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  1. Does the Utah State Prison allow lengthy visits/ recorded interviews? A Mormon Stories interview with Mark Hofmann himself would be legendary!!!

  2. I was on my mission when this happened. A close relative of one of the victems was also serving at the same time and I remember vividly him being called out of a zone conference to be told the news. Truly frightening. This was one of the seminal moments of my beginning to question not only the judgement but the authority of The Bretheren. In my 19-year old mind I thought that surely inspiration should have kicked in to avert the entire fiasco. I recently picked up a copy of “Salamander” by Sillitoe and Roberts in the freebie bin at the local library. It is now on the top of my reading list. Looking forward to the interview.

  3. Wow, it’s been 25 years!!!!! Great idea John & co!!! We all need a refresher on this. I’d pay 8 bucks to see a Dutcher film on this…..to bad it wouldn’t be enough. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear the interviews.

  4. Dan,

    You did a great job with the interview. As was pointed out many times it is a complicated story. Even though I have read most of the books available on Hofmann I learned quite a bit from the interview. I think you should feel this was a major success.

    If this interview can get the young generation reading “Salamander” you have done a wonderful service. When I read it in 1988 it changed me. I was hooked on the New Mormon History, and to this day I still get excited finding new things from the history books being published today.

    Thanks for doing a great job.

  5. Thanks, everyone, and Joe especially for the very kind words about the interview. Glad you are finding the Hofmann saga fascinating still and worth revisiting!

    Let me quickly echo what Joe says about Salamander. It is a fantastic read, always keeping the human drama foremost while still handling complex topics clearly. Lots of ways to get the book if you don’t already have it, but I recommend throwing some business toward our interview guest Curt Bench’s store: Benchmark Books. 801.486-3111. http://www.benchmarkbooks.com/

  6. I find it amazing that people can excuse the inability of Mormon leaders to recognize that Hofmann was a forger. Moroni 10:5 says that if you have the Holy Ghost, you will “know the truth of all things.” “ALL THINGS!”

    The men interviewed here excuse Hinckley and other church leaders for not realizing they were being duped because “they were not looking for that.” Does Moroni says you will know the truth of all things only if you are already suspicious and looking for deception?

    They also excuse the church’s questionable history by suggesting that all churches have such historical black marks. But isn’t the Mormon church supposed to be different? Shouldn’t “God’s one true church” be different from the “abominations” of other churches?

    No wonder that many members became disillusioned and left the church after the Hofmann affair.

    1. Amen, this portion of the interview rang hollow to me. It was like everyone suddenly put their brains on the shelf.

  7. @Richard Packham
    I remember listening to GBH making a reference to the salamander letter during GC and he specifically said that it didn’t really matter whether the document was real or a forgery, as it related to the Restoration claims. From this I gathered that they weren’t convinced if its authenticity. I don’t see why they had to receive a revelation (or at least publicly say so) when the forgery was eventually uncovered anyway. Revelations are not always necessary when we can also use our own resources.

    1. “it didn’t really matter whether the document was real or a forgery, as it related to the Restoration claims”
      this is absolute hogwash. with that logic, anyone can make anything, tell the church it is a forgery and still expect the church to pay them lots of money for it as long as it “relates to restoration claims”. c’mon, stop deceiving yourself. they were duped into thinking it was real that’s why they “bought it”. there’s no magical holy ghost that uncovers hidden truth, this is just one example to support that. there are no consistent, testable, supernatural powers.

      “Revelations are not always necessary when we can also use our own resources.”
      then apply that reasoning to the rest of your life.

  8. Doctrine and Covenants Section One:
    24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these acommandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
    25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

    I think you’re pretty naïve to think that LDS church leaders are suppose to be infallible. Not even the most arrogant of leaders would claim that. In any event, did the church fall because of this sordid affair? No. It’s still intact and quite healthy with millions of ardent, believers in its ***faith*** doctrines and other aspects of the religion notwithstanding. The same with Mountain Meadows, J.S’s polygamy, and a whole lot of other obvious and perceived errors, sins, etc.

    A few historical documents that surface doesn’t make the church true or false; even if a letter, hypothetically, were to surface bearing J.S’s signature stating he made up the story of the plates, the first vision, etc. Why?! Because it would be an historical document — it’s history — we don’t know and NEVER will know the WHOLE story. Even court cases today have condemned totally innocent men to death or life imprisonment on so-called irrefutable, forensic evidences and ‘proof,’ which certainly isn’t ancient history.

    There is no perfect knowledge as to LDS historical matters, and there certainly aren’t any omniscient LDS church leaders.

  9. The criticism for me is not that Prophets and Apostles got duped. I’m perfectly willing to let people be human and stupid at times. Everyone is. I’ve was always taught the pseudo-doctrine that Prophets are only perfect in teaching doctrine…(yeah, I know that one has issues too.)

    For me, the biggest issue was and is that the Church censors its history by preventing access to historical documents. To me, this is dishonest, bordering on lying, to its members and the world.

    If knowledge is light, why is the Church hiding it under a bushel?

  10. I remember hearing Charles Larson (author of “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” and “Destroying Angel”) speak at the 2009 Ex-Mormon Foundation Conference. During his remarks he mentioned that at one time in his life he was a prison guard at the Utah State Pen. and guarded Mark Hofman on many occassions. He was able to have many interesting discussions with him and learn some details not generally known about his forgeries and the bombings. See http://www.exmormonfoundation.org/audio2009_low.html

  11. I agree with Patrick. I’m not overly concerned that the Brethren didn’t see that Hoffman was a fraud. I personally think the idea of spiritual discernment (outside of the intuition we all have) is fiction to begin with— so I don’t really expect these men to be any more informed than I would have been.

    I am extremely bothered though by the fact that there was a move by the highest levels of LDS leadership to hide documents. Even if it was only been 3 or so documents the deception was intentional and premeditated— and it appears to have been done in the cases where the documents were damaging to the Church. It was all about the Church controlling information so it supports their faithful narrative.

    Boyd K Packers 1981 comment was the GAs guiding principle “There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

    I also disagree with your two guests that things are much better 25 years later. The Church still fights to control the information and the message.

    I suspect the Church would be even less forth coming than they have been but they are if they could could control and shape the flow of information as they once did. Rather than just dealing with the Tanners or Ed Decker the Church is now up against the Internet.

  12. Great podcasts. Just one comment. I’m always mystified by remarks referring to these poor simpletons who are just so “black and white,” or “naive,” and who think that their leaders need to be “infallible” and so go scurrying away out of the church at the first sign of disillusionment. Pardon me, but is this not the same church whose leader stated “either it’s true of it’s a fraud.” Virtually every utterance from the top seems to support a “black and white” and “naive” mindset. And although leaders do not claim infallibility, they demand that members obey their leaders as though they were.

    I understand that there are many whose beliefs have become nuanced to the point that such literal beliefs are no longer necessary. That’s all well and good. Personally, I think having such a mindset within mormonism, where there is really no room for metaphorical thinking, is a recipe for unhappiness, but to each his own. However, to, in essence, blame people for believing literally (as they were taught), then leaving once disillusioned, is hard for me to comprehend.

  13. I found that interview difficult to follow, like easesdropping on a private conversation about Hofmann rather than an explanations of the events surrounding his forgeries and murders.

    I don’t find the LDS church’s leaders at fault for failing to spiritually discern the fraud. After all, they are men just like any others. What I find troubling foremost is that they knew that the history Hofmann was peddling was plausible because the church leaders were familiar with the shortcomings of Smith and knew that it was very possible that those forgeries could have been true. If find it troublesome that despite knowing about Smith’s personal shortcomings and his treasure hunting, these same leaders continue to public promote a false view of Smith and punish those who speak out within the ranks.

  14. Richard Packham’s comment is getting a lot of attention. 🙂 I think he makes a good point. While I personally don’t interpret Moroni’s promise to be so all-encompassing, I have to admit that the church does promote this image that the direction that Christ gives to the brethren is more direct than it actually is. Primary songs like “Follow the Prophet” greatly over simplify the reality of revelation.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. What reality of revelation, exactly? What revelation is guiding the church today? The leaders are “infallible” when they want to be, and defer to the experts (such as on the buildup to the Iraq war) when they don’t want to stick their necks out. Really, the excuses people make for the behavior of the GAs are just stunning. You wouldn’t accept them from any other kind of leader. At what point do you just stop and realize, “this doesn’t add up”?

  15. I was really fascinated by this podcast. I knew a little about this event, but not much, so thanks for the great interview!

    Personally, I don’t fault the LDS church leaders too much for filing away some of the more “sensitive” material, in reality that is a very natural and protective response (doesn’t mean it is always the best response). When someone finds things that are contrary to their beliefs, values, etc they will often “put them on the back burner” to deal with later…or sadly, forget. For instance, the WWII Japanese Internment Camps in the U.S. (1942) are an example of something that our government and many other people seemed to forget. It wasn’t until 1988 that the issue was confronted and an official apology was made.

    P.S. – The “Follow the Prophet” song makes a great Halloween song if you slow it down a bit and change up the words.
    “Ghosts and goblins come out on Halloween night
    They are so scary, they’ll give you such a fright…”

    If sped up it also makes a great Bar Mitzvah song!

  16. Although I was in far-off California, the events of October 15th, 1985 traveled from LDS household to household like a wildfire. I lived in Mormon Acres, where appropriately 30 LDS families lived in a three block acre. People visited together that long evening, wondering who the mad bomber was, when he would strike again. Californians called Utahans, and one of us had lost a family member. In a way, Hoffman changed Mormons, we trusted less or became a bit jaded. For LDS history buffs, things would never be the same. Thanks to all for this amazing Podcast. We must never forget that evil can dwell amongst us.

  17. I think the lesson of Mark Hoffman is that we have a very white washed history that the Brothern are willing to use less than honest means to protect. Are there legitimate troubling facts about our Church’s history? Yes. However, as others have mentioned, the New Mormon History is so valuable are tackling these issues. When I studied the religious fervor and magical thinking of 19th century Americans, the historical facts of Mormonism made all the sense in the world. By having this rich and complex understanding of our history, the faith feels more powerful to me. However, when we have a white washed historical understanding of these events that shaped our Church, troubling facts or forged documents can trouble us deeply. Mark Hoffman understood the Mormon culture and was able to exploit it. Why he did it? I am not too sure, but the fact was that his actions revealed a terrible flaw in our community.

  18. Did not find out the details of this story until after I left the church. One more confirmation that I made the right choice.

    Marsco

  19. Hypothetically, what if Mark Hofmann’s salamander letter was actually a letter by Joseph Smith admitting that the BOM was a fictional creation and that the first vision was a lie? If the church were true, wouldn’t church leaders know that this document could not possibly be a valid historical document? Why would they purchase such a letter if they knew that the church were true and that Joseph Smith would never make such an admission? There is a difference between black marks on our religious history and evidence of patent falsehood. My opinion is that the church would have purchased this kind of salamander letter and would have invented an apologetic for it.

  20. Cultural mythology is both existent and necessary in every culture. Unless you are a community full of David Humes, you need some sort of history, true or false, to cling to. It’s completely human to want to feel part of something that has a rich and positive history. Unfortunately, nothing does (and I’ll answer to anyone who says there is a religion or culture that isn’t full of spoils after you start investigating). Mythology is not necessarily always false, but it is a simplified construction so that we can inherit something from the past. I think the GA’s understand this and want to help members feel comfortable with their mythology. We let it happen to our children in schools daily, yet we’re completely comfortable with historians feeding us watered down mythology. Should we teach our kids from a young age about Agent Orange, or Japanese Internment Camps, founding fathers with syphilis? Keep complaining about “whitewashed history” but I think all of our history is watered down. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but if we’re really on a truth crusade here, the church should be the least of our worries.

  21. Wakka Wakka I’m sure you are correct that all religions have blemishes or spoils. I can deal with human weakness and mistakes. I don’t believe that any prophet is perfect. You can see that when you look at the apostles in the New Testament. But the church does not present its history that way. Instead they show a version of Joseph Smith as a man that is nearly as perfect Jesus himself. Look at the film Legacy (I think that is what it was called). I guess what I am saying is that instead of the church handing me what they thought was faith promoting I would have preferred the option to look at the whole picture, warts and all, and choose for myself if I believed in this story.

    And when it comes to mythology, the rhetoric of the leaders is not, ”This is the one and true Mythology”. They expect us to believe literally in this church.

    I think that a whitewashed history whether it is in this church or our nations history does no one any good.

  22. Enjoyed the podcast and was nice to get more information on the Hofmann saga.

    Alot was said at the end about having unreasonable expectations and this being the reason for disillusionment. I agree, but I don’t think it was emphasized enough that it is the church that is responsible for these unreasonable expectations. Its the church that raised me with a literalistic belief that this is God’s one true church with His one true authority. This isn’t presented as myth. Its all literal. How can one grow up in the church and not have these unreasonable expectations? Its close to impossible.

  23. Just finished the Hofmann interviews. Good interview, Dan. I remember the time and my husband even did a research paper on the subject. This extra background information was fascinating.
    Dan, is there a comprehensive list available in one of the books or elsewhere listing the forged documents? This would be valuable when reading older Mormon history, if some of the sources used actually came from the forgeries. I understand one of Quinn’s books might have used some of these documents as sources. Were there others? And how would we know?

  24. Eric Comstock- here’s the thing. History is not by itself connected. History is a bunch of events that we chain together through causality. That’s a historians job. In other words, history, as it is taught, is a series of decisions on what influenced what. The fallacy is shown in a World Civilization class. How are you supposed to teach a class about the history of world civilizations? You pick the “most important ones”.

    Are you suggesting that we teach history “as it really was?” Or simply show the dark underbellies of the history of our country and religion? Should we teach the next generation that Martin Luther King was a plagiarizing adulterer with a righteous facade, or should we share with them the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, talk about his life and contributions to society, and leave it at that?

  25. Thank you for sharing the interview, gentlemen. Good questions and great insights. The topic is a timely reminder that an open approach to Mormon history is still a worthy goal. That Hoffman’s work continues to bubble to the surface is intriguing.

  26. Am I the only one who noticed striking parallels between Mark Hoffman and Joseph Smith?

    One of the guests mentioned how Hoffman was able to convince “experts” that his forgeries were true. Once those experts said his forgeries were authentic, they became “true”.

    Thus, Hoffman’s forgeries became “true” simply by convincing enough people that they were “true.”

    In the end, both Mark Hoffman and Joseph Smith were their own undoing.

  27. Whitewashing history is distinct from summarizing events of the past. Someone has to reduce the complicated history of the past to make it consumable. They do not have to selectively leave out things to reinforce a particular perspective. History books reduce complexity by summarizing details and inevitably leave out stuff. I don’t think this is what the Mormon Church does.

    The problem with how we recieve church history is that there is a conflict of interest. The Church is the basically the primary source for all information about its own history. (Although, we have had some great historians piece stuff together for us in the last 30 years or so.) Furthermore, the Church discourages members from exposing themselves to “anti-Mormon” literature. What is “anti-Mormon” is broadly defined by most faithful Mormons as anything that diminishes faith. I think the General Authorities promote that definition.

    In summary, the arrangement isn’t much different than letting the car salesman be your primary source of information about the car he wants to sale you. You should probably look around other places. Read reviews in magazines and on the Internet. Ask your friends and family. Let sources that have no interest in shaping a particular viewpoint be your primary guide. All the salesman wants to do is sell you a car. Unless he’s completely honest, he’s probably willing to bend the truth and leave out things to make that sell. That’s whitewashing. That’s the history of the church I learned.

  28. A film is being made titled “Salamander Letters” or “Letter Bombs: the True Story of the Mark Hofmann Murders”. It is now (early 2011) in pre-production. It is not being done by Richard Dutcher but by a small production company in L.A. (NOT going to tell you the name). It will be a “straight to DVD” film so it won’t be in cinemas. Perhaps on HBO or some other cable channel, but not in cinemas. Expect it to be in stores sometime in 2012 hopefully.

  29. Just listened to these. Fascinating, thanks for this. I never really got the whole story before.

    I would just like to point out a major flaw in the thinking expressed at the end of the first segment, I don’t know by who, to the effect that Mark Hoffman’s atheism led to his attitude that nothing mattered, hurting people didn’t matter, and he had no remorse for his actions. (I’m paraphrasing of course.)

    Hoffman’s actions were those of a sociopath, not an atheist per se. Atheism doesn’t drive one to forgery, bombing and murder. Insinuating otherwise is a completely baseless insult to the vast majority of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists etc who live very moral lives — not because of desire for reward in heaven or to avoid eternal damnation, but because society doesn’t work, life doesn’t work, without morality.

    To the question, “where do atheists get their morals?” the answer is, the same place christians do, from ourselves. Our evolution as a social species led to adoption of rules for acceptable behavior. Humans created god as well as morality. Atheists simply take the latter without the former.

  30. It seem that I remember reading that Steve Christensen had acted as an liaison between the LDS Church and a donation from a private individual / collector from overseas.  A lawyer also acted as an intermediary on this side of the pond and was questioned by police concerning his contact with Christensen.  The lawyer reported that metal plates had been donated to the church but did not elaborate further.  I read both Salamander and the Mormon Murders many years ago.  Can anyone tell me which book mentions that story?

  31. Pingback: DennisRelojo » Mike Hoffman: Mormons Forger

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