Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a beautiful and cloudless day in the Eastern United States. The beauty of the day ended at 8:46 a.m., as American flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing all on board. At 9:03, United flight 175 struck the South Tower. The doomed flights, along with American flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37, and United flight 93, which went down in an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were the first instance of major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Thousands were killed as the World Trade Center towers collapsed and the Pentagon burned.

Friday, September 11, 1857 was a brisk day in the mountains of Southern Utah; nights at 4,000 feet were chilly, but the days were bright and warm. But the afternoon of that day ran cold as a band of armed Mormon settlers and hundreds of Indians surrounded, betrayed and slew a wagon train of about a hundred people at Mountain Meadows. The events mark one of the most gruesome examples of religious zealotry in American history.

The four planes on 9/11/01 were hijacked by Mohammad Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Hani Hanjour, Ziad Jarrah and fifteen others from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen, young assassins financed and trained by al-Queda. The terrorists likely viewed themselves as martyrs for their cause, a brand of radical Islamic fundamentalism that seeks to drive Americans from Muslim nations and to wreak vengeance for wrongs incurred by America against Muslims worldwide. Al-Queda’s perspective, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, is that “America has attacked Islam; America is responsible for all conflicts involving Muslims…America is also held responsible for the governments of Muslim countries…Bin Ladin has stated flatly, “Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against you.” A product of desperate Middle Eastern poverty and a longing for the golden days of the Ottoman Empire, Bin Laden, Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb and others set forth their Wahabism, a belief system without a middle ground, where America is the Satanic invader of holy lands, and where martyrdom is a necessary step: “the walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets,” as bin Laden said in an interview. Hatred of the Other unites the devotees of this puritanical form of Islam. As author Thomas Friedman noted on Sept. 14, 2001
(http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/14/opinion/14FRIE.html?ex=1126497600&en=466501aa2bf3ecb8&ei=5070), “The terrorists who hit the U.S. this week are people who pray to the God of Hate… Their terrorism is driven by pure hatred and nihilism, and its targets are the institutions that undergird America’s way of life, from our markets to our military.”

It is easy to view the attackers as monsters without thought or decency. Monsters they were, but some insight into the personalities of the hijackers may be informative. Mohammad Atta, by all accounts and according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was “very intelligent and reasonably pleasant…Atta stood out as a decisionmaker. Atta’s friends during this period remember him as charismatic, intelligent, and persuasive, albeit intolerant of dissent.” Ramzi Binalshibh, coordinator of the attacks, “was known within the community as being sociable, extroverted, polite, and adventuresome.” Marwan al Shehhi “was very religious, praying five times a day. Friends remember him as convivial and “a regular guy,” the son of a muezzin and student of mathematics. Regarding Ziah Jarrah, the 9/11 Commission found that “Even with the benefit of hindsight, Jarrah hardly seems a likely candidate for becoming an Islamic extremist…he arrived with a reputation for knowing where to find the best discos and beaches in Beirut, and… was known to enjoy student parties and drinking beer.” Soon after coming into contact with each other, all of their personalities changed, becoming militant, serious and singularly devoted. When someone asked al Shehhi why he and Atta never laughed, he replied, “How can you laugh when people are dying in Palestine?” Jarrah began talking about his desire to not leave the world “in a natural way.” By the late 1990s, Binalshibh was decrying a Jewish world conspiracy and proclaiming that the highest honor was to die during jihad.

By early 1999, al-Queda was already a powerful enemy of the United States; on October 12, 2000, al-Queda operatives attacked the USS Cole with a small boat filled with explosives. Other al-Queda cells had for a motto, “The season is coming, and bodies will pile up in sacks.” Gathering momentum, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, at the direction of bin Laden, had little that stood in their way.

They believed that by their small means great destruction could be accomplished, and they were right. With few complications, the cells boarded their assigned flights that morning and accomplished precisely what they set forth to do. Only the heroism and self-sacrifice of those on United flight 93 prevented even greater disaster.


Driven from Nauvoo in 1846, the Saints began heading West; in July 1847, an expedition led by Brigham Young proclaimed the Great Salt Lake valley to be the place; a territorial government was established in 1850. The Saints began to build their Zion in the hills, and spread South down to Dixie, following old trails and streams. It was their last stand, a land where none would molest them or make afraid, where their prophets would no longer be martyred.

Then, on July 24, 1857, the news arrived: the United States was sending an army to put down the Mormon Rebellion. The reaction among the Saints was immediate. Two days later, Heber C. Kimball exclaimed from the pulpit: “Send 2,500 troops here, our brethren, to make a desolation of this people! God Almighty helping me, I will fight until there is not a drop of blood in my veins.” Two weeks later, Franklin D. Richards issued orders that “We now appeal to the God of our Fathers & Prophets for protection against the hostilities of any Mob that shall invade our Territory, and invoke the aid of the Heavens to strengthen us in defending ourselves against further aggressions…report without delay any person in your District that disposes of a Kernel of grain to any Gentile merchant or temporary sojourner…” John Taylor, speaking in the tabernacle, asked “Would you, if necessary, brethren, put the torch to your buildings and lay them in ashes, and wander homeless into the mountains, rather than submit to military rule and oppression?” (the vote was unanimous in the affirmative). George A. Smith, speaking in Parowan, reminded the settlers that a few bones planted at the roots of a tree would fertilize the plant, and added, “As for the cursed mobocrats, I can think of nothing better that they could do than to feed a fruit tree in Zion.”

A siege mentality quickly sank in. The Saints in Southern Utah prepared to burn their farms and homes and retreat to the mountains, an early plan for guerrilla warfare against the United States, and every Gentile crossing the Territory was regarded with suspicion and treated as an unwelcome foreigner. Likewise, the Indians, with whom the Mormons had established a very fragile and tentative peace, regarded all non-Mormons as “Mericats” (Americans) not to be trusted. Brigham Young instructed several Indian chiefs that “they must learn that they have either got to help us or the United States will
kill us both.”

In this volatile environment a group of emigrants wound their way through Utah in August and September 1857. Composed of Americans from Missouri, Arkansas and elsewhere, the band went from town to town on their way to California, only to find hostile treatment at every turn. The emigrants themselves were far from being peacemakers; by some accounts, the Missourians were self-proclaimed “Wildcats” who bragged of being part of the mob that killed Joseph Smith; one of them even taunted the Saints by showing a pistol, claiming that it was the gun that shot “old Joe Smith,” adding, “I would like to go back and take a pop at Old Brig before I leave the territory.”

Soon, the rumor spread that the Company had poisoned a spring, killing cattle, a Mormon, and several Indian braves. The Gentiles were denied trade and provisions, and were forced to go around towns now walled up like fortresses. Some of the Gentiles helped themselves, and boasted of what would happen when the Army arrived to set the Mormons straight. Isaac C. Haight, bishop of Cedar City, recorded his sentiments about the Gentiles on September 6. 1857: “They drove us out to starve…We resolved that if they would leave us alone we would never trouble them. But the Gentiles will not leave
us alone…So far as I am concerned I have been driven from my home for the last time…God being my helper I will give the last ounce of strength and if need be my last drop of blood in defense of Zion.” It was decided to “do away” with the Missourians. The Indians, regarded as the “battleax of the Lord,” were incited against the traveling Company by the rumors of poisoned herds.

As the group rested at Mountain Meadows on Monday or Tuesday (Sept. 7/8), the Indians began to attack and were repulsed. When some of the group broke away to get help, they were hunted down and slain. A military contingent of Saints was soon brought in to contain the situation, a group including Major John M. Higbee, under orders that the emigrants old enough to talk must be “put out of the way.” It was decided that John D. Lee, who had the best relationship with the local band of Piede Indians and who could help pacify them, would approach the Company under flag of truce, induce the emigrants to leave their camp, then, upon signal, the Indians and the Mormons would do away with them; the Mormons would kill the men, and leave the women and children to the Indians, to avoid the shedding of innocent blood by Mormon hands. At the command “Halt! Do your duty!” the Mormon men fired on the men of the Company (those Mormons who would not participate fired their guns in the air), and the Indians descended from the brush on the sides of the road. The surviving children were raised by the Saints for many years.

On April 6, 1858, President Buchanan of the United States issued a “free and full pardon” against the Saints, and the army was temporarily withdrawn to Camp Floyd. Tensions declined across Utah, and attention turned to the events at Mountain Meadows. Visiting authorities from Great Salt Lake chastised local leaders in private, but no one was publicly named for being involved except John D. Lee. It is not known why he was singled out. In 1864 Lee resigned as Presiding Elder of the branch at Fort Harmony, and in 1870 Lee and Isaac C. Haight were excommunicated. Haight was reinstated as a member less than four years later, but Lee’s petitions to Brigham Young went unanswered, except for an anonymous letter that read, in part: “Our advice is to make yourself scarce, and keep out of the way.” It soon became clear that Lee could not be acquitted without involving others within the Church throughout Southern Utah.

John D. Lee, who was tried, convicted and executed for his role in the massacre, is a subject worth study. While his participation in the slaughter of the emigrants makes him a monster, he was nevertheless by most accounts a sensitive and loyal man. Juanita Brooks writes of Lee that he “was a gifted and intelligent man, generous and kindly, but egotistical and apt to be dictatorial…He was a man who was either ardently loved or heartily disliked.” Before his excommunication, he was a popular public figure, entertaining Church leaders (including President Brigham Young) at his home. Lee had a special relationship with the Mormon Moses; under the Law of Adoption, Lee was sealed as a son to Brigham Young. Following his rejection by the Church, he became a lonely and tortured individual. Lee did not pretend to be innocent, but he also refused to name names and betray his brethren. In his own account, Lee insists that he at first refused to follow the militia orders: “I…bowed myself in prayer before God, and asked Him to overrule the decision of that Council. I shed many bitter tears, and my tortured soul was wrung nearly from my body by the great suffering. I will here say, calling upon Heaven, angels and the spirits of just men to witness what I say, that if I could then have had a thousand worlds to command, I would have given them freely to save that company from death.” The Indians from this point through the end of his life called Lee “Yauguts,” or “crybaby,” for the tears he shed on that occasion. But the Indians would not be pacified against the emigrants, and demanded they be destroyed, and the orders Lee received likewise demanded their extinction.

Lee’s devotion to the faith, even following his excommunication and (in his view) being made a scapegoat for the massacre, is admirable. With his dying words he professed his belief in Joseph Smith and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and despite feeling betrayed by Brigham Young, Lee’s letters show complete devotion. He said, while sitting on his coffin awaiting the firing squad, “I am a true believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young…but I believe in the gospel that was taught in its purity by Joseph Smith, in former days…I declare that I did nothing designedly wrong in this unfortunate affair. I did everything in my power to save that people, but I am the one that must suffer.” Lee’s membership and endowments were reinstated posthumously in 1961.

The Church website publishes the following editorials by Prof. Ronald Walker and Prof. Richard Bushman concerning the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in reference to a 2003 book and New York Times editorial on the subject by Sally Denton (http://www.lds.org/newsroom/mistakes/0,15331,3885-1-16767,00.html):

“…Denton links the tragedy to present-day events by alleging that the offending local militia aimed at “ridding the world of infidels” and claims that the massacre has parallels with “9/11.” These emotionally charged comparisons, however, have little to do with historical evidence or to the actual circumstances which occurred.

Finally, the actions of the modern Church seem anything but a struggle to suppress its history, as Denton alleges. My co-authors, Richard E. Turley Jr. and Glen M. Leonard, and I have received full Church cooperation for what must be the most extensive research ever conducted on this episode. That research will be published in 2004 by Oxford University Press, and will shed more light and understanding on the event than any other previous publication.

Ronald W. Walker,
Professor of History
Brigham Young University
3 June 2003″

“To the editor of The New York Times:

In “A Utah Massacre and Mormon Memory” (Op-Ed, May 24), Sally Denton tells only half the story of the tragedy at Mountain Meadows in 1857. She does not mention that for a quarter of a century, Mormons had repeatedly been driven from their settlements by mobs that burned their homes and killed their children.

In 1857, the United States Army was on its way to Utah, and Mormons foresaw another expulsion. Some of them panicked and performed a terrible act that has stained Mormon history ever since.

Richard Bushman
Emeritus Professor of History,
Columbia University
25 May 2003″

As Prof. Walker mentioned, he is currently working on “Tragedy at Mountain Meadows,” with co-authors Glen M. Leonard, Director of the LDS Museum in Salt Lake City, and Richard E. Turley, Jr., Managing Director of the LDS Family and Church History Department. The book is being issued by Oxford University Press sometime in 2006, and promises the greatest access to archives on the topic ever published.


1. Does the Mountain Meadows Massacre have parallels with 9/11? If so, is there anything to be learned by such comparisons? For example, is there any way to see, in the current status of the Mormons in America, a potential pathway for Islam?

2. The actions by the Saints during the Mountain Meadows Massacre can be explained away as the hotheaded mob mentality. Can the actions of al-Queda terrorists be similarly examined?

3. Today, when I think about the thousands of my fellow New Yorkers who died that day in 2001, I wonder if I can ever understand or forgive the terrorists. I believe that Christ demands such of us. Can the Mormon participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre help me to come to terms with the tragedy of 9/11/01?


  1. Excellent post, Steve; moving in several aspects. First, I think there are several intense disparities between the 19th century Mormon attack and the 21st century Islamic counterpart. The participants in the Mormon attack were the historic victims of the mob. The modern corollary would by Palestinians who attack settlers in the west bank; not the death cultists who attack occident in general. It also seems that the Mormon actors did not have an active death wish…more a willingness to make the final stand in their own homes.

    That said, there are some striking parallels. How can seemingly good people be distorted into ministers of death?

    I do think your final questions are cogent. Mormon accommodation (economic, practical and doctrinal), to the ire of fundamentalists, is the reason we enjoy normal status in the US and many places in the world. I believe that Wahabism cannot coexist peacefully with the world and must accommodate for peace. I hope that none of us holds Islam, in general, as responsible for the 9/11.

  2. Thanks for the great, thoughtful post. I’ve noticed previously that the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the 2001 terrorist attacks happened the same day; I think it’s a strange and meaningless, but thought-provoking, coincidence.

    According to what I’ve seen, the existing evidence suggests that the people who did the Mountain Meadows killings thought they were acting under orders from Brigham Young. Hence, they thought they were replicating Nephi’s God-ordered murder of Laban from the beginning of the Book of Mormon. I think J. Stapley is right in pointing out that the parallels shouldn’t be exaggerated. But the underlying doctrine that anything is right if God wills it certainly did drive both Mountain Meadows and the hijackers.

  3. … were the first instance of major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

    You mean Timothy McVeigh doesn’t count somehow?

  4. Great post, Steve. I know it’s thorny territory to start comparing the 9/11 hijackers to the Mormons at Mountain Meadows. As others have already mentioned, there’s plenty of ways they don’t compare, but the larger point remains (in my estimation). It’s also the one Jon Krakauer made in his problematic bestseller (but unpopular among Mormons) Under the Banner of Heaven: Religion, unchecked, unquestioningly obeyed, believed without a shred of doubt, can lead to disaster.

    I think Krakauer, for all of his mistakes, is worth considering for this point. What is it about religious belief that seems to drive some people to destructive behavior, even if that behavior tramples other aspects of their religion? While the number of Mormons who have been driven to violence because of their faith is a tiny number, what about other behaviors? The parents who reject their gay child, or the people who become fundamentalists, even leaving their current families to do so, for example.

    A recent Newsweek poll concluded the vast, vast majority of religious people stay or return to the faith of their parents. What makes us, regardless of our faith, so confident about the correctness of our worldview that we tell other people they have to join our faith, or they might be going to hell, or even to have online arguments over religion? Mormons aren’t the only ones so sure of themselves that they proselytize, debate, and claim the truth lies with them. I see the behavior in myself, but don’t appreciate where it stems from.

  5. I attended a presentation by Prof. Walker on Mountain Meadows last year (Aaron Brown was also in attendance) where he previewed some of the findings of his still-unpublished book. It will show what a complicated place Utah was in 1857 and how high tensions were running. The migrating company that ended up in Mountain Meadows was just in the wrong place at the wrong time — not that they did themselves any favors along the way. But in hindsight, given how supercharged the whole Territory was in late 1857, I think we’re lucky Mountain Meadows was the only massacre that year.

    There could have been a Mormon Massacre of 1857. That there wasn’t shows the difference between the organized military forces of the US Army that marched on Salt Lake City (which had a tight chain of command and disciplined troops) and the paramilitary militia forces that the Mormons put in the field, the weekend warriors of their day. Throw in a contingent of militant Native Americans (who followed their own leaders and who had their own scores to settle) and you get Mountain Meadows. If you want parallels, maybe Kent State (May 4, 1970) is closer than Sept. 11, 2001. Four dead in Ohio; 120 dead at Mountain Meadows.

  6. John H., while I am familiar with the arguments that intense religious fervor stokes violence (a pillar of secular humanism), I don’t think that desire for evangelism is a causative root of violence. I think your question could be changed from “What is it about religious belief that seems to drive some people to destructive behavior..” to “What is it about human nature that seems to drive some people to destructive behavior?”

    The greatest violence perpetrated in humanity was a result of secular communism. I think the question is that most important asks what in the good religion failed to prevent any violence associated with it (in the case that the religion is not death cult).

  7. Secular communism seems to me to be just as well-intentioned a philosophy as any religion, at least if one is willing to overlook its massive failings in practice. Theoretically, working together to build an egalitarian utopia is a Good Thing, whether we’re talking about a secular commune or a religious Zion society–either one, to the extent we could actually get it to happen, would be an improvement over our current society.

    I think the problem comes when people wholeheartedly accept a certain belief system (whatever it may be), to the point that their morality consists of whatever that belief system tells them to do, rather than continuing to apply their own internal moral compass to what they’re asked to do. I think that stems from the part of human nature that wants easy answers to difficult questions, and wants to hand moral responsibility off to someone or something else. “Jesus wants me to do X” or “the prophet has asked us to do Y” or “Chairman Mao said to do Z” can cause people to do Good Things without having fully thought them through, which usually doesn’t lead to major problems. But in certain situations, where the things that the authority figure says to do are more morally ambiguous, those reflexes of doing whatever is asked can become ways for people to avoid tackling with thorny moral and ethical questions themselves. Or even to avoid tackling issues that are pretty straightforward in terms of right and wrong, but difficult when it comes to actually choosing and implementing the right.

  8. I can’t remember when it was, maybe about 1998, we had a big program here honoring those who died in the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Their descendants were invited, representatives of the Paiute tribe came, and I think Dallin Oaks, or Russell M. Nelson. I sang in the choir, we sang beautiful songs.

    I thought it was healing for the descendants of the survivors, but maybe not.

  9. Steve, thanks for a very well-written and thought provoking post. You sensitively explored a very difficult subject. I think your question of whether or not modern Islam has anything to learn from mormon assimilation is very important.

    The Muslims I know are extrememly thoughtful, faithful, peaceful people–and are hurt by the extremist practitioners in their faith. To a certain extent, I think that LDS people are bothered and troubled (or at least embarrassed) by the Mormon fundamentalist extremists. I think that there is much to be learned by a study of the relationship between mainstream and fundamentalist practictioners within a certain religious group, and how mainstream practitioners can exert a moderating power.

    Of course, most journalists and writers are not interested in that kind of study because it lacks the exoticism and tabloid quality of reports on “extremism” that blur the distinction with mainstream practitioners of the religion.

  10. J. Stapley,

    Very well said. Why do humans cling, desperately it seems, to their beliefs – religious or otherwise?

  11. john fowles says:

    In Germany, the translation of Krakauer’s book was published as a “novel.” Just an interesting note.

  12. john fowles says:

    Karen, how did Steve “sensitively” explore this topic? Because he included that letter by Bushman to the NYT?

    It seems overly generous to say that a post comparing or prompting the comparison of the MMM to 9/11 explores the topic of the MMM “sensitively.”

    Bushman’s letter explores the topic of MMM sensitively because it doesn’t present MMM in a vacuum or judged from a late twentieth or early twenty-first century worldview. The differences between the random band that attacked the settlers in MMM and the murder-driven jihadist Islamic fundamentalist secret combinations who seek the destruction of not only human life but also human freedom and human rights are too numerous to countenance a comparison of this kind. The only similarity is that they attacked people who did not directly attack them (that is, unless the men from Arkansas who died at MMM had earlier on been active participants in the murder, rape, and pillaging of LDS communities). The perps in the MMM committed one single isolated horrible violent act for which they faced the consequences in this life and will do so in the next life as well. The terrorists make acts of mass murder their life’s work, plotting new atrocities all the time, looking for new ways to murder greater numbers of people. There just is no comparison.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    JF, your response suggests that either you didn’t read my post very carefully, or that your response was predetermined. There’s no need for such vehemence. I find it ironic that your harsh comment judges my sensitivity!

    I am not suggesting the the mormons participating in the MMM were suicide jihadists like the 9/11 attackers. Of course such an identification would be ludicrous. It is, however, equally ludicrous to suggest the absence of any comparison whatsoever between the two tragedies. Both the 9/11 terrorists and the MMM Saints acted out of a frenzied sense of religious devotion, however misguided and wrong. The scale of their efforts and the effects of their acts are completely different, of course, but I believe that there are similar lessons regarding faith and fanaticism to be learned from both events (frankly, I’d like to see anyone argue otherwise!).

    You state that “The perps in the MMM committed one single isolated horrible violent act for which they faced the consequences in this life and will do so in the next life as well.” Doesn’t that also describe Mohammad Atta and the other 9/11 attackers that perished in their attack?

  14. Space Chick says:


    there are similarities in the sense that both incidents were carried out by believers in a faith, who felt that what they did was necessary to defend that faith and that they were perhaps religiously sanctioned.

    However, I suggest that the MMM “perps” (I see we’ve gone to L&O terms) were reacting to an immediate provocation, what they saw as a potential threat to their families and neighbors at exactly that moment. The planning and execution took place over a matter of days, not years. Nor did those who participated in the ambush hold the outfitters who equipped the expedition responsible, going on to attack them or the government of the states of Arkansas or Missouri.

    In contrast, the men responsible for 11 Sep 2001 planned for months to years to attack people that were not physically a threat to them, then or ever. Those working in the WTC were not in Afghanistan or Sudan or Palestine. They had not personally threatened any of the hijackers, killed their cattle or beseiged their towns.

    I would characterize the first as an outrage committed in the heat of the moment, a prolonged moment to be sure, and an outrage all the same. I would characterize the second as a long-term deliberately planned attack to make a political statement, not self-defense in any way.

  15. Issues of magnitude aside, the pre-meditated quality of 9/11 far exceeds anything that occurred at Mountain Meadows.

    Furthermore, whether you like it or not, Atta and company came from an inherently destructive sub-culture of hatred and violence, whose end goal is to destroy Westerners and Western civilization. It would be disingenous to say that the Mormon killers at Mountain Meadows came from an even remotely comparable sub-culture. Were they religious? Yes. Did they feel persecuted? Yes. Did they plan and celebrate violence against their enemies on a regular basis? No. And finally, did/do their religious leaders preach that through the act of slaughter itself they reaped a glorious eternal reward? No.

    Sorry, the comparison may be fun as an academic matter, but it doesn’t hold up.

  16. john fowles says:

    Doesn’t that also describe Mohammad Atta and the other 9/11 attackers that perished in their attack? No. See Pete’s comment # 15.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    Space Chick, I agree with you. Good points, and they show the inherent limits of comparison here. Both you and Pete focus on the criterion of premeditation, which is clearly a major difference. You would argue, then, that MMM was a crime of passion for some reason? I am unsure of that, because of the overall mentality that preexisted across Utah. Yes, the act itself was relatively unplanned, but the mindset and siege preparations had been going on for months (years, if you include the martydom mindset since Haun’s Mill and the murder of Joseph and Hyrum. In other words, I don’t believe it’s fair to single out John D. Lee and his co-actors as those responsible here; there was an entire culture of paranoia at work that turned Southern Utah into a powderkeg.

    Pete, you say “Atta and company came from an inherently destructive sub-culture of hatred and violence, whose end goal is to destroy Westerners and Western civilization.” People said this, and worse, of the Mormons at the time.

    I also don’t think that the comparison, if one is possible, would be purely academic fluff as Pete suggests. It’s true that the analysis has major limitations, as Space Chick has pointed out. But does that render it, or my questions, completely inapplicable or useless? In other words, the comparison doesn’t have to hold up very much for it to be useful.

  18. John Fowles:

    I find it extremely ironic that you demand sympathy (or at least understading) for the MMM participants based on their culture, the circumstances surrounding the event, etc., yet seem to want to create the very vacuum you criticize around 9/11 and Islamic terrorism.

    In fact, I predicted just such a response from someone the moment I read Steve’s post. When it comes to MMM, Mormons want so desperately to place the event in the context it occurred, but don’t want to extend the same courtesy to the Missouri persecutions, the governments actions against the Church in the 19th century, or events of today. Always persecuted, never the persecutors, I suppose.

    Lest you try and suggest otherwise, I have little sympathy for the likes of Mohammed Atta, and, just like MMM, I find zero justification for what happened and why. But Islamic fundamentalism was no more born in a vacuum than the Mormon reformation and the intense, violent rhetoric of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, or Jedidiah Grant.

    Finally, it’s long been debunked that men in the immigrant train had persecuted the Saints. I understand your desire, John, to absolve the Church of any responsibility in MMM, but don’t you find it a tiny bit suspicious that the murderers are the ones blaming the victims? Isn’t it a bit like saying, “Well gee, I don’t think she deserved to be raped, but she did have a lot to drink, and did you see what she was wearing?” Some actions, whether MMM or 9/11, are so appalling and so beyond comprehension, that trying to temper them is offensive.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Pete/JF – you point out (if I can reword your comments) that a major difference is that Mormon leaders did not encourage the MMM, and after the fact condemned it. On the other hand, some extremist Muslim clerics have spoken in favor of the 9/11 attacks.

    That’s a fair distinction to make, but I would point out that at the time condemnation of the MMM was not universal; Lee and the others felt that they had done their duty, as did others in Southern Utah. Few mourned the death of the Missourians. Similarly, most of the Muslim world has condemned the 9/11 attacks and do not view the attackers as martyrs.

  20. Pete, are you sure that 19th-century Mormons didn’t want to see Western civilization destroyed? Consider the rejoicing with which Brigham Young predicted the Civil War as the end of Western civilization, for example.

  21. john fowles says:

    JH, I am not demanding sympathy for MMM perps. I am rejecting the implication that they were a nineteenth-century Mormon version of Al Queda. The comparison is anything but sensitive. I was taking issue with Karen’s remark, sincerely wondering in what way Steve’s treatment of the matter was “sensitive.”

    Steve, not mourning the death of the Missourians is not tantamount to condoning such an act. I think that JH overstates the case when he asserts that it has long been debunked that the Missourians had been involved in persecuting the saints. It happened. It is very unfortunate that it happened. It was not tantamount to 9/11.

  22. Steve, there’s also the incident where Brigham Young ordered the destruction of the memorial to the Mountain Meadows dead and stated (speaking for the Lord), “Vengeance is mine and I have taken some.” This comes quite close to after-the-fact support.

  23. Steve:
    While you touched on it, you didn’t really address the radical differences between the jihadist sub-culture of Islam and the agrarian Western settler sub-culture of the Southern Utah Mormons. Instead, you simply say that “[p]eople said this, and worse, of the Mormons at the time,” but I thought we were making factual comparisons, not those based on perception. Perhaps your comment is an indirect way of admitting that the sub-cultures have virtually no meaningful comparison in terms of the celebrated role of violence and vengeance in the practice of the religion itself. If not, I would like to hear more about how the farmers in Enterprise, Parowan, and Cedar City, Utah were like the jihadists all over Western Europe, the Middle-east, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Phillipines, etc.

  24. Pete, the 19th-century doctrine of blood atonement makes an interesting parallel to the Islamic doctrine of jihad. Both are subject to competing interpretations, some violent and some not. Both were repeatedly emphasized by religious leaders in the relevant time and place. Specific, literalist interpretations of both doctrines could be seen as justifying the terrorist acts in question. Is this not a meaningful basis for comparison?

  25. “The comparison is anything but sensitive. I was taking issue with Karen’s remark, sincerely wondering in what way Steve’s treatment of the matter was ‘sensitive.'”

    John Fowles:

    A couple of questions. First, when did Steve say Al Qaeda was the 20th-century equivalent to the Mormons of the 19th-century? I thought he was just asking the question if there are comparisons, and if it’s worth exploring. You seem to be implying that he’s insisting they’re the same.

    Second, what do you find insensitive about it? If we can all agree that the “perps” of Mountain Meadows did a terrible thing, then where’s the insensitivity? It seems like it would only be insensitive if we’re trying to acquit the Mormons of any wrongdoing, then comparing them to modern-day terrorists might not be prudent. I can see it being insensitive to compare Gordon B. Hinckley to bin Laden – one an innocent man of God, the other the director of a terrorist organization. But if both groups in Steve’s post are guilty, why insensitve to draw the comparison?

    Finally, how am I overstating the case that wagon train members were not guilty of persecuting the Saints? What evidence beyond the statements of murderers do we have? Admit it John, if this were *any* other massacre, or any other murder case, you’d look at this quite differently. Or do you believe the Missourians at Hauns Mill who insisted they were attacked first?

  26. Steve Evans says:

    JF: “I am rejecting the implication that they were a nineteenth-century Mormon version of Al Queda. The comparison is anything but sensitive.”

    Such a comparison would indeed be insensitive, had I done so. But I haven’t, which suggests again to me that you haven’t read the post.

  27. Roasted T:

    Do we have any evidence that the doctrine of blood atonement was at all invoked or relied upon as a basis for the Mountain Meadow slaughter?

    I’m pretty sure there is evidence linking 9/11 primarily to a violence-based interpretation of jihad.

    In regard to my original sub-culture point, is there any evidence that even suggests that blood atonement was remotely as important to the Mountain Meadows killers as violent jihad doctrine was to Atta and the gang?


  28. john fowles says:

    JH, I don’t have facts that definitively show that the Arkansans and Missourians at MMM had been involved in the persecution of the saints in Missouri. I wasn’t claiming that either, and I also wasn’t stating that I am taking the word of the MMM perps that the Missourians who were killed there had been bragging about being part of the mob that killed Joseph Smith and other abuses against the Latter-day Saints (although I similarly have no facts that show that the Missourians weren’t making such statements).

    What I said was that you overstated your case when you said that it has been definitely debunked that the Missourians had participating in persecuting the saints back in Missouri. All that means is that it has not been “definitively” debunked, even if some have made persuasive arguments in favor of that conclusion.

    I admit that I am more willing to give MMM perps the benefit of the doubt through a sympathetic reading of the historical context than I am 9/11 terrorists. Thus, I am disgusted by theories that suggest that the victims of 9/11 deserved it because they–and all Americans–were “mini-Eichmanns” by virtue of working in the corporations and law firms that inhabited the WTC because, after all, everyone knows that all of the poverty in the world and other problems is caused by American capitalism and the corporations that are driving it (and that this poverty, and not a religious view obsessed with hatred of “infidels,” is what causes jihad mentality of Islamic fundamentalists).

    Likewise, you have correctly called me out in being less willing to believe the Missourians who performed the Haun’s Mill massacre than the MMM perps’ statements about that event (although I am not letting the MMM perps off the hook for their crimes). I guess this can be ascribed to comparative track records preceding the incident in question.

    JH, I know that you are disgusted and outraged at Islamic fundamentalism. I have enjoyed reading your posts and comments on it in the past, and I fully agree with it. I am curious to hear why you seem willing to entertain this comparison between MMM perps and Islamic mass murderers? Is it because the MMM perps were LDS? Would you be as eager to entertain the comparison if we were comparing the Islamic fundamentalists to those who murdered Joseph Smith and drove the Saints out of Nauvoo? I, for one, very much would be. That latter comparison seems much more apt because the actions of those participating were motivated by a deep-seated hatred of the “other”–in the case of the jihadists, that “other” is the “West” (and, frankly, anyone who does not agree with their xenophobic, misogynistic, fanatical religious views); in the case of those who drove the Saints out of Nauvoo, that “other” was the religious and societal view of Latter-day Saints. The magnitude of the act is also much more comparable when one compares those who persecuted the Saints with the 9/11 terrorists.

  29. In fact, now that John F mentions it, Joseph Smith’s assasins compare quite favorably to Atta and co. Think about it: 1) they planned their killings well in advance, 2) they came from all over the place for a common purpose, 3) they were motivated, in part, by common religious beliefs (protestantism) and the blasphemy of their enemies, 4) they were disguised as ordinary citizens (in some cases as militia), 5) while they did not have jumbo airliners they indeed stormed a *building*, and 6) at least one victim was forced to jump from the building to escape the certain death within. That’s it! Discuss amongst yourselves. ;-)

  30. Eric Russell says:

    RT makes an interesting point about blood atonement, but I still don’t believe that that was the motivating factor. Brigham Young specifically told the members to leave the travelers alone, although I understand they got that letter too late. Even still, I think most of them knew that they were acting contrary to Brigham’s will on the matter. That’s the primary difference between the two cases. One group was acting in religious fervor. The other was going against its religion in the heat of anger and fear.

    MMM appears to be a good example of the fact that second-guessing and disobeying the prophet can lead to disaster.

  31. Eric, as far as I know, the available documentary evidence suggests that the Mountain Meadows killers in fact believed they were under Brigham’s orders. There’s still an active controversy about whether they were or not; Brigham certainly sent the letter you mention, but that doesn’t preclude him from having previously issued verbal orders. Some evidence, such as the account if his having given the Fancher party’s cattle to the southern Native American tribes, suggests that he might have. However, this question remains historically vexed.

    With respect to the question of whether blood atonement was involved in Mountain Meadows, talks involving blood atonement routinely used the verbal trope of slitting the throat (sometimes from ear to ear). Several of the Mountain Meadows victims had their throats slit from ear to ear. This mode of execution provides some evidence linking the blood atonement doctrine to the Mountain Meadows killings.

    With respect to the relative importance of jihad versus blood atonement: if the Mountain Meadows murderers killed a bunch of people with the justification of a relatively less important doctrine of murder, does that make them better than the Sept. 11 murderers–who killed with the justification of their interpretation of one of the pillars of Islam? I’m not sure it does.

  32. I’m stunned that the conversation here is along the lines of “who are the kindler, gentler murderers?” They’re all going to burn in hell, no excuses. Steve’s questions are worth repeating:

    Does the Mountain Meadows Massacre have parallels with 9/11?

    Yes and no. (See conversations above)

    Is there any way to see, in the current status of the Mormons in America, a potential pathway for Islam?

    The initial dearth of remorse for 9/11 on the part of many Muslim leaders was terrible. One would hope that LDS would never apologise for or justify acts of murder perpetrated by our people. Talk of Missouri and mobocracy leans in that direction.

    The actions by the Saints during the Mountain Meadows Massacre can be explained away as the hotheaded mob mentality. Can the actions of al-Queda terrorists be similarly examined?


    Can the Mormon participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre help me to come to terms with the tragedy of 9/11/01?

    That’s up to you, Steve. (Personal opinion): we should certainly forgive Atta and co, as I hope we can forgive John D. Lee (despite the hell-fire gleaming in my eyes above). We should be unwilling to judge Islam based on Al Qaeda, just as we hope MM does not discredit Mormonism (despite Krakauer and co.). And whilst pursuing justice, we should be very careful that Arabs and Muslims do not pay the price for their compatriots’ evil, just as we would have decried any sack of Salt Lake City after MM.

  33. That’s “apologise for” in the sense of apologia, and not “saying sorry.”

  34. It’s a heck of a lot easier to forgive someone who isn’t continuing in their destructive behavior.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan: “The actions by the Saints during the Mountain Meadows Massacre can be explained away as the hotheaded mob mentality. Can the actions of al-Queda terrorists be similarly examined?


    I’m glad we answered that one!

  36. Alright, I admit I am baffled by the title of this post, and Google isn’t helping. Anyone?

  37. Ryan –

    It’s a test to see if you read Steve’s post carefully:

    “The Indians from this point through the end of his life called Lee “Yauguts,” or “crybaby,” for the tears he shed on that occasion.”

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Way to spoil it, E. Now Ryan can avoid reading my posts yet again

  39. Reading all the comments, I fail to see any evidence that anyone participating has read Will Bagley’s “Blood of the Prophets,” the most recent scholarly study of MMM, and its clear invocation of the Oath of Vengeance as fundamental to the crime (which takes it out of the “crime of passion” description) and its not-quite-stated implication of Brigham Young in instigating the attack. (In fact, it’s not altogether clear how many are familiar with Juanita Brooks’ generation-earlier groundbreaking work on the subject.)

    Also, the comments about the dearth of Muslim regret for the WTC attack: while regrettable it’s far less heinous than Brigham Young’s lifelong, conscious coverup of MMM and his ultimate scapegoating of John D. Lee. Which brings up Scott Card’s “Saintspeak” definition of MMM (which I have to paraphrase from memory because I can never find that book when I need it): The occasion on which John D. Lee disguised himself as a whole tribe of Indians and singlehandedly wiped out a wagon train.” That certainly accords with official church teachings, at least until Juanita Brooks had the courage to publish on the subject.

    It does seem to me that similar elements of the two events make them ultimately worth comparing, as something other than a sterile academic exercise. The limits of “obedience” in an authoritarian religious context are always worth exploring.

  40. John, I would really like to meet you in person. I think that we would get along famously and enjoy having interesting and thought-provoking conversations. I also would like a context to put your comments in because I think you sometimes come across as more aggressive than you intend. But I choose to take your comment at face value and respond to it as such, because, as I said, I’m quite sure we’d be real-time pals.

    I described Steve’s treatment of the subject as sensitive because he invited us to both compare and distinguish, i.e. here’s the subject, a coincidental date and two acts of religious fanatacism…which conclusions can you legitimately draw, which ones can’t you draw? In reading the comments I agree with the many opinions pointing out distinguishing facts, particularly the premeditation point. Very astute. However, I think the question re: attemtpting to moderate extremism through mainstream faith is important. I think it is an issue that needs to be addressed within the Islamic community, and I think the history of Mormonism has something to offer.

    I also think that it was sensitive of Steve to bring up the topic of forgiveness–an intriguing way for us to look at the issue from two different angles. In my experience, forgiveness is becoming a forgotten virtue, and I welcome the chance to examine it.

    I’m going to take a stand here. Steve=sensitive. That’s my position….

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Aw shucks Karen… :)

  42. Eric Russell says:


    Will Bagley’s take is as “blackwashed” as much as the church’s approach to its history is whitewashed.

    Is there anywhere we can go to get an honestly neutral take on the subject?

  43. I guess bias is in the eye of the beholder. My take is that Bagley gathered as much relevant data as was available to him and drew the appropriate conclusions from the data. If those conclusions don’t match one’s tastes, they become suspect. I’ve yet to see anyone point up substantive errors in either fact or interpretation in Bagley’s work.

    And I have exactly zero hope that the eternally-forthcoming Turley-Walker-et al. work will be anything but an enormous tank of whitewash.

    So, to paraphrase Pilate: What is neutrality?

  44. john fowles says:

    And I have exactly zero hope that the eternally-forthcoming Turley-Walker-et al. work will be anything but an enormous tank of whitewash.

    Why don’t we wait on that, rather than prejudging it, and judge it based on whether “substantive errors in either fact or interpretation” are present in the Turley book.

  45. Steve Evans says:

    I hate to say it, but amen to what John Fowles just said.

    See, John? It’s not that hard for us to get along :)

  46. Steve (re: 38) Number, I know it won’t mean much, but sincerely, I think I’ve read 95% of your posts in the last year. Just so you know. :)

  47. There is no comparison between the two incidents. In the MMM, the Mormons had a 10-year record of peacefully greeting and provisioning wagon trains. It was the makeup of the wagon train which was different. Think about something — the word to leave them alone came too late from Salt Lake City . . .but the fact that the Prophet even KNEW about the train in the first place points to weeks of noise and incidents involving them as they came west.

    And what kind of idiot brags about killing a beloved leader and saying that he wants to kill the successor while going deep into the homeland of the followers?

    Remember also that, at the time, the Exterminating Order was still in effect in Missouri. Who wouldn’t think of “Do unto others before they do unto you”? Especially when pretty much everyone in that part of Utah remembered the depredations of the Missourians?

    We can understand why it happened, and when we do, it seems less and less to be “religious extremism” and more a response to incitement. In other words, the Missourians drew first.

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