I confess to not being a close follower of the Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow murder investigations and court actions; criminal cases ordinarily aren’t my top area of interest.
In this instance, that began to change as I learned more about the background of these two. My interest spiked when I spoke at a book signing with Leah Sottile, author of the new book “When the Moon Turns to Blood”, and then read this compelling book, which is about Daybell and Vallow.
I asked: This book isn’t really about the criminal case, is it? She acknowledged it wasn’t.
Which makes sense, since the criminal case has not reached a climax yet: There’s been no conviction or acquittal. The married couple Daybell and Vallow, who have been charged with murder of her two children, whose bodies were found in Daybell’s back yard, are still enmeshed in legal proceedings, likely for some time.
The book is less about the criminal allegations than about what led up to the more recent developments. Both Daybell and Vallow, who once seemed to have easy, conventional and prosperous lives, were swept into religious extremism, into believing – and, critically, acting on the belief – that they personally were the anointed saviors of the world. Efforts by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to which they belonged, to push back against their extreme ideas (along with many other kinds of extremists), were of no avail.
From there, it’s only a short step to justifying any number of acts ranging from the immoral to the stupid to the horrific.
Sottile suggested that Daybell, “had been bolstered by a large community of LDS people who indulge in anti-government ideologies, who take prepping to the extreme, who consider the words of the LDS prophet as mere guidance when they don’t boost what they already believe. It’s a world that views conspiracy mongers as visionaries.”
The book is a compelling read for anyone who has heard of the Daybell and Vellow case and wondered what’s behind it. But the lessons from this story reach much further.
Extremism has led and continues to lead directly to tragedy of all sorts. There are plenty of examples in recent years, but the QAnon network – highly live and active in Idaho – has provided more than its share.
Another book just off my recent reading list, The Storm Is Upon Us, How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, by Mike Rothschild, made the point in fuller detail – to the point that seemed to suggest the topic is so expansive and complex a shelf of books could be written about it. The author noted (with plenty of factual support) “Long before Q-pilled insurrectionists sacked the US Capitol, Q believers were committing violent crimes, kidnapping children, and even killing people. The Capitol attack was far from the first sign of Q’s potential for chaos.”
“In 2020 after Trump lost, my dad started going down the Q rabbit hole. He kept reading conspiracy theories about the stolen election, Trump, vaccines, etc. He always said he wanted to keep us safe and healthy. It kept getting worse and he verbally snapped at us a few times. … Well, at around 4 AM on September 11, he had an argument with my mother and he decided to take our guns and shoot her, my dog and my sister. My mother succumbed to her wounds and my sister is in the hospital right now. My dad also fired back at the cops and they killed him.
“I’m shocked and I don’t even know what to say.”
The politician Barry Goldwater once might have said (and maybe reconsidered later): “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He was wrong: Real extremism almost always winds up at war with liberty.
But not only that. Extremism leads to any number of bad results, disrupting our society and our self-government.
It can even kill.
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