White nationalism meets Mormonism on Twitter (again)

BYU Professor Hank Smith made some minor waves on Twitter this week when he approvingly retweeted a thread that connected Mormonism with white nationalist ideology and bizarre conspiracy theories.

Thankfully, a few hours later Smith retracted his endorsement of the thread, explaining he hadn’t read it all the way through. But it’s worth digging into because much of it will fly under the radar of people who aren’t familiar with alt-right theories in the United States, which are gaining a foothold among some Twitter-using church members.

I’d never heard of Dan McKinley before his thread went semi-viral, but he’s got an impressive Twitter following of over 5k. His thread identified Mormonism as “The Ultimate Secret.” His overt theme is that “the great secrets of the universe” have been hidden within Mormonism to safeguard their purity from defilement by “normies” (regular people?).

Dan is scratching an itch that troubles some church members: If ours is the only true church on earth, why is it so small? (Like .2% of the current world population or something.) Wouldn’t that mean God fails to reach a vast majority of his children? 

That itch has been scratched in a number of different ways, including the belief that every human will ultimately have a chance to embrace the gospel either in this life or after death, including the administration of required ordinances like baptism by proxy. 

That’s why Dan calls Mormonism “quasi-universalistic,” but there’s more to the story. Dan’s an engaging writer. He says the church is like a unicorn that appears to be a pony with a plastic horn. Without citing it, Dan is echoing Paul’s affirmation in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that God chose the “foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” That’s a favorite verse of anti-clerical (anti-Catholic) Christians through the ages. And when Dan cites the old quote about how someday a ploughboy will know more about scripture than the Pope (he misattributes it to Wycliffe), he’s right in line with run-of-the-mill LDS exceptionalism. 

I think this is why someone like Hank Smith could easily retweet the thread despite the wackiness to come (and it gets wacky!)—it affirms LDS exceptionalism while accounting for the church’s small reach and the kind of dismissal/ridicule we get in places like South Park and Under the Banner of Heaven. 

But by the thread’s third tweet we’re seeing unusual ideas that should give some pause for anyone unfamiliar with them. He ties Mormonism to the “Celtic Christianity of antiquity” and the “13th bloodline.”

These ideas are rooted in what scholars have called the “Christian Identity” movement, which claims that the true lineages of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can be traced through history by bloodlines. These bloodlines happen to align with Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, and Aryan peoples. They believe there is a “pure” bloodline which includes only white people.

So when Dan calls himself a “biologic supremacist” in his Twitter profile description and identifies as “sanguine pura” (an apparent bastardization of the Latin for “pure blood”) he’s associating himself with the chosen lineage.

His “Merovingian” reference is from white supremacist medievalism, which holds that Europe was homogenously white in the middle ages, that it was racially superior to other peoples, and thus bestows a spiritual knightliness on its (white) descendants. All of this is connectable through things like Game of Thrones, the Charlottesville racist rally, etc. It’s a huge spider web. Probably a few good YouTube videos that lay it all out if you want to go down that rabbit hole, get “red-pilled,” etc.

Anyway, chosenness and hidden truths are connected to a particular race. With this as his foundation, Dan ridicules people who seek “arcane truths in exotic locations” like India, Tibet, the Amazon. Such efforts are silly, those peoples aren’t part of the chosen race.

His white grievance politics are made explicit when he says people today (presumably the “normies,” dumb regular unenlightened people) think “The White Man can’t be spiritual.” To Dan and other Christian Identitarians (and other white nationalists), the white chosen race—aka lost and scattered Israel—forgot its legacy of chosenness.

But according to Dan, this was all actually by design. God was hiding the secret truths in plain sight. Just like how he sent Jesus to earth in a lowly manger. And then Joseph Smith, who Dan identifies as a “direct descendant of Jesus Christ” with “primordial Irish ancestors.”

(Note the debunked photo of Joseph Smith, too.) So now we’re back to the bloodline/race “science”—now popularized in places like Tucker Carlson’s cable show where “replacement theory” has been openly embraced. The idea that “others” are coming to America, replacing white people and then outvoting them, etc. (Check out the NYT’s in-depth analysis of Carlson’s white supremacist programming; it’s startling.)

The problem for Dan’s thread is that scientists have long shown that the whole idea of a pure bloodline is fundamentally bullsh*t. It is nonsense to say Joseph Smith was directly descended from Jesus, including an amazing (yikes) scientific identification of his “pure” blood type (pure R1b1 L121 M169)!

It matters to Dan because his story is about white supremacy by other names. And Mormonism has a long history with problematic ideas about bloodlines, purity, and race. I’m talking about how some patriarchal blessings have operated, race-based priesthood and temple restrictions, ideas about “believing blood” (see also: British Israelism), secret knowledge about Joseph Smith being a descendant of Jesus, anti-interracial marriage teachings, God employing skin color curses, and more. 

A number of books have dug into these issues, such as All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage by Armand Mauss. And don’t forget Race and the Making of the Mormon People by Max Mueller and Religion of A Different Color by Paul Reeve. Amanda Hendrix-Komoto has a new book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet, but she’s a great scholar and I’m looking forward to her Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific. And there are some interesting parallels between our faith and the white evangelical racism documented by Anthea Butler, who I interviewed on Fireside.

These resources offer more background into why Dan’s thread was so troubling. He’s promoting white nationalism and Christian Identitarianism, identifying our church as the pinnacle of those ideologies. Feel free to add recommended sources below, there are tons of journal articles and such that are relevant.

I could go on, but I’ll just mention one more point. Elsewhere in his thread Dan approvingly cites Zecharia Sitchin, an author who wrote fraudulent conspiracy theory books about how ancient aliens are the real reason we find pyramids in Egypt among “inferior” (read: non-white) peoples. The racism of these theories has been outlined elsewhere. Dan expresses some skepticism—Sitchin isn’t completely right when he theorized that the Book of Mormon was actually the product of ancient alien encounters and such, but Dan says he’s not that far off nevertheless.

“More correct than most,” he says, and correctness is most important of all. Dan offers a Mormon gnosticism with a white supremacist foundation. Secret knowledge, hidden just for select members of the pure race.

Comments

  1. Bro. Jones says:

    Sigh. I have posted on this elsewhere but worth mentioning again here: after teaching a youth Sunday School lesson in my ward on the priesthood/temple ban (at the youth’s request), some parents complained to the bishop that I was teaching “false doctrine.” (The lesson cited exclusively from the Church essay, other church sources, and W. Paul Reeve’s work. And it listed those citations.) I got a warning from the bishop, got released from my calling shortly after, and did not get asked to speak or teach a lesson for 3 years afterwards.

    How is it that the church establishment can immediately jump on “liberal” speech but manage to time and time again look the other way for utter swill that emerges from the likes of Hank Smith?

  2. Get a load of Hank Smith’s website, https://hanksmith.com/, with its tagline: “CHANGING LIVES THROUGH HUMOR, WISDOM AND SPIRITUAL INSIGHT” (sic). Brad Wilcox, vol. 2?

  3. matt b says:

    The various connections McKinley builds in this thread were constructed by various late-twentieth century conspiracy theorists: Milton William Cooper, David Icke, and others who wove together old racial theories (British Israelism, what Blair refers to as Christian Identity here), anti-Semitic tropes like the blood libel and suspicion of ‘international bankers’; theories of ancient civilizations derived from the esoteric teachings of groups like the nineteenth century Theosophical Society, and many others. This weaving together of conspiracy theories into single gigantic mega-conspiracy is a particularly late-twentieth-century phenomenon, and various Latter-day Saints like Bruce Alan Walton and Cleon Skousen certainly participated in its construction too. It’s interesting to see a particularly Mormon manifestation. Blair, I would have written this if you hadn’t – good job!

  4. Kristine A says:

    It’s a systemic problem that we preferably hire our (often good at what they do) youth pastors to the pinnacle of religious cultural power and influence and label them religious scholars. A real scholar who values evidence-based arguments in addition to faith-building super skills would have had red flags blaring at them throughout the thread (the term bloodlines is our first clue). Yes, it’s an issue even if you *accidentally* share race nonsense and white supremacy. Wilcox, Smith, and even BYUI anatomy censoring are all systemic issues related to our retrenchment and fundamentalism. We do not lack faithful religious scholars to be professors of religion. I have no problem having Institute classes at college level, but the conflation of religion departments and professorships muddies the water to everyone’s detriment. (Institute teachers can and sometimes are incredible scholars. Incredible scholars can be amazing institute teachers. It’s possible to find those with both skills. We need to know their time and place if the skills )

    And PS Bro Jones – this is so very tiring. Death by a thousand papercuts: suspicion and boundary maintenance face anything that might remotely disrupt tradition but white supremacy is a whoopsie and a blind eye.

  5. Chadwick says:

    Instagram really thinks I care about Hank Smith and constantly highlights his posts in my thread, even though I do not follow him. So I’m often subjected to him and triggered at what he has to say. Please Instagram, get a clue. I don’t want to follow Hank Smith and his closed comment section that manufactures universal agreement with the things he writes.

    What exactly are this man’s qualifications to discuss mental health, women’s issues, and toxic positivity exactly?

  6. @chadwick same! Even though I keep telling Instagram not to show me his account!

    It seems like he should have learned from his last Twitter problem to think before he tweets. Good grief. All he needed to have done was check the profile of the guy to know he shouldn’t be re-tweeting this nonsense.

  7. BHodges says:

    Bro. Jones: My experience at BYU suggested that more often than not it was more acceptable to express conservative inflected heresies than progressive ones.

    matt: Great added references, thank you!

    Kristine A: I agree, this is a serious systemic problem.

    Chadwick: you could always use that block feature!

    Elisa: The fact that he’s again following DezNat accounts and retweeting alt-right stuff after his last Twitter imbroglio suggests he didn’t really learn his lesson. I would have hoped he would have become curious about alt-right stuff already enough to counter it rather than promote it.

  8. Once again I thank God for Charles Darwin.

  9. Thanks Blair.

    Putting aside the racism (which is a big put-aside), last night on Twitter I described the thread as “esoteric word salad.” And I think the esoteric word salad nature of it is both a result of a naive approach to religion and a dangerous way to slide racism (and other harmful ideologies) into members’ belief systems. (I mean, this particular racism was pretty in-your-face, but I can imagine a subtler version.)

    In fact, it reminds me of two things. One is Skousen’s “13 Steps of the Atonement.” A mission companion showed it to me and I was so enamored as a 19-year-old that I write it in the front of my scriptures. But all it was was a bunch of verses scriptures tied together without any context or connection, with the final one being THE ATONEMENT.

    Which takes me to the other place I see this kind of rhetoric–tax protestors. They take a bunch of Internal Revenue Code sections out of context, misread them, and use that misreading to assert that the tax law is deficient and doesn’t apply to them.

    He’s assembled a bunch of images and words that sound deep and esoteric and add mystery to banal beliefs and that becomes deep and exciting to people who aren’t versed in careful readings. And, unfortunately, some significant portion of BYU religion professors aren’t versed in scriptural exegesis. So without tools to approach scripture critically, they hop onto pseudo-deep readings without really paying attention. And that means that pseudo-deep thinkers can sneak in racism in disguised terms and they’ll fall for it.

    This type of conspiracy reading substituting for trained reading strikes me as legitimately harmful when performed by people who are allegedly experts in the topic.

  10. BHodges says:

    Sam, it also seems related to FARMS-style parallelomania apologetics, looking for Mormon-like ideas and practices and employing them as proofs of Joseph Smith’s revelations.

  11. BHodges says:

    Sam, it also seems related to the FARMS style of apologetics That sought parallels in the ancient world as evidence of the truthfulness of Mormonism. All of them are their own Hugh Nibley.

  12. Blair, that sounds right to me. I’m just more familiar with the tax protestor version than the parallelomania version.

  13. I had never heard of Hank Smith before. Seems every generation has a couple of these guys running on the cult of personality. I was the stake president of the Palmyra, NY stake and I can’t even count the number of self promoters that came through or called asking to do a “special” firside. I always said, “No, we’ve have some great people in our local stake that are inspiring and devoted people that don’t have any books to sell, that we can call on at any time for a great fireside.” At Pageant time the came in like locusts wanting to “inlighten” the local Saints and sell their books. I could name names, but I will not. I just don’t get how CES allows this nonsense to go on.

  14. Mary Ann says:

    I recommend Stirling Adams’ presentation “Mormon Israelism and the Genealogical Society of Utah,” available on the Dialogue Journal website. It’s an expanded version of a presentation he gave at the 2018 Sunstone Symposium. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2019/03/race-lineage-and-the-1920s-1940s-genealogical-society-of-utah/

  15. Good Lord. Hank Smith tweets whatever he wants with zero repercussions due to the platform CES gives him and the general authorities refuse to do anything about DezNat and other white nationalist bloggers. With this going on, how is it such a surprise that people outside the church don’t take us and our faith seriously?

    What will it take for CES and the general authorities to call this behavior out, and put an end to it? The church is losing Millennials and Generation Z in droves, and will keep doing so if this is allowed to continue.

    I’m with Dave. Enough of these self-promoters.

  16. C_Watts says:

    The list of things that Hank Smith gets wrong that I learned in the BYU Survey of World Religions undergraduate course is embarrassingly long. Seems like a faculty member should have basic familiarity with the undergraduate curriculum from their academic unit. Maybe somebody from Team Hank can audit this class and screen his tweets?

  17. nobody, really says:

    Complaining about Hank Smith on your Instagram seems a lot like complaining about the sex and violence on your DVD player.

  18. DisappointedFormerFan says:

    You left out that McKinley claims to be an expert in physiognomy, an idea that’s hella racist:

    Today he’s posting about the “beedy eyes” of George Soros. Deplorably bonkers.

  19. matthew73 says:

    Dave, I wish you would name names :)

  20. BHodges says:

    DisappointedFormerFan, are you related to DisappointedFormerFan 3? Good people.

    Yes, the face analysis stuff is super racist, but he didn’t bring it up in the thread so I punted on that part. But he takes it serious and performs analyses especially of women. Which is yikes.

  21. Chadbro says:

    I haven’t seen a single substantive engagement or rebuttal of anything he said, just a lot of “wow, just wow’ism”. For the record, the only type of faith that is even remotely attractive to young men is in this direction, hate to break it to all the practical atheists on this site. He’s searching after truth, but you just want to cast stones because his message isn’t for you.

  22. Haberdasher says:

    Blair, do you another tinfoil hat lying around to send to Chadbro?

  23. Chadbro, if you haven’t seen a single substantive engagement or rebuttal, you’ve had your eyes closed. I’ve seen (and participated) in both on Twitter, and you just commented on an entire post that engages with his nonsense.

  24. rickpowers says:

    At the time that the DaVinci Code was all the rage, there were a number of books printed – such as The Hiram Key – that attempted to tie together every strand of esoteric trivia from the past 10,000 years into one Grand Unified Theory of BS. They were actually kind of a fun read, with a sprinkling of true history here and there in an attempt to get the reader to think “wow, maybe this guy’s on to somethin'”. But, I tell you what, it would appear to me that this Hammerin’ Hank Smith dude, with his references to the Abrahamic-Yogi (and BooBoo)-Celtic-Merovingians-AmerIndian-Klingon-Elvis interconnection bloodline, may really have found the Holy Grail of Holy Grails!

    But, then, I will never really know since I’m an impure blood Muggle.

  25. rickpowers says:

    Correction: Dan McKinley dude. My bad.

  26. Thanks, Blair. The longer I live, the more I shake my head at the gullibility of my fellow “saints.” But not to worry—Utah Mormons will keep Mike Lee in office. Argh.

  27. Truckers Atlas says:

    “…which are gaining a foothold among some Twitter-using church members.” Blair, could this “some” be limited to like 75 extremely online guys?

  28. BHodges says:

    Chadbro, I don’t know what wow just wow-ism is, but this post includes plenty of resources backing up its claims. You’re right in line with his attitude, which is that God has contempt for most of God’s own children.

    rickpowers, greetings fellow normie.

    Truckers: I have no idea what kind of numbers we are dealing with. When it comes to Dan, I think his stuff is obscure enough that we might only be dealing with a few hundred people. But conspiracy thinking in general is alive and well amongst the saints. A recent PRRI poll found that “white evangelical Protestants, Hispanic Protestants, and Mormons are more likely than other groups to agree” with core tenets of the QAnon conspiracy. https://www.prri.org/research/qanon-conspiracy-american-politics-report/

  29. The tinfoil hats are for all you liberal Mormons who can’t admit that this IS your faith.

  30. Dear anon,
    I am a “liberal Mormon” and I freely admit that I am Mormon. So, there’s a data point for you.

  31. MDearest says:

    I read the post and comments last night, and have little to engage with the discussion beyond more wow-ism, except for something I remember from the period right after the 2020 election. I remember what that guy in Georgia said. I had to track down his name, and the quote: Gabriel Sterling, a Republican politician, in charge of Georgia voting systems and trying to prepare the state for their runoff election, made the news around the first of December, pleading with the President and the Republicans in power to ratchet down the dangerous rhetoric because his poll workers were receiving all manner of death threats. “It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Someone can get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.“

    Those strong words weren’t heeded enough, but they were well said anyway, and the idea is significant in this context. It applies to the rogue political animals on Twitter, to CES and BYU, to the top leadership of the church, who are accountable for turning aside when violence is spoken in our culture, over and over. And to us, chatting in this forum.

    Someone can get hurt. Someone’s going to get killed. Someone has gotten killed. A lot of someones, but the ones who weigh heavy on me right now are Brenda and Erica Lafferty, whose murders were, in part, a consequence of the blind eye turned by everyone, in all our offices, to violent rhetoric normalized in our culture. And we still do turn our attention away, missing the important part of the forest because we don’t like the way the trees are depicted.

    Last December, Gabriel Sterling also said this: “”All of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

  32. lemuel says:

    Y’all just gotta read this. I promise you will be entertained:

  33. Kristine says:

    Uh, no. Misogyny is rarely funny.

  34. His usage of physiognomy is a schtick more than anything. If one parses through his posts, I don’t recommend it but I did it so you don’t have to, he leverages flowery psedoscientific phrases to praise the conservative politicians and celebrities he likes and the women to whom he is attracted while degrading and attacking those who espouse liberal politics or who he feels don’t meet some ill conceived standard for beauty. The physiognomy is his lever for popularity among a certain category of conservative male.

  35. Kristine says:

    “The physiognomy is his lever for popularity among a certain category of misogynist, racist male.”

    Fixed it for you.

  36. lemuel says:

    Kristine, but you see, I’m a terrible person and hence find this kind of thing funny. It’s how I cope.

  37. BHodges says:

    The amount of thinking he puts into that garbage is breathtaking.

  38. The blatant misogyny and gross physiognomy analyses coming from Dan McKinley are hardly surprising considering the unrealistic standards most LDS men (especially amongst the DezNat crowd and likely ChadBro as well) already hold women to. It doesn’t make it okay or any less horrifying, though.

  39. Anonymous ignoramus says:

    BHodges, I’d like to thank you for writing this article. I saw this thread about a week ago, when somebody in a faithful community bizzarely linked it. I remember reading through it and thinking “huh, this is a nice defense of the faith”. But, I suppose because I’m not well-educated on this kind of thing, I completely missed the White Nationalist dogwhistles in the thread. I just presumed he was just another conspiracist nutjob applying his conspiracies to the Church (like somebody I’ve known IRL) but seeing the details on what he said I now feel awful for having fallen for such an easy trick.

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