Under the banner of heaven is neither new nor in the news. But it is eye-opening. John Krakauer endeavors to put the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and the 1984 murders of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica, into the religious context that influenced the crimes. Along the way, Krakauer digs deep into current and past Mormon events and teachings, both mainstream and fundamentalist, but mostly the fundamentalists.
Some of the fundamentalist families portrayed in Krakauer's book are part of Warren Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) branch, now famous for the 2008 arrests and raid on their West Texas compound. Even those not part of FLDS are intricately related to them and overly controlled. The women are passed from man to man until one of the book's personalities, Debbie, becomes her own step-grandmother. Independent thinking is discouraged, and women are kept pregnant from an extremely early age. Legal recourse is difficult if not impossible when most of the legal officials are part of the community, agreeing with the abusive principles.
In the case of Brenda Lafferty, it is hard for anyone to explain or put a context to these brutal events. The brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty killed her and her 15-month-old baby because she was in their way, holding back her husband, Allan, their youngest brother. They had also planned to kill two others. Dan, sitting in the Utah State Prison, still claims that God told them to do it, and he thinks he is Elijah. Ron, who had the original "removal relevation," continues to appeal his execution, on mental incompetence grounds in the federal system, as full of anger as he was that day.
The events depicted in this book are not pleasant nor easy to read, but they help us see the cultures or philosophies that build these types of extremists. This book is essential reading for those who want to grasp just how people are driven to such violent and excessive actions. Well-written and gripping, this book deserves high marks.~ Tessa Eger