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Image: LaVoy Finicum / CC BY 3.0

Editor’s note: For a definition of “theo-con,” read part one of Chris Zinda’s two-part “The 50-year leap” series, “Of Theo-Constitutionalists and Theme Parks.”

With visions of “storm clouds gathering,” LaVoy Finicum portends his decisional fate, quoting Ezra Taft Benson:

“[Benson] asked that question, ‘Is it morally wrong to resist tyranny?’ Then he answered his own question by saying, ‘With all the fervor of my soul, I believe that God intended man to be free.’ And, he went on to say that, ‘Rebellion against tyranny, is a righteous cause.’ So, there ya have it. That is exactly how I feel.”

LaVoy Finicum was a fundamentalist theo-con indoctrinated by both his church and the tri-state Skousen echo chamber in which he lived, known as Deseret’s Dixie. Given the number of LDS actors involved in the Sagebrush Rebellion, he was not alone.

Enabling echo chamber

The LDS Church had its own political party in the late 19th century, the People’s Party, whose candidates were “called to serve.” The party was in response to the Liberal Party composed of non-Mormons. As a condition of Utah’s statehood, the LDS Church and the Liberal Party agreed to disband, with the Church encouraging members to join both major national parties and not formally taking a position.

Slowly, theo-cons evolved into a mostly right-wing lot, and it is no secret that Utah is an overwhelmingly Republican state.

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Libertas Institute logo

Connor Boyack, president of the purity test group the Libertas Institute and a graduate of the soon-to-be-defunct Wythe University, goes so far as to question whether a Mormon is “Temple worthy” if he or she is a Democrat. Firmly part of and indoctrinated by the Cleon W. Skousen marketing racket, Boyack is a prolific writer with many theo-con books under his belt. Of course, he holds speaking engagements and seminars, such as the Libertas-sponsored third annual Liberty Forum to be held May 7, complete with Koch FreedomWorks and Tea Party activist Matt Kibbe.

However, there is a political party that speaks to and advocates for the fundamentalist theo-con purists and their brand of originalist thought so that they do not need to ideologically succumb to the lesser of two evils politic.

The Independent American Party is the current political party of these fundamentalists. Closely aligning themselves with the larger Constitution Party, they share a core of theo-constitutional beliefs.

Along with a divinely inspired Constitution and the rights contained within, natural law is a core principle of fundamentalist theo-cons. It was a consistent part of LaVoy Finicum’s stump speech. Natural law is a complex subject, with even Bert Smith’s National Center for Constitutional Studies having its own interpretation.

Complete with a flag-themed cowboy hat, fundamentalist sagebrush rebel Shawna Cox describes her version during a speech for the IAP while hawking her book, “Last Rancher Standing: The Cliven Bundy Story a Close Up View”:

—You were there first.

—You claim a right and use it.

—You defend it.

In Deseret’s Dixie, never mind the natives.

Federal Election Commission submissions indicate Smith was a supporter of both the Constitution Party and the IAP. Theo-con theme park dreamer Bill Doughty is also an IAP contributor. Bert helped fund LDS and former IAP member Sharon Angle who unsuccessfully ran for the Nevada Senate seat held by Sen. Harry Reid (also LDS). Cliven Bundy is an outspoken member, and so is the mayor of Mesquite. The party, a split from the racist George Wallace American Independent Party, began in Utah and is Nevada’s third-largest political party.

Beyond electoral minor party politics, the fundamentalist echo chamber in Dixie extends to the a.m. “hate with love” radio circuit with hosts who have their own ties to the theo-con racket.

The most obvious are Glenn Beck and The Blaze. Alexander Zaitchik, author of “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance,” said,

“Beck basically incorporated elements of each of Skousen’s three incarnations: hysterical lying paranoid red-baiter, New World Order conspiracist, and finally Christian Constitutionalist. If you look at what Skousen and some of the other right-wing Mormons from the last century were saying, guys like Ezra Taft Benson, you realize that Beck has revived their crusades and updated their mission, almost note for note.”

KZNU-St. George and The Blaze talk show host Kate Hefley Dalley is one who has locally helped revive the crusade. Dalley is the afternoon slot and appears to be the one who manages the IAP twitter account that reposts links to her theo-con themed and archived shows that are not retweets and are from a first-person perspective. She recently dropped The Independent’s Dallas Hyland, the only “liberal” recurring guest, in favor of the theo-con and pseudo-constitutional attorney for the sagebrush rebels Kris Anne Hall.

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Hyde and Dalley on KZNU. Image: Fox News 1450AM 93.1FM / CC BY 3.0

Another is KDXU host Bryan Hyde, a theo-con talk radio host who appears opposite Dalley in the afternoon in the very same market. Ironically, they once co-hosted a show. In a sense, they still do. Hyde is a Wythe graduate and a faculty member at embattled Monticello College. He was a keynote speaker at the recent 2016 National Constitution Party Convention held in Salt Lake City.

Hyde interviewed Finicum multiple times prior to Malheur and promoted Finicum’s stand and works, and it was with Hyde that Finicum met to be interviewed when he left the Malheur occupation on January 13At the same time, Finicum also met with now-resigned Iron County Commissioner David Miller who worked together with Hyde and the rest of the posse of southern Utah county commissioners to pull off the theo-con tax-funded Western Freedom Festival that crashed and burned in Cedar City last October.

Since the fall of Malheur, Hyde has had Cox on his show and consistently peddles the Bundy and Finicum families’ rebranding and fundraising. This occurred most recently at an April 15 engagement at the Cedar City Kimber Academy, with Guy and Tean Finicum speaking, designed for the youth and to fundraise for the families of all those charged in both the 2014 and 2016 standoffs.

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Image: Defending Utah Radio / CC BY 3.0

Another mouthpiece is AM radio station KTKK’s host Cherilyn Bacon Eagar. Described as “Utah’s Sarah Palin,” former U.S. Senate candidate Eagar is associated with the radical theo-con and John Birch Society-supporting Defending Utah, an organization that is so radical that it believes snake-oil salesman Rep. Ken Ivory and big bully Rep. Mike Noel are enemies. Both KTKK and Defending Utah are at their cores LDS religious propaganda organizations and share personnel, like Ben McClintock (a pseudonym) and Enoch Moore. With Eagar, they call themselves The Liberty Lineup.

Eagar is shameless in her self-promotion, inserting herself in the Malheur standoff by traveling to the refuge with the Utah entourage in early January. She attended the January 23 Cedar Storm Over Rangelands workshop, using her media skills to work with attorney Todd MacFarlane to encourage ranchers to sign a pledge and renounce their grazing permits. She is currently the spokesperson for the Finicum family, crowdsourcing to fund her travels.

From businessmen to beggars, the racket is extensive and deep.

The Kingmen fund and operate a wide variety of theo-con organizations and mouthpieces designed to indoctrinate and mobilize individuals for their causes while the Freemen learned and promote their own Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, books, and seminars. Freemen then act on their indoctrinated conviction, either die or go to jail, then sell belt buckles and crowdsource using signed Skousen Constitutions for their legal defense and to feed their spouses and children who are left homeless while they sit in prison.

Sagebrush rebels

Not to discount personal choice and resultant accountability, the citizens of Deseret involved in both of the Bundy affairs are, in a sense, victims of the echo chambers in which they live. They are constantly bombarded by a hydra-like propaganda racket that includes a variety of media and formats in which everyone is encouraged to engage, constantly pressing the boundaries of co-mingling the philosophies of men with LDS scripture.

Like any religion, there are varying degrees of belief. However, the Mormon faith believes in individual direct revelation or being “moved by the spirit.” This means there are a number of unofficial factions based on a particular leader’s interpretation.

For example, and as everyone has come to know, Finicum wrote his own apocalyptic theo-con revelation, “Of Blood and Suffering,” that included a character that “crossed the Rubicon” to defend “tyranny.”

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The Nay Book, the revelatory playbook of the Bundys.

Many people do not know that Cliven Bundy, along with his former neighbor Keith Nay, self-published a book titled “Nay Book” that is a combination of LDS theology and Skousen constitutional theory.  Written in the late 1990s, it is the revelatory playbook that Cliven used in 2014 in Bunkerville and that his sons used in Malheur in 2016. It is a vivid example of how his 1950s–80s John Birch Society/Skousen indoctrination formulated his adulthood opinions that have since been passed on to his posterity and beyond.

Like “false prophet” Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, one can argue that Cliven Bundy has become a kind of leader of his own militant fundamentalist sect, complete with the threat of using guns to defend the Constitution that they believe is hanging by a thread. His sons, Finicum, Shawna Cox, and many others were following his revealed direction.

Thankfully, having learned from being unwitting gentiles at Bunkerville — as Skousen and Benson suggest — the non-Mormon Oath Keepers seemed to have learned a lesson and chose to stay out of Malheur.

Plea to the church

After the official pronouncements denouncing the fundamentalists at Malheur, some of the LDS contingent — Wes Kjar, Todd MacFarlane, and John Pratt — directly appealed to the LDS Church in Salt Lake City after a midnight run across Idaho and Nevada with a journalist during the second week of the standoff. With descriptions of FBI vans and an unwilling Church, the group was able to gain access with Pratt’s trump card of his father and Skousen associate, Stephen Pratt, to appeal to the LDS Church to change its position and to come to the aid of the Freemen at Malheur. They failed.

Ammon Bundy believes in the cause in which he has been indoctrinated and must have been quite disappointed with the official response from the LDS Church, expecting that he was Ammon of Mormon lore. No doubt the Church, with its official pronouncement, crushed Bundy greatly, as he expected he was not only doing the Lord’s work but the Church’s work as well.

Over 20 LDS members were directly involved or tied to Malheur — dozens when you include the 2014 Bunkerville standoff — and it is no secret that doctrine was and is being used to justify their actions.

Benson and the LDS contingent involved with the John Birch Society were admonished by the LDS Church for using Mormon theology and facilities to support their tenants, with Benson and McKay ascending to prophethood.

Skousen and the Freemen were admonished for using Church facilities to promote their theo-con indoctrination racket. Although Cleon’s racket made a mess of things, his programs were not only embraced but continue to shape theo-con organizations and the individuals they were meant to affect.

More recently, the fundamentalist theo-cons and the Bundy seditionists were admonished by the LDS Church early in the Malheur occupation. If history is precedent, I do not see it taking action against any of these fundamentalist theo-con players either.

Current LDS prophet and president Thomas Monson was a Freeman and helped Skousen publish “The Naked Communist.” Monson was promoted by President McKay to become an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1963. When Benson was Church president, Monson ascended to Second Counselor in the First Presidency in 1985 and finally became president himself in 2008.

In this observer’s view, it appears as the LDS Church stretches the truth regarding conspiratorial anti-communists and fundamentalist theo-cons as excommunications appear reserved for embarrassing polygamists, upstart academics, and LGBT people and their families, not for radical fundamentalist theo-cons and militant sagebrush rebels who are the foot soldiers in a war for sovereignty and ascension to their “rightful” place.

The Utah players in the Sagebrush Rebellion are a generation or two removed from the inception of McKay, Benson, and Skousen’s official LDS master plan — and the 50-year leap has paid dividends.

Beyond affecting the behavior of the Bundys and their followers, the Utah political elites are also infected, from former Freeman Orrin Hatch who associated with Skousen to Reps. Bob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, who once hobnobbed with and begged for Bert’s money while headlining one of his many “Freedom Conferences,” all pushing his public lands transfer agenda at the federal level to “return” them to the State of Deseret using the rhetoric of the fundamentalist theo-cons to incite electoral support for their sovereign theo-con goals while absolving themselves of enabling.

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Utah County Commissioners who describe themselves as The Posse, photo by Chris Zinda

On the heels of the Bundy and Finicum affairs is the next wave of ranchers — based in Utah — who are preparing for a federal confrontation, having pledged to renounce their grazing permits and stop paying their fees. They have inciting attorneys, “Constitutional Sheriffs” willing to form citizen militias, and county commissioners who grandiosely call themselves The Posse, rumbling that they will back them when the time comes.  

The stage is set.

This uniquely American religion currently contains a remnant of fundamentalist militants that should be considered an American separatist movement as they use established doctrine to justify their reclaiming of the United States combined with a divinely inspired Constitution that contains the Second Amendment. In this way, radical constitutionalist believers are very much like any other theologically driven separatist movement around the world.

The fundamentalist danger to the nation and to the personal safety of its citizens should be seen as such by the leaders and general membership of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who can illustrate their moral commitment of admonishment by excommunicating them.

The world never needed avenging angels like Porter Rockwell or enabled martyrs like LaVoy Finicum.

Make it stop.

Part one: Of Theo-Constitutionalists and Theme Parks

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