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The Bizarre Religious Myths Mormon Right-Wingers Are Pushing on Tea Partiers -- With Glenn Beck's Help

With the rise of the right, the National Center for Constitutional Studies' bizarre version of U.S. history is gaining adherents.

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Benson was also an advocate for Bircher-style conspiracy theories. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he saw the hand of communism in every social welfare policy and fought them as both immoral and unconstitutional. A rabid foe of the civil rights movement, Benson in 1971 allowed one of his anti-civil rights talks to be reprinted as the introduction to a book of race hate called Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence, and White Alternatives. The book's cover featured the severed, bloody head of an African American. By the end of the decade, his politics had taken a similar turn to that of his friend Skousen. During a 1972 general conference of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Benson recommended all Mormons read Gary Allen's New World Order tract None Dare Call it A Conspiracy.

Such was the state of Skousen and Benson's politics (and intellectual seriousness) when they celebrated the opening of the Freeman Institute on July 4, 1971, in a converted storefront judo studio just off the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah. The purpose of the Freemen Institute, said its literature, was to "inspire Americans to return to the Founders' original success formula."

‘Christ or Chaos'
Skousen's new institute, then as now, was not greeted by universal acclaim among his fellow Mormons. Edwin Brown Firmage, a professor of law at the University of Utah, complained to the Mormon magazine Sunstone in 1981: "Skousen is teaching right-wing fundamentalism with a constitutional veneer. How anyone can prove that civil rights and welfare are unconstitutional is beyond me. For his people, ‘Constitutional' is just a right-wing buzzword." A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Larry Eichel, reached the same conclusion after attending one of Skousen's lectures in the birthplace of the Constitution. "He preached a political return to the eighteenth century," wrote a dismayed Eichel.

The reporter was off by a century, but his point was well taken. What the Mormon constitutionalism pioneered by Skousen pines after most is the federal government of the mid-nineteenth century. If the NCCS could stop the clock anywhere, it would be 1867, the year before the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Like today's Tenther movement, whose adherents cite the Tenth Amendment to advocate the sovereignty of the states over federal government power, Skousen argued that constitutional decline began when the federal government overrode the states to grant and enforce equality under the law.

Skousen first laid out his views on the Constitution in 1981, with the publication of The 5,000 Year Leap. Now the central text of Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project — the Fox host calls the book "divinely inspired" — Leap is an illustrated recipe for turning the United States into 50 little theocracies, each dictating morality according to its own religious ethics. These ethics, argues Skousen in Leap, should be transmitted through "extensive Bible reading" in public schools.

The project of the book is clear, even if its author never came right out and said it. Others would prove bolder in explaining the importance of Leap. In Ronald Mann's introduction to Leap's 10th-anniversary edition, he praises Skousen for grasping America's choice of "Christ or chaos" and for acknowledging that its future depends on "accepting and demonstrating God's government."

The project started by Leap was furthered a few years later with the publication of The Miracle of America. After reducing its contents to a smaller workbook suitable for one- and seven-day seminars, Skousen again hit the road. During the first "Making of America" tour, he demonized the federal regulatory agencies, arguing for the abolition of everything from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. He wanted to repeal the minimum wage, smash unions, nullify anti-discrimination laws, sell off public lands and national parks, end the direct election of senators, kill the income tax and the estate tax, knock down state-level walls separating church and state, and, of course, raze the Federal Reserve System.