Last Updated September 5, 2023.
One of the focuses of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven is how religious fundamentalism can warp a person's mind and cause them to do terrible things. One such case is the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter by her brothers-in-law. They said God told them to do it. Krakauer writes,
Prior to Dan’s conviction, and for more than a decade afterward, he steadfastly maintained that he was innocent of the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. When he was arrested in Reno in August 1984, he told the arresting officers, "You think I have committed a crime of homicide, but I have not." He still insists that he is innocent of any crime but, paradoxically, does not deny that he killed Brenda and Erica. When asked to explain how both these apparently contradictory statements can be true, he says, "I was doing God’s will, which is not a crime."
Brenda, however, happened to be a strong influence in the household. She encouraged her fellow Lafferty wives to stand up to their husbands and supported one in her attempt to leave her husband. Dan Lafferty says later that he never felt regret for killing Brenda or her 15-month-old daughter Erica.
Krakauer is openly suspicious of the Mormon doctrine and discusses the origins of the religion and the issues with its founder, Joseph Smith. He says:
Joseph’s widespread reputation as a charlatan, along with a rash of malicious rumors about his "gold Bible," had fueled animosity throughout the Palmyra region. In December 1830 Joseph received a revelation in which God, noting the hostility in the New York air, commanded him to move his flock to Ohio. So the Latter-day Saints packed up and resettled just east of present-day Cleveland, in a town called Kirtland.
Orders from God that Krakauer details in his book tend to be things that help the people receiving them. They allow them to better indoctrinate followers or get rid of meddling wives. They're an excuse that people use to do awful or selfish things without guilt or concern for others.
Religious fundamentalism allows some men to control others. One such example is that of the Lambs of God, a Mormon fundamentalist sect. They were led by Evril LeBaron, who, before he died, wrote a manifesto that included a list of people who betrayed him and "deserved to die." Unfortunately, the writing made it out to his followers. In the following years, several of the people LeBaron had written about were killed. Krakauer says:
These fervent Lambs of God, as they called themselves, were largely drawn from among Ervil’s fifty-four children—progeny who remained fanatically devoted to their father long after his death. Led by a son named Aaron LeBaron who was just thirteen when Ervil died, this gang of boys, girls, and young adults—most of whom had been physically and/or sexually abused by older members of the sect and then abandoned—resolved to avenge Ervil’s death by systematically spilling the blood of the persons listed in The Book of the New Covenants. A prosecutor assigned to the case referred to this pack of parentless kids as the LeBaron clan’s "Lord of the Flies generation."
The Lambs of God say that they've killed seventeen people. They believe that the "victims had been killed in an act of blood atonement" and that, therefore, God believes that the murders are just.