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How Do Church Members Become Extremists?


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I was a part of a discussion yesterday about Craig Robertson and how that whole thing happened. Please do not turn this into a gun debate. 

I weighed in as a member of the church and there were quite a few questions for me. Is there a teaching in our church that causes people to turn out like him? Why was he a "church leader?" There was talk of him open carrying at church. Seriously?! I have no proof of that, but I assured them that that would be frowned upon even if legal. Should the bishop have gone over to talk to him about his online threats? Why didn't he? 

I had quite a few things to say. I explained that being a "ward clerk" isn't really a leadership position and that almost every adult member has a calling. I said, "I guarantee he was the ward crazy who hijacked lessons and they didn't know what to do with him. They certainly wouldn't want him teaching kids or even adults or probably even voicing his opinions in class, so ward clerk was probably the best way to keep him away from people." I'm not saying ward clerks are a bunch of weirdos. Sometimes it's a great place to put weirdos though. 

I said the bishop probably did talk to him. I imagine the stake president talked to him too. These types of people are just so sure that they're right in their opinions. I asked, "If the FBI didn't even get him to listen during their prior visit, why would he listen to the bishop?" I also explained that bishops aren't professionals and shouldn't have to try to talk sense into unhinged people. Imagine what those unhinged people would do if they were called in for a disciplinary council for their online behavior. Is it worth the risk? 

I had an experience years ago where multiple friends were concerned about the online rantings of a pervert/moron we were dealing with. I had unfollowed him on Facebook because it was just too painful to watch. At that point, I had only remained "friends" with him to watch for signs of him going postal. I am friends with his daughter and had no idea what he was like. Long story, but she ended up telling me she moved out of state to get away from him and was totally humiliated by his online behavior. He wouldn't listen to anyone and his parents apologized to the entire family about him turning out that way and anything they may have done to cause it. I unfollowed when he ranted that his parents wouldn't respond to him. His daughter told me he was a grown man who should know better by now, but chooses not to. 

Anyway, he was writing all sorts of threatening things about a former president and other politicians in Facebook groups that he didn't realize were public and I realized I needed to contact the FBI. I think I got a call from the Secret Service by the next day and the FBI a couple days later. They were surprised that I knew the guy and it wasn't just some anonymous person I was reporting. They both paid him a visit together and it certainly freaked him out. He was contrite and said multiple friends had told him to stop saying those things. Nothing happened to him and the agent explained that I would be shocked by the number of threats they had to respond to and they had to use their time to deal with the people who "double down." Those are the true threats. Craig Robertson doubled down. 

The agent did still have concerns about the man I reported being a danger and told me if he showed up where he wasn't supposed to, I should call the police immediately and give them his number. He would explain everything. 

I don't think the church creates extremists. I think people with paranoid personalities zero in on certain aspects of the gospel, culture, history, etc. My husband and I were once asked to briefly housesit during a funeral many years ago and we were confused. We were new members of the ward and they wanted to find someone who wasn't attending the funeral. Turns out they were afraid they would be robbed during the funeral. Judging by their video collection, the husband was obsessed with Waco. And he also apparently had an arsenal. 

When the church teaches to build food storage, these types of people hear, "And we should buy a ton of guns to protect our food!" 

When the church talks about the order to exterminate the saints in Missouri, these types of people hear, "And we should buy a ton of guns in case it happens again!"

I love this talk by President Oaks.

Humility: Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall - BYU Speeches

In particular:

Quote

Love of country is surely a strength, but carried to excess it can become the cause of spiritual downfall. There are some citizens whose patriotism (as they define it) is so intense and so all-consuming that it seems to override every other responsibility, including family and church. For example, I caution those patriots who are participating in or provisioning private armies and making private preparations for armed conflict. Their excessive zeal for one aspect of patriotism is causing them to risk spiritual downfall as they withdraw from the society of the Church and from the governance of those civil authorities to whom our article of faith makes all of us subject.

It's a great talk and everyone could benefit from reading it, I'm sure. 

This was recently added to the Church Handbook:

Quote

 

38.8.20.3

Personal Internet and Social Media Use

The internet and social media have many positive uses. Among these are opportunities to share testimonies of the Savior and His restored gospel. Blogs, social media, and other internet technologies allow members to promote the messages of peace, hope, and joy that accompany faith in Christ.

Members are encouraged to share uplifting content. They should also exemplify civility in all online interactions, including social media. They should avoid contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29–30; Doctrine and Covenants 136:23).

Members should avoid all statements of prejudice toward others (see 38.6.14). They strive to be Christlike to others at all times, including online, and reflect a sincere respect for all of God’s children.

Members should not use threatening, bullying, degrading, violent, or otherwise abusive language or images online. If online threats of illegal acts occur, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.

Members should not imply that their messages represent or are sponsored by the Church.

 

The message from our last General Conference to be peacekeepers is also being heavily emphasized. I think the church realizes we have too many members with serious issues who don't embrace the gospel fully. I would love to hear your thoughts. What kinds of people have you dealt with in your wards and how did you all handle them? 

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30 minutes ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

It is interesting to see what is tolerated. He’s a ward clerk? Meets with the Bishop regularly? But makes specific violent threats online? It’s hard for me to understand how someone who makes public online threats like that can keep a temple recommend, but what do I know? 

And then the family trots out his church membership when they go complain to the media? Not a good look. 
 


 

 

I read something that said he was a ward clerk. Don’t know if it was current or not. Yeah, ridiculous that anyone would use his church membership as an example of his goodness. 🙄

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I have been following the Craig Robertson case and digging into his now deleted social media posts. Two things are apparent:

  1. Everyone who knew him personally is surprised at what he wrote and said he was a kind in person.
  2. His social media posts are horrifically violent and evil. Beyond what the media has reported.

Whatever caused this, he's been like this for over a decade. He has a fascination with guns and sees Democrats and liberals as sub human who need to be exterminated. His ideas are very much political, and they don't appear to have been caused or further exaggerated by his religious beliefs. Somehow he has bought into the idea that those he politically disagrees with aren't just having policy disagreements but are monsters, and monsters need to be dealt with violently.

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2 hours ago, MorningStar said:

There was talk of him open carrying at church.

Meaning you could see his gun, correct, it wasn’t hidden?

If so, a neighbour said he was discreet in his carrying (I can’t remember if it was the Trib or another article, I read tons yesterday looking for info), you couldn’t tell if he was carrying most of the time. 

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24 minutes ago, Calm said:

Meaning you could see his gun, correct, it wasn’t hidden?

If so, a neighbour said he was discreet in his carrying (I can’t remember if it was the Trib or another article, I read tons yesterday looking for info), you couldn’t tell if he was carrying most of the time. 

There was a rumor floating around that he brought a rifle. I highly doubt that. I was asked if it was an Utah thing. NO. 

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1 hour ago, helix said:

His ideas are very much political, and they don't appear to have been caused or further exaggerated by his religious beliefs. Somehow he has bought into the idea that those he politically disagrees with aren't just having policy disagreements but are monsters, and monsters need to be dealt with violently.

I personally would be very surprised if religion didn’t play a role.   It is not uncommon for Mormons to conflate their religion with their conservative politics, thinking the one is a necessary appendage of the other.    Less commonly but in extremism, those religious/political beliefs are taken further - Good (republicans) vs evil (democrats).  Vanquish the foe.  “Then you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under your feet”, and other violent rhetoric.  “It is better that one man shall perish than a whole nation dwindle and perish in unbelief”.   I noted the disturbing beheading of the president post he made as hauntingly reminiscent of that passage.  Then there is the whole Captain Moroni and freemen vs King-men and the call to take up arms that many extremists seem to identify with in cause, justifying to themselves their extremism.  They are simply defending their freemen ideals and holding up the title of liberty.

Edited by pogi
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Just now, pogi said:

I personally would be very surprised if religion didn’t play a role.   It is not uncommon for Mormons to conflate their religion with their conservative politics, thinking the one is a necessary appendage of the other.  Good (republicans) vs evil (democrats).  Vanquish the foe.  “Then you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under your feet”, and other violent rhetoric.  “It is better that one man shall perish than a whole nation dwindle and perish in unbelief”.   I noted the disturbing beheading of the president post he made as hauntingly reminiscent of that passage.  Then there is the whole Captain Moroni and freemen vs King-men violence that many extremists seem to identify with in cause, justifying to themselves their extremism.

I read on another forum that someone on Truth Social reported him. It may be ironic, but I'm thankful!

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1 hour ago, helix said:

Everyone who knew him personally is surprised at what he wrote and said he was a kind in person.

From a neighbor quoted in the tribune: “Despite having occasionally joked about Robertson’s likelihood of dying of suicide by cop, Maunder “never thought it would actually happen.””

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/08/10/what-we-know-about-provo-man/

Not totally surprised…

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15 minutes ago, SeekingUnderstanding said:

From a neighbor quoted in the tribune: “Despite having occasionally joked about Robertson’s likelihood of dying of suicide by cop, Maunder “never thought it would actually happen.””

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/08/10/what-we-know-about-provo-man/

Not totally surprised…

Here is a tweet of his I found from June 2021:  https://web.archive.org/web/20210630022250/https://twitter.com/Winston4eagles/status/1410061133302484992

>I was asked once what I would like to do to Joe Biden. Actually, I can't describe those kinds of things on this media because I will have the Secret Service and the FBI pounding on my door. On second thought, maybe I should say them. I need a little bit of "Live Fire" practice!!!

He predicted his own death 26 months early.

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42 minutes ago, MorningStar said:

There was a rumor floating around that he brought a rifle. I highly doubt that. I was asked if it was an Utah thing. NO. 

I was wondering if he had dementia and he was getting worse recently (I assumed he was closer to 75 than 70 and my mother’s dementia started increasing faster the less mobile she was, I believe in part due to her resorting to watching tv to pass the time. She also lost the ability to read through a stroke and that really narrowed her use of her brain since she insisted on living alone).  But then ksfisher? or another poster said this has been going on for a decade, so it doesn’t seem like it suddenly flared into craziness.  If it was dementia, even if he was typically discreet, the possibility that he shows up with a rifle due to some paranoia goes up. 
 

But it would be highly unlikely unless he was mentally unstable and diminished for him to take a rifle to church, even in gun happy Utah ;) 

I have never seen a gun at church though I have no doubt there are some. I will have to ask my husband as the men might be more relaxed if they aren’t around children (I was usually in Primary outside of SM or in the library).

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6 minutes ago, Calm said:

or another poster said this has been going on for a decade

I saw his Facebook page before Facebook removed it. In 2012 he had a post about how he killed his neighbors cat, skinned it, cut off his head, and ate it, because it was named Obama.

Not sure how serious he was, it sure didn't sound or read like a joke. Either way, most of his social media was eerily specific, violent, and focused on death of political opponents. No hint he was joking anywhere.

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18 minutes ago, helix said:

Here is a tweet of his I found from June 2021:  https://web.archive.org/web/20210630022250/https://twitter.com/Winston4eagles/status/1410061133302484992

>I was asked once what I would like to do to Joe Biden. Actually, I can't describe those kinds of things on this media because I will have the Secret Service and the FBI pounding on my door. On second thought, maybe I should say them. I need a little bit of "Live Fire" practice!!!

He predicted his own death 26 months early.

He lived alone (his wife died in 2008 iirc), he had children with his ex wife, but none of the neighbors mention them (though he has previously cared for a blind son who was in his 50s), so I wonder how much contact he had with them. He was going downhill physically (some not so recent photos he looked in good shape while one friend said he weighed 300 lbs now) and was quite physically limited.  He had a conspiratorial or paranoid outlook on life (though just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you).

I wonder if he was clinically depressed. He certainly seemed to intentionally create a reason for police or the FBI to come knocking with guns drawn, which gave him a chance for a quick death.  He might have enjoyed fantasizing about all the news coverage to come. 

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9 minutes ago, helix said:

I saw his Facebook page before Facebook removed it. In 2012 he had a post about how he killed his neighbors cat, skinned it, cut off his head, and ate it, because it was named Obama.

Not sure how serious he was, it sure didn't sound or read like a joke. Either way, most of his social media was eerily specific, violent, and focused on death of political opponents. No hint he was joking anywhere.

I saw the cat post. I’m sure it was a sick joke because it starts off saying what he did to Obama and then when he reveals that Obama is the neighbor’s cat, he writes lol or something. I doubt the neighbor had a cat named Obama. 

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10 minutes ago, helix said:

I saw his Facebook page before Facebook removed it. In 2012 he had a post about how he killed his neighbors cat, skinned it, cut off his head, and ate it, because it was named Obama.

Not sure how serious he was, it sure didn't sound or read like a joke. Either way, most of his social media was eerily specific, violent, and focused on death of political opponents. No hint he was joking anywhere.

That is sick, real or not. I would be so freaked out if I read my neighbor’s FB page and saw that.  The ones that were dismissive of his comments and said how nice he was…I am wondering about them. I hope they missed the worst ones. 

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4 hours ago, The Nehor said:

In case you need more evidence to support this theory I am a ward clerk.

And I've been ward clerk or assistant ward clerk more than once. Even after I became inactive.

To explain the last part: it was an unofficial uncalled, not set apart position in a tiny branch in which the president was chronically short of male people who were willing and able to do something. Ironically, I was not able to fulfill the position, because the historical material I was supposed to be working on was taken in a robbery.

Also (for Calm!), I'm much closer to 75 than I am to 70.

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3 hours ago, Malc said:

Also (for Calm!), I'm much closer to 75 than I am to 70.

Thankfully, I know tons more seniors over 75 and 80 without dementia.  And hopefully, I will take after my dad’s side and be one of them.

After the shock of seeing it happen to my mom, I tend to see any crazy in the elderly as dementia, but there is plenty of just plain old crazy out there to cover this one.

Added:  he was 75 btw

Edited by Calm
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Once I was in a ward that had a guy who might have been described as the "ward gun nut". And yes I recall him having been ward clerk at one time! But he also cycled through a bunch of other callings, like elder's quorum president and counselor in the bishopric. I was one of perhaps two or three ward members who knew that he regularly carried concealed at church.

The way I “handled” the situation was, I ratted him out to a stake high councilman who happened to be my home teaching companion. The high councilman approved; arguably there were extenuating circumstances.

I recall this incident:  I was friends with a young couple in our ward who got home-invaded and held a gunpoint while their house was robbed, during which one of the home invaders said he was going to kill their young son because he was crying. The mother bolted past their guns and got to her son's bedroom first and managed to quiet him down. As the home invaders left they were talking about the items they were going to come back for, so the couple felt there was still a threat. Anyway the ward gun nut immediately armed them and helped them make a few changes, which may have helped them feel a little less insecure. Fortunately we never found out whether the gun nut's actions actually did make them any safer.

Edited by manol
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