Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

The troubling history of Mormonism

[Getty Images]

The new three-part Netflix series Murder Among the Mormons is attracting big audiences, and deservedly so. Finally someone has made a major documentary about Mark Hofmann, the squeaky-voiced Mormon nerd who was both the most brilliant document-forger in history and a psychopathic murderer.

In the early 1980s, the young Hofmann manufactured a series of documents that portrayed its prophet Joseph Smith — the discoverer of the ‘gold plates’ that supposedly described a great Israelite civilisation in America — as a conman up to his ears in the occult. In 1985, panicking that he was about to be discovered, he blew up two Mormons with pipe bombs, was caught by police and is serving life in jail.

Murder Among the Mormons is gripping stuff if you don’t know the story. But if, like me, you’ve been obsessed with the case for years, you’ll notice that the filmmakers were nervous about discussing the incredibly damaging information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the case revealed.

Hofmann, a secret atheist who hated the church, set about creating letters from the 1830s and 1840s that related to a subject that gives Mormon leaders nightmares: the squalid behaviour of Smith, who by the time he was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in 1844 had become a shameless abuser of women, including teenage girls.

Mormons refer to the polygamy of their early leaders as ‘plural marriage’; they were forced to outlaw the practice in 1890. In fact, even ‘polygamy’ is a euphemism for how Smith preyed on his female followers. Some of his wives were already happily married; one of them, Helen Kimball, was just 14 when the 37-year-old Smith told her that marrying him would secure her eternal salvation.

During Smith’s lifetime, newspapers were reporting on the mass seduction of Mormon women by the prophet and his inner circle.

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