Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord

I have studied the Mormon experience in the US south for a couple of years now. That experience, particularly following the Civil War, was plagued with violence and threats of violence. Mormons have historically attributed the motivations for this violence to anti-Mormon bias. That has never quite set right with me. So in order to better understand their motivations (and perhaps find an interesting story behind the story) I have dug into the lives of the mobbers and vigilantes. In the process I have found both ruthless thugs and ordinary concerned citizens. The thugs I think I understand. People who are accustomed to dealing with their problems with violence, will resort to it at the slightest provocation.

At Cane Creek, for example, there was more than just the threat of violence. Five people were killed in an unnecessary tragedy. Something pushed together an anti-Mormon mob consisting of criminals and upstanding citizens in a way that occurred frequently throughout the post Civil War south. But nowhere else did it reach the bloodshed that it did at Cane Creek.

And so I was perplexed at the ease with which ordinary people could be persuaded that violence was the right course of action. Indeed all it took were rumors of LDS missionaries acting in immoral and salacious ways to drive law-abiding people to commit heinous acts. It seemed too easy to get people to turn on each other with just a rumor.

But recently a young female relative of mine was targeted by an online predator. They met in an online game for children. He knew everything about her; photos, address, phone number. He had convinced her that he was the same age she was and that they were in love and should meet. Family members pulled together to ensure her safety, isolating her from all online and phone contact. After she was persuaded just how much danger she was in, she was moved to a secret location that would make Federal Marshalls proud. (I can see the headlines now: Religious minority sequesters young female member to protect her from western society, Takes away her cell phone and internet access.)

The cyber trail led to a specific person and in this day of electronic information we soon had an address and court records proving a history of similar offenses. I knew who and where he was. I have not committed any rash crimes, nor will I. But I thought about it. And it is a good thing that reason prevailed. Evidence now indicates that the predator had stolen the identity of a known convicted offender. Hiding behind a second fake ID, searchers like me might be fooled into looking no further, thinking they had discovered the culprit’s true identity. Had I acted immediately it would have been against someone not even involved.

I could not help but see the similarities of these events to those at Cane Creek. In 1884, B. H. Roberts theorized that there must be one or more persons impersonating LDS missionaries to accomplish their wicked desires. It is the 19th century equivalent of identity theft with the intent to deflect any retribution onto someone with an existing reputation for immorality (i. e. polygamy).

What would you do if placed in the same situation? How would you discern truth from rumor and convincing lie? Only our Heavenly Father will know what was truly in the hearts of those involved. And to protect us from being deceived into punishing the innocent, we have a slow and tedious court system. And even when it fails we must remember, vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.


Amy said...

Wow. That's scary. Is law enforcement involved? Best wishes to your family.

Something that I have found useful in understanding the roots of violence in the South, particularly toward the Mormon missionaries, was reading the excellent and interesting book Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. I found his discussion of cultural mores in the South to be quite pertinent to understanding why the missionaries met with the resistance they did, and why the fact that Mormons practiced polygamy meant that they were met with threats of violence and actual violence.

Fischer is a popular historian, so your library may have a copy.

BruceCrow said...

Thank you, Amy. I have left out many details because it wasn't important to the post. Everyone one is safe and I think we have all learned a great deal about the potential dangers of teenagers and the internet. The police are involved, and she is cooperating with them. There were three other girls on this person's friend list and we made the point of contacting their parents as well. btw, It was way too easy to track them down.

Thanks for the heads up on the book. I'll take a look at it.