What Happens If We Wake Up With a Mormon in the White House? What Joseph Smith's Run for President Suggests About Mitt Romney
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The grand martial display marked how far the Mormons had come in a short time. Three years earlier, Smith and his followers had felt the full force of an official order signed by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs, which went like this: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the state, if necessary, for the public peace. Their outrages are beyond all description."
Before watching A Mormon President , I knew something about how the Missourians had massacred the Mormons prior to running them out of that godforsaken state. What I didn’t know was that a Mormon was the one who had apparently started all the extermination talk. The movie shows a perennial second banana, Sidney Rigdon -- who is played by a Billy Crystal look-alike in an Abe Lincoln beard -- making a speech in which he threatens Missouri's "gentiles" with "a war of extermination."
Here’s the thing about extermination threats: When you’re the weird little minority in a sea of armed, whiskey-guzzling Christians, it is generally a bad strategy to speak publicly of your intention to wipe out everybody else.
The Missourians were slow to react. There’s something about suicidal cultists that makes the sure-to-win side hesitate. ( Are they hiding something we don’t know about? There’s got to be some angle we’re not catching! ) Gov. Boggs grew weary of waiting and signed the order. The locals went to work massacring the men, the womenfolk, and the children, before finally driving other Mormons out of the state. Smith, Rigdon, and others landed in a Missouri jail… from which they eventually made their escape.
Safe at last in Nauvoo, Illinois, Smith made a riverside prophecy that the Missouri governor would "die by violent hands within one year." Which brings us to the thug who served as head of Smith’s security detail: Orrin Porter Rockwell. In the film, he resembles a 19 th century Hells Angel biker, if a little meaner and crazier. Soon after the boss's prophecy, Rockwell slipped back over to Missouri and… next thing you know… someone is blasting Gov. Boggs with four shots -- two balls of buckshot in the neck, two in the head -- leaving him all but dead.
A couple of years later, Smith's thoughts turned national. He established an inner circle called “the Council of 50," which was “like an Ollie North thing,” as one historian describes it in A Mormon President . This group ran Smith’s campaign and planned his takeover of power, with the idea of helping him run things from inside the White House.
In his final display of power -- the one that led to his downfall -- Smith declared martial law in his principality and used his mighty Nauvoo Legion to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor 's printing press in reaction to the newspaper's having dared criticize his polygamy and power-lust. This led to his being thrown into the pokey once again… where he soon found himself shot and bayoneted by an armed mob. Before meeting his grisly demise, he offered up the White Horse Prophecy, a revelation that he (or some worthy Mormon in years to come) was pre-ordained to become president at a time when the “Constitution is hanging by a thread as fine as a silk fiber.”
The prophecy is not accepted as church doctrine but remains part of Mormon lore. Adam Christing, the director of A Mormon President , explained it to me this way: “It’s just like in our time. The prophecy says, ‘The government is in disarray. The Constitution is going to be hanging by a thread, and the gentiles are going to screw it up so bad that it’s going to take God’s people to save the day.’ I do think there’s been a tiny underground hope in Mormon Land, if you will, that Romney could be the fulfillment of that White Horse Prophecy. Like a knight-in-shining-armor thing."