The following article first appeared in Punch!, the pop culture iPad app, available free for download here. If you own an iPad, you should read this article at the Punch! app, which has all kinds of awesome media embedded, a quiz on Mormons vs. Scientology, video clips and great layout and so on. We don’t own iPads because you people haven’t donated yours to us, so we can only dream. For those of you who didn’t condemn themselves to journalism’s humiliating poverty—or for those of you “journalists” on the take from the Koch brothers or tobacco companies, or PHARMA, or you generally suck so badly that you’re paid well and can afford iPads—enjoy it on your iPad. While you still can.
“I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.”
–Joseph Smith, Jr.
CHAPTER ONE: ‘I Suck, Please Slay Me’
When Punch! first assigned me this story — a review of A Mormon President, a DVD docudrama about Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his disastrous run for president in 1844 — I assured my editor he’d have a comic gem with timely political relevance delivered to his inbox before he could say “TK.”
I was so sure this would be one of the easiest stories I had ever knocked out that I even sent him an ironic pre-victory email labeling the assignment a “slam dunk,” my way of daring the Gods of Writer’s Block.
That was two months ago.
Now it’s two days past the final-final deadline. Here I sit, staring at a blank Microsoft Word document titled MORMON BRAINFUCK HATE HATE I SUCK PLEASE SLAY ME DRAFT-8.82c3a.docx. The last communication I had with Punch! was when I emailed a quote from Joseph Smith: “You don’t know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history.” It’s the epigraph that opens A Mormon President — but taken out of context all it did was scare my editor: “Why are you sending me Charlie Manson quotes, Ames? Are you threatening me?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was quoting Mitt Romney’s own personal Yoda or that the thought of an upgraded version of Joseph Smith taking control of the White House should scare the shit out of secular humanists and liberal elites, who, so far, have dismissed Romney’s foundational ideology, treating it with parody or scorn, if at all.
Now that it’s well past deadline — the “post-apocalypse” in journalism terms — and I find myself in a peaceful, death-like state, I am capable of telling the tragic story about how a straight-to-DVD historical docudrama (full title: A Mormon President: Joseph Smith and the Mormon Quest for the White House) ruined the life of a promising forty-something writer named Mark Ames in the prime of his middle-youth.
But this review is about more than Mark Ames. This is about all of us. Because long after the snickering about Mormonism dies down, we are likely to wake up one November morning with a real-life “A Mormon President” of our own. And if the Mormons themselves are to be believed, it means we’re about five months away from the End Days.
According to a controversial Joseph Smith prophecy, when America degenerates to the point where “the Constitution hangs by a thread” — and most TV pundits agree we’re there already — at this time, a Mormon will be elected President of the United States, triggering a whole series of disaster-film plot twists: the end of the world as we know it; the overthrow of “gentile” rule; and the long-promised Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Only, instead of teleporting Himself somewhere interesting like Jerusalem, say the Mormons, Jesus will stage his comeback in Independence, Missouri.
Let me put it another way. Mitt Romney was raised to believe that if Mitt Romney is elected president, Mitt Romney will rule the world (or whatever is left of it) as the Mormon gods’ Viceroy, while Jesus Christ stumbles through tornado country, making crop circles in a corn field, or whatever it is you do there.
If you don’t believe me, it’s because you don’t know the operating software system Romney runs on. A slow and stupid operating system, sure, but it may soon be hooked up to about 5,000 nuclear warheads and a global empire, so ignoring it won’t save you.
It sounds too crazy to be true, I know — but by now we liberal elites should know not to trust our instincts. Look at what happened in the case of Barack Obama: rather than taking at face value his stated ideas about financial reform (Obama made Larry Summers, architect of the financial deregulation disaster, his economics brain-bug), about health care (he ran on the least progressive and most pro-industry health care plan of the three major Democratic candidates), and about the American empire (which were neocon-friendly), liberal media elites projected onto him everything they wanted him to be: an idealized secular humanist version of Obama. By dismissing the “obvious” surface of our presidential politics, the media set us up for the biggest political Obummer of the century.
That’s where this movie comes in. A Mormon President tells the story of some stupid and confused hillbillies and the boner-wielding con man who leads them to ruin. In other words, it’s about us. In January 2013.
Forget about being clever, folks: To paraphrase a line from Starship Troopers, “To fight stupid, we must become stupid.”
CHAPTER TWO: Mugged by Moroni
If it’s not clear by now, the problem with reviewing A Mormon President is this: The movie was supposed to be unintentionally funny, softball material, a 21st century version of those old “Crown” history films they used to show in my public school civics class. It was supposed to serve one purpose: To make me look like I have talent. It would play the Washington Generals to my Harlem Globetrotters.
But I done figured wrong. As the story of Joseph Smith’s 1844 run for president unfolded into something weirder and scarier than I had bargained for, I started to realize it didn’t matter if the movie was unintentionally funny or not. Like it or not, my smug lack of curiosity about Mitt Romney’s religious identity was crumbling before a straight-to-DVD production. I found myself, as it were, Mugged by Moroni.
Now that I know a little more about Mitt Romney 1.0 — that is, Joseph Smith, Jr., who was not only the first Mormon, but the first Mormon to run for president — I’m not finding much to laugh at anymore.
Let me cut to the quick here and make things clear, in case I’m starting to sound like the Mel Gibson character in Conspiracy Theory.
First of all, although Joseph Smith’s candidacy was equal parts tragedy and farce (in a Tommy Boy sort of way), he did offer a template for a future Mormon president with the example he set as ruler over the township of Nauvoo, Illinois, a unique post granted him via special city charter by the Illinois governor after the Mormons’ cruel expulsion from Missouri in 1838.
Within a couple of years after settling in Nauvoo — a city whose population quickly grew to parity with Chicago’s — Smith transformed his fiefdom into a sort of Mormon Bantustan. He was Mayor, and Chief Justice, and got away with calling himself “King, Priest, and Ruler over Israel on Earth.” Creepiest of all, he led the Nauvoo Legion, a unit roughly one-third the size of the total United States military. Not one for half measures, Smith gave himself the rank of “Lt. General,” the highest rank held by an American military officer since George Washington.
The Nauvoo, Illinois Mormon Temple that Mitt Romney’s great-great-great-grandfather helped build
In 1841, Lt. Gen. Joseph Smith displayed his might by leading a huge military parade. One historian interviewed for A Mormon President compares the procession to “a May Day parade in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And this terrified a number of people, who, at that point, really switched gears and said, ‘These people are dangerous and we need to protect ourselves.'”
The grand martial display marked how far the Mormons had come in a short time. Three years earlier, Smith and his followers had felt the full force of an official order signed by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs, which went like this: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the state, if necessary, for the public peace. Their outrages are beyond all description.”
Before watching A Mormon President, I knew something about how the Missourians had massacred the Mormons prior to running them out of that godforsaken state. What I didn’t know was that a Mormon was the one who had apparently started all the extermination talk. The movie shows a perennial second banana, Sidney Rigdon — who is played by a Billy Crystal look-alike in an Abe Lincoln beard — making a speech in which he threatens Missouri’s “gentiles” with “a war of extermination.”
Here’s the thing about extermination threats: When you’re the weird little minority in a sea of armed, whiskey-guzzling Christians, it is generally a bad strategy to speak publicly of your intention to wipe out everybody else.
The Missourians were slow to react. There’s something about suicidal cultists that makes the sure-to-win side hesitate. (Are they hiding something we don’t know about? There’s got to be some angle we’re not catching!) Gov. Boggs grew weary of waiting and signed the order. The locals went to work massacring the men, the womenfolk, and the children, before finally driving other Mormons out of the state. Smith, Rigdon, and others landed in a Missouri jail… from which they eventually made their escape.
Safe at last in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith made a riverside prophecy that the Missouri governor would “die by violent hands within one year.” Which brings us to the thug who served as head of Smith’s security detail: Orrin Porter Rockwell. In the film, he resembles a 19th century Hells Angel biker, if a little meaner and crazier. Soon after the boss’s prophecy, Rockwell slipped back over to Missouri and… next thing you know… someone is blasting Gov. Boggs with four shots — two balls of buckshot in the neck, two in the head — leaving him all but dead.
Porter Rockwell: The First Mormon Biker
A couple of years later, Smith’s thoughts turned national. He established an inner circle called “the Council of 50,” which was “like an Ollie North thing,” as one historian describes it in A Mormon President. This group ran Smith’s campaign and planned his takeover of power, with the idea of helping him run things from inside the White House.
In his final display of power — the one that led to his downfall — Smith declared martial law in his principality and used his mighty Nauvoo Legion to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor‘s printing press in reaction to the newspaper’s having dared criticize his polygamy and power-lust. This led to his being thrown into the pokey once again… where he soon found himself shot and bayoneted by an armed mob. Before meeting his grisly demise, he offered up the White Horse Prophecy, a revelation that he (or some worthy Mormon in years to come) was pre-ordained to become president at a time when the “Constitution is hanging by a thread as fine as a silk fiber.”
The prophecy is not accepted as church doctrine but remains part of Mormon lore. Adam Christing, the director of A Mormon President, explained it to me this way: “It’s just like in our time. The prophecy says, ‘The government is in disarray. The Constitution is going to be hanging by a thread, and the gentiles are going to screw it up so bad that it’s going to take God’s people to save the day.’ I do think there’s been a tiny underground hope in Mormon Land, if you will, that Romney could be the fulfillment of that White Horse Prophecy. Like a knight-in-shining-armor thing.”
Romney, a seventh-generation Mormon who has served as a Latter-day Saint bishop, has distanced himself from the founder’s theocratic talk, just as he has repudiated plural marriage. “That’s not official church doctrine,” he said of the White Horse Prophecy in a 2011 Salt Lake Tribune interview. “There are a lot of things that are speculation and discussion by church members and even church leaders that aren’t official church doctrine. I don’t put that at the heart of my religious belief.”
But Christing told me he believes Romney has taken a secret oath pledging his loyalty first and foremost to his church: “There are, still today, very secret ceremonies in the Mormon temple, which Romney has participated in — virtually all of those, including something called the Oath of Consecration, where he consecrates his money, his time, his talents. His whole life, really.”
Here is the Oath of Consecration:
“You and each of you covenant and promise before God, angels, and these witnesses at this altar, that you do accept the law of consecration as contained in this, The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, in that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.”
“There was a time when sharing this info was dangerous,” Christing said in an email. “Now, it’s probably on Google. To me, the interesting thing is that the oath of consecration is specifically directed to the Mormon church (not God).”
CHAPTER THREE: Joseph Smith’s Game
Joseph Smith’s eternal second-banana and VP ticket mate, Sidney Rigdon, struggling to relieve himself in his outhouse as fellow Mormons cheer his bowels on
And then there is the matter of polygamy. By the time he was murdered, Joseph Smith had amassed 33 wives, eleven of whom were married and still living with their husbands. They ranged in age from 14 to roughly 60, according to an expert interviewed in the film.
Christing, who was raised in the second largest Mormon branch, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS), until he was 14 years old (and hasn’t been a member since), treats Smith’s polygamy not just as a historical quirk but as an element of the behaviors we might associate with a sociopathic cult leader: “When Joseph reads to his wife Emma the ‘revelation’ from God instructing Joseph to marry as many wives as he can, he reads her a ‘letter’ from God telling his wife that if she doesn’t accept it, she’ll be damned. So if you believe that Smith was the prophet — basically he’s saying to his wife, ‘If you don’t believe this, you’re going to hell.’”
Emma wasn’t the only one thus coerced. Christing adds: “Imagine if you’re an 18-year-old woman. You’ve maybe left your family, or come with one family member from England, and you’ve arrived on a boat at New Orleans, and you come up the Mississippi River, and you get off the boat in Nauvoo, and there’s Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. And Joseph says, ‘God gave me a revelation to take plural wives, and if I don’t, an angel of God will kill me. An angel appeared to me with a drawn sword, and he’ll kill me.’ That’s a little bit of pressure to get from the ‘prophet,’ you know?”
The journey from England to Illinois was the one taken by Mitt Romney’s great-great-great grandfather, Miles Romney, along with his wife, Elizabeth, from the miserable factory town of Preston, England, to Illinois. Miles, an architect, was tasked with assisting the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.
One of the interviewees in A Mormon President is a gorgeous Mormon with a pre-Raphaelite face draped with perfectly silk dark hair. Her name is Kara Lyn Roundy. When she speaks of Joseph Smith, she lights up: “All I know is that there’s one prophet at the head of the church who has been given the keys to the holy priesthood. And he has been ordained by God…. It is so key for people to understand: There is only one Church on the face of the planet that has all the keys of the priesthood, and that is in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” When this MMILF gushes over Joseph Smith, you want to agree with her. You might even want to know what his secret was. The more one learns about his shameless pick-up techniques, the more one realizes there’s a Mormon version of The Game just waiting to be revealed to shy nerds everywhere.
On the topic of Mitt Romney, she says: “I think Mitt Romney is brilliant. He is a briiiiiiilliant businessman. I mean, he turns businesses around. He’s the first guy who took charge of the Olympics, profited $70 million.”
CUT TO: Still image of a smiling Romney holding the Olympic flame.
CUT TO: Still image of Romney clutching gold medals as the camera zooms in, Ken Burns-style, on his smile.
“I mean, who’s ever done that?” Roundy says. “That’s the kind of guy I want running my country.”
A Mormon President has other funny moments. Over a PBS-ready piano soundtrack, experts on Mormonism try to persuade the viewer that, despite his status as prophet, Joseph Smith had a “regular Joe” side. “He was the kind of guy who would get down on the floor and wrestle with kids,” one historian says.
CUT TO: Handsome Actor Guy With Suspiciously Romney-Like Facial Structure, in 1830s frontiersman costume, rolling through a meadow with kids.
Whoa, Amber Alert! Try that one again, fellas.
A Utah-dad type tells the camera: “Joseph Smith wouldn’t be someone I’d want to live next door to me.”
Wait a minute — can you say that in a Mormon movie?
Another interviewee, credibly silver-haired, says: “He was all of the things that a classic Old Testament prophet said they were — and Joseph is saying, ‘I am the same kind of prophet.’ And if it’s true, it’s scary. And if it’s false, Joseph Smith is a charlatan.”
So this movie isn’t really the Mormon Schlock I had expected — or had hoped — it would be. But all this is mere backdrop to its main focus: Smith’s run for the presidency, a subject that the voice-over correctly points out “has never been told before.” It is a story I knew nothing about, and cared even less about, until A Mormon President forced me to.
CHAPTER FOUR: The Outlaw and the Insider
Smith’s presidential campaign is not only relevant to our looming tragicomedy of 2013, but also the perfect E-Z to swallow entrée into the bizarre and unnerving nexus between Mormonism and presidential politics — an area many liberals would prefer to avoid, as if merely bringing up future-President Romney’s Mormonism reveals a lack of faith in the American system, or maybe even a cryptic intolerance.
In early 1844 Smith announced he was running as the “outsider” candidate of his day. “Tell the people we have had Whig and Democrats Presidents long enough,” he declared. “We care not a fig for Whig or Democrat; they are both alike to us.”
Sounds familiar, don’t it? In fact, it’s so familiar it’s kind of humiliating. These days, our version of the “he-gets-it” political analyst is one who takes pride in “seeing through the discredited left-right, Republocrat bullshit” — which makes such a pundit nothing more than warmed-over Mormon Prophet meat.
At least Smith had a few snappy lines when he went after the hacks of his time. He surveyed the field of candidates in 1844 — twiddle-dee-dee Whigs like Henry Clay and incumbent President John Tyler; twiddle-dee-dum Democrats like ex-President Martin van Buren, John C. Calhoun, and dark-horse James K. Polk — and he scowled: “I mourn for the depravity of the world; I despise the imbecility of American statesmen; I detest shrinkage of candidates for office, from pledges and responsibility.”
The white male American electorate in those days was roughly evenly divided between Whig voters and Democrat voters. Smith planned to leverage that electoral split to his advantage. The parties seemed incapable of addressing the Big Issues of slavery and territorial expansion (i.e., admitting Texas into the Union). It was understood that taking a stand on slavery could lead to civil war; and taking a stand on expansion could lead to war with Mexico, war with Britain, civil war, or some combination thereof.
The establishment parties’ tiptoeing around the major questions of the day created an opportunity for a maverick like Smith, who pledged to rid the nation of slavery through “voluntary” abolition by Southern slave states (which may bring to mind Romney’s plan to solve illegal immigration by flicking on the super-secret voluntary self-deporting gene in Mexicans). Smith also advocated the re-establishment of the national bank (which may recall Romney’s role as the biggest booster of the Federal Reserve among the Republican candidates). Smith, further, wasn’t shy about saying he favored the annexation of Texas and the Oregon territories, as well as Canada and Mexico (not to mention all the wives inhabiting those far-flung places… which makes one consider Romney’s grim and aggressive monogamy, which seems bound to explode in ways that could make us all rue the day Abraham Lincoln signed into law anti-polygamy legislation…).
Crawling further out onto a political limb, Smith demanded radical penal reform, calling for the release of all inmates but murderers and the abolition of debtors’ prisons (and this is a bug in the Operating System that may be ignored, except that it highlights the difference between Smith, an outlaw, and Romney, an insider).
So far, I’m making Joseph Smith’s politics out to be more respectable than they really were. The story of his run for president really gets its start with his founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Weird events accelerate at a parabolic rate, right up to his murder-by-cuckold-mob in June 1844.
Joseph Smith started peddling his very own Anti-Depressant for scared and lonely frontier settlers in 1830. It really was “new & improved” — a re-branded version of Judeo-Christianity made especially for the Second Great Awakening, a time of competing religious products that offered hysterical reinterpretations of the same damn book about the same actions taking place in the same place on the other side of the globe. According to a Smith “revelation,” America itself was the new Promised Land. He got his followers to prepare a landing pad for Jesus in what would be the hometown of Harry S. Truman, the only human being ever to drop the atom bomb.
Coincidence? It better well fucking be, or we are gentile toast, folks.
Things get scary in A Mormon President when an “ex-Mormon pastor” named Shawn McCraney says: “I absolutely believe that the [Mormon] church today is the living embodiment of everything Joseph Smith represented. He was the seed; they are the fruit.” Meaning: Mitt Romney is The Fruit. I know it doesn’t sound right, saying that — especially considering that Mormons were the big reason why Prop 8 passed in California — but there it is.
Then the director of the Mormonism Research Ministry, standing before the monstrous LDS temple in Salt Lake City, tells the viewer: “The Mormon Church’s basic premise is that all of the churches are wrong, that their creeds are an abomination, and that their professors are corrupt, and that really there are no true churches on the face of the earth, except for the LDS church.”
Holy shit! No wonder Mormons are the nicest people in America: They hate our fucking guts!
CHAPTER FIVE: The Director’s Tale
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS) was made possible by Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma Smith, and his son, Joseph Smith III. After Smith was killed-by-mob, some of the Mormons broke away from Smith’s successor, the many-wived Brigham Young, and founded the second largest Mormon church (out of some 400 branches) today, the one Adam Christing grew up in—and then left.
Christing wears many hats: Filmmaker, entrepreneur, magician, amateur historian, philosopher, corporate events speaking pro, and… standup comic.
One doesn’t usually associate Mormons with funny, but that just shows how little we “gentiles” know. “I do think I’m very funny, in terms of my standup show,” Christing told me. “But I gravitate more toward philosophy. I also own the domain — believe it or not — themeaningoflife.com. I actually lost well over $50,000 trying to develop that site, so right now it’s in limbo.” When it comes to his stage act, Christing is the Shecky Greene of ex-Reorganized Mormons. A sampling of his material:
“I was just in Los Angeles, and I was speaking at this animal rights barbecue, and…”
“I’d like to go to assertiveness training class. First I need to check with my wife.”
He has the comic pause down perfectly. He is able to light a given joke’s delayed-action fuse and wait for the laughter to ripple through the crowd. His demo reel is a thing of beauty. It looks like it was lifted directly from an old SCTV episode, with Christing as a Latter-day Bobby Bittman.
My man, Adam Christing
In 1990, he founded Clean Comedians, to promote a brand of standup comedy perfect for corporate events, in that it has zero profanity. The organization also offers its clients a money-back guarantee: “If it isn’t funny, we’ll refund your money.” One fan was President George W. Bush, who was so blown away by Clean Comedians Bush impersonators, Steve Bridges, that he teamed up with him at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
In 2005, Christing sold Clean Comedians and soon started plowing roughly $350,000 into A Mormon President, which he did not complete until 2011 (and is still tinkering with today, in preparation for further screenings). “I’ve been obsessed with the story of Joseph Smith since I was young,” he said. “I’ve got a huge library of everything related to Joseph Smith. And the more I read, the more complex he became to me. Is this guy a fraud? Does he really think he’s a prophet?”
He took no money from any particular group: “I didn’t want to make a puff piece. The Mormon Church, in my opinion — if you go to the Temple, and you watch one of the films in the Visitor Center, they’re not going to show you his polygamy, they’re not going to show you his politics or what he did to the Nauvoo Expositor. And those were very huge factors in his life. So you won’t know, ‘Why did anyone want to kill this guy?’ On the other hand, if you watch certain Evangelical Christian films, they make him seem like a monster, like the film The God Makers. I feel like that’s way over the top. This guy was a wonderful human being in many ways: very charismatic, loved children, very generous. But he also had these other aspects to his personality — the secrecy stuff, and an enormous ego… I just wanted to tell the most accurate account of his life that I could, from multiple perspectives. And that’s why I didn’t take money from anybody…. The Mormon Church didn’t finance it, no Evangelical ministry financed it. Just individuals who wanted to make an accurate film. And I think we succeeded.”
CHAPTER SIX: Romney’s Twisted Roots
Some Mormons hold that Smith was “assassinated” in a “conspiracy.” The theory first made the rounds in The Carthage Conspiracy, a book published in 1975, at the height of Watergate and Church Committee hearings, a time when such theories were briefly recognized as political realities. Getting murdered in a conspiracy involving powerful Whig Party bosses is a more romantic way for a prophet to go than being gunned down by drunken cuckolds in blackface as you try to squeeze your way out a second-story window.
The lack of grassy knoll or programmed patsy seems not to matter to Christing and others who believe. “Absolutely, absolutely,” the filmmaker said, when I asked him if Smith was the victim of a conspiracy. “With the J.F.K. thing, the speculation gets pretty wild. I think it’s a little simpler with Joseph Smith.”
Almost everyone within a 100 mile radius of Smith wanted this frontier Charlie Manson dead. Not because he wanted to bring about world peace (as J.F.K. conspiracy theorists like Oliver Stone allege), but rather because he seduced their wives and fucked their sense of normalcy. An assassination-by-conspiracy, however, renders the death more significant and less mundane.
While Mormon historical revisionism attempts to turn Smith’s embarrassing Last Act into the stuff of historical tragedy, two generations of Romneys have been revising and refining his run for the presidency, undoing Smith’s “mistakes.” Before the rise of the current presumptive Republican nominee, the closest LDS member to finish what the first Mormon had started was probably Mitt’s dad, Gov. George W. Romney, who ran as the moderate Rockefeller Republican candidate, to the left of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, in 1968.
Back then, the surface reality in America had become so weird and violent that nothing in Mormonism really shocked anyone. If it turned out that George W. Romney wore “Mormon underwear” (the subject of quips made by satirists-in-chief Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), it might even have won him a few votes. Another difference: In ’68, the Republicans had yet to mold and fired up the Christian Right bloc. The Evangelicals, after all, are the ones most put off by Mormonism. They take its polytheism to heart, although they’ve learned to keep quiet about it, except in online forums like Free Republic.
The Romneys are to Mormons as Mayflower families are to America as a whole: After his great-great grandfather helped erect the Nauvoo Temple, where Smith held his military parade in 1841, Mitt’s great-grandfather was born among this original LDS band. After Smith’s murder, the church split. Most followed Smith’s pro-polygamy-wingman, Brigham Young, to the Utah Territory; a small number stayed with Smith’s widow, Emma Smith, and founded the breakaway Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints, the anti-polygamy branch that Christing was later born into.
The Romneys went with the polygamists. And they stayed with the polygamists. In fact, you couldn’t pry polygamy from the Romney clan with a crowbar if you tried. Abraham Lincoln, father of the Republican Party, certainly did his best, when he signed the 1862 Anti-Bigamy Act, which outlawed plural marriage in U.S. territories. But that didn’t stop Miles P. Romney, Mitt’s great-grandfather, from racking up five wives.
Another notable Republican, Sen. George Edmunds, made life even harder for frontier swingers with the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882, which pushed Mitt’s great-granddad deep into the hinterlands, wives in tow. By the time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself renounced polygamy in 1890, Miles P. Romney and his brood hightailed it to Mexico, feds on their tail, crossing the Rio Grande as voluntarily as an illegal Mexican immigrant might under President Romney in years to come.
Folks didn’t take kindly to Mitt’s great-grandpa, as this editorial in the Apache Chief more than suggests: “Hang a few of their polygamist leaders such as… Romney,” the newspaper wrote. The piece went on to single out Miles P. Romney as “a mass of putrid pus and rotten goose pimples; a skunk, with the face of a baboon, the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard, and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”
And that’s the final edited version! Imagine the early drafts!
Miles and his wives settled in Mexico. The Romney clan remained there long enough for Mitt’s own father, George W. Romney, to be born in Chihuahua, meaning Mitt’s dad grew up with one grandpa and a whole bunch of grandmas. He went on to serve as the 43rd governor of Michigan. Because of his provenance, “birther” talk abounded during his run for president.
If you look at the refinement of Mormon presidential candidates… from Joseph Smith, through George W. Romney, up to Mitt today… you can almost watch time-motion political calibration evolve to match the Zeitgeist of America. Smith, the consummate outsider candidate in 1844, drew too much attention to the Mormon stuff and ended up the victim of lynch-mob murder. George W. Romney started out as the centrist candidate in the year 1968, only to make the mistake of saying in a television interview that he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam war by American diplomats and military officials. That off-the-cuff quote sank his chances.
By now, the Mormon President Project has been perfected. Mitt stands as an empty reflection of an American Winner. He’s the corporate jock with the gray temples, the chiseled features, and the starched dickishness most people expect from their bosses. This is a country that made a hit reality show out of an asshole firing people — and that is the electorate counted on by the latest Joseph Smith upgrade.
It is because he has so skillfully and aggressively made himself all things to all Establishment-center-righties that A Mormon President may be the clearest window into Mitt’s soul. For me, one peek was enough to send me loading up on canned foods and planning my move to an undisclosed location near Mormon Zion. Because when Mitt Romney becomes the Mormon President foretold by Smith, and he sends those bombs into Iran to herald the start of the Thousand Year Mormon Rule, and Jesus teleports down to that Missouri cornfield to freak everyone out with his crop circles — I want to be ready. I don’t want some cheery clean-cut Mormon baptizing my bones after I’m dead. If Romney wins, I figure I’ve got two months to get baptized and make myself into one of the 13 million who rules over the rest of you 7 billion fools.
Note: This article has been corrected to show that Adam Christing is no longer a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that Sidney Rigdon was not one of the RLDS co-founders with Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III.
Would you like to know more? Go visit the website for “A Mormon President” and buy Adam Christing’s docu-drama already. Also check out Adam Christing’s personal website www.adamchristing.com it’s a hoot!
Still like to know more? The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia co-authored by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi (Grove).
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