attacked Joseph Smith and his Mormon cohorts believed they were ridding the state of a criminal element that had terrified and pillaged the settlers.  After the death of Joseph Smith, the Mormons began their migration to Utah, but it took about two years before Nauvoo was completely evacuated.  

George Romney's ancestors were among those Nauvoo residents who made the trek to Utah.  The account can be found on a website maintained by the Mormons in support of Romney. 

The significance of this history has two main aspects.  For one, it explains the source of distrust and resentment that many have toward the Mormon church, including evangelicals, and it explains in part why Rick Santorum dismissed Mormonism as a cult.  

A second aspect is that tactics of the Romney campaign can be seen as borrowing heavily from the lessons learned by the Mormon church to manage public perceptions and appeal to the vulnerabilities of the citizenry to combat negative attitudes and build support.  One tactic is to keep the question of whether Mormonism can be called a Christian denomination away from high-powered intellectual theological discussion and keep it in the arena of popular, manipulable chatter.  Roman Catholic and protestant theologians from the largest denominations question whether some Mormon doctrines fit those defined as Christian.  There has been some discussion of how the Mormon and Muslim scriptures incorporate some elements of Christianity but deviate on matters that define the essential premises of Christianity.  Both the Muslim and Mormon religions have provisions that allow, sometimes encourage, hostile and violent actions against those they regard as infidels or apostates.  Only recently has the Mormon Church allowed African-Americans to be given equal status with sanctioned, Mormon white men within the church.  It still does not give women that status.  Although recent changes in racial doctrine have been made to conflict less with the American premise of equality, there is still a racial undercurrent in the Mormon church that flows from its history.  

That undercurrent is heavily utilized in Romney's campaign strategy.  There is a very audible undertone of racism in American politics since Obama became president.  From the outset, his opposition has spent very little effort criticizing his policies and his agenda in specific terms, but has focused directly on the person in announcing that its major objective is to rid the White House of Obama, the black interloper.  Romney has directed his invective primarily at Obama the person in a way to revive and excite anti-black racial attitudes as a motive force in his campaign.

Everything Romney says about Obama conforms to anti-black stereotypes.  

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson notes the peculiar obsession of the Republican Party with maligning the person of Barack Obama, the form of attack it takes, and how Romney leads the anti-Obama campaign:

Romney’s assertions are the centerpiece of his, and his party’s, critique not just of Obama but of American liberalism generally. But they fail to explain how and why the American economy has declined the past few decades — in good part because they betray no awareness that Europe’s social democracies now fit the description of “merit-based opportunity societies” much more than ours does.

It is legitimate for voters to ask if a candidate will impose tenets of his/her religion, such as Islam or Mormon,  that contradict the fundamental premises of our democracy onto the running of the country,  but in today's bigoted intellectual climate it is hard to differentiate deliberate, enacted doctrine from accusations of prejudice.  The First Amendment and the freedom to practice a religion of one's choosing does not give license to any religion to deny the very document that gives that religion the right to exist and to undermine  liberty, equality, and justice for all Americans.  The imposition of church doctrine on American law, whether relating to sexual orientation or race, is an issue in the current campaign among Republican candidates, and voters have the right and responsibility to examine candidates for tendencies to subvert the rights to liberty, equality, and justice.  

In in his constant denigration of Barack Obama in terms of old racial stereotypes--accusations of incompetence, deviousness, perfidy, lazy dependency and expectancy of welfare--Romney echoes the past and disturbing values of what his church has practiced.  Romney's embrace of hate-inspiring denigration contrasts sharply with the approach of his fellow Mormon, Jon Huntsman.  

Racism is a part of the current campaign and, as a New York Times columnist points out, no one wants to talk about it, but it is there.  Mitt Romney's leadership in economic and social issues may be obscured by his posturing and the conflict between his claims and his actions, but his leadership in chanting the chorus of old racial stereotypes is emphatically clear.

The respectable facade Romney presents does not disguise the fact that he is not a very nice man.  His motives are rightfully suspect.  Mitt Romney has a lot of explaining to do.  So does the American press. 

Taking back the White House for Mitt Romney:  getting rid of the black and making it white again. 


larry kurtz said...

Exactly. Great read.

Bob Newland said...

The ruthlessness of Mormons is well-documented. I was excommunicated after my mother requested it. That is NOT a joke.

And Romney is obviously an asshole, independent of his religion. However, I don't read racism into his attacks on Obama. It just looks to me like typical stuff; when my guy does it, it's okay; when their guy does it, it's treason.

None of the "Republicans" is going to attack Obama for the one thing that should disqualify him, i.e., his promise to quit arresting people for using legitimate herbal remedies and his subsequent savage disregard of that promise (iterated more than once).

They won't attack him on that issue because they can't wait to choose a guy who will slaver over the ability to put sick, disabled and dying people in jail for trying to feel better.

David Newquist said...

Bob Newland,

Sounds like you have friends in Denver (from where I just returned):

Bob Newland said...

Every group that collectively thinks some guy 2000 years ago was killed for his beliefs then was resurrected to life and subsequently ascended into "heaven" is a cult in my book.

tduncan said...

for a guy who claims to know his history about mormons you sure don't tell the whole story do you. The whole missorui issue in itself is incomplete. You failed to mention the fact that and extermination order was put into affect by gov boggs that made it it lawful to kill a mormon on site. You also dicounted the massacre at hauns mill, and most importantly his visit to washington dc to implore president van buren for help with what was occurring there. His response ''your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.''. Now I ask if this country is truly free and we have the right to worship as we choose and you were being run from state to state and town to town unable to settle and raise your family as you saw fit and have even your very life threatened just because of your beliefs would you be upset. This premise that mormons were ruthless is funny. Porter Rockwell was ruthless. The mormons picked up left everything they had and trekked west to seek the rights that were promised by the constitution life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More than a third died in route there. That sounds like conviction to me. And finally and this pisses me off, to take the picture of any man his wife,children, and grandchildren and put a subtitle like that under it is despicable.

-dsb- said...

Having been LDS for the better part of my life, I must agree with most of your article. I spent from 1948 to 1975 being brainwashed and didn't pay it much attention. It was after being married in the Los Angeles Temple that I began to "see the light". By the time I was set apart as a Bishop, having been on the High Council, I decided that the Mormon organization was more a corporation than a church. If any are in doubt, they haven't done their research. The Mormons were thrown out of Missouri and the previous locations because of their blatant arrogance and gypsy morals. Some are still prone to take more than they give. Read the history books, and pay attention to Joseph's convenient revelations which allowed him his carnal desires as well as many of his fellow brethren's wives. It goes on and on.

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