Gary Johnson Offends the State of Utah by Suggesting That Mormons Are Murderers

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The Libertarian presidential candidate offended some voters he really, really needs.
Photo: Molly Riley/AFP/Getty Images

It’s no secret that members of the very conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to take a dim view of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Ted Cruz trounced him in Utah, and best we can tell Trump did poorly among LDS folk throughout the primaries and caucuses. This is not all that surprising, since the mogul’s, er, lifestyle choices are alien to Mormons, but so, too, are his churlish sentiments toward people in need and religious minorities. It’s no accident that Mitt Romney has been so unwilling to climb aboard the Trump train, or that the occasional poll shows Hillary Clinton being shockingly competitive in Utah, mainly because of a large undecided vote.

You’d figure Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson would view Mormon Republicans as a rich vein of potential support. He’s a westerner, like many LDS voters. And while there’s no question the average Mormon is not going to agree with Libertarians on, say, abortion policy or same-sex marriage or drug legalization, their “constitutional conservatism” on the role of government is congruent with the views of, say, Utah senator Mike Lee. Besides, Johnson doesn’t need a majority of Mormons; he just needs a boost to get to that magic 15 percent of the general-election vote in polls that would entitle him to a spot in the presidential debates and further glory as Americans realize they don’t need much of a government after all.

So it’s not a good sign for the Libertarian cause that Johnson recently went far out of his way to insult Mormons in a particularly visceral way. The Salt Lake Tribune has the story:

Johnson, in an interview with the conservative Washington Examiner during the Democratic National Convention last week, said he believes it’s the government’s duty to prevent discrimination and said that giving exceptions based on religion “will open up a can of worms.”
As an example, the former Republican governor of New Mexico pointed to Mormons in a way that has rankled some LDS Republicans.
I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything,” Johnson said. “Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead?”

This appears to be an allusion to the LDS belief in continuing divine revelation via church leaders, and also to certain acts of 19th-century Mormon violence about which contemporary LDS folk are very sensitive, notably the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre in which members of a Utah militia killed about 120 settlers going through their territory to California. Johnson made the latter point a bit more explicit in an attempted apology for any offense he might have given to Mormons:

My reference to the LDS church, made during an impromptu conversation, was an admittedly very imprecise reference to the violence that accompanied the Mormon’s early history in the 1800s– violence that was prompted by the persecution of the Mormons themselves by both the federal government and others.

Nice try, Gary. But you’ve managed to do something even Donald Trump hasn’t done to offend Mormons.