Editors note: James Dee Harmston died Thursday. Below is a Salt Lake Tribune article from Dec. 19, 1999, discussing him and his polygamous group, The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days. The headline read: "Is Time Up for Utah Polygamous Sect?"
James D. Harmston and his fledgling polygamous sect once craved the limelight, opening their store-front church to the media and the curious and preaching to the world over the Internet. That was before time ran out.
The day has now arrived, the church says in a final (for now at least) cyberspace warning.
"God has shut the mouths of his servants and will begin to do His own work of rendering judgment and calamity upon the wicked and ungodly."
Some former disciples of The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days (TLC) believe the ominous words mean Harmston and his 300-member following intend to make good on his apocalyptic visions, which include sacking the Mormon Church’s Salt Lake Temple and seizing power over this central Utah valley to establish a new Zion.
Harmston, a 58-year-old former real-estate agent, is in a crowded field of doomsayers who preach the biblical end is nigh; for many, that’s as close as midnight New Year’s Eve, the moment they predict mass computer failures and power outages will spark world-wide chaos.
But apart from gloomy Internet prophesies and a torrent of dire rumors, there are few tangible signs that Harmston’s doomsday clock is ready to strike. According to even his biggest detractors, Harmston isn’t stockpiling weapons or digging bunkers, and his followers, who live throughout the valley, continue their everyday lives.
"It is certainly a date of great significance," says TLC member Dan Simmons, momentarily breaking what followers call a God-ordered silence on church matters to speak to a pair of reporters. "But we don’t think it’s the end of the world."
That doesn’t mean state and federal authorities won’t be watching. With less than two weeks left in the fading millennium, Harmston’s is one of dozens of fringe Utah groups law enforcement will keep a cautious eye on.
But while officials from New York to Los Angeles have made elaborate plans to deal with outbursts from doomsday cults, hate groups and anti-government radicals, Utah investigators don’t foresee any uprisings as the new year turns.
"It’s not going to be Armageddon," says Department of Public Safety spokesman Christopher Kramer. "We’re not going to have looting and pillaging in the streets, we’re not going to have chaos -- it’s just not going to happen."
Rumors of apocalyptic upheavals have swirled around Harmston’s church since it opened five years ago in a quaint red brick building across from Manti City Hall.
"He teaches the first thing that will happen is he will get the power," says Rodney Clowdus, a former TLC apostle. "Then he and his apostles -- he calls them his warriors -- will go out and destroy people."
But Sanpete County Sheriff Claude Pickett, like many in this heavily Mormon town of 3,000, dismisses Harmston’s threats, which have been caught on video and audio tapes, as typical firebrand fare. Still, he plans to have extra deputies out on New Year’s Eve, just in case.
"My concern is that someone in his [congregation] will take what he’s saying literally and try to act on it," Pickett says. "But until they actually march on the temple, I’m not going to arrest them."
Kramer says the Public Safety Department has identified 63 groups in Utah that it will be watching as the millennium changes, though the agency will not disclose any of the names.
But so far, the department has not found cause for alarm, particularly among religious groups.
"Our feeling is these groups tend to pull into themselves, they tend to be more focused on internal issues," Kramer says.
Harmston’s rants and boasts are far different from the peaceful approach to the apocalypse taken by most of Utah’s other separatist religious sects.Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.