Mormon Religion Used to Justify Extreme Anti-Government Ideology in Cliven Bundy Case

Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada. Reuters

An obscure Mormon religious text has emerged as one of the central tenets influencing the anti-government ideology of Cliven Bundy, a militiaman accused of leading an armed standoff against federal agents near a ranch outside Las Vegas in 2014.

The Bundy family, which includes Cliven and his 14 children, is deeply influenced by its Mormon faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon. But researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have noted that the family and its supporters also follow a text called The Nay Book, allegedly compiled by Bundy's friend and fellow rancher Keith Allen Nay, who died in 1997.

"The book is a scrapbook mix of letters, founding documents of both the United States and the Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ mixed with ideas that have existed in the antigovernment "Patriot" movement for decades," the Southern Poverty Law Center writes.

"Seen by few outside a tight circle of family supporters, the book lays out a religious justification for resisting the federal management of public lands," the center added.

Ammon Bundy comments on today's mistrial hearing. #BundyTrial Please retweet.

— Cliven Bundy American Patriot (@BundyStrong) December 12, 2017

The nearly-200-page secret text reportedly begins with a letter written by Bundy arguing that it is his right to defend his land against the government's "tyrannical" control.

Bundy refuses to recognize federal authority over his land, which his ancestors settled in the 1880s. Consequently, he stopped paying the grazing fees for the cattle he had on public land, and he owes the government around $1.2 million in fees. Because Bundy refused to pay the fee, the Bureau of Land Management began seizing his cattle. In 2014, a video emerged of a government official allegedly using a stun gun against one of Bundy's sons, and in response, hundreds of far-right militiamen arrived to help Bundy defend his land from the federal government. The events are still being argued in court three years later.

Outside the courthouse, people have hung the "Title of Liberty" flag, a banner mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

"In Memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children," reads the flag draped outside of the courthouse where Bundy and his followers are facing trial. The quote is from Captain Moroni, an important military commander in the Book of Mormon known for spearheading a call to arms.

The SPLC has published a story on The Nay Book, and offered it up in full here: #Bundytrial

— Leah Sottile (@Leah_Sottile) December 12, 2017

According to the book of Mormon, Captain Moroni was appointed captain of the army of Nephites, the three disciples of Jesus described in the Book of Mormon. Moroni was allegedly "angry with the government over their indifference about the country's freedom."

The Nay Book demonstrates that the Bundy family's conflict with the government is about more than just control over land—it's about religion, experts say.

"There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, undertones to many of the stories in the Book of Mormon that imply that rulers become oppressive, [and] God helps the righteous overthrow those rulers," Ryan McKnight, head of MormonLeaks, an organization that aims to make the Mormon church more transparent, told Newsweek.

"These themes are rarely the main thrust of the religious teachings of the book," he said. "But they are part of the events that Mormons believe occurred on the North American continent between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D."