John Singer was a Mormon with seven children. He and his wife, Vickie, lived west of Salt Lake City on their 2.5 acre farm in Marion, Utah. Dissatisfied with the public school system in the 1970s, Mr. Singer confronted school officials after seeing a picture in one of his children’s textbooks. It was a photo depicting blacks and whites together and, in Mr. Singer’s opinion, this was proof that his children were being subjected to “immoral secular influences.” (At this point in history the LDS Church held to a doctrine that claimed blacks were cursed by God.) Mr. Singer pulled his children out of school, breaking a state law. This began a chain of events that eventually led to his death.
Due to his defiance of the law, the LDS Church excommunicated Mr. Singer. Not long after, in 1978, Mr. Singer received a revelation directing him to enter into plural marriage with Shirley Black. Shirley was already legally married and had four children. Nevertheless, she left her legal husband, Dean, and moved with their children onto the Singer farm. Mr. Black went to court. He was awarded a divorce from Shirley and temporary custody of their children; Mr. Singer, however, refused to surrender them. Three months later, in January 1979, Mr. Singer was confronted by Utah law enforcement officers outside his home. Mr. Singer threatened the officers with a gun and was subsequently shot and killed.
A young man in central Utah paid close attention as this story unfolded. Described as an “excommunicated Mormon” and a “budding Fundamentalist,” nineteen-year-old Addam Swapp had held John Singer in awe; he believed Mr. Singer and his family had been unjustly treated. Mr. Swapp visited the Singer home in early 1980. Within a few years he had married two of the Singer daughters. Addam Swapp and his wives took up residence at the farm in Marion, Mr. Swapp assuming John Singer’s vacated role of family patriarch.
The anger and sense of injustice over John Singer’s death continued to grow and fester. Addam Swapp, along with the rest of the Singer/Swapp family, harbored deep-seated hatred which grew to encompass not only the government of Utah, but also the LDS Church.
On January 16, 1988, based on a revelation Addam Swapp believed he had received from God, Mr. Swapp planted a bomb comprised of eighty-seven sticks of dynamite in a nearby LDS Stake Center. As intended, the bomb exploded at 3:00 a.m., harming no one but causing $1.5 million worth of damage to the building. The message was sent and received: a required atonement for John Singer’s death was in motion.
Soon there were 100 law enforcement officers–local and federal–surrounding the Singer/Swapp compound. Addam Swapp refused to communicate with the law, but did tell his cousin about the revelation which was now guiding his behavior. Addam Swapp believed he had been told by God to seek an armed confrontation with the lawmen because, at the moment the police would attack, John Singer would be resurrected to come to the aid of his family:
“John Singer’s resurrection would trigger the downfall of corrupt government and religious institutions and clear the way for the second coming of Jesus Christ.”
About ten days into the siege Addam Swapp wrote a letter to Utah’s governor. It said, in part,
“I stand on the truth and declare my independence from this government and society…We are independent and separate from your wicked society… Take a warning — any man of yours which attempts to cross the boundaries of this place, without our permission, will be treated as an aggressive act on your part against us and we will defend ourselves in any manner we see fit… I now must warn you and anyone else involved… leave this valley immediately… Those who would come against this my people, will I verily cause to be destroyed.”
The standoff continued for another three days, ending on January 28 in a shoot-out that left one officer dead. The Singer/Swapp family finally surrendered, Addam Swapp explaining to authorities that since blood had been shed, John Singer’s death had been atoned.
Addam Swapp was convicted of several crimes and has been serving out his prison sentence these past two decades. Last week he had his first parole hearing. Asserting that he was sorry for what happened in 1988 and that something like that would never happen again, Mr. Swapp claimed to be a changed person. He said he has asked for God’s forgiveness and now wants to follow the example of Jesus Christ in pursuing peace. He still subscribes to fundamentalist views, but, he said, he is first and foremost a Christian. He also explained that the whole 1988 altercation between himself and the police could have been avoided if the person who killed John Singer would have apologized for it.
“If they would have just said they were sorry, it would have been like throwing cold water on a fire,” he said.
Is Mr. Swapp denying he ever received the revelation from God that he believed, at the time, justified his violent actions? He doesn’t say, but this must be the case. Else why would he have sought forgiveness from God and now choose to follow the example of Jesus Christ? At the time of the crimes Mr. Swapp believed blood needed to be shed to atone for John Singer’s death, but now says all would have been well if someone had just said, “I’m sorry.” At the time Mr. Swapp believed God told him the confrontation with law officials would spark John Singer’s resurrection and usher in the second coming of Christ which, of course, didn’t happen. What does Mr. Swapp think about this? Does he recognize himself to be a false prophet?
Some years ago journalist Christopher Smart wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune,
Utah has its special brand of religious fanaticism that has cropped up again and again. Often it is associated with polygamy, which the LDS Church disavowed in 1890 and for which members are excommunicated…The belief that anyone can receive revelation is a thread that runs through many of Utah’s most bizarre crimes, said historian D. Michael Quinn. “It will probably always be a problem, I would say, in Mormon culture because Mormon culture maintains this faith that God continues to speak both to individuals as well as to the church as a whole.”…
“The Mormon community is alive with one essential position of faith, that God continues to reveal new things, new doctrines, new words,” said Quinn. “That leads to the possibility of disruption.”
John Singer and Addam Swapp are sad examples of the LDS belief in continuing revelation run amok. They are not the first; this sort of thing has plagued the entire history of the Mormon Church.
Interesting to me is that many elements in the lives of these two men have approved parallels in LDS history.
For example, John Singer’s plural marriage to an already married woman by reason of revelation echoes the actions of several early LDS leaders, including the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mr. Singer’s appropriation of another man’s children and unwillingness to give them up recalls similar events that led to LDS Apostle Parley Pratt’s death in 1857.
Addam Swapp’s plural marriage to a set of sisters also followed the example of Joseph Smith, who married at least three sets of sisters between July 1842 and May 1843. Mr. Swapp’s declaration of independence from the government and warning to any who would set foot on the Singer/Swapp property brings to mind the tirades of Brigham Young as the U.S. army marched toward Utah to put down the “Mormon Rebellion” in 1857.
In the LDS Church and Mormon culture these actions by early LDS leaders are considered honorable and righteous, while similar actions by Mr. Singer and Mr. Swapp are condemned.
Ann House, the widow of the officer killed in the Singer/Swapp shoot-out, reflected on Addam Swapp’s incurred debt:
As for Swapp’s promise to pay restitution to the Houses, Ann said the best thing he can do is to make sure whatever ideas caused his actions should never be passed to his children or grandchildren.”Certainly he can never go back and undue [sic] all the harm that will last for generations [in our family],” she said. “The best he can do is let his old beliefs go and become a productive member of society.”
The bedrock ideas that caused Mr. Swapp’s actions are firmly rooted in the history and doctrines of Mormonism. They are passed on from generation to generation, a proud legacy within the LDS Church.
Mr. Swapp initially chose to follow the examples of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, a tragic choice with an infinitely high price tag. If only he had chosen, from the beginning, to follow Jesus Christ.
but its end is the way of death.
-Proverbs 14:12-Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
Information for this article came from the following sources:
Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy — A History, 212-214
Christopher Smart, “Religious Zeal a Common Theme in Broken Minds”
Jason Bergreen, “Church bomber apologizes for actions”
Ben Winslow, Swapp is sorry for crimes