Under the Banner of Heaven
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (ISBN 1-4000-3280-6) is an investigative nonfiction book by best-selling author Jon Krakauer, first published in July 2003. It is a juxtaposition of two stories: the origin and evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism. The Laffertys were formerly members of a very small splinter group called the School of Prophets, led by a man named Robert C. Crossfield (also known by his prophet name Onias). The group accepts many beliefs of the original church at the time when it ceased the practice of polygamy in the 1890s but does not identify with those who call themselves fundamentalist Mormons. The book examines the ideologies of both the LDS Church and the fundamentalist Mormons polygamous groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church).
The book opens with news accounts of the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter Erica. Brenda was married to the youngest Lafferty brother, Allen. Older brothers Dan and Ron targeted their sister-in-law because they believed she was the reason Ron's wife left him (after refusing to allow him to marry a plural/second wife). Both men's extremism reached new heights when they became members of the School of the Prophets, founded and led by Robert Crossfield. After joining the school, Ron claimed that God had sent him revelations. Communication with God is a core belief of fundamentalist Mormonism as well as the mainstream LDS Church. Ron showed the members of the School of Prophets a written "removal revelation" that allegedly called for the killing of Brenda and her baby. After other members of the School failed to honor Ron's removal revelation, the brothers quit the School.
The murders were particularly cruel, with Dan claiming that he slit the victims' throats. However, at trial, Chip Carnes, who was riding in the getaway car, testified that Ron said he had killed Brenda and that Ron also thanked his brother for "doing the baby."
After the murders, the police found the written "revelation" concerning Brenda and Erica. After the press widely reported that Ron had received a revelation to kill Brenda and Erica, the Lafferty brothers conducted a recorded press conference at which Ron pointed out that the "revelation" was not addressed to him, but to "Todd" [a drifter whom Ron had befriended while working in Wichita, Kansas] and that the revelation called only for "removal" of Brenda and her baby and did not use the word, "kill." These remarks of Ron denying he had received a revelation to kill Brenda and Erica were shown to the jury at Ron's trial.
After opening with the Lafferty case, Krakauer goes into the history of Mormonism, starting with the early life of Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the Latter Day Saint movement, following his life from a trumped up criminal fraud trial to leading the first followers to Jackson County, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois. While violence seemed to follow the Mormons wherever they went, it wasn't necessarily the Mormons' doing, as Krakauer points out. Early Mormons faced severe religious persecution, due to their unorthodox beliefs, including polygamy, and their tendency to deal economically and personally only with other Mormons. This led to violent clashes between Mormons and non-Mormons, culminating in Smith's death on June 27, 1844, at the hands of a mob while he was jailed in Carthage, Illinois, awaiting trial for destroying the printing press of a local publication that painted him in a negative light.
From Nauvoo, the Mormons trekked westward to modern-day Utah, led (after some controversy) by Smith's successor Brigham Young. Arriving in what they called Deseret, many Mormons believed they would be left alone by the federal government, as the territory was under Mexican rule at the time. This hope died soon after their arrival, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican–American War and ceding the land to the United States.
Mormonism's problems were not all external, as Smith's highly controversial revelation of plural marriage threatened to tear the faith in two. The Utah Territory was a theocracy ruled by Brigham Young, and Utah was denied statehood for 50 years due to the practice of polygamy. Finally, on September 23, 1890, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of LDS Church, officially banned the practice of polygamy after having received a revelation from God. Six years later, Utah was granted statehood, in spite of the fact that polygamy remained a secret practice until the early 1900s. After the Woodruff Manifesto, some members broke away from the mainstream church to form what eventually became the FLDS Church, the most popular group of fundamentalist Mormonism. The FLDS Church encourages polygamy.
Krakauer examines events in Latter Day Saint history and compares them to modern-day FLDS doctrine (or even less mainstream versions of Mormonism, such as the Crossfield School of the Prophets). One of these events is the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which Mormons and some local Paiute Indians rounded up and murdered approximately 120 members of the Baker–Fancher party of emigrants. While the Mormons went to great lengths to conceal any involvement in the massacre (including dressing as Paiute Indians and painting their faces in similar fashion), the only person successfully convicted in the affair was John D. Lee, a member of the LDS Church, who was executed by the state in 1877 for his role in the crime.
Krakauer cites information gleaned from several interviews with Dan Lafferty and former and current members of the Crossfield School of the Prophets, as well as other fundamentalist Mormons. It also pulls from several books about the formation of Mormonism to tie the origins of the religion to the modern iterations of both the church and the fundamentalists.
In advance of the book's release, managing director of the Church History Department of the LDS Church, Richard E. Turley, argued that the book contained mistakes and incorrect assertions and accused Krakauer of "condemn[ing] religion generally." In the 2004 paperback edition of the book, Krakauer responded to these allegations.
Further criticism from Mike Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the LDS Church, condemned Krakauer's use of religious "zealots" to draw violent conclusions about all Mormons. Upon finishing the book, Otterson claims, "One could be forgiven for concluding that every Latter-day Saint, including your friendly Mormon neighbor, has a tendency to violence. And so Krakauer unwittingly puts himself in the same camp as those who believe every German is a Nazi, every Japanese a fanatic, and every Arab a terrorist."
Derivation of the title
The title of the book is drawn from an 1880 address by John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church, defending the practice of plural marriage: "God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government. The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different".
- Utah v. Lafferty, 20 P.3d 342 (2001) UT 19, para. 118.
- Utah v. Lafferty, 20 P.3d 342 (2001) UT 19, para. 99.
- Cole, Bradford and Williams Kenneth ed. "Utah's Road to Statehood." Salt Lake City: Utah State Division of Archives and Record Service, 1995. http://archives.utah.gov/research/exhibits/Statehood/setroad.htm
- Krakauer, Jon (2004). "Author's Remarks". Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. Anchor Books. p. 337. ISBN 1-4000-3280-6.
I availed myself of this rich history by draining my bank account in bookstores near and far.
- "Commentary", Newsroom [MormonNewsroom.org] (LDS Church), 27 June 2003
- Krakauer, Chapter 20, p. 250 (quoting John Taylor, address, Jan. 4, 1880, Great Salt Lake City).
- Fleming, Mike (2011-07-19). "Warner Bros Acquiring Jon Krakauer's 'Under The Banner Of Heaven' For Ron Howard And Dustin Lance Black". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
- Official Doubleday Website for Under the Banner of Heaven (Retrieved 22-2-2008).
- Krakauer's response to LDS Church response
- Bookbrowse.com Reading Guides.
- New York Times Review
- The Controversy between the Laffertys and the School of the Prophets
- The Infants on Thrones Podcast review of 'Under the Banner of Heaven'