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Kelly Gneiting, former chairman of the small Independent American Party a group born in Utah that won about 3 percent of the vote here in 2014 is criticizing the LDS Church for denouncing the armed seizure of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon.
But current party leaders disagree and removed some posts Gneiting made on the party website causing a rift in the party that counts Cliven Bundy as a member. Bundy led a Nevada standoff with federal agents over grazing rights in 2014, and his sons are leading the Oregon occupation.
"The LDS Church would have denounced the [Boston] Tea Party. It would have said, 'No, we're not going to do violence and throw tea into the water,' " said Gneiting, national chairman emeritus of the Independent American Party (IAP), who led that party for 4½ years until last year. He left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year.
Current national chairman Will Christensen, who lives in Orem and is an active Mormon, said, "I believe most of the party members would agree with the church statement, which I do. We've got a court system. We've got a way of handling these types of disputes. We need to use these while they still work."
But Gneiting said he believes most party members see the seizure of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as something America's Founding Fathers would praise as a fight for freedom, and as something the LDS Church should support.
"Look at what the Bundys are doing now. They are doing what the founders would have approved of" as part of the fight over public lands in the West, Gneiting said. He added that Cliven Bundy is a member of the party and spoke to its 2014 national summit in St. George.
"We need a few people to start rebelling. We need some Samuel Adams to come out of the woodwork," Gneiting said. "Right now, that's the Bundys and I totally support them, and our party would support them, I am almost sure, if we had a vote."
Gneiting said most of his party leaders, and probably most of its members, are LDS. But he criticizes that church's condemnation on Monday of the Oregon occupation. Gneiting said he left the Salt Lake City-based faith last year because he disapproved of its "timid" stands on such issues as abortion, immigration and gay rights.
Church leaders "strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facilities," LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins said, "and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles."
The statement urged settling disagreements through peaceful, lawful means.
The church statement also linked to a 1992 speech by LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks, in which he warned against "excessive zeal" in creating so-called militias.
Gneiting said he seriously believes, although he acknowledges he has no evidence, that the Obama administration somehow persuaded the church to make that statement in hopes of using the Bundys' religion to try to make them stand down.
He calls that a "secret combination" similar to alliances described in the Book of Mormon that destroyed freedom in ancient American civilizations.
"When you talk about secret combinations that happen throughout the Book of Mormon," he said, "… that would be a minor one."
Gneiting posted on the IAP website statements supporting the Bundys including a message from Ammon Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy's sons, outlining protest plans before they occurred, with a plea for people to participate.
Christensen, the current party chairman, said that "is causing us to take a closer look at who has access to our websites," and noted that the party has removed some of the material posted by Gneiting. He also said Gneiting is speaking for himself, not the party.
The party's website says the IAP began as the Utah Independent American Party, founded by people who were inspired by a speech given by Ezra Taft Benson a former president of the LDS Church and secretary of agriculture for Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The website said party founders used principles in that Benson speech, titled "The Proper Role of Government," as the basis for their initial platform.
After not appearing on the ballot for several years, the party gathered enough signatures to qualify in 2014. Its candidates won 2.7 percent of the vote in the attorney general race; 3.5 percent in the 1st Congressional District; 2.3 percent in the 2nd Congressional District; 2.2 percent in the 3rd; and 1.4 percent in the 4th District.
The occupation in Oregon began last weekend to protest extended sentences given to ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.
They were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on public land. Prosecutors said one fire was set to cover up poaching. The Hammonds said the fires were to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.
The men served their original sentences three months for Dwight and one year for Steven. But an appeals court ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years. The pair reported to prison Monday in Southern California to begin serving their sentences.