The seemingly bizarre religious views and practices surrounding the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart by the street preacher Brian David Mitchell (known as Immanuel) are not so uncommon in the ultraconservative subcultures existing on the margins of Mormonism, according to an article in the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone magazine (October).
John-Charles Duffy writes that although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints disassociated Mitchell’s views from official Mormon teachings, the kidnapper holds beliefs common in the ultraconservative LDS subculture. These beliefs include nostalgia for personal supernatural occurrences and revelations, devotion to alternative health teachings, far right politics, and an impulse to separate from the world.
All of these beliefs were part of early Mormonism which have been revived or reconstructed by ultraconservatives. Mitchell follows other ultraconservatives who were marginalized (often excommunicated) by the church during an alleged purge in the 1990s, such as Bo Gritz, a far right activist who recently started the Fellowship of Eternal Warriors, a white supremacist group, and James Harmston, who claims personal revelations and has also started his own church.
There are even cases of ultraconservatives who, like Mitchell, embrace homelessness as a lifestyle. Duffy concludes that Mitchell may be mentally ill, but he also is a “dramatic sign of unresolved tensions between Mormonism’s past and present.”
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)