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Mormon Faith Serves As Powerful Symbol For Oregon Protesters


We turn now to John Sepulvado. He's a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting, and he's been covering the situation at the refuge. He's also written about how the Mormon faith has served as a powerful symbol to several protesters. John Sepulvado, welcome to the program.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: All right. So over the course of your reporting, you actually noticed certain symbols from the Mormon faith in the language of Ammon Bundy and also his father - right? - Cliven, going back to that confrontation with the Bureau of Land Management back in 2014. Give us an example of what you were seeing or hearing.

SEPULVADO: Well, that's right. At the time, I was living in Las Vegas. I was reporting there, and there was a very large Mormon community there. And the more mainstream Mormons would get very upset with Cliven Bundy and his family because Cliven Bundy actually would wrap himself in a lot of Mormon symbolism and a lot of Mormon belief. For example, one of the things that was on the flags at Cliven Bundy's ranch was this quote, "in memory of our God, our religion and freedom and our peace, our lives and our children." That comes from LDS Scripture. Now, I want to make it really clear. Mainstream Mormons don't advocate taking over people's land. But Cliven Bundy says that, you know, this is part of his destiny in large part because it's based on a story about a guy named Captain Moroni .

CORNISH: So Captain Moroni - who is this figure, and why would he inspire anti-Federalist militants?

SEPULVADO: Well, according to Latter-day Saints Scripture, Captain Moroni became a commander of his people, called the Nephites, when he turned 25. And he basically introduced a bunch of new tactics and new ways to think about fighting. And one day, this really kind of corrupt king comes to Captain Moroni, and he's basically telling him, we're going to take your people over. And Captain Moroni says, uh-uh, that's not going to happen. He takes his coat, tears a piece of it off. He scrawls that quote I just told you, puts that on a pole, and he calls this his title of liberty. People see this flag. They flock to him. So many people come to join him in the fight that the king gets scared and he moves and goes away without there ever being a confrontation.

CORNISH: So how does this play out today, looking around in this confrontation with Ammon Bundy?

SEPULVADO: Well, Ammon Bundy - this is exactly what he wants to do. So when Ammon Bundy says he's trying to be peaceful and he wants to be peaceful, it seems that he really means it, and he - it's 'cause he bases it on this idea of Captain Moroni, right? Like, it's - what he's doing is the same that Moroni's done. He says - Ammon Bundy says he's been moved by the Lord to come to Oregon, and he's hoping that people will hear his call and that they'll be so many people that the federal government will say, you know what; we're not even going to bother; we're going to cave to your demands.

CORNISH: So you talk about this tie between the kind of religious and the political, but where does this strain of Mormonism fall on the religious spectrum? I mean, is it peculiar to the Bundy family history?

SEPULVADO: Well, I think there are some things to remember. And I'm not a Mormon scholar. I want to make that really, really clear. But a lot of Mormons were persecuted when the religion first started. And when they came to Utah, they really were looking at starting their own country. In fact, there's an idea called the country of Deseret, which is this safe haven for folks who are Latter-day Saints. Mainstream Mormons have turned away from that, you know? Of course, you have Senator Harry Reid, who's a Mormon. You have Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee for president. He's a Mormon. They - they're not looking to break away, but there are still certain people who remember this tradition, who have always had beef with the federal government. And Cliven Bundy and his family are people who remember those stories, and they believe there is a destiny. And he'll tell you this. I've talked to Cliven about this. He believes his family has a destiny to resolve this issue.

CORNISH: That's OPB's John Sepulvado. Thanks so much, John.

SEPULVADO: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And this afternoon, the LDS church issued a statement saying they, quote, "strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility in Oregon." It goes on to say that this armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.