Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Rian Nelson posts antisemitic comments; Jonathan Neville blames Daniel Peterson for pointing this out

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” department:

In my last blog post, I detailed how the FIRM Foundation’s website was taken down by their host, probably due to antisemitic conspiracy theories that Rian Nelson had posted on the site. After a couple of days, the site was back up again with another host, minus the offending remarks.

Over on his own blog, Sic et Non, Daniel Peterson pointed out Rian Nelson’s problematic posts, including the most recent ones that were taken down (Feb. 9, 2023; Feb. 12, 2023; Feb. 28, 2023;) and some similar, older ones that are still on the FIRM Foundation’s site (Mar. 17, 2021; Apr. 19, 2021; Jun. 13, 2022).

Now, here’s the fun part: Jonathan Neville called Daniel Peterson “Slander Dan” for pointing out what Rian Nelson had written.

As a lawyer, Neville should know the difference between slander and libel. He should also know that the key component of both is that the person makes “a false statement purporting to be fact.” In this case, Daniel Peterson has “slandered” no one, since he has quoted and linked to actual statements made by Rian Nelson.

Neville’s account of what happened is, shall we say, factually lacking.
Recently on his blog [Daniel Peterson] posted excerpts from a brief Facebook post by Rian Nelson in which Rian described his belief in a conspiracy theory.
In truth, Peterson posted lengthy remarks from six blog posts on the FIRM Foundation website.

And this isn’t just any old conspiracy theory we’re talking about here—it’s a thoroughly vile conspiracy theory that claims that Ashkenazi Jews aren’t real Jews and that they’re trying to take over world government and banking institutions. By calling it “a conspiracy theory,” Neville is dramatically underplaying the disgusting depths of Rian Nelson’s beliefs.

Neville continues:
Rian made the post in response to an accusation from an anonymous person that he was anti-Semitic. Rian foolishly fell for the bait, posted his response, and then removed it.
The Facebook comment was not “anonymous.” Rian was responding to Rebecca Clayton, a woman who comments on many of Rian’s posts. She seems to be a sincere Heartlander who calls out conspiracy theories and antisemitism. This was their exchange: Please explain to me, Brother Neville, how Rian Nelson’s disgusting remarks about “evil Khazarians who claim to be of the tribe of Judah” are an example of “foolishly [falling] for the bait.” How exactly was he “baited” into making that statement? It seems, based on the links I provided above, that it’s actually right in line with what Nelson firmly believes and has no problem telling the whole world about through the FIRM Foundation website.
But one of Dan’s henchmen screen-captured Rian’s post and sent it to Dan so Dan could publicize it to the world in an effort to slander all Heartlanders.
Wrong again, Brother Neville. Daniel Peterson, in his blog post, specifically noted in connection with these quotes from Rian Nelson, “I’m deeply disappointed (to put it mildly) that at least one member of my Church is trafficking in such ideas.” He did not in any way claim that “all Heartlanders” shared Nelson’s views.
People sent me Dan’s post, of course. I hadn’t seen Rian’s post previously, and hardly anyone else had, either. Like the rest of the world, I would never have known about it if not for Dan’s post.
Except we’re not just talking about one Facebook comment, are we, Brother Neville? We’re talking about a long history of posting bizarre and abominable conspiracy theories via the FIRM Foundation’s website.
FWIW, I think Rian’s post was dumb. His conspiracy theories are delusional, IMO, and I’ve told him that many times. But people are complicated, lots of people think crazy things, and normally that doesn’t matter because we recognize that none of us is perfect.
I admire Neville for calling out Rian Nelson’s conspiracy theories as “delusional,” but claiming that “none of us is perfect” does not excuse Nelson’s many lengthy tirades about a secret Jewish cabal that’s trying to take over the world. These are not just unfortunate beliefs; they are repellent views that should be condemned as loudly as possible.
Dan and his cronies and followers are so insecure about their SITH and M2C dogmas, which they cannot defend openly on their merits, that they resort to such a desperate tactic as capturing a momentary Facebook post and publishing it to the world to falsely slander a group of fellow Latter-day Saints.
“They cannot openly defend on their merits”? Good grief—for years Neville has been pointing out the published writings and statements made by those who believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a seer stone and that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. If these aren’t open defenses of these beliefs, I don’t know what he would consider qualifies in that category!

And, once again, this is not about “a momentary Facebook post.” It’s about a lengthy paper trail of repugnant antisemitic statements. Neville is proving he either can’t read, can’t count, or is just making up a false narrative to help his friend, knowing most of his readers won’t bother to read Daniel Peterson’s post for themselves but will just take Neville’s word for it.
Rian, as an individual, is fair game. He can speak for himself.

But he doesn’t represent Heartlanders who are a diverse group of Latter-day Saints who have a common belief in the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. They have a variety of beliefs/opinions (multiple working hypotheses) about Book of Mormon settings beyond Cumorah, about interpretations of Church and secular history, as well as about politics, science, sociology, music, art, literature, and every other human interest.
No, Brother Neville—Rian is not just an individual with his own views. He is the webmaster and chief blogger for BookOfMormonEvidence.org, the flagship website of the Heartland movement and the site where the semiannual FIRM Foundation Expo is organized. It is the largest and highest-traffic Heartland site on the internet. The very name “Book of Mormon evidence” undoubtedly draws in many unsuspecting members and nonmembers who Google that term (as it was designed to do, no doubt), where they stand a reasonable chance of being exposed to Nelson’s loathsome antisemitic and QAnon conspiracy theories.

No matter how much Neville or Rian Nelson claim that Nelson’s views don’t represent the FIRM Foundation or the Heartland movement, Nelson is the most prominent blogger on the FIRM Foundation’s website. That gives him at least some measure of authoritative status.

The problem here isn’t Daniel Peterson; it’s Rodney Meldrum for giving Rian a platform and not cutting him off when he went full “Jewish cabal” conspiracy theorist under the banner of the very Book of Mormon that condemns such views.

—Peter Pan

Afterword: Imagine for a moment that Interpreter published multiple, lengthy blog posts denying the Holocaust and, when called out on this, Daniel Peterson just said his webmaster is a nice guy with some nutty ideas, and those posts don’t represent the views of the Interpreter Foundation.

And then he left those posts up.


1 comment:

  1. When Heartlanders say M2C and SITH "have no leg to stand on" and "are causing people to lose testimonies" I am reminded of the interview of Rod Meldrum with Mormon Stories. I can't provide evidence for this, but watching it, I just knew Dehlin and company were feeding Rod's ego to get him to trash and call out Book of Mormon scholarship that is more threatening to their cause. They 100% do not buy the scientific worldview of Heartlanders (which they for sure think it is quackery) but would constantly say that only Rod's view is honest and coherent with Mormon Doctrine. The whole thing was bait to get an influential member of church to reject the majority of the Latter-day Saint apologetics and tie the rest to science that is very very difficult to defend. Mormon Stories is anti, but they think Heartlanders "have no leg to stand on." Everyone, including myself, who has taught heartland theory knows how difficult it is explain the information to nonmembers/nonbelievers. It isn't an easy defense to make in missionary settings.
    I say this as a former FIRM expo speaker and as Rod's friend, but I think he made a huge mistake going on Mormon Stories. Overall, I think he hurt the Latter-day Saint cause. But I know he meant well.


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