Mormons and the FBI – A Bleg

Mormons and the FBI – A Bleg April 30, 2014

The Associated Press reported in the early 1980s that “The CIA does some of its most successful recruiting in predominantly LDS Utah.”[1]  According to this article, but also countless folktales and accounts in popular culture, the American national security complex has particularly recruited Mormons since the 1950s.  According to the Associated Press, security agencies had entirely pragmatic reasons for this: Mormons’ command of foreign languages usually learned while on the missionary service Mormon young men are expected to provide in their college years, made them appealing to agencies like the CIA and FBI.

But other groups interpreted the Mormon presence in national security agencies in different ways. Mormons took it as evidence that American society had embraced the Latter-day Saints and celebrated their value system as normative for American citizenship. As Gary Williams, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University said, offering his own explanation for the recruitment success national security agencies enjoyed on his campus, “Our Mormon culture has always been more supportive of the government than American culture as a whole” – a striking shift in rhetoric from nineteenth century Mormon separatism.[2]

On the other hand, by this point in the twentieth century – post-Watergate, post-Vietnam – Americans generally were skeptical of easy associations between the national security apparatus and patriotism, and Mormon recruitment took on a more sinister tone. In the crime novels of James Ellroy, for instance, the Mormon Church has erected a political machine that controls the state of Nevada, and the Mormons use the façade of religion to quietly engage in organized crime – money laundering, extortion, and occasionally more violent wrongdoing. Yet at the same time, their image of purity and patriotism allows them to penetrate high into American government.  Howard Hughes hires them because they embody that dichotomy, and can get away with murder while presenting a pristine image to the world.  J. Edgar Hoover does as well.  As one Mormon character muses, “His father was a big Mormon fat cat. Wayne Senior was jungled up all over the nut right. He did Klan ops for Mr. Hoover and Dwight Holly … He knew about the JFK hit. It was multi-faction, Cuban exiles, CIA, mob.”[3]  For Ellroy, Mormons represent all that is most disappointing about America: its seeming pretensions to virtue and righteousness that serve as a thin veneer over decay and corruption and conspiracy.

I’m interested in other sources that associate Mormons with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or with the national security complex more generally.  Comments welcome.

[1] Donna Anderson, “Mormon Missionaries Mistaken for CIA Agents Abroad,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 October 1981.

[2] Anderson, “Mormon Missionaries Mistaken for CIA Agents Abroad.”

[3] James Ellroy, Blood’s a Rover (New York: Knopf, 2005) 16.

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