A Primer on Neo-Fundamentalism

Peter Brown Mormon 28 Comments

There is a fascinating community of—I’ll call them neo-fundamentalist LDS (NFLDS) for now—out there who illuminate a cultural template that I find greatly missing on the Bloggernacle, at least any intellectual variety. Struggling to find my voice on a message board such as this, I have decided to help illuminate more of the fundamental side of LDS culture—not that I am a true believer of any sort—I’m kind of like the George Noory of fundamentalism. I find it fascinating and it prickles my hair follicles, but I wouldn’t say I’m a true believer; more of a hedge-better. Doctrinally or theologically I’m more interested in the apocalyptic and economic side of it, than say, whether a man should have more than one wife. I am finding that my general spiritual interest direction would be characterized as moving that way—so maybe I can be a type of fundamentalist that will help us round out the different voices on this board—although I still consider myself an observer and I’m definitely a strong supporter of our current Apostolic leaders.

Now so that we don’t get confused, the paeleo-fundamentalist separatist types are not those that I’m discussing (FLDS, Apostolic Brethren, etc.). Living in Southern Utah I anti-interact with polygamist sects all over WalMart and Deseret Industries. Culturally they seem more aligned with a closed worldview that doesn’t interpret current events through any modern thoughtful dialectic. If you meet many of them, lifestyle, not orthodoxy, comes to mind, although they are also millenialists in the classic LDS sense and would probably be integrated into the NFLDS society when and if certain futuristic scenarios occur. They are cult-of-personality and isolationist, technology-avoidant types who don’t interest me as much.

Neo-fundamentalism would be similar to the New Order Mormonism you see among liberal cafeteria-style Mormons, albeit of a more reactionary bent. They are stake presidents, bishops, run-of-the-mills, and even exmo and types; the more vocal ones tend to be rural and less educated, thus dismissed as provincial. I was first introduced to this community via my mother-in-law, who is a true believer-albeit with a predilection toward kookiness (another fault is the tendency to attract those who have psychiatric disorders). But I have seen more sane varieties. They align themselves rather loosely through a network of half-baked themes, with the economic, political, and preparedness ones more convincing. They run websites such as

Note: They always have some annoying patriotic midi-file attached to it.

A good exponent of what they believe can be elucidated with these following points:

They believe in a general fallen or hidden state of Priesthood leadership from Salt Lake—although you see many strains of “God withholding his light until the modern cultural church falls apart”, and then God will then “thus saith the Lord” again from the current prophet or new prophet outside the structure. This way they can obey and believe the modern prophet—they just feel like God is limiting his light and truth for now—kind of like living the lower law of Mormonism. Sometimes they comprehend this dichotomy as the fact that we’re in the missionary phase of the Kingdom (post-Manifesto), which supplanted the genesis phase (pre-Manifesto), which will in turn be supplanted by the Kingdom phase after the great calamities come upon our current system. We are currently in what they sometimes call the LDS mini-apostasy.

Neo-fundamentalists are a hard political entity to pin down, although they are anti-war libertarian constitutionalists in general. They seem to hate Republicans as much or more than Democrats—or maybe it’s just whoever is in power. They despise communism, but also attack macro-capitalism, monopolists, and banking entities as well. Indeed, communists and big business are really one in the same side to these guys—a great cabal of international financiers and powerbrokers. They can be so far right that they swing back to the far left as well. If you’ve ever heard of the Nazi Green party, you can see a silly example of this. NFLDS also subscribe to the idea that the modern LDS church is dabbling in the New World Order. They take the Book of Mormon secret combination warnings very literally and use the Alma/Helaman/3 Nephi war chapters an eschatology to study end-times. We are somewhere in Helaman currently.

Preparedness is a house industry: Two years of food, two years of clothes, oil and gas buried in underground tanks, trailers for a quick getaway, and compounds in the remote areas with wells as refuge for remnant saints. They have undefined currency in gold stashed somewhere when our currency collapses, so they can buy and sell without being forced to take the Mark of the Beast. They obsess over alternative energy and off-grid technologies (to their benefit, I should add.) They have their own version of the evangelical “Left Behind” concepts of anti-Christ and the tribulation, albeit a Mormon version. The step-by step eschatology is a futuristic progression that follows:

  1. A new Great Depression, mark of the Beast, one world currency (imminent, like in the next one-to-five years). 2012 is a big year here (Mayan calendar, BOM parallels). The dissolution of America as we know it.
  2. A new World War—World War III that lasts around thirteen months, starts with China, Russia, and Iran, that devolves into a new American civil war. This new war will feature Republicans fighting Democrats (see supposed Joseph Smith vision), red vs. blue state, race vs. race, rich vs. poor. A corresponding war is also the Ezekiel war in Israel, started by Iran and Russia that ends in Israel’s triumph. SeeJohn Taylor vision here and Cardston Temple vision here.
  3. A series of Earthquakes, tsunamis, and fires that alter the continents (Satan is setting up the global warming argument to help explain this and blame America/capitalism for it).
  4. Utah society being destroyed by a series of earthquakes and a great flood. The faithful remnant saints flee to Sanpete County, Utah. Visions, healings, miracles and prophecy skyrocket. Other tent cities and refuge sites pop up close to temples where the faithful flee with their food storage. Some areas are specifically named.
  5. Polygamy and consecration will be re-established at this time. See Isaiah 4:1
  6. After three years (Daniel, Revelations) of hardship the rebuilt constitutionally theocratic Church emerges and many go back to Missouri where it will have been swept clean to build up Jackson County. Jesus second coming begins by appearances at New Jerusalem and Spring Hill, Missouri.
  7. The world will fight against this. Evangelicals will fight against this, still waiting for the Rapture, or upset it hasn’t happened will unite the rest of America to fight against this new Mormon “theocratic” threat-but will not prevail.
  8. The “Lamanites” will come from Central and South America, overwhelming the stricken American continent, and join Zion. The lost Tribes will also appear from the North and come to the New Jerusalem before heading back to Israel.
  9. In the meantime, all the Biblical Revelations Jerusalem stuff is happening-the temple will have built in Jerusalem during or after the big earthquake/tsunami/world war period. The Mormon gospel is now being preached to the Jews and the two prophets appear; Armageddon happens; Jesus on the Mount of Olives appears and saves the Jews from Armageddon.
  10. After a period of time, Jesus comes in glory, and the wicked burn, but no man knows the time or day, etc. etc. of that occurrence.

The eschatological progression is based upon Revelations as historical pre-millennialism with a small mix of post-tribulation millennialism, and relies heavily upon Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. It is also a function of prophecy from the Book of Mormon, D&C, lost dreams and visions from the early prophets, such as the John Taylor vision about the destruction of America, and the George Washington Son of the Republic vision. Other dreams from regular members of the church as well as non-members are used if they fit the template. They allow wide variety of non-orthodox and split-off groups to thrive, including groups such as (I’m not kidding) Baptists for the Book of Mormon, the Church of the Firstborn, and the Baha’i faith. Anyone that accepts prophecy is basically included, as long as the “Thus saith the Lord’s” types of prophecies are accepted. Indeed, the foundation of this movement is that everyone is a proto-prophet.

Neo-fundamentalists believe that the first step in their eschatology is imminent, and have thought so for over 15 years, when you see the first signs of it appearing. The key opener is the George H.W. speech as the signal to begin the New World Order after the success of the Gulf War. You see a corresponding rise in neo-fundamentalism since then. Cleon Skousen is one of their closet founders, and you can hear him espouse NFLDS doctrine from the pulpit of BYU devotionals. Ezra Taft Benson was probably an influence and unbeknownst founder as well until he became prophet, when he moderated. With current events such as the menace of Iran, the dollar failing, gold skyrocketing, the Mexican border failing, a resurgent Russia and growing China, the bankruptcy of the American banking industry, an imminent bad recession, and climate change, their template is surging. A no bigger proponent of neo-fundamentalism than that of LDS radio host Glenn Beck has jumped on the bandwagon. On his national radio program, he details this in his concept of the Perfect Storm. He is an alarmist about the imminence of the “apocalypse” and survives on national television and radio by doing it in a humorous and self-deprecating manner. To put it in perspective, more people hear this Mormon on a daily than all Mormons that listen to Gordon B. Hinckley twice a year; and maybe more Mormons too.

The future of neo-fundamentalism may be limited. It all depends on world events. If Russia’s menace is a paper tiger, or if the Middle East ultimately pacifies, or if China moderates, or if America returns to a more federalist concept, their movement may dissipate. It has a shelf life, and right now, because of current events, they are on the up tick—they’ve even given me pause, one who used to just laugh at them as kooks and conspiracy theorists. With Glenn Beck as an unwitting expounder of their apocalyptic ideals (not theologically, but practically), and with current economic conditions they are strengthening and they are starting to have some real credibility as an LDS subculture.

Here’s an interesting scenario. Say something like a Beck’s Perfect Storm occurs; our infrastructure could shut down overnight. We see things like this in popular culture, and could easily imagine it happening with our global economy. The movies are awash with apocalyptic scenarios; witness the recent I Am Legend (Bird Flu or Smallpox biological attack) or Live Free or Die Hard (infrastructure meltdown). Those ideas of the NFLDS aren’t silly or kooky. They are very practical and realistic according to our modern integrated economy. When the infrastructure shuts down, they go into the next mode and hunker down in their Vermont-like citadels such as in I Am Legend. They establish quasi-governmental entities. The quandary for an unbeliever will be that of a self-fulfilling prophecy versus true destiny. Indeed, even though these things could happen in our society just based on the nihilism of one terrorist action, it would cement in the minds of a Neo-fundamentalist the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even if it isn’t directed by any divine dialectic. It would vindicate a few of these aforementioned prophecies, and reestablish segments of the LDS church that ensconces the political and economic. Intellectualism would give way to mysticism and theocracy as it did in the old days, thus neo-fundamentalism.

Fundamentalists of all strains largely ignore the intellectual-discursive elements of Mormonism. Sound reason and logic may be all well and good, but fate is the ultimate arbiter of truth, so they are content to wait and let the intellectuals, ideologues, and pragmatists hash it out. They are content to preach and discuss in self-vindicating circles. They will either be proven or they will not by futurist-history. My next post will be about the historical ebb and flow of this sort of fundamentalism, because it has existed many times before, and has failed many times before. What makes this new millenialist fervor different?

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Comments 28

  1. That is a fascinating, and disturbing, post.

    I actually grew up in the ward Mr. Skousen lived in. As a kid, though, I had no idea this guy was the author of “The Naked Communist” and “The Naked Capitalist,” or the author of crackpot LDS theology (the “thousand years” series). He was always just the older guy who said “Amen” to every talk and prayer really loudly and bore his testimony monthly.

    It’s really interesting to me, as a liberal, that there seems to be more suspicion among LDS about liberals and Democrats than there is about this sort of far-right wing ideology…

  2. Skousen’s grandson was in my mission and somehow we ended up going to school together at BYU-H. He was a little eccentric but was all in all a good guy. As for Skousen’s theology, I was a big fan on my mission but have since moved beyond JFSjr. and the BRM perspective. In fact other then the scriptures I don’t read much LDS theology. I agree with Andrew. I am really suspicious of the far-right and their agenda.

  3. Peter,

    WOW…your post is amazing!! I can definitely see that my political and faith position have partially alligned to your “neo-fundamentalist” view of Mormonism though I would hardly define myself as a pure neo-fundamentalist according to your definition.

    I once heard Naomi Klein speak and she said, “The future will either be like ‘The Jetsons’ or like ‘Children of Men’. She seemed to suggest that it would be like ‘Children of Men’. I do not attempt to predict the future of eschatology as your Neofundamentalists do and shy away somewhat from using scripture.(Though I think the idea of the Constitution of America hanging by a thread is a truism in our day…see my coming essay in The Mormon Worker) and would not consider myself a pure “conspiracy theorist” though I believe in a conspiratorial powerful elite as demonstrated by my future essay in The Mormon Worker on the White House Coup d’etat by Fascist bankers and J.P. Morgan of 1933.. However, I align myself with the likes of Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Rudolph Rocker. Pragmatic moralists!

    Though I cant stand Glenn Beck I enjoy Benson and see Skousen’s Naked Capitalist as being fairly accurate…though I think the elites of power are driven by greed more then a desire for secrets. But I think only an ignoramous would deny, after studying the information, that there HAS NOT been a revolution of the super rich over the last 50 years!

    As I can partially empathize with what you have talked about I will attempt to pose some answers to your question.This was my story.

    I think the internet is an invaluable source for this “new millenialist” group of Mormons. I think these “New Order Mormons” are starting to learn the “truth”…and thus become disillusioned with the orthodox historical narrative of the church..yet they decide to remain. With mysekf..I have not only become disillusioned with the historical narrative of the church but also with the morality and efficacy of world government to care for its populous. I am not proud of certain aspects of church history and definitely not proud of my state or any state…I have specific vitriol for the hoarding elites of the Anglo-American economic aristocracy who are pushing turbo-capitalism!

    When we cross this paradigm of “Mormon truth seekers” with the paradigm of a growing proportion of the cerebrally-stimulated internet users and perspicacious young moralists (who have also been disillusioned with their government through the Iraq War and have enquired as to why we went to war in the first place) we get a select group of people within the church who seek HONESTY…whilst maintaining their hopefullness in Christ.

    So in answer to your question I think it differs due to:
    -The internet
    -Increased Knowledge of actual church history
    -Increased knowledge of political history

    What are prophets anyways? In my mind they are enlightened intellectuals. Just as Jeremiah warned of the destruction of a self-certain and wicked people, and was right…we are also listening to the honest warning of intellectuals and political/economic insiders…who will also be right whether it takes a hundred years or so…

    Do you see yourself as a neo-fundamentalist?

  4. Bo Gritz’s California campaign manager was in my childhood ward and we had our share of apocalypticism. Skousen’s Freemen Institute organized Constitutionalist study groups in our area, and I seem to recall some connection between them in 1992-1993 and a group of NFLDS who were gathering to Duck Creek near Cedar City to await fulfillment of end-times prophecy. It was said a General Authority from the Area Presidency came down to straighten things out. People in the stake were apparently abandoning their homes and leaving for southern Utah!

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    Author

    I do NOT see myself as a neo-fundamentalist–yet. I think I am oversensitive to their doctrines because of current events. I am buying food storage and getting out of debt right now. The Dow is not helping matters. If I was a betting person–from a purely intellectual standpoint–I would now bet that our United States is trending toward breakup, and the Church will respon to the reality by becoming a constitutional theocracy–as Brigham-Woodruff et. all have prophecied/predicted all along. It could vindicate those that believed the post-Manifesto church was flirting with mainstreaming-be it God-inspired or not-and constituted the expansionist phase only

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    “It’s really interesting to me, as a liberal, that there seems to be more suspicion among LDS about liberals and Democrats than there is about this sort of far-right wing ideology…??

    The suspician is based upon liberals being closet espousers of a one-world government–be neo-conservative Wilsonians are even more desipsed. The political elements of neo-fundamentalism are fairly confederate and self-governing, almost anarchic. FLDS also see post 1968 political ideology as an increasing schism meant to tear people apart and creat a modern civil war–divide and conquer–to the bankers, financiers, and collectivists–all power brokers more than ideologues anyway.

    A good indicater to see if someone is NFLD in your LDS sphere of influence–is he or she voting for Ron Paul?

  7. After reading Super Nerd’s post from yesterday, I am deeply disappointed that Bigfoot and the Three Nephites do not play a more prominent role in NFLDS theology. However, they do mention the Lost Ten Tribes, so I guess 1 for 3 ain’t so bad.

  8. I first became aware of GreaterThings.com and Sterling Allen several years ago on Slashdot.org of all places. Sterling had become taken up in a scam involving a perpetual motion Delorean that was being demonstrated at the Indianapolis Speedway. In reading his coverage of the Delorean I noticed his links to the GreaterThings website. A little googling and I found a discussion between him and another gentleman in which each was asserting that they were “the one mighty and strong” which upon a bit more investigation seemed to imply that each thought themselves to be the incarnation of God the Father. At the time Sterling was living in Manti, home of many wackos. More recently he’s been in Eagle Mountain, where even the mayors are all wacko.

    In any case what appears to be some sort of mental disorder to one is religion to another.

  9. Interesting Peter…it seems that there are a fair number of these espousers of Ron Paul in Nevada and Louisiana. lol

    An an anarchosyndicalist I can relate to some things you have proposed but I would hardly adopt all that you have labeled a neofundamentalist Mormon with as my “ideological tenants.”

    Nonetheless, I would be very careful to tarnish all Mormons who vote for Ron Paul (or even espouse similar ideology as you have suggested) with the NFLDS brush.

  10. These folks scare the heck out of me! Some of them are in the “Need guns to kill anyone who tries to steal our food” camp. I think the ideas are very interesting with regard to the end times, but the extreme positions give me the “willys.”

  11. Yeah, people of this bent kind of freak me out too.

    It’s not that I don’t think natural calamities or human-created destruction (war, disease, financial collapse) are not a threat to the earth or our civilization, it just makes me nervous when such threats are packaged with past or future prophetic revelation, “signs of the times,” and the very vague/metaphoric writing in books (i.e. the bible, etc.). It just feels so slippery, so open to interpretation, and so easy to manipulate to one’s advantage.

    If Harry Potter, or the writings of Virgil or Homer, were reverenced the same way Christians reverence the Bible, or Scientologists reverence the Sci-Fi novels of L. Ron Hubbard, or NFLDS reverence the remarks of John Taylor, I have no doubt one could ferret out enough spine-tingling connections to events past, present, and future to convince one of his convictions, or to justify who knows what. For example, I’m worried some of this could be self-fulfilling.

    So I’m all for preparedness and awareness of all that threatens the earth and our civilization, but must we connect it to the ambiguous utterances of men who lived hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, or the apocalyptic dreams and visions of men who live today? These writings/sayings/visions can literally mean anything you want them to mean. With the stakes as high as they are, I’m in favor of keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground where the literal and the rational reign.

    As for fringe Mormon groups and looking to the future, I find the Mormon Transhumanists much more intriguing:

    http://transfigurism.org/community/

  12. Wow…Mormon transhumanism…very interesting…

    Matt,

    I have pointed in a post above to “prophets” being intellectuals. I think there are many professors and professionals who have and are warning us similar to how Jeremiah and Isaiah warned Israel. These modern professionals dont have “visions” but do use objective theories and probabilities that support their words.

    I did a presentation on Avian Flu for one of my medical classes and was rather shocked as to how often and frequently flu pandemics have hit society. From a purely statistical medical standpoint, we are overdue for a flu pandemic.

    Similar fears are posed over Global Warming etc. We must not live in fear but should live in preparedness and sustainability as you have rightly said. But the question of whether society is sustainable is another one entirely.

  13. Stephen, if we want to call the professors, scientists, and other professionals who warn us of future natural or man-made calamaties “prophets,” then fine by me. They may be performing the same role as Jeremiah and Isaiah, but they are competing for airtime with numerologists, a.m. radio personalities, and other conspiracy theorists. Makes me nervous.

    So, unless I’m missing something, the NFLDS seem to be more partial to the non-professional opinions of the Cleon Skousens and Glenn Becks, to say nothing of the decidedly non-professional views of the long-dead Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John Taylor.

    This says it best: “…it would cement in the minds of a Neo-fundamentalist the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even if it isn’t directed by any divine dialectic. It would vindicate a few of these aforementioned prophecies, and reestablish segments of the LDS church that ensconces the political and economic. Intellectualism would give way to mysticism and theocracy as it did in the old days, thus neo-fundamentalism.”

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    “An an anarchosyndicalist I can relate to some things you have proposed but I would hardly adopt all that you have labeled a neofundamentalist Mormon with as my “ideological tenants.”

    Nonetheless, I would be very careful to tarnish all Mormons who vote for Ron Paul (or even espouse similar ideology as you have suggested) with the NFLDS brush.”

    Well said. Being I live in Southern Utah and drive by ranches in Paragonah with these sheet signs, I am paiting with a rather broad brush, but its broad to my provincial area.

  16. Though I cannot even spell “eschatology”, I suppose there is a lot of room for diversity of opinion. The basics we teach in Primary appeal more to me.

    As near as I can determine, Church policy officially declines to approve of terms like “Mormon fundamentalist”. Church officials occasionally speak out to correct media articles which employ such terms. I think the implication is that any kind of apostate schism is not a “branch” from the true Church, and deserves no kind of recognition simply by association or through any other source.

  17. Jim,

    I think that “implication” is laughable. Fundamentalist share the same history up through the administration of Joseph F. Smith. At that point, we were seperated for not changing our covenants, ordinances, and doctrine. We also trace our priesthood lineage back to Christ, through the prophet Joseph Smith. Our testimony of the Book of Mormon is just as strong as any member of the corporate church. The early leaders of our church were considered Mormon, such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor, and we hold to the very same gospel they taught. Are we to believe that because some “Mormons” refused to reject the fulness of the gospel that they can no longer be called “Mormon”? Not to mention, the mainstream LDS church has distanced itself from the term ‘Mormon’. This is from the Newsroom at LDS.org, “While the term “Mormon Church” has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use.”

    We, the fundamentalist, don’t discourage it’s use. Gordon B. Hinckley may say that there’s no such thing as a “Mormon Fundamentalist”, but yet……here I am!

  18. Fascinating stuff. If only John D. had not mothballed Mormon Stories. I’d love to hear him interview a Neofundamentalist-Who-Isn’t-Cleon Skousen. That would be great. Thanks for this post. I think just about every ward has at least one of these folks in it.

  19. Ok. Gordon B. Hinckley said there is no such thing as mormon fundamentalism. He was right. All saints are required to live the fundamentals. You follow the Prophet. If he gets it wrong he will be responsible to the Lord. Of course there will be apostasy within the church. Wickedness is everywhere. How many members are true believers in Christ? How many saints are pure and holy? How many are living a double life? How many are porn addicts and carnal, sensual and devilish? The Lord gives and the Lord also takes away but the church and gospel will remain. The choice Wilford Woodruff faced was to continue living the fulness and see the church destroyed or sacrifice certain practices and have the church remain? He made the right choice. There wouldnt be an LDS church now if he hadn’t. Cleon Skousen was a mainstream faithful member of the church. His work teaching constitutional principles was outside of the LDS church structure but on the recommendation of Pres. David O. McKay. He served in the FBI and worked with J. Edgar Hoover. He was well aware of what was happening behind the scenes in the US government. His book the ‘Naked Capitalist’is nothing more than a review of Carroll Quigley’s ‘Tragedy and Hope’. Dr. Quigley, a scholar and an insider, revealed the intentions of the Worlds Banking Elite to have a one world government. If these things are new or strange to you its because YOU are unfamiliar with scripture, gospel teachings and the statements of church presidents past and present. This isnt fundamentalism, neo or otherwise; this is the LDS gospel!

  20. This quote is from the LDS Church website. This quote is from the Ensign magazine, November 1988. ‘I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. (See D&C 1:14–16; D&C 84:49–53.) It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world. (See Ether 8:18–25.)’

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