Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blackmail: An Increasingly Common but Ineffective Anti-Mormon Tool

“Extortion or coercion by threats especially of public exposure or criminal prosecution.” Such is the dictionary definition of blackmail. Since threats of criminal prosecution of the Church or its general leaders are ludicrous, we will concentrate on “coercion by threats especially of public exposure.” These types of threats are also absurd, but have still become increasingly popular among desperate anti-Mormons seeking publicity for their grievance or cause. The reason I say absurd is because in order for blackmail to work, they have to have something substantial—some leverage—behind their threat—and anti-Mormons don’t.

            A couple more definitions should be reviewed: “Whistleblower”; “a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.” (Note that illicit is usually equivalent to illegal, though not always.) And also “traitor”; “a person who betrays a friend, country, principle, etc.” I mention these words because people fitting these descriptions are often involved with blackmail schemes. Whistleblowers, those who expose illicit/illegal activity, are sometimes thought, even begrudgingly, to be principled, even heroic, people for enduring the risk of exposing such activity. Traitors, on the other hand, are thought to be among the lowest forms of humanity; no principles, only deceit and money (or fame) motivate them. They are thought or spoken of like Judas or Benedict Arnold. Often, alleged whistleblowers are simply traitors, designated so because they just didn’t like something they found out about and are using illicit/illegal means to expose something that may be quite innocuous, ethical, and/or legal.

             Having laid this groundwork, let us examine some examples of anti-Mormons trying to blackmail the LDS Church with various schemes. First, we quickly review an incident from Mormon history. David R. Seely gives us this narration:

On 16 September 1911, the Salt Lake Tribune published an account of certain individuals who had secretly taken pictures of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple and who had attempted to sell them to the church. The headlines read: "Photographs secretly taken of Mormon Temple's interior; sent for sale to Church chief. President replies: 'Church will not negotiate with thieves and blackmailers."' The blackmail scheme was perpetrated by Max Florence, who was at the time in New York City trying to sell sixty-eight unauthorized photographs of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Florence had employed the help of a recent convert to the church, Gisbert Bossard, who, disenchanted with the administration of the church, had, assisted by a gardener for the temple grounds, gained access to the Salt Lake Temple and had taken a series of photographs of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Apparently motivated by money and "revenge" on the church, these individuals had taken the pictures when the Salt Lake Temple was closed for renovation during the summer of 1911. Florence and Bossard had sent a letter to the First Presidency with a proposal of blackmail—that the church would give them $100,000 and the photographs would be returned; otherwise. they would be shown publicly. President Joseph F. Smith, the recipient of the letter, was outraged, and his response was, "I will make no bargain with thieves or traffickers in stolen goods. I prefer to let the law deal with them."[1]

            Instead of capitulating to the blackmail, Pres. Smith commissioned James E. Talmage to write a book about temples, which included many superb photographs of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple, and the plot was foiled (not to mention the birth of the book House of the Lord). President Smith’s emphatic declaration has remained the policy and course of the church ever since; it does not bargain with thieves, blackmailers, and those who deal in stolen goods.

            The reason the historical incident given above is so relevant is because, as I have said elsewhere, it applies to the owners of the anti-Mormon website Mormonleaks. This one-horse outfit has become known for its use of deception about how it presents its true purposes. Run by bitter former members (now atheists), they proclaim themselves heroes of the people, willing to run great risks to expose that dastardly Mormon church. (We have heard all of that nonsense before, ad nauseum.)

            One of their cleverest deceptions has been to portray themselves as whistleblowers instead of vengeful critic-traitors. Their ruse is aided and abetted by their allies who give them the carefully crafted presentation to the public they need. Salt Lake City’s two anti-Mormon newspapers, Salt Lake City Weekly and the Salt Lake Tribune, have both helped to increase this website’s visibility and carefully spin its purposes. One, for example, said this about the site owner’s goals: they are “…publishing sensitive documents sent in by whistleblowers.”

            This is manipulation of uninformed readers, purposely using the word whistleblower instead of traitor. In order to be a whistleblower, a person needs some kind of illicit/illegal activity involvement to publicly divulge. Since the church is not involved in such activity, and since their ultimate goal is to bring people to Christ, the blackmailers have tried to use the church’s confidentiality policies as their leverage—but this hasn’t worked either.

For those who may not know, the church produces two kinds of material, those meant for public consumption, for members to consume to improve their lives and develop greater faith in Jesus Christ and a host of other worthy and wonderful things. Secondly, and on a vastly smaller scale, they produce materials for internal use only—meaning materials created to help teach and train church leaders and employees, run a support corporation, etc. These are the kinds of allegedly “sensitive” materials that this anti-Mormon website seeks to obtain from traitors and publish to the world. They claim their lofty purpose is to promote transparency and do away with corruption. The overwhelmingly obvious problem with this is that there is no corruption to expose. Having found no corruption, they turn to confidential items from traitors, and that simply hasn’t worked. Even some of their fellow anti-Mormons have noted what boring and uninteresting stuff they have posted; no smoking gun anywhere.

Their whole strategy is built on a misnomer; being deceitful themselves they see deceit in others where there is none. Yet they take advantage of disgruntled former (or even current) employees or ecclesiastical leaders, and use these traitors to supply them with the internally (confidential) created materials that they then make public. Their effort was doomed to failure before it started. If these people were employees of a business or corporation being paid to be effective and successful in their stated goals, they would have been fired for ineptness and incompetence long ago. Their solution?—blackmail by negative publicity.

Their attorney wrote the following in a letter to the Church Intellectual Property office: “Whatever it is you wish to keep a secret will now be not only disseminated on a few websites, but will become a matter of public record. Further, this document will become a far more important story than it was previously. In fact, those who found the story of minor interest will now find the attempt at censorship even more interesting.” This is plain bald-face blackmail, using negative publicity as leverage. Claims of pure intent just can’t mask the lies and deceit: illegal copyright infringement, blackmail threats, and unethical use of other unethical websites.

It is the same with the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, which wrote of Mormonleaks that they “post documents, recordings and videos secretly provided by church leaders, employees, sources, whistleblowers or other moles from within the Utah-based faith.” Here we have David Noyce, the Tribune’s anti-Mormon editor, (probably) purposefully mistaking the word whistleblower, which we have already defined. “Mole,” as used here, is a synonym for traitor. This fading newspaper is doing all it can to publicize/promote the work of the critical website. Nothing has changed since 1911 when the Tribune was used as part of the (above mentioned) temple-photograph plot; the Trib still supports deception and blackmail. I suggest that while a certain website may claim one purpose, their true ulterior motives may actually be something else entirely—in this case, to harm the Church while wearing a benign smile of feigned innocence on your face.

            Another recent attempt at blackmail is by one Sam Young, (allegedly, as of this writing) still a member (in name only) who is attempting to force changes in some church policies. His leverage was a hunger strike publicity stunt. The problem?—you can’t hold yourself hostage to force someone else to do something against their will. As Forrest Gump once said, “stupid is as stupid does.”

This kind of blackmail is akin to that of the LGBT anti-Mormon activists, who loudly proclaim that church doctrine, also known as the gospel of Jesus Christ, must be changed so that certain depressed and confused LGBT church members won’t commit suicide. As badly and sadly as (both general and local) church leaders feel for those who choose to take such a course, they cannot allow misled or disturbed members decision’s to harm themselves to dictate doctrine and policy instead of revelation.[2] If the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve caved in to such blackmail, it would mean that any time some severely depressed or angry person didn’t like something the Church did, they could simply threaten to kill themselves to get what they want—only a short step away from suicide-bomber ideology. Yet by using such blackmail, and by leveraging public sympathy, is how many gay activist organizations seek to force change.

 Sadly, there are many church members who have become ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and who therefore have left the ranks of loyal faithful members, and have allied with anti-Mormons or formed their own anti-Mormon activist groups. Some have used their own form of blackmail—“signed” online public letters asking the church to change its doctrines and policies. Here again, negative publicity, meant to generate public antipathy against the church, is their meager leverage.[3]

When the church clarified its policy that people living or being married in a same-sex relationship were formally considered apostates, at least three score dissident, (allegedly) “Mormon” bloggers wrote an open (publicity-seeking) letter to the Church, condemning the decision. I would rather have a millstone hung about my neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea than have my name attached to such a blackmail document. The issue is whether we stand with the prophets and apostles who know the mind of Christ, or with the voices of the telestial world/society we live in and have become ashamed of the gospel.[4] These bloggers chose their place and will receive their reward.

Finally, we note that an anti-Mormon woman filed a lawsuit against the Church, in which she asked the court to coerce the Church to change its internal ecclesiastical policies. In this case, both the lawsuit and the attendant negative publicity became the blackmail leverage. But yet again, the leverage was insufficient to accomplish her strategy, and the judge threw out that portion of her suit (actually, the judge threw out all but one small segment).

In the end, that fact is what defeats all of the blackmail schemes that anti-Mormons use against the Church—when you are doing nothing illicit or illegal, and instead are seeking to do good and convert the world to Christ, there is no leverage to enable blackmail plots.

One methodology that the devil has been working on for some decades now, is to convince the world that good is evil and evil is good. If such a result can be achieved, the devil hopes that the world will point the finger of scorn at the prophets and apostles and good faithful Latter-day Saints, and blackmail them by virtue of societal pressure/publicity. Such will not succeed because Satan’s devices are known and recognized for what they are.

I would suggest that we should expect anti-Mormon activists, of all stripes, to continue to employ blackmail schemes (often under other names), in increasing measure, as a tool or weapon in their quest to harm or slow the growth and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[1] https://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/12/2/S00018-51b9ed342ed3e18Seely.pdf
[2] As this piece was being written, the Church issued a letter/directive with accompanying information on how to deal with and help those who are considering suicide or those who are grieving the death of a loved one. It is abundantly clear that the Church is trying to do all it can to help those dealing with this issue.
[3] While writing this piece, I did a google search for “open letters” addressed to Church leaders by online anti-Mormon/Mormon activists, and lost count and interest in counting such letters after a dozen. The bandwagon seems full for this form of (thankfully) ineffective blackmail. I suppose their publicity leverage hardly moves the needle and goes unnoticed.
[4] Really now, how hard is this question to answer—would we rather have our scripture interpreted by the First Presidency and Twelve, or by activist bloggers?

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