Protocols of the Elders
Mitt Romney’s candidacy has revived the canard that Mormons are plotting to take over America. Jews have faced that charge for centuries.
In America today, there is a small group of privileged citizens who wield disproportionate power over the rest of the country and seek to bend national policies to suit their collective will. Bound together by clannish, somewhat secretive ritual practices, and disproportionately represented among the nation’s wealthy and its political class, this population uses its largess and extensive influence to mold America to its perfidious ends. Their ultimate aim is to take over the United States.
I am talking, of course, about Mormons.
This isn’t my argument. It’s one that has been appearing in reputable media outlets ranging from the New York Times to Salon over the past several months as the GOP primary season has heated up. Writing in the Times about the potential presidency of Mormon Republican candidate Mitt Romney, the renowned Yale literary critic Harold Bloom darkly mused that “we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew.” At Salon, a lengthy essay by journalist Sally Denton argued that “the office of the American presidency is the ultimate ecclesiastical position to which a Mormon leader might aspire,” and that in running for president, Romney sought to fulfill an LDS prophecy and usher in a Mormon “theodemocracy.” The piece quickly went viral, racking up over 1,000 Facebook shares.
For Jews, the structure and form of these and other anti-Mormon broadsides are—or ought to be—all too familiar. Claims that a covert cabal of powerful Jewish interests seeks to suborn others to their sinister agenda have been commonplace for centuries, with today’s insinuations about the Israel Lobby being only the most recent manifestation. Like such conspiracy theories about Jews, allegations that Mormons have insidious designs on the American government are intended to discredit and demonize their targets in order to exclude them from political life. Having long been attacked by opportunistic demagogues, as well as had our loyalties questioned, we Jews know just how painful such slanders are—and what can happen if they go unchallenged.
Scores of Mormons have served faithfully in the United States Congress and other top governmental positions; currently, six senators and nine members of the House are Mormon. Mormons have also occupied numerous ambassadorships and Cabinet positions, from solicitor general to secretary of education. Under President Eisenhower, Ezra Taft Benson served as secretary of agriculture and as one of the 12 apostles of the LDS Church. (Afterward, he became the church’s 13th president and prophet.) And although few Americans are aware of it, the highest ranking and most influential Mormon in American politics today is not Mitt Romney—it’s Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Given the preponderance of prominent Mormon politicians, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that if there really is a clandestine Mormon blueprint for U.S. domination, Latter-day Saint lawmakers have done a remarkably poor job of executing it. Those pundits fretting about the advent of Mormon theocracy never get around to explaining why all of these officials have always seemed much more interested in advancing the interests of party and country rather than imposing church doctrine on the unsuspecting American masses. (I, for one, would love to hear how LDS Sen. Orrin Hatch’s penchant for composing Hanukkah songs fits into this nefarious scheme.)
“In many hundreds of hours of political discussion in my family, nobody has thought that we had a duty as Mormons beyond our civic duty to step up and try to make our country a better place,” Joseph Cannon, former chairman of Utah’s Republican party, told me in an interview. As a fifth-generation member of one of the most powerful Mormon political families, he would know. (Cannon ran for Senate in 1992, his brother is former Congressman Chris Cannon, and his great-grandfather, George Q. Cannon, served as Utah’s pre-state territorial delegate to Congress and was famously expelled from the body in 1882 when Utah refused to give up polygamy.) “I can say that the root of my own family’s interest, and I think that this is reflective of the church, is that we have a duty to help make things better wherever we are,” Cannon explained. “There are Mormons in Parliament in England, one Liberal and one Tory, and I’m guessing their motivation, like ours, is just public service and duty.”
So, what about those church prophecies that supposedly call for Mormons to take control of the U.S. government? Salon’s Sally Denton makes much of the so-called “White Horse Prophecy.” Allegedly uttered by Joseph Smith, the founder of the church and its first prophet, the prophecy predicts that at some moment of future national crisis, the Constitution will “hang by a thread” and a group of Mormons known collectively as “the White Horse” will save it and, possibly, run the government. As the 1902 diary entry of a practicing Mormon who recorded the prophecy states, “Power will be given to the White Horse to rebuke the nations afar off, and you obey it, for the laws go forth from Zion.” Present-day critics draw a straight line from Smith to an inevitable Mormon theocracy.
There’s only one problem with this theory: The White Horse prophecy is not accepted by the LDS Church, and most Mormons have never even heard of it. Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the church, called it “ridiculous” and “simply false.” A century later, the church has not changed its stance, releasing an official statement in January 2010 that “the so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.” Cannon, for his part, can’t remember even hearing the words “white horse prophecy” since he was a teenager.
Casting the prophecy as a cornerstone of Mormon identity or Romney’s worldview, then, is akin to the age-old anti-Semitic practice of lifting decontextualized statements about gentiles from the Talmud, framing them in the worst possible light, and then claiming that such sentiments represent what all modern Jews think, when the reality is that most are completely ignorant of the text at hand or lend it no credence. As Cannon put it, when outsiders criticize modern Mormons, they “tend to seize upon things that just don’t have a lot of resonance with current-day Latter-day Saints.”
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