While there are so-called “extremists” in many areas of our political spectrum this article will deal more with the supposed “right-wing extremists” within our Church and nation. I have seen a great resurgence of interest in the core principles of liberty and the Constitution within our Latter-day Saint community. I, myself, have been a part of this resurgence. Anyone familiar with the principles of liberty can understand why we as Latter-day Saints are particularly attracted to this philosophy and to the cause for freedom. Simply put, the preservation of man’s agency is at the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, many of us who have whole heartedly embraced this new philosophy and way of life have been shunned and labeled “extreme” by those with whom we feel the most kinship, our fellow Latter-day Saints. The purpose of this article is not to explain whether we are extreme or not, but to dispel public perception and provide tools for us to explain what we are really about.
Extremism can be defined as any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies. Certainly we as LDS liberty lovers fall under this definition of extremism. However, there are other elements to defining this topic in today’s vernacular. The term we’re focusing on can be relative to the group, culture, and time in which one lives. Some ideas and ways of thinking can be perfectly acceptable in one culture and time and quite extreme in another. I argue that many if not most of the views we hold would not be out of the norm at all in the days of the American Founding. However those same views are thought of as “radical” today. The principles of liberty were common knowledge among all Englishman during the American Colonial period.
Today there seems to be an aura attached to the term “extremist”. That aura is meant to strike fear into the general populace. The current prevailing thought when someone hears about “extremist individuals” is that these individuals are dangerous and are not just capable of, but are likely to commit extreme acts of unprovoked aggression. This is the purposeful design of the government and its PR firm, the mainstream media. This stereotype is simply inaccurate. The demagoguery is a tactic used to demonize an individual or group of people so that the general populace will disregard their arguments. After all, if you can immediately discredit individuals through tricky semantics, their arguments are of no consequence since those persons are instantly dismissed as “wackos”.
Those of the past who by today’s standards could have been labeled “extreme” were largely promoting traditional, conservative principles. Often while learning of and discussing historical events and persons, the actions and words of such figures seem less drastic and radical because one is so far removed from them. As we discuss the following people, I would like the reader to think of the ensuing words and actions being said and done by someone today. Think of how the current public might respond to such words or actions. Let us look at a few examples.
Abinadi was a prophet of God, revealed to us in the Book of Mormon, who was sent to the people of the wicked King Noah to call them to repentance. Abinadi gave explicit warnings to the people using very strong language. I will shy away from telling the entire story; if the reader is unfamiliar with it he or she can read it in the Book of Mosiah, Chapters 11-17 . I will, however, list the “extreme” things that Abinadi said and did:
- Prophesied the destruction and enslavement of the people (Mosiah 11:20–25)
- Railed against govt. officials for not doing their duty and using their positions to get gain (Mosiah 12:25–37)
- Prophesied gory events that were to happen to government officials [King Noah and his wicked priests] (Mosiah 17:15–19)
- Gave his life willingly for the cause of Christ (Mosiah 17:9–10 & 20)
If an individual were to come among us and give us similar warnings in Abinadi-like fashion, he or she would immediately be put in the looney bin and labeled a “danger to the public”. Abinadi’s words and actions may have been extreme, but they were based on quite conservative principles.
America’s Founding Fathers
It is a well documented historical fact that our founding fathers were smugglers and tax evaders. They believed in the principle of private property and unhindered property rights, a principle we as Americans might do well to rediscover for ourselves. These inspired men routinely evaded the British government in order to keep what was rightfully theirs. Whether we like it or not, our country was founded on traitorous acts.
While it is our duty to support our government in its prescribed duties and functions as laid out in the Constitution, it is not our responsibility to support a government which usurps power and authority to rob its people of their means in order to “take care of them” through its myriad of programs and policies. David O. McKay said:
“It is our duty to strive to make a success of what we possess—to till the earth, subdue matter, conquer the globe, take care of the cattle, the flocks and the herds. It is the Government’s duty to see that you are protected in these efforts, and no other man has the right to deprive you of any of your privileges. But it is not the Government’s duty to support you. That is one reason why I shall raise my voice as long as God gives me sound or ability, against this Communistic idea that Government will take care of us all…. It is wrong! No wonder, in trying to perpetuate that idea, they become anti-Christ, because that doctrine strikes directly against the doctrine of the Savior…No government owes you a living. You get it yourself by your own acts!—never by trespassing upon the rights of a neighbor; never by cheating him. You put a blemish upon your character the moment you do.” (Statements on Communism and the Constitution of the United States p.23, Deseret Book Co. 1966)
Anyone caught evading unnecessary taxation by the government today would consequently be punished, just as in Colonial America. However, today there is another element of punishment that did not exist back then which the government itself does not directly inflict; that is the stigma attached to tax evaders by the public. People caught “cheating” on their taxes are severely demonized today by the media and consequently the public at large. So were the Founding Fathers’ ideas of personal property extreme or conservative? Is it extreme to promote the idea that I have a right to keep what I worked for from the hands of conspiring men?
The Mormon Pioneers
It is no secret that the Mormon pioneers experienced great hardship and persecution from the very inception of the Church to their departure from Nauvoo. The early Saints repeatedly had their property destroyed by mobs, their land taken, their people murdered, and their whole congregation driven to and fro across the Midwestern U.S. The Church mercilessly petitioned the United States government for a redress of their grievances and at last could not receive any restitution for the atrocities they suffered. Their final act of desperation was to secede from the United States Government altogether. As historical fact attests, they removed themselves from the jurisdiction of their persecutors and the government which did nothing to protect their inalienable rights. Does this mean that they threw off the principles of freedom and the Constitution as well? Absolutely not! Speaking of the intentions of the Saints, Brigham Young told Colonel Thomas L. Kane of the U.S. Army that:
“…they intended settling in the great Basin or Bear River Valley, and those who went round by water would settle at San Francisco. They would be glad to raise the American flag, said the President: ‘We love the Constitution of our country, but are opposed to mobocracy; and will not live under such oppression as we have done. We are willing to have the banner of the U.S. constitution float over us. If the government of the U.S. is disposed to do us good; we can do them as much good as they can us.’”
As the Saints were seceding, do you think they held on to “extremist” ideas of aggression or retaliation toward the U.S. government or do you think they were holding onto conservative principles espoused by the gospel of Jesus Christ? The history of their following days sufficiently answers this query.
I don’t know if the story of the pioneer Saints’ secession from the United States made headlines in its day, but if a peculiar religious organization attempted to uproot its entire congregation and leave the U.S. today, I’m confident it would cause quite the hullaballoo and they would be labeled as “extremist”.
In His day, the Master Himself was labeled an extremist and put to death for his supposed crimes. Is it any wonder? He:
- Defied and preached against long held traditional law, most of which law was not divinely sanctioned (Matthew 12:1–8, Matthew 15:1–9, Mark 3:1–6).
- He criticized and called out the aristocratic government of the Sanhedrin, being made up of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matthew 23:1–7, Mark 8:15, Luke 11:37–44).
- With righteous anger He drove the money changers from within the holy temple walls which gave His enemies cause to conspire against Him (Mark 11:15–18, Luke 19:45–47).
- He created a revolutionary new philosophy and gained a large following among the public (Mark 6:33–44, Mark 8:1–2, Mark 11:18, Luke 19:48).
- He said things that were deemed so blasphemous by the ruling elite that they called for his immediate execution (Luke 4:28–29).
In these actions he challenged the strong hold that the ruling class had on the people, a challenge for which they continuously plotted how to be rid of Him. No doubt He was the most extreme individual that had come among the children of God at that time. He may have been extreme, but one can hardly say that the very Giver of the philosophies of freedom and liberty did not teach and live righteous conservative principles during His life and ministry. May I suggest that our Divine Lord was the ultimate “extremist”?
Am I proposing that we as Latter-day Saints often engage in extreme actions in emulation of the above worthy examples? Of course not. Although many past examples of “extremists” were forced to take extreme actions, they only did so when they were pushed to the point that it was their last and only resort. So it must be with us as modern American Latter-day Saints. We still have an opportunity to take back our government and preserve freedom through peaceful means; those being education, awareness, and political activism. However, just as the above examples have demonstrated, if the time comes that we are left with no other alternative, we ought to be prepared to stop not only at words. If that time comes, we as liberty loving Latter-day Saints should be ready and willing to take the actions necessary to preserve our Constitution, our way of life, and ultimately our liberty! Does saying that make me an extremist?