These enclaves of polygamous sects share a rejectionist philosophy with those groups such as the Freemen who are vehemently anti-tax, resentful of their government using their resources selfishly and who live without identification and "off the grid," often in a survivalist and self-sufficient mode. In a similar vein, fundamentalist LDS rail against the mainstream Mormon Church for its use of their tithes, even as these groups typically support themselves with intense financial entanglement with followers.
One community is secular, the other religious. Both pose similar justice issues when it comes to tax evasion and the completeness of their rejection of American justice. Rejectionism by fundamentalist LDS groups and by adherents to the Freemen philosophy has led to complex mental competency questions in recent years. Mitchell is only one of the most recent.
Q: Why do you find it so important to study the leaders of these sects?
A: Because the dogma of the group reflects the psychology of the leader. There are a number of such sects that have begun with separation from the church of doctrine, and have degenerated over matters of how others are treated merely by succession of leadership. The leader is given such absolute power and in certain instances, a deification that the sect lives in the shadow of his personality, its strengths and its darkness.
Q: You talked before about "one mighty and strong." Now you speak about deification. Isn't that a bit strong? And is it not psychotic?
A: Bruce David Longo referred to himself as the "Holy Ghost." He also referred to himself as Immanuel David. His followers included his wife and seven children and up to 20 members of his family. He lived in a hotel among others where he lived well, and no one ever questioned his being rational.
James Harmston has characterized himself as the reincarnation of Joseph Smith, Isaiah, and King Arthur. After seeing the movie "Braveheart," he asserted that he once lived as William Wallace. Far beyond his nuclear family, Harmston has 18 wives and a stable community operating in Manti, Utah. He has never been characterized as psychotic.
Nathaniel Baldwin preached that Indians' skin would lighten from his preaching; JH Sherwood the literal descendant of Aaron, and John Tanner Clark the direct descendant of Jesus Christ. The grandiosity is unmistakable, and sometimes familiar. Each leader, however, is quite different. Closer study of how he relates to the trajectory of his rise, his church, how he practices marriage and his sexuality give greater insight into his mental state and personality. More on this in Part 2.
Dr. Michael Welner is chairman of The Forensic Panel, a national forensic science practice. He is also researching an evidence-based measure, The Depravity Scale at http://www.depravityscale.org , which invites Americans to participate in surveys that are being used to help develop a legal standard of what represents the worst of crimes.