Imagine if, in 2000 when Joe Lieberman was running on the presidential ticket with Al Gore, his opponents George W. Bush and Dick Cheney walked around saying a variation of the following: “Lieberman is only winning New York because of all the Jews in the state.” Or if his supporters were all written off as just members of the “Jewish mafia.”
Outside of the fact that they would have been untrue, such statements would have also been widely condemned as anti-Semitic. The media would have been all over them, as they have been about anti-Semitism this cycle (although that’s because the accused, Donald Trump, has an R after his name this year).
This election season we’ve heard a great deal about charges of anti-Semitism, both quite real and exaggerated, against both Trump, his campaign surrogates, and his supporters. The Jewish community is justifiably quite sensitive to anti-Semitism—being the victims of a millennia of hatred and the most deadly genocide in human history has a way of doing that to a people.
Imagine, then, the reaction from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization whose entire objective is identifying and stamping out anti-Semitism, if what has been said about independent candidate Evan McMullin and Mormons had been said about a Jewish candidate. The media and the public has been sensitive to Team Trump’s attacks against one religious group, but has barely batted an eye at another.
Religious Slurs Should Be Off the Table
With McMullin and his running mate Mindy Finn poised to make history in McMullin’s home state of Utah, potentially winning electoral votes as independents for the first time since 1964, the Trump campaign is suddenly paying attention to the former safe state. Before the upheaval of 2016, it would have been unthinkable for any campaign to visit the formerly deep red state in the two weeks before the election.
Yet last week Trump running mate Mike Pence made an appearance to shore up support. Trump himself has taken aim at McMullin as well, claiming the former undercover CIA agent is a “puppet” of fellow Mormon politician Mitt Romney. Trump supporter Lou Dobbs also used the description “puppet” while deeming McMullin a member of the “Mormon mafia.”
On Sunday afternoon Pax Dickinson, a high-profile supporter of Trump and reportedly one of his researchers (at least according to Dickinson and his widely reviled business partner Charles Johnson) opened fire on not just McMullin, but Mormons in general. He tweeted:
America hasn't boasted a popular movement favoring genocide of Mormons for well over a century but @Evan_McMullin is working to change that.
— Pax Dickinson ♔ (@paxdickinson) October 30, 2016
Mormon hatred is nothing new. We saw it in 2012 countless times from the Left against Romney, as his faith and misrepresentations of it came under fire from those who would stop at nothing to reelect President Barack Obama. Denouncements or warning cries of hatred never spring up then, and we aren’t seeing them now either.
Yes, Mormons’ History Includes Bloodshed
Many of the criticisms lobbed at Mormon politicians centers around the religion’s “weird” quotient, which some see as perfectly acceptable to mock, even while doing the same to Judaism or Islam would be called out for bigotry. Why is it, then, that we don’t take Mormon hatred nearly as seriously as anti-Semitism, and why do we think it’s funny to poke fun at just this one religion? Is it because more people are aware that hatred against the Jewish people has led to death and violence, and not aware of a similar history for Mormons?
Unfortunately few Americans know the history of the first decades of the Mormon Church, which involves a great deal of bloodshed. That should be considered a stain on early American history. In fact, it caused members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which began near my hometown of Palmyra, New York, to pick up en masse and move to Utah.
For a time, adherents of the faith settled in Illinois with their founder, Joseph Smith. Smith’s murder at the hands of an anti-Mormon mob led his successor Brigham Young to set out on a wagon trail away from the territories of the United States where practitioners of this young faith could practice in safety and freedom. Not until almost 50 years later did Utah become a state.
Smith’s murder was the final straw for his followers to make the arduous westward trek, but was far from the first incident involving violence against the group. On October 30, 1838, 178 years before Pax Dickinson tweeted about a “Mormoncaust” against those voting for McMullin, an incident later called the “Haun’s Mill Massacre” took place in Missouri. The Mormon University BYU (named for Young), writes on its significance and expounds on its brutality:
Segments of the Missouri militia attacked a settlement of Latter-day Saints at Jacob Haun’s mill, located on Shoal Creek in eastern Caldwell County, Missouri. Because the attack was unprovoked in a time of truce, had no specific authorization, and was made by a vastly superior force with unusual brutality, it has come to be known as “The Haun’s Mill Massacre.” It was one incident in the conflict between the Missourians and the Latter-day Saints that resulted in the LDS expulsion from the state in 1839.
Seventeen Latter-day Saints and one friendly non-Mormon were killed. Another thirteen were wounded, including one woman and a seven-year-old boy. No Missouri militiamen were killed, though three were wounded. Certain deaths were particularly offensive to the Saints. Seventy-eight-year-old Thomas McBride surrendered his musket to militiaman Jacob Rogers, who shot him, then hacked his body with a corn knife. William Reynolds discovered ten-year-old Sardius Smith hiding under the bellows and blew the top of the child’s head off.
No Double Standards for Bigotry
This is just one of many such examples of anti-Mormon bigotry leading to murder and other serious forms of violence in American history. Mormon history is littered with stories as violent as this. Like Jews and African-Americans and other historic targets of religious- and ethnic-inspired violence, Mormons’ history makes it very clear hatred against them often isn’t words, and polite society should be sensitive to that, just as it rightly is for many other peoples.
Jeers about the “Mormon mafia” need to be called out, as does the vicious mocking that would be deemed bigotry if directed against any other ethnic or religious group. It’s not okay to have a double standard for what’s acceptable for some people and not for others.
There’s a joke among Jews that all of our holidays are basically a celebration of the fact that a group of people at some point in history tried to kill us, but they didn’t, so let’s eat. While anti-Mormon sentiment hasn’t been around nearly as long, nor has it been nearly as deadly in terms of percentages, there have been plenty of instances in which anti-Mormon hatred has spilled into bloodshed historically.
For some time in progressive circles it’s been en vogue to frame American history to put it and our founders in the worst light possible. Because of Mormons’ religious convictions, however, few who see American history in a negative light pay any mind to the Mormon Church’s tragic history, which is the only major religion to form on American soil. The Mormon Church shouldn’t have to form its own version of the ADL in order to force the media and the American public to take threats against its members seriously.
Unfortunately it appears nothing, not even overt insults and threats from figures connected to an already reviled presidential campaign, will convince us that our Mormon brothers and sisters are equally deserving of respect and protection.