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From the archives: Polygamist James Dee Harmston’s hex, wives and videotape

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Manti residents say they also are waking up.

``They hate to see something so sinful and so obvious right here in our little town,’’ says Lloyd Smith, a Manti resident and retired psychologist who spent the past year learning everything he can about TLC and Harmston. Local Mormon leaders say when Harmston first arrived in Manti, he was welcomed as a devout Mormon who carried a temple recommend -- proof of his good standing in the LDS Church.

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``Then he started a study group with fellow Mormons, and the local church authorities did not like that,’’ says Smith.

The LDS leaders asked Harmston to stop. He didn’t, and he was eventually ex-communicated. Harmston then founded TLC.

Most members, Smith says, are not Sanpete County natives. Many are ex-Mormons disillusioned with a church they say has strayed from the ideals espoused by church founder Joseph Smith.

Intense pressure from the federal government in the 1890s forced LDS leaders to disavow the longstanding practice of taking more than one wife. Ever since, renegade polygamist groups have popped up professing to carry the true mantle of Mormonism, but because sex outside of marriage has become common in modern America, prosecutors haven’t tried to throw polygamists in jail since the 1950s. There are an estimated tens of thousands of polygamists in Utah today. But Harmston stands out because ex-members say he preaches of impending violent battles. They say he talks about taking over the Manti LDS temple.

Residents are wary.

``The potential for violence is there, at least the seeds,’’ says David Call, general manager of the Manti Messenger, a weekly newspaper located next door to TLC headquarters. ``He hasn’t acted on any of his emotions, but when you get a radical element like this, you just don’t know what could happen. That’s what people are afraid of.’’

And they believe the group could become more volatile as ex-members continue to publicly criticize TLC.

``He’s losing ground, and the more ground he loses, the weirder he’s going to get,’’ says Call’s wife, Beverly. ``People are worried about how he’s going to go down. Because they don’t want a Waco-type thing.’’

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Because of the tapes, many residents now have viewed first-hand the venom Harmston spews at Mormons.

Take, for example, Harmston’s tirade against LDS leadership.

``Let me tell you what, those hypocritical jackasses will be called into accountability,’’ Harmston, dressed in a crisp white shirt and bolo tie, told the congregation during his Feb. 23 sermon.

``And those great, big elders, like Boyd K. Packer, who demands that the people rise when he enters the room, will be taken down,’’ Harmston, a burly man with slicked-back gray hair, gray beard and jet-black eyebrows, rants in rich cadence.

``He will be called into accountability, but I tell you in the name of the living God, that man’s skin is going to be turned as black as coal before he makes his departure. And how do I know that? Because I am the one that’s going to make it that way! Because God will not be mocked any longer!’’

While Call says it is hard to ignore such threats, he says it is all more pathetic than intimidating.

``If they didn’t have the LDS Church to pick on, they wouldn’t even have a religion,’’ he says.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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