I am a terrible person, with my own prejudices, but at least I’m not a cult member

For example, I saw this guy’s photo, and my brain immediately said to me, “Mormon.” I lived in Utah for 7 years, and got to know the type very well. Slight counter-evidence was that he was an elected official in Arizona, but that really didn’t matter much — the Mormon belt runs from Arizona up into Canada.

Then I read the summary:

An elected official in Arizona was suspended Monday after he was charged with running a human smuggling scheme that brought pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. to give birth and then paid them to give up their children for adoption.

Aaah! My brain is running around screaming, “MORMON!”. This is a classic LDS move, since they spend a lot of effort proselytizing in the Pacific islands, and I knew a surprising number of islanders living in Salt Lake City.

Petersen completed a mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He later worked in the islands and the U.S. on behalf of an international adoption agency before going to law school and becoming an adoption attorney.

Yep, Mormon. My Modar is still working. What this guy was doing was really deplorable.

Petersen, a Republican, has been indicted in federal court in Arkansas and also charged in Arizona and Utah with crimes that include human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The criminal case spans three years and involves some 75 adoptions, authorities said, with about 30 adoptions pending in three states.

Petersen is accused of illegally paying women from the Marshall Islands to have their babies in the United States and give them up for adoption. The women were crammed into homes owned or rented by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, court documents say.

Petersen charged families $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption, prosecutors said.

Oh, right. Republican, too. Republicanism is an even creepier cult than the Church of Latter Day Saints.


  1. maireaine46 says

    We lived in Salt Lake City for a year in the early 70s, my husband was working at Utah University on a grant doing computer graphics. We had one small child and were expecting another. We liked the area for some reasons, the beautiful mountains, we had good non and ex Mormon friends, but the deal breaker was the Mormon influence on everything. We did not want to raise our kids there, and went back to the East Coast where our families were. At that time, the public schools, scouts, other activities for kids were mostly controlled by the Mormon church and it was hard to escape that influence.

    How did you stick it out for 7 years? Did you have kids then? Mormons and adoption…at that time they had a program to foster and adopt “Lamanite” (Native American) children, in an effort to turn them “White and Delightsome” and erase their Native heritage. They also pressured any unwed Mormon girl who got pregnant to give up the child for adoption to a “Righteous” Mormon family and pretend it never happened. This scummy lawyer is just a continuation of rotten Mormon adoption practices that have gone on for generations. I am glad they caught this creep, but he is not the only one.

  2. DonDueed says

    PZ said, “Yep, Mormon. My Modar is still working.”

    Shouldn’t that be Mordar? Seems more fitting somehow.

  3. hemidactylus says

    Is it fair to extend the bad behavior of one person toward the entire Mormon community? There’s plenty wrong with Mormonism: the origin story of Native Americans, the eventually abandoned polygamy thing, and belatedly: “In 1978, the First Presidency and the Twelve, led by church president Spencer W. Kimball, declared they had received a revelation that the time had come to end these restrictions. After this revelation, people of African descent could hold priesthood offices and could be granted temple admittance.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_people_and_Mormonism

    But they are a huge boon to genealogists I suppose, though their rationale is a bit weird. And Battlestar Galactica.

    But I guess, in parallel, we can extend the misdeeds of prominent atheists to the whole group.

  4. raven says

    Republicanism is an even creepier cult than the Church of Latter Day Saints.

    This is arguable.
    They are both very, very creepy.

    It is also a false duality here.
    Mormonism and the GOP are joined at the hip and everywhere else too.
    It’s almost a package deal and in Utah, hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

    There is such a thing as Mormon Democrats, but there aren’t many, they keep a low profile, and are looked upon with suspicion by most other Mormons.

    I used to know a lot of nonMormons living in Utah, SLC.
    One by one over the years they have all moved to the coast.
    It was the pervasive Mormon church control of everything and the sense that nonMormons were a powerless minority with no real power of the vote.

  5. A Sloth named Sparkles says

    What’s baffling is this weird obsession with wanting children and raising their way. Like, why at all?
    Why conservatives like him keep treating women like baby-pooping machines instead of actual people?
    The only way I can assume is they want to grow a larger quantity of little Mormons for the census purpose, I think?

    In my country, a lot of fundamentalists here try to justify child marriage & polygamy for the same reasons, as long as it’s within the legal religious bounds of marriage, while shit blood & rage when dealing with single mothers, LGBT, adoption, and naming out-of-wedlock children after their fathers.

    This could extend this to Jeffrey Epstein, who wants to build what is practically a farm for him to poop little Epsteins.

  6. asclepias says

    I agree with the sentiment expressed by hemidactylus. It seems unfair to judge an entire faith based on the actions of a few. I know some Mormons (one of them married a Mormon, so had to convert, but has retained his good political sense) who would be genuinely dismayed by this. This is not to say I’ve discussed it with most of them, but I figure that since they haven’t demanded that somebody like me be blown off the planet, they’re okay. (Yes, I know others with whom I am not interested in associating.)

  7. raven says

    Is it fair to extend the bad behavior of one person toward the entire Mormon community?

    In theory no.
    In practice, with the LDS church, yes.

    The Mormon church is like a fish, rotten from the head down.
    It’s powerful and corrupt like any other rich, autocratic organization.
    You can bet huge numbers of Mormons in responsible positions knew about this guy.
    And did nothing.

    Petersen, a Republican, has been indicted in federal court in Arkansas …

    The article isn’t too clear on how he was arrested.
    Quite often in these cases, it ends up being the Feds.
    Because local law enforcement doesn’t care and won’t bother a Mormon elected official or high church official.

  8. says

    @#4, hemidactylus, and #asclepias:

    When you talk about “good” Mormons: do these people refuse to fund the church? Do they refuse to vote as instructed by the church when that would be harmful to the population at large? Do they support — really support, not just “hate the sin, love the sinner” fake-support — gay and trans people? And minorities?

    Because if the answer to all of the above is not “yes” then what you’re really saying is “these people are actively assisting evil people to cause harm, but they seem so friendly and fun and suave and urbane!” Those are not good people.

    (And it’s interesting to see how often people will semi-consciously realize this about cults such as Mormonism, but when we get a cuddly right-of-center Democrat who wants to normalize disastrous Republican policies, they toss the principle out the window.)

  9. Akira MacKenzie says

    Is it fair to extend the bad behavior of one person toward the entire Mormon community?

    If you knew anything about Mormon history (e.g. Joseph Smith’s origins and theocratic designs, Brigham Young’s racism and contributions to Native American genocide), yes. Yes it is. Mormon culture, for all it’s squeaky-clean, white-and-delightsome, family-friendly façade, is utterly rotten. Petersen is a product of that culture.

  10. says

    It’s not just Mormons. Other groups are taking advantage of the Marshallese. The islands have a Compact of Free Association with the US, allowing islanders to live and work in the US without a visa. Thousands of Marshallese have ended up in Arkansas, as many work for Tyson Foods in their poultry plants. As a result the state has seen a major increase of adoptions of Marshallese children by locals. But Marshallese traditions of adoption, which are usually informal and involve the birth parents remaining involved with their children, clash with American laws.

  11. microraptor says

    The LDS Church is a perfect example of how having a pleasant, polite appearance will get people to consider you a good honest person no matter what you actually do.

  12. Erp says

    Petersen was housing a lot of the women in Arkansas as well as Arizona and Utah (a tipoff came when some Utah hospital staff reported that a lot of Marshalese women were giving up children for adoption often accompanied by the same person). Though the real news break seems to be Honolulu Civil Beat article a year ago https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/11/marshallese-adoptions-fuel-a-lucrative-practice-for-some-lawyers/ which covers a lot more than just Petersen (strongly suggest reading).

    It seems he was also involved in the adoption of Native American children and may have been violating the law there https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/paul-petersens-involvement-in-native-adoption-raises-legal-questions-11376036

  13. Artor says

    For those wondering if this is painting with a broad brush, I would point out that this behavior is actually a step toward more civilized behavior for Mormons. Early on, when they were still settling the West, there was the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where a group of Mormons disguised themselves as Natives and raided a wagon train, murdering all the adults (hundreds dead) and forcibly adopting the children, raising them all as Mormons. At least they have stopped murdering the parents of the children they steal. Progress!

  14. PaulBC says

    I’m from the east coast and never really met Mormons apart from their missionaries (in Europe in fact) until moving to California. I have personally liked the ones I’ve met, though I often wonder what’s going on to explain their seemingly perfect families. One thing I will add is that having a three thousand year old holy book doesn’t make you any better than having one that’s less than two centuries old. There is no more reason to ascribe divine origin to one than to the other.

    “Religion” and “cult” are synonyms, and the connotations are a matter of perspective.

  15. microraptor says

    I think it was Frank Zappa who said that the difference between a religion and a cult is the amount of real estate it owns.

  16. says

    Good Mormons are like good Catholics in that they are good up to the point where they still won’t remove themselves from a clearly corrupt and horrible institution.

  17. hemidactylus says

    Ok grinding it hastily into reverse without a backup cam: Should we be extending the good behavior of Mormon individuals people know or meet to the group as a whole? There is a bit of fate or helplessness in being born into a culture and, rereading Raoul Martinez’s Creating Freedom, there is the problem with people being responsible for their lot and life and praise v blame for ideological consequences. But consequences can present potential hazards to others.

    The genealogy thing is still a plus. Left wondering in how combining reworked Mormon cosmology with van Daniken resulted in a decent space opera. But the rest of it seems pretty negative there in Salt Lake City.

  18. PaulBC says

    hemidactylus@18 I’m not even sure if that’s a reference to Orson Scott Card, but I wonder if I am the only person (other than the author) who liked The Folk of the Fringe better than the Ender’s books. Ender’s Game itself was OK, but the series just got worse as it went on. I don’t demand that the science be plausible, but traveling by climbing into a shipping container and wishing yourself to another star system is just silly.

    The Folk of the Fringe (at one time very easy to find cheap at used bookstores) seemed like an unusually personal “How my people save civilization” tale of a post-apocalyptic fantasy future. I’m not sure if I learned much about Mormons but it seemed like Card had no purpose except to spill his guts out. I like writing that tells you more about what the author cares about than what they think they can convince you of.

  19. bryanfeir says

    Do you know why the Mormons are so into genealogy?

    They have a policy that amounts to ‘retroactive baptism’ where new converts, under the belief that being baptized is a requirement for entering the Kingdom of Heaven, can baptize their dead ancestors into the Church of Latter Day Saints.

    Unsurprisingly, this is one of the reasons they really aren’t liked by most other Christian sects.

  20. John Morales says

    My observation over the years: the stricter the dicta, the greater the hypocrisy.

    How do you get a Mormon to stop drinking all your booze?
    Invite two of them.)

  21. Kagehi says

    Lately.. I keep being reminded of the scene from on of the early Batman movies, in which Penguin is running for mayor, and Batman plays back a recording of him saying, “I played this stinkin’ city like a harp from hell.” Just replace “city” with “country”, and Penguin with the GOP.

  22. Chakat Firepaw says

    @hemidactylus #18

    The genealogy thing is still a plus.

    Well, it would be if their records weren’t utter garbage. They accept any claims made at face value, even if there is solid evidence that they are false. Unsurprisingly, this leads to all sorts of false lines of descent both from simple error and from self-aggrandizement.