Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Smart Crowds

Last night Elizabeth Smart spoke at the local high school. The parking lot was as packed as I have ever seen it; suggesting that the crowd gathered to hear her story rivaled or surpassed events like graduation. This was a big event; even the minor Osmonds do not draw such crowds when they come to town.

The Smart event relied on local, mostly word-of-mouth, promotion. The event was catered by Elizabeth Smart’s catering business. Tickets were not that expensive either. A winning combination for a small Utah city. Contrast that with today’s (11 April 2012) 7 PM screening of “The Day My God Died” at the Rose Wagner performing arts center in Salt Lake City. That event features a special post screening Q+A with Anuradha Koirala and Executive Producer Geralyn Dreyfous. That event is free (sponsored by Rio Tinto) highly publicized, and occurring in a famous event center rather than a high-school auditorium. I doubt it will match the draw even the least of the Osmonds could achieve in Tooele.

The movie “The Day My God Died” is about children being abducted from their homes to be used as sexual slaves. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home at age 14, and forced to become Brian David Mitchell’s plural wife.

To be somewhat more balanced I should point out that between Elizabeth’s abduction on June 5th 2002, and when she was recognized walking around the suburban city of Sandy in the company of her abductors on March 12th 2003 her photo was a constant staple of local newscasts. Elizabeth Smart was a pretty blond girl from an affluent family who’s knife-point abduction from her parent’s million-dollar home overlooking Salt Lake City was vividly witnessed by her younger sister. The media had caught Missing White Woman Syndrome, and they were hell-bent on infecting all of Utah. The victims highlighted in “The Day My God Died” are just a bit too brown-skinned and young to garner the same kind of attention that Elizabeth got.

Shortly after Elizabeth was abducted Brian Mitchell’s other wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, ritualistically washed her feat, dressed her in robes, and prepared her for her wedding to Brian Mitchell. This is similar to the ritual exploitation regularly forced on teenage women in polygamist communities all over Utah. Barzee’s complicity to child rape was arguably less than that of Warren Jeffs’s whose conviction would not stick in Utah’s courts. On November 17th 2009 Barzee was sentenced in Salt Lake City to 15 years for her part in Elizabeth’s ordeal. Barzee is currently serving the last four and a half years of her 15-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Texas. Jeffs is also serving time in Texas.

It is coming up on the 10th anniversary of Elizabeth's abduction. In the nine years since she was freed she has been a darling of the media. Just over 18 months after she was freed Elizabeth took to the stage to perform an opening harp solo of the US National Anthem for a sold out Toby Keith concert in Salt Lake City (November 6th 2004). Toby Keith is an ultra-patriotic country singer who penned super hits like “Angry American (courtesy of the Red White and Blue)” { And you'll be sorry that you messed with The U.S. of A. 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass It's the American way} so performing the national anthem before one of his concerts is an honor, but I’d never heard of a harp soloist doing it before. People magazine has featured her on their cover at least twice. The latest time for her recent “Dream Wedding” in the Hawaii LDS temple. Now she is on a motivational speaker tour to sold out venues like Tooele High School.

During Elizabeth’s captivity she became convinced that she was indeed married to Mitchell. She wore wigs, dark glasses, and disguised her voice in public so that she would not be recognized and separated from her “husband”. For the nine months she was captive Elizabeth was often in the public company of Mitchell. Mitchell was a itinerant preacher who attracted attention. One photographer who snapped a picture of Mitchell quaffing a beer at a large party recalled the two women dressed in robes that accompanied him. Thought he did not bother to discover their identities he believed that they were Mitchell’s plural wives, one of them was Elizabeth Smart. Even after she was separated from Mitchell by police it took several minutes of intense direct questioning for Elizabeth to reveal her identity.

Mitchell called himself “Immanuel” and carried around a book revealed directly to him by god that was titled "Book of Immanuel David Isaiah". Three days after Elizabeth was freed the LDS-owned Deseret News published Immanuel’s revelations in full.
"I, the Lord brought forth out of obscurity and out of darkness through my servant Joseph Smith, Jr. And by the hand of my servant Joseph, I, the Lord God, Jehovah, brought forth out of the bowels of the earth the Book of Mormon, which book contains my true doctrine, and stands with the Bible to witness for my name unto all the earth, to show unto all people that I am the very Christ who suffered and died for their sins, and rose again the third day, that all men who will believe in me, and will repent, and be baptized in my name, shall have eternal life."
The revelations go on-and-on. They basically praise Mormonism with a few caveats and additions. Immanuel uses the word “verily” a whole lot. Immanuel made flesh as Brian Mitchell kept his revelations secret to prevent his possible excommunication from the Church he loved. They were discovered along with some pictures of naked children shortly before he abducted Elizabeth. Immanual went from active member to excommunicated in a mater of days. The Church kept the fact that they had discovered Immanuel’s pedophilic pictures quiet until after Immanuel was safely in Jail for Elizabeth’s abduction.

While an active member of the mainstream LDS church Immanuel eked out a living by milking his relationship to the religiosity of more affluent members of the LDS church. He was quoted as saying “The Lord Will Provide”. He made a rickety handcart replica for one patron. He did some odd jobs for the Smarts.

After her “marriage” to Immanuel was terminated by the state Elizabeth was not continually in the bright spotlight. She served a two-year mission in Paris for the LDS church. She was seen playing harp on Paris streets hoping to attract attention for the LDS church through her musical skills and story.

What would she tell potential converts? That there is this book of revelations directly from god to a convicted con-artist you should read? That this same man was tarred and feathered for plurally marrying very-very-young teenagers? That These revelations used the word "verily" a whole lot and described cataclysmic events? That you should believe like she does that these are divine scriptures because she knows in her pretty blond heart that they are true, and that knowledge provides emotional and spiritual comfort to her?

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