The battle over MormonLeaks — two websites with one name and one goal: target the LDS Church

Both websites target the LDS Church but focus on different data.

Courtesy image A screenshot from a leaked video shows Mormon apostles discussing Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning's sexuality.

Craig Criddle and Ryan McKnight have a lot in common.

Both are former LDS missionaries. Both have stopped believing in their church. Both have resigned their membership. Both have become critics of the faith. And both have a website called MormonLeaks.

That's where the differences begin.

One of the sites attempts to debunk the official LDS narrative by posting historical materials. The other offers an inside peek at the contemporary church by publicizing private or little-known Mormon documents acquired from anonymous sources.

The question has become: Which website should own the name?

Criddle, of Redwood City, Calif., and two collaborators launched MormonLeaks.com (and bought the domain MormonLeaks.org along with a couple of others) in 2010. The goal was to offer the public "new evidence" that the Book of Mormon, the church's foundational scripture, was not an ancient record translated into English by founder Joseph Smith — as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches.

Rather, the site argues, it was the work of at least two other men — novelist Solomon Spaulding, "a Dartmouth-educated man who died in 1816," and Sidney Rigdon, "a reformed Baptist (Campbellite) preacher," who later rose to prominence in the LDS Church.

Late last year, McKnight, who lives in Las Vegas, and his team of former Latter-day Saints began working toward their own site, MormonWikiLeaks, from which they could publish "leaked" documents, while protecting the anonymity of the leakers.

At that time, Criddle said, McKnight approached him about buying the domain names, but the Criddle folks declined the offer.

McKnight, who believed his efforts were more properly deemed "leaks," went ahead and secured the domain MormonLeaks.io. In December, he unveiled plans for the website to be called MormonWikiLeaks, garnering much national attention.

Within days, though, the name drew criticism from WikiLeaks, the site where Australian hacker Julian Assange has published tens of thousands of secret government documents. In a tweet, webmasters at the whistleblower site asked for "Wiki" to be removed from the name.

McKnight's crew obliged, making it simply MormonLeaks.

Earlier this month, that group began posting purloined papers — including pay stubs from 1999 and 2000 for LDS apostle Henry B. Eyring, now the first counselor in the Utah-based faith's governing First Presidency.

That's when the name issue started to irk Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

"We were blindsided over the last several weeks by the unilateral action of Ryan McKnight and his associates who trademarked 'MormonLeaks' and then published wildly sensational 'leaks' under our name," he wrote in an email. "There has been substantial confusion in the media because 'MormonLeaks' now describes two completely different efforts run by different teams with different objectives."

For his part, Criddle believes the name fits his project.

"We chose the name leaks because we hoped to bring to light a narrative that has been hidden or kept under wraps for more than a century," he wrote. "While our work is far from complete, we have pulled together a large number of contemporary and esoteric sources, and we have uncovered strong evidence for a well-coordinated endeavor. ... Others have also come forward over the last few years, each uncovering a small part of a larger picture."

While McKnight is not critical of Criddle's historic enterprise, he insists "leaks" more properly describes his undertaking.

"We're doing what the name fully represents. We don't feel it's a trademark infringement," McKnight said. "We wanted to use MormonLeaks from the very beginning, but our pursuit to get the name was unsuccessful. When we dropped 'Wiki' from our name, we tried again to reach some sort of agreement."

The Vegas webmaster is willing to work jointly with Criddle, he said, but has not heard back.

Of the two, McKnight said his site has received "tens of thousands" of page views since its launch, while Criddle acknowledges his MormonLeaks' site has seen a little more than 56,000 "unique visitors" in six years.

Criddle hopes to avoid the cost of a lawsuit.

"We have little choice other than to acknowledge the damage done to the 'MormonLeaks' brand by the media blitz of McKnight & Co.," he said, "and move on."

McKnight holds no ill will toward Criddle and his partners, he said, and hopes the two can find an amicable way forward — possibly by teaming up.

Assange himself may have provided an incentive for such a union: "If the two MormonLeaks sites get together," he tweeted Friday, "WikiLeaks will strongly promote the combined outfit."


Twitter: @religiongal

| Courtesy Ryan McKnight