I’ve been responding a bit to several other blogs centered around W Cleon Skousen’s sophomoric ramblings about the "Atonement," and other "deep" or "advanced" folk-doctrines still being hailed as his masterworks. I’ll just summarize my response to these claims briefly:
First of all, we have his highly exaggerated FBI "experience," which consisted almost exclusively of shuffling papers in the outback with no security access to anything of world or national importance. The fact that he was a rabid anti-Communist and J Edgar may have given him a short offhand nod according to Skousen’s camp or that at his death somebody somewhere asked him to give a speech commemorating Hoover’s service to the country, amounts to nothing. In the world of mindless, foaming anti-Communists, there are enough loons to go around that somebody connected somehow to Hoover would end up looking like, or would be made to look like they endorsed W Cleon Skousen. The fact remains that the FBI officially condemned and divorced themselves from his efforts, his ramblings, his writings, his speechmaking, and the official FBI position on Willy Skousen was that he was doing more harm than good, and actually obfuscated, confused, and inhibited the serious work of sorting out credible risks to national security.
As for the recurring claims of Skousen’s devotees that he was fired as chief of police by a lawless Salt Lake mayor who hated the way he enforced the law equally and fairly, and wouldn’t look the other way when the bigwigs had a game of cards–the overwhelming assessment of his stint as Top Cop in Salt Lake City was that his approach to law enforcement was a combination of Barney Fife and Joe Stalin. It is often assumed or even proposed by Cleon’s faithful, that the mayor who fired him was some sort of liberal, or corrupt and lazy, and only resented Skousen’s equal application of the law, even when high city officials were the victims of his zeal. The truth is, J Bracken Lee was a hard-core conservative, every bit as active in the anti-Commie craze as was Skousen, and every bit as straight-laced in his personal morals and habits:
Mayor Lee’s firing of Skousen caused a major shock within conservative political circles – both in Utah and nationally. [For a detailed discussion of the Lee-Skousen feud, see “Political Feud in Salt Lake City: J. Bracken Lee and the Firing of W. Cleon Skousen”, by Dennis L. Lythgoe, Utah Historical Quarterly, Fall 1974, or see Lythgoe’s subsequent book, Let 'Em Holler: A Political Biography of J. Bracken Lee - Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1982.]
In August 1960, Mayor Lee wrote a letter to Mrs. Elizabeth Laine of Arcadia, CA in which he made the following comments:
“To further explain my position, let me say this, that while Mr. Skousen has written a book and talks against Communism, actually he conducted his office as Chief of Police in exactly the same manner in which the Communists operate their government. The man is also a master of half-truths. In at least three instances I have proved him to be a liar before the City Commissioners and the newspaper reporters. To me, he is a very dangerous man because he preaches one thing, practices another, does not tell the truth, and cannot be relied upon. He also was one of the greatest spenders of public funds of anyone who ever served in any capacity in Salt Lake City government.” [HQ 67-69602, #286; 8/8/60 letter from J. Bracken Lee to Mrs. Elizabeth Laine, Arcadia CA]
When the Educational News Service of Fullerton, CA ran a favorable article about Skousen in its March 31, 1960 issue, Mayor Lee sent them a blistering 3-page response (with copies to 13 other individuals who served on the Board of Directors of the News Service). Among the accusations made by Lee are the following comments concerning Skousen’s 1958 book, The Naked Communist:
“Your article further states that my charge that Mr. Skousen had been using City Police secretarial assistance in the writing of this book was without foundation. The records will show to the satisfaction of anyone that he did use City Policemen and secretaries both to compile, typewrite, and assemble his notes on this book. While I certainly do not object to the writing of a book in opposition to Communism, I do not think it is right that City funds and personnel be used to write a book which resulted in personal gain to that writer.” [HQ 67-69602, #290; 8/16/60 letter by J. Bracken Lee to Mr. Edward T. Price, President, Education Information Inc of Fullerton CA.]
After termination as Police Chief, Skousen then ran for the Republican nomination for Governor of Utah and his campaign literature included the phrase, “Served his country in the FBI 16 years, 4 of them as Administrative Assistant to J. Edgar Hoover during World War II, a top assignment.” [HQ 67-69602, #287; Bureau file copy notation on outgoing 1/12/61 letter to Mrs. Norman Hartnett, Bakersfield CA mentions his campaign literature.]
J. Edgar Hoover received numerous inquiries about Skousen’s description of himself. His replies declared that: “For your information, Mr. Skousen did not have the title ‘Administrative Assistant’ while in the FBI” and “In response to your inquiry, I wish to advise that there is no such position in the FBI entitled Administrative Assistant to the Director”. [See for example, Hoover’s 4/19/61 reply to Rev. Harry C. Carlson of La Habra CA which is HQ file 94-47468, serial #28 and his 11/1/61 reply to David A. Moynan Jr., Chairman of Operation Americanism, Jefferson Parish Junior Chamber of Commerce, which is HQ file 94-47468, serial #37 and his April 10, 1962 reply to inquiry by Mrs. A.M. Donaldson of Cardiff CA which is HQ file 94-47468, serial #46.]
While on a general level there’s nothing unusual about somebody puffing up a resume to get a job, the fact is, Willard Skousen was a consummate BS artist on every level of his personal, political, religious, and "academic" pursuits. Like Lucifer, master of the half-truth and the credible lie, Cleon Skousen never gained any official sanction from anyone of any legal, political, academic or religious authority and had to rely on bold assertion and vague allusion. He never, for example, and to the possible surprise of most of his fans, published a scrap of anything about anything, political or religious through BYU or any other authoritative LDS institution, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. He was flat out rejected by the First Presidency, shunned at BYU, and eventually kicked off campus and banished from recruiting through LDS connections of any sort by both BYU Administration and the First Presidency in concerted movement.
The problem I have with making an effort at diluting the tendency toward invective in my examination of Skousen and his cultic following, comes from attempting to make a person who should according to all objective criteria, already be overtly silly-looking on his face, look even sillier just to make the point. This situation exists because Cleon Skousen is not an individual to be examined on his singular intellectual or "spiritual" merits. Skousen can only be examined in the context of a multi-generational cloud of gaseous, ignorant postulation and self-promotion, lapped up for decades now by a devout, well-meant, if ignorant cult of personality.
Willy Skousen’s purely "Mormon" minions universally dismiss his clearly paranoid and delusional political hysteria with the oft-used phrase: "I don’t care what his political beliefs are, I’m only interested in his great "gospel" insights." The problem with a "neutral" examination of Willy Skousen on a theological level, however, is that he is the object of adoration of an international fan-base of Mormon worshippers, yet is a non-entity within the ecclesiastical and therefore doctrinal structure of the LDS Church. Any "insights" he may or may not have are meaningless, and he has no particular right or permission much less authority to preach his personal "gospel" to anyone, particularly so vast a gullible and receptive audience teeming adoringly after his every scrap of wisdom, within the ranks of the LDS faith. Willy Skousen isn’t merely a nice old geezer harmlessly weaving Utah folk-doctrine into clever little books he gets you to pay for. He’s a sub-culture. He’s a very dedicated, self-promoting "wisdom" industry. And yet, I am invited to refrain from invective when examining the notion that his often bizarre perspective should be given great credence simply because his followers think he’s a nice guy. Oh yes, he’s not a General Authority, they contend as if it actually makes sense to them, but he had friends who were, and he makes all sorts of allusions to secret insight he got from them that these original sources for "obvious" reasons–nudge nudge–don’t of course ever publish or endorse. He’s rubbed elbows with all the "greats," and gee, he’s such a kindly, spiritual old figure he really ranks up there with Brigham Young and Joseph Smith anyway for all practical purposes. In fact, he’s got such a great insight into what all those scribbled old journals and doctrinal rumor mills have been parsing out for generations, he’s actually more accurate and reliable than any of the "official" Church authorities.
"I’m only trying to give the best answers I can," he softly apologizes to his critics, in an affected tone of humility. "If you can come up with a better answer, I’d be glad to hear it…"
How about this Willard? Shut the hell up. You are not the Answer Man. If the First Presidency doesn’t think it’s important to provide the answers you’re trying guess and fabricate and pull out of your spiritual arse, who are you to second guess both the canon and the living prophets? And who is this other guy that you’re encouraging to make even bigger and better guesses at these, secret, convoluted, cosmic "Truths" you like to make up out of fairy dust and some nebulous comment you overheard in the hall from some GA or the other? This other guy is a good-intentioned patsy you’re perverting, contaminating and corrupting, and dragging down to speculative hell along with you. That’s who this other guy is.
And while you’re getting all offended out there, let me tell you up-front I think that other guy could be you!
Cleon Skousen is a creature of mythology. Cleon Skousen was spreading myth, not doctrine. And now, W Cleon Skousen has become a myth himself. And instead of his presumptuous, spiritual theorizing having the good grace to die with him, his devoted coven of friends and defenders continue to perpetuate his entirely unauthoritative rambling as if his power to seduce the Mormon mind was controlling them from beyond the grave. Why? Because Skousen was one of the first to capitalize on the nearly universally held Utah myth that LDS general authorities are all walking around the temple talking directly to Jesus all day, and are possessed of volumes of great, deep, secret knowledge and wisdom gained in these conversations. And Skousen was one of the first, after William Bennett or say, Sampson Avard, to successfully convince masses of the LDS faithful that there is something so special about himself that all of these great LDS authorities are just begging to have him as their confidant.
"Modern" LDS authorities it is held in Utah Mormon culture, are constrained by the Almighty to "water down" all the "hard doctrines" Skousen likes to allude to, in order to make a mass-appeal more palatable to the ignorant, spiritually retarded masses from which the missionary program has to recruit new membership. After all, those prophets and apostles can’t really tell us all they know about these "higher doctrines," so we’re just lucky to have old Willy on hand to discretely let us in on all the inner secrets. This is not invective, this is not vitriol, this is the premise upon which one has to hinge any acceptance of anything Cleon Skousen has promoted his entire life, spiritually, doctrinally, or for that matter politically. His bogus political claim to have been the personal assistant of J Edgar Hoover is exactly the same gambit he used his entire life in alluding to some vague, but apparently very close and official connection to the First Presidency, various General Authorities, and of course the crowning LDS institute of higher education, BYU. But, as Hoover repeatedly found himself correcting: there never was any such relationship to any of these props of intellectual, moral, mental, or patriotic credibility. Cleon Skousen, simply put, is not a credible person on any level or in any fashion imaginable.
Nice guy maybe–deep thinker, but no credibility. He made a good living spending his whole life pulling Commies and Mormon folk doctrine out of his arse. And God bless him. If people were and still are gullible enough or stupid enough to think he’s some sort of spiritual or political genius that they’re willing to cough up the dough to indulge and support him in his little fantasy world, guess he has the last laugh. Many’s a time I thought of taking up the banner and making a few bucks off the religion, but I just kept coming back to that notion of “priestcraft,” and could never quite separate the concept from what guys like Glenn Beck and Cleon Skousen always end up doing. There’s still hope for Beck I guess, but his facilitation of Skousen’s rebirth as one of the greatest thinkers and patriots ever to come out of an American womb unfortunately puts him in the “more harm than good” category on a dangerous level.
Skousen’s book The First 2,000 Years, published in 1953, included a section on God that can only be described as blasphemous.
Under the subtitle “The Source of God’s Power,” he wrote,
“Through modern revelation we learn that the universe is filled with vast numbers of intelligences, and we further learn that Elohim is God simply because all of these intelligences honor and sustain Him as such…His glory and power is something which He slowly acquired until today, ‘all things bow in humble reverence.’ But since God ‘acquired’ the honor and sustaining influence of ‘all things’ it follows as a corellary (sic) that if He should do anything to violate the confidence or ‘sense of justice’ of these intelligences, they would promptly withdraw their support, and the ‘power’ of God would disintegrate. This is what Mormon and Alma meant when they specifically stated that if God should change or act contrary to truth and justice ‘He would cease to be God.’ Our Heavenly Father can do only those things which the intelligences under Him are voluntarily willing to support Him in accomplishing” (pp.355-356).
The short explanation of the above sophomoric drivel is this: Heresy. We did not all get together and vote God into office, and God is not dependent upon our approval to remain God. There is nothing in the canon that suggests this apart from one crackpot named Willard, who strung a few out-of context scriptures together and then injected his “corellary” as if it had anything to do with the actual content of the scriptures in question. There is no modern revelation that spells out that God’s power is based entirely upon our honor and intellectual sustaining of His position. There is no scripture or modern “revelation” that even suggests that the first time we think God isn’t living up to His bargain He’s out of the job. Skousen is a liar and a heretic.
Even by zany, Utah folk-doctrine standards.
Yes, if God stopped acting like God he would cease to be God, but since it’s not in God’s nature to stop being God it’s not possible. Mormons may not believe God created everything out of nothing, and is therefore more the Great Architect of the Universe than the mythical, Platonist’s immaterial God who speaks everything into being out of immaterial matter, but there’s nothing in Mormon canon or “revelation” that defines the source of God’s power to organize or “create” and command the elements, as the result of some parliamentary procedure through which every other intelligent entity cedes to Him their magical thought energy.
And the really funny thing, in a pathetic sort of “funny” way…a sad, desperate sort of way…is that Willard Skousen is in his own estimation, so allegedly loved and chummy with all these LDS prophets and apostles, that these men of God, according to Skousen, feel they just have to compulsively reveal to our man Willy, bits and hints and pieces of all the restricted information God has commanded them to withhold from mankind, because Willard is such a spiritual and personal buddy with them that they know he’s the only one outside their circle who can handle the Whole Truth. Yes, in Willy’s world, God actually compels these prophets to sneak these cosmic tidbits from God’s lips to Willy Skousen randomly, casually on the sly, possibly over a can of soda while talking about the weather.
The fact remains however, that these great and Godly crumbs of wisdom Skousen has allegedly picked up during these exchanges, are no more real than the fantasy narrative he created while shuffling generic, unclassified, functionary papers with the FBI in various crapholes of the Midwest, until by the time he was applying for the job of chief cop in SLC, his imaginary portfolio had evolved into a hefty tome that promoted him to the ignorant hicks of the Wasatch Front as Hoover’s Right-Hand Man and seasoned champion of numerous World Commie Hunting adventures. The irony here is that, well, if anyone of normal intelligence and an ounce of healthy skepticism thought about it for more than a second, they would realize that, while Cleon is so allegedly chummy and beloved by the apostles and prophets that they can’t resist spilling their eternal guts to him every chance they get, somehow neither the LDS leadership nor God Almighty ever once thought to extend a call that would put him officially and legitimately amongst their company where he could openly talk with Jesus and receive the whole enchilada of universal knowledge. What was God thinking about when he overlooked that?
Furthermore, it should be equally obvious that whatever casual side-commentary apostle "Mormon Q. Mormon" passed on to one Willard Cleon Skousen in the hallway of the Church Offices or inadvertently at some speech or outing or devotional gathering, is likewise as irrelevant as anything Skousen himself had to expound upon these mythical, covert insights. No single LDS authority has any calling or authority to expound, expand, or invent "doctrine" above and beyond the Standard Works, and the official, correlated materials authorized by the First Presidency.
End of debate Cleon. There are no "higher" doctrines. There are only "doctrines," and stuff neither we nor the Brethren have any right or authority to comment upon. Doctrine is defined by the First Presidency and officially published. And they get it from God only if God wants it gotten. You aren’t and never have been invited into that inner circle of authority. Sorry. But you know that now because you’re dead as a doornail. Unfortunately you can’t come back and tell Glenn Beck and your new fan base just how full of shite you were.
As I’ve said before, Hitler was a nice guy if you were one of his crowd. This isn’t a personal attack, this is a sociological examination of the Skousen phenomenon. Popularity is no indication of correctness or "inspiration." The NAZI’s were incredibly popular–if you were a German recovering from a really crappy treaty that destroyed your economy after WWI. That indeed, Adolph Hitler or Cleon Skousen had a few bright things to say is true, but on balance, less important to me or the history of the LDS Church than the fact that no matter what Skousen had to say, or how "bright" it seemed to appear to either you, me, or friends in the ecclesiastical structure at times, the bottom line is, he remains a nobody in the LDS theological scheme. In that context, Cleon Skousen had no more "authority" to delineate the Lord’s Word than Adolph Hitler. It matters not in an LDS context, what either had to say therefore.
But the comparisons to Hitler don’t end there. Skousen actually embraced many of the cultural myths the NAZIS employed to win the favor of the German population and seize power, including the notion of an Anglo-Saxon chosen Master Race who stemmed from the ancient lost tribes of Israel, guided to the British Isles and finally on to found the United States of America. That remains to this day the chief article of faith for America’s Neo-NAZI’s and the KKK. Those are not good ideas any church would want associated with any of its members even casually, unofficially.
Naturally, any time a Glenn Beck or Mitt Romney pops up in the public face, there also, pops up old uncle Cleon with his big nose, bigger head, and very small white-supremist ideas—permanently connect to the LDS church for time and all eternity. Cleon Skousen’s notions about religion and politics are like rank, spiritual, intellectual, philosophical farts that linger vaguely in the air for generations, contaminating and fouling the clear air of both political and religious reason. Wherever a noted LDS figure make progress in the public eye in any given field of endeavor, you will eventually catch a whiff of Willy Skousen’s permeating stench and find the public nostrils forced to contend with it first, recoiling and sniffing through the fumes of Skousen’s gibberish to get at the actual topic in current relevance.
Like this recent Romney article from Mother Jones, featuring an interview from the last election:
If Romney hasn’t read Skousen’s political philosophy, that’s probably for the best. His professor’s grand theory of American history was founded on a set of beliefs that had little to no basis in reality. He believed that the Founding Fathers were directly direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, whom he said had migrated to the British Isles—and that by extension, the Constitution was the direct descendant of the ruling system of the ancient Israelites. In Making of America, the textbook that Mickelson referenced in his conversation with Romney, Skousen quotes from an essay which argues that "one of the blessings of slavery" was that slaves’ marriages were fleeting, and suggests that being bought at auction improved slaves’ self worth. The real victims of slavery, the author suggested, were the white owners. The book also referred to black children as "pickaninnies"—which prompted lawmakers in California to block the text from being used in classrooms. In Skousen’s book, the model Supreme Court decision was Dred Scott, which correctly demarcated the limits of federal power; Roger B. Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in that case, was the model Supreme Court justice.
Although he didn’t seem familiar with Making of America, Romney was almost certainly aware of his ex-professor’s reputation. Skousen’s academic colleagues began to push back against his teachings while Romney was still a student at BYU. As Alexander Zaitchik reported forSalon, some of Skousen’s colleagues at BYU insisted on teaching his economic treatise, Naked Capitalism, which theorized that a global cabal of bankers was quietly controlling the world from behind the scenes. (Naked Capitalism was a sequel to Naked Communism, which argued that the Soviet Union was just a pawn in larger effort by the United Nations to control the world).
Skousen’s crackpot theories eventually drew the attention of the leaders of the Mormon church, who were determined to distance themselves from Skousen’s sermonizing. The church, Zaitchik reported, issued a formal order instructing clergy not to promote Skousen’s work (he had started an anti-Communist civics group called the Freeman Institute) from the pulpit, lest anyone get the wrong impression about the church’s beliefs. Romney, a former Mormon bishop, would have had to have been living under a rock not to know about Skousen’s conspiratorial reputation.
After his heyday in the 1980s, Skousen faded into irrelevance, only to be resurrected at the dawn of the tea party era. Glenn Beck, who called Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap "years ahead of its time," made its ideas the centerpiece of his 9/12 movement and wrote the foreword to a new edition of the book. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Skousen "shares his views" on the founding of the country and touted him in speeches to evangelical audiences. Constitutional seminars based on Skousen’s theories of an Anglo-Saxon chosen people popped up across the country.
Cleon Skousen was and remains a crackpot. That’s not a personal attack, that’s just a fact. Willy Skousen had not, has not, and will never have, any more authority to babble about "doctrine" or the makeup of the universe than I have. Or any of you have. The only difference between you or me and Willard Cleon Skousen is a few buddies who ended up in the LDS hierarchy, and a shameless knack for self-promotion. Why anyone would defer to Skousen in any doctrinal matter baffles me, and why so many feel their own spiritual or intellectual discernment is so humble in comparison to Skousen’s inflated estimate of his own entirely unauthorized speculations, is just plain insulting to the general LDS membership.
And particularly, why anyone discerning enough, or honest enough to confess that Cleon Skousen evidences some very befuddled, even bigoted and ignorant thought processes and personal beliefs in his political novels, and yet would be unwilling to concede therefore that his religious literary efforts cannot be any more reliable given that they are the product of the same twisted and demonstrably limited mental capacity, is baffling.
My invective is not directed at Willard Skousen so much as those who worship him. Unfortunately, I can’t say that he didn’t deliberately and very actively recruit his following. No, he wasn’t excommunicated or preaching overt heresy and rebellion. He remained "liked" by most LDS General Authorities. But he simply couldn’t shut up and let certain questions go unanswered. Like many Latter-day Saints, Cleon felt his personal intelligence or “inspiration” entitled him to insight into any subject in the universe, literally any subject in the universe, and God would provide the answer. Anywhere there was a gap or an opening in LDS dogma where Willard Skousen could stick his intellectual crowbar in and wedge himself inside, there he would be–for time and all eternity.
The only thing worse than a vicious tyrant and self-promoter like Hitler, is a kindly, lovable, well-meaning old codger like Cleon Skousen. It’s easy to see the faults and the damage an Adolph Hitler is doing to God’s Creation. It’s not so easy to identify and condemn the damage a chummy Uncle Cleon" is doing to God’s organization on this planet. In fact, it’s easy and credible to internalize and incorporate his postulations into your daily "belief system." And then you’re no longer a Latter-day Saint, not even a "Mormon." Then you’re just a Skousenite.
And that’s the way Satan really works. Through a kindly, mild-mannered, Cleon Skousen. That’s the true Satanic genius–not force and oppression, but a carefully administered and reasoned program of distraction and dilution and corruption. You don’t go through the Aryan Master Race and by force destroy the work of God. You lay the seeds of perversion and corruption and sophistry, through a kindly old Uncle Cleon.
In the latter days even God’s elect will be deceived. That’s God’s Word talking about us. That’s you and me. That’s perhaps particularly addressed to the LDS Church and its leadership, and even more so, the likes of Willy Skousen or any of those who would make his LDS mystical subculture their primary source of information and inspiration.
22 For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.