Fred Karger is a longtime LGBT-rights activist with a history of criticizing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And now he’s doing it through “South Park.”
A “South Park” parody, actually, dubbed “Salt Park.” Set to go live on YouTube on Saturday, April 7, “Salt Park” is a five-episode animated series with the same look as the long-running Comedy Central show, but with slightly tweaked character names — instead of Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman, you get Dan, Lyle, Benny and Carmine.
Oh, and Donny and Marie Osmond, Joseph Smith, Mitt Romney and LDS Church apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
The animation in the minuteslong episodes of “Salt Park” is noticeably clunkier and the jokes flatter than its inspiration, but that’s not really the point, Karger says. He’s using the series to throw hardballs at the church, which he contends often violates its tax-exempt status with its business holdings.
“I want to point out the vast wealth of the Mormon church,” says Karger. “People may be aware of the church’s ownership of City Creek Center, but not much beyond that. That was an eye-opener for me when I started this, to see just how vast a business empire they have.”
So Karger, who wrote the script of each episode, has the “Salt Park” kids set out on a cross-country road trip to locations the church owns and operates: the Deseret Ranch in Florida, the largest cattle ranch in the United States; a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan; and the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.
During each episode, a character named Marlon the Detective pops up to ask viewers to send any tips they may have regarding possible church tax fraud to Karger’s Mormontips.com site.
The series, funded by Karger along with a couple of donors whom the activist wouldn’t name, cost about $12,000 per episode to produce, he said. Karger added that each episode took two to three weeks to craft — though the first episode took almost a year while Karger assembled an eight-person team of voice actors, animators, storyboard artists and others.
Karger, who is gay but not Mormon, has had a beef with the church ever since its involvement with the passage of California’s controversial Proposition 8 ballot measure in 2008, which removed the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in the state.
After the church in 2015 unveiled a new policy that branded its LGBT members who are in same-sex relationships apostates and decreed that children of such unions may not be baptized until age 18, Karger decided to go after the church’s tax status.
“Ever since Prop 8, people have encouraged me to go after their taxes, but I never felt comfortable enough to do it,” he says.
But after the 2015 policy change, he changed his mind.
“I thought I really needed to go after something that’s sacred to them, and that’s their tax status,” he says.
LDS Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said “we won’t have anything to offer” in commenting on the series.
Last year, Karger tried to solicit tips from the public on the church’s tax status through a TV commercial he made. Comcast, the world’s largest cable-television company, initially refused to broadcast it, saying executives wanted proof of Karger’s allegation that the church has more than $1 trillion in business holdings and that it brings in between $8 billion and $20 billion a year from its members. It later agreed to air revised versions of the ad.
But Karger said he hopes the cartoon will be “our biggest vehicle to date.”
“A lot of people want to share information they know, not only about the church’s business holdings, but also about sexual abuse.”