Bringing Out The Delusional

Jeff BreinholtMormon 13 Comments

As I am hardly the model of mental health myself, I am generally loathe to describe others as crazy. However, one cannot read all of the American court opinions involving the Mormon Church – as I have been doing over the last year or so – without being struck by how many of them involve individuals who seem a little off. Judging just by the four corners of the written opinions, either these people have problems, or they are getting advice from some very bad lawyers. It raises the question that might be difficult for some Mormons to face: does the LDS Church bring out the delusional is some people who might be predisposed to such syndromes? If so, because these are such sad stories, how can it be prevented?

Let’s start outside of the Mormon enclaves of Utah and other parts of the west, where there is less basis to be paranoid about the power of the LDS Church.

First, let’s go to Minnesota. A man named John Anderson became obsessed with the Mormon Church and Marie Osmond. He claimed to be Jesus, and that the public library was bugged. His sister successfully commissioned for his mental commitment [1]. A man named Ted Zimba experienced a similar fate. He claimed at his commitment hearing that he was a Mormon and had three wives, though he alternatively claimed to be an African-American woman [2]. A man named Neng Por Yang filed a rambling complaint which alleged a conspiracy between the Mormon Church and the federal government, with the Mormons falsifying “information against Plaintiff with the US Federal Government by means of corrupted, dirty undercover work … without an end to the falseness of the conspiracies”[3].

Now let’s move eastward to Philadelphia. Leslie Ann Kelly alleged a conspiracy to steal her property involving the Catholic and Mormon Churches [4]. Darlene Schmidt brought a lawsuit which alleged that members of the LDS Church were minions of the devil and in cahoots with the State of Utah to violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. She sought one billion dollars in damages from the Church, and a requirement that all Mormons be branded on their foreheads and hands [5]. A few years later, she filed another similar lawsuit in South Carolina [6].

Moving back to the Midwest, Mark Sato filed a lawsuit in Chicago which alleged treason by Presidents Bush and Clinton and a conspiracy involving the Mossad, Fidel Castro, the British Masons and high officials in the Mormon Church [7].

Ready to move back to the western enclaves of Mormondom? After all, we are just getting started.

In Idaho, Detsel J. Parkinson filed a lawsuit in which he claimed that the IRS was involved in a grand Mormon conspiracy [8]. John Bach sued a number of people for defamation and conspiracy, prominently mentioning their Mormon membership [9]. From Arizona, a woman named Leda O’Brien sued the Department of Justice and the LDS Mormon Church along with several well-known celebrities – Barbara Bush, Ted Kennedy, Andy Williams, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, and others – alleging harassment by them [10]. Next door in New Mexico, a man named Alexander Shapolia alleged that the Mormon Church and the federal government were conspiring to allow the Mormons to take over Los Alamos National Laboratory [11].

Now back to Utah. In 1980, an IRS employee in Ogden alleged a conspiracy between the Mormon Church and the City of Roy to confiscate her property [12]. There were several other lawsuits in Utah (and one in Nevada) like this against the Church and its officials which were dismissed without much elaboration [13].

The Utah courts have handled some real pros when it comes to vexatious litigation in the last few years. Aaron Raiser filed a lawsuit against the LDS Church and BYU, claiming they had illegally leaked his psychiatric history [14]. He went so far as to seek recusal of the judge who dismissed his action [15]. He was eventually placed on the list of restricted filers, meaning the courts got fed up with him [16]. Lester Jon Ruston of Massachusetts claimed in his action that the Mormon Church was trying to torture and murder him, destroy his small business, and brainwash him [17]. Stephen Shane Vance filed a lawsuit asking for control over the Mormon Church “so that me, Jesus Christ” could establish world peace [18]. Frank G. Fox, a Louisiana resident, filed a lawsuit in Utah claiming that the citizens of Texas and the Mormon Church were threatening him. His lawsuit alleged that Henry B. Eyring was communicating with him by phone and computer, and asked the Mormon Church to intercede [19]. A Utah convict named Bojidar George Bakalov filed a habeas corpus petition which claimed that the Utah state judges entered into a Mormon conspiracy with the Utah Governor, United States Senators, the state prosecutor, and a University of Utah professor to convict him [20]. Are these cases slowing down? Just last month, a court issued an opinion in a case involving Roland Cooke, who filed a lawsuit claiming that the Mormon Church and the FBI conspired to steal his house [21].

This phenomenon seems unique to Mormonism, when compared with similar faiths, though it’s not a complete monopoly. It is more a matter of extent. The Adventist have had a few of these [21], as have the Jehovah’s Witnesses [23]. Neither, however, seems to bring paranoia out of the woodwork as much as the LDS Church. Then again, neither have geographic enclaves they seem to control (though I bet it is fairly hard to get a pork sandwich in Loma Linda, California on a Saturday).

Overall, these are sad cases, indeed. Why do they happen? Is there anything the LDS Church can do to avoid engendering such animosity? Doubtful. As I have written elsewhere, the Mormons have, for better or worse, become The Man. Burdens come with benefits.

(Yes, it did occur to me that merely writing this article would open me up to some vindictive lawsuits. After some reflection, I decided that if someone gets sued for shining light on this problem, it might as well be someone who can represent himself. Besides, I have no assets ….).

[1] Matter of Anderson, 367 N.W.2d 107 (Minn.App. 1985).

[2] Zimba v. Goodno, 2004 WL 2340219 (Minn.App. 2004).

[3] Neng Por Yang v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2007 WL 465390 (D.Minn. 2007).

[4] Kelly v. Walker, 2003 WL 22797332 (E.D.Pa. 2003).

[5] Schmidt v. State of Utah, 1990 WL 74255 (E.D.Pa. 1990)

[6] Schmidt v. State of Utah, 960 F.2d 146 (4th Cir. 1992).

[7] Sato v. Plunkett, 154 F.R.D. 189 (N.D.Ill. 1994)

[8] Parkinson v. U.S., 175 F.Supp.2d 1233 (D.Id. 2001)

[9] Bach v. Teton County, 2002 WL 1987317 (D.Id. 2002).

[10] O’Brien v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 76 F.3d 387 (9th Cir. 1996).

[11] Shapolia v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 13 F.3d 406 (10th Cir. 1993)

[12] Jacobs v. C.I.R., T.C. Memo. 1977-1, 1977 WL 3309 (Tax 1977); Jacobs v. C.I.R., T.C. Memo. 1980-308, 1980 WL 4147 (Tax 1980).

[13] Contreras v. Hunter, 70 F.3d 1282 (10th Cir. 1995); Thamer v. Campbell, 153 F.3d 728 (10th Cir. 1998); Campanella v. Utah County Jail, 78 Fed.Appx. 72 (10th Cir. 2003); Parker v. Neilson, Slip Copy, 2009 WL 64471 (D.Utah 2009); Simmons v. Sumner,923 F.2d 863 (9th Cir. 1991)

[14] Raiser v. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2006 WL 288442 (D.Utah 2006); Raiser v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 182 Fed.Appx. 810 (10th Cir. 2006); In re Raiser, 243 Fed.Appx. 376 (10th Cir. 2007). In re Raiser, 2008 WL 161307 (D.Utah 2008).

[15] Raiser v. Brigham Young University, 2008 WL 161305 (D.Utah 2008).

[16] In re Raiser, 293 Fed.Appx. 619 (10th Cir. 2008).

[17] Ruston v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2007 WL 2332393 (D.Utah 2007), Ruston v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2008 WL 1008387, D.Utah,2008., Ruston v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 304 Fed.Appx. 666 (10th Cir. 2008).

[18] Vance v. Hinckley, 2007 WL 1153795 (Utah App. 2007).

[19] Fox v. Hawk, 2008 WL 877393 (D.Utah 2008);, Fox v. Hawk, 2008 WL 2018196 (D.Utah 2008); Fox v. Eyring, Slip Copy, 2009 WL 675355 (D.Utah 2009).

[20] Bakalov v. State of Utah, 4 Fed.Appx. 654 (10th Cir. 2001).

[21] Cooke v. Corporation of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Slip Copy, 2009 WL 2450478 (D.Ariz. 2009).

[22] Wardle v. City of Dallas, 2004 WL 307438(N.D.Tex. 2004; U.S. v. Crawford, 2008 WL 858902 (S.D.Ga. 2008); U.S. v. Riley, 2008 WL 974839 (D.Minn. 2008).

[23] Garcia v. Chernetsky, 983 F.2d 1076 (9th Cir. 1993); Platsky v. Armand, 1994 WL 681415 (E.D.N.Y. 1994)

Comments 13

  1. I worked last year with a national author who had been fairly vocal about Mormonism attracting the mentally ill and the violent because Mormonism itself is loony and violent. I objected, saying that was like condemning astronomy because so many nutters claimed to have suffered alien abductions. I hadn’t known it before then, but the author’s father had been an astronomer. He was honest enough to acknowledge that the analogy had really gotten to him and that he would rethink the matter.

    With some prisoners with so much time on their hands, and some mentally disturbed persons who focus on litigation, the courts seem to deal with multiple suits by the same people as ludicrous as any you’ve described. Just what does it take to get on that “restricted filers” list you mentioned?

  2. I have no expertise in understanding what drives mental illness, so I can only guess. My two cents are that Church culture does little to influence this, but rather just serves as a means for those who are pre-disposed to express their mental illness. In one of the area’s I served on my mission there was a mentally challenged man who was homeless, who would wander the streets begging for money and propigate religious absurdities. He was not a Mormon, and to my best estimate not all familiar with Mormonism, but his claims were always Christian themed seasoned with a hint of U.S. Government and a tinge extraterestrial phenomenom. He would claim to be Jesus, or one of the disciples who had been out of town on a space ship. The most bizarre thing I remember him saying was that his penis was the Rod of Jesse, and that it was to be raised on the moon everlastingly. When I was able to finally able to regain composure – I didn’t want to be rude to him, but after another blah day of tracting I just couldn’t hold back from laughing my head off – I asked him if he knew what that meant, to which he replied yes and explained that he would be the father of Jesus. I alway’s just assumed that he was raised in a Bible reading family, and ended up conflating those stories with his wild imagination.

    For those individuals who are mentally disturbed, and who have a penchant for seeing conspiracy everywhere, the LDS Church is a somewhat easy target, especially when compared to other faiths. It seems like very few Church’s have political will, such as in the way the LDS Church, or the Catholic Church do, so seeing conspiracies in those entities probably doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination. There are many sane people who will try and see conspiracies there also, ie, the recent Da Vinci Code hype.

  3. “does the LDS Church bring out the delusional is some people who might be predisposed to such syndromes?”


    However, so does every other church and organization on earth with any kind of distinctive culture – and, really, so does life in general. There can’t be delusion without some basis of accepted normality, and anything that challenges that normality will attract those who inherently challenge normality – or, rather than attract, perhaps simply bring it out in specific manifestations that would be visible differently in different cultures. Those people, whether clinically delusional or not, generally are termed delusional by the “normal” who accept the status quo – no matter the cause of their “abnormality”.

    As an aside, there is a fine line between being “visionary” and “delusional” – and many would say say there is no line at all. Thus, I have no doubt that all the famous prophets of all time would be psycho-analyzed and labeled as delusional in our society – and probably medicated to stop the delusions. That would be a shame, since much of the beauty and wonder that we have now was created in part by those who were and still are considered delusional to some degree.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, my mother has a rare form of schizophrenia, so I am grateful for medication that allowed her to function normally for decades. I just am concerned with what I believe is the over-medication of creativity, delusion and abnormality in the name of making everyone normal.

  4. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the Church per se that inspires these paranoid delusions. The cases you describe are people who really do sound like they are seriously mentally ill, and I do not think these people are necessarily accountable for their own paranoia. My theory is that a certain level of paranoia about Mormons and the Mormon church is promoted by some larger groups in society. Think of anti-Mormon teachings by evangelicals (they think Jesus and the devil are brothers! They have sex on the altars of their temples!) or the “Mormons oppress women” and the “Mormons are brainwashed zombies controlled by scary old men in Salt Lake” themes promoted by some secularists (mostly on the political left). I think these general prejudices are out there and may get amplified in the schizophrenic’s mind.

  5. Don’t forget the most recent case of John Yettaw, the man who flew to Myanmar, made a midnight swim across a lake to deliver a message and a Book of Mormon to a political dissident under house arrest. Is he delusional or just overly enthusiastic? Was he following promptings of the spirit or his own delusions? How do we know? Would Joseph Smith be considered in the same category given today’s understanding of mental illness and lower tolerance of the mystical?

  6. Filing lawsuits can be lucritive for some. Litigants, who are indigent, file lawsuits for free and will often settle for a payment of $800 to $900 – for the cost of those [institutions] being sued is often $1200 to $1300, just to go to court, win or loose. Therefore, it’s cheaper for the institution just to settle the case for $800 or $900.

    These ‘frivolous’ lawsuits says more about the Judicial system than the LDS Church. As Jeff Breinholt suggests, “Mormons have become ‘The Man’. Burdens come with benifits”.

  7. Filing lawsuits can be lucrative for some. Litigants, who are indigent, file lawsuits for free and will often settle for a payment of $800 to $900 – for the cost of those [institutions] being sued is often $1200 to $1300, just to go to court, win or loose. Therefore, it’s cheaper for the institution just to settle the case for $800 or $900.

    Err, except that if you routinely settle that way, then more and more people sue you.

    People like that you take to court and get sanctions against, which you file of record (which will encumber any property they own, affect credit ratings and their ability to get a job or buy a car), and otherwise discourage them.

    I’ve dealt with a number of mentally ill litigants, and none of that discourages them, though the focus they have will differ.

  8. Prison seems to be where the majority of this type of ‘judicial abuse’ happens. I’m not a lawer but I understand that all a litigant has to do is get past that 1st step. – The rest, then, becomes cost effective for the institution to settle.

    So it stands to reason that if any person, mentally ill or whatever, has any type of contact with the LDS Church and they are indigent – that they can come up with all sorts of odd ball accusations and should they get by that 1st step, they could come into some easy bucks.

    But I wasn’t aware [#7] that you can take litigants to court and get sanctions against them.

    And I don’t think, [as Jeff Breinholt questioned] “…that the LDS Church brings out the delusional in people who might be predisposed to such syndromes”. – except…maybe…some who have debated here on the internet from time to time.

  9. Let me start by saying that I don’t believe we get “more than our share” of what I will, for lack of a better term, call “nutters” (nothing pejorative or judgmental intended; it’s just a useful shorthand term, and, of course, nutterness is in the eye of the beholder). However, I know it often feels that way to those of us in the Church (and, I suspect, to critics of the Church, which is not necessarily a completely separate group). Here are some of the reasons why.

    First, as Mormons ourselves, we tend to be hypersensitive when a nutter is identified as being Mormon. We just . . . cringe.

    Second, in my experience the media is far more prone to identify a nutter’s religious affiliation when that person is LDS, even when religious has nothing to do with issue at hand. (When was the last time you heard a nutter/criminal identified as, say, Jewish or Episcopalian when no issue of religion was involved?) Also, the rule with the media tends to be “once a Mormon, always a Mormon,” even if they are completely inactive and have no real participation in or understanding of the Church.

    Third, such people are often searching for belonging and acceptance — and if they stumble across the missionaries, they may find themselves baptized before anyone realizes this person doesn’t have both oars in the water. In such cases, their LDS-ness tends to be transitory but lingering (see “once a Mormon, always a Mormon”).

    So, no, I don’t think the LDS Church attracts more than its share of such folks. It just feels that way at times. ..bruce..

  10. Interesting observations, BF. I largely agree. The subjects in my article were definitely not Mormon, but instead people who were extreme critics of the LDS Church, to the point where it made them crazy (at least judging by their pleadings). The question is not whether the LDS Church attracts these people, but rather whether it repulses them to the point of insanity. On the issue of delusional Mormons, my earlier posts on “Mormons Doing Nasty Things” and, to a lesser extent, “What Mormon Prisoners Want” collect most of those cases. On the issue of whether the media sensationalizes, it undoubtedly does (a la Krakaer on Lafferty Bros, Lindsey on Mark Hoffman), but my research is immune from this criticism because I am drawing solely on written judicial opinions.

  11. When I clerked for a trial judge we regularly got jail-house petitions and pro se litigants trying to sue every person and entity they could think of. Most court clerks are adept at using filing rules to dispense with such frivolous lawsuits, since the litigants rarely complied with the rules. Quite a few jurisdictions have even passed specific statutes to discourage such jail-house advocacy.

    Any bet as to how many of the cases Jeff mentioned above were commenced by handwritten filings? My guess is more than half.

  12. Delusional?

    Go to PACER and pull up the lawsuit, Tippetts vs. Frank G Fox. The Church has failed to respond to the suit. It is required by law to address the complaint and send it to all parties invloved, but has not done so. Is the Church above the law?


  13.   I am the ” the Utah convict named Bojidar George Bakalov filed a habeas corpus petition which claimed that the Utah state judges entered into a Mormon conspiracy with the Utah Governor, United States Senators, the state prosecutor, and a University of Utah professor to convict him [20].”
    My understanding of the language and the life in the US were in the very beginning,
     but I spent 10 years in the Utah prisons for a crime of “rape” that never happened. See  the court papers and decede alone.
     Is this right dear Members of the Only Right Church?

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