Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, April 24, 2023

Examining Bill Reel’s false accusations against me

(Yes, I know I said I was going to take a break from blogging for a bit. This is important enough that I felt I needed to make an exception.)

I’ve struggled for over a week about whether or not to write this blog post. I’ve been falsely accused by an ex-Mormon critic of the Church in a way that attacks my character. He has publicly presented fabricated evidence to misrepresent me as a supposed racist who is purportedly involved in a conspiracy to cover up my real identity by using the online persona of a fictitious African-American man.

In a situation like this, any explanation I offer is unlikely to placate those who are predisposed to believe the worst about me, people I know, and the gospel we affirm. And talking about it risks drawing more attention than it would otherwise receive or merit. Regardless, publishing the truth may result in at least some good.

I apologize for the length of this post, but the details are complex and require a full examination.

: Robert Boylan’s “Richard Nygren” remark

I have previously explained, in writing and in a video interview, the facts behind the “Richard Nygren” comment made by Robert Boylan in his YouTube podcast. I was aware of Robert’s remark, but—other than posting Robert’s video on this blog—I did not repeat his comment, nor did I do anything to disseminate or promote it. I simply moved on. (And, to be honest, largely forgot about it.)

: Bill Reel’s first public accusations

On , ex-Mormon podcaster Bill Reel first accused me, via his Facebook page, of “having lurked the internet under the false identity of an African American Person of Color from Alabama named Richard Nygren.” (Screenshot.) He declared that he always considered me and others who defend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against critical attacks to be “crooked weasels” who “always protect the Church at any expense[,] but impersonating people of a race you are not seems to be a whole other category of unhealthy deception.” Addressing me personally, Reel wrote, “If this isn’t true[,] I would welcome you explaining yourself and helping us figure out why the profile of [Richard Nygren]…used to be the exact same profile of no one other than Mike Parker?”

At that time, I had no idea what Bill Reel meant about lurking on the internet under the name Richard Nygren. I have never impersonated or used the online identity of any person of color, including the fictional Nygren.

According to one of the links in his Facebook post, Reel sourced his information from a virulently anti-Mormon message board, the same one where my real identity had been revealed earlier in March. (No, I’m not going to provide any links to that site. It’s the same one that Daniel Peterson refers to as the “Peterson Obsession Board,” so that’s what I’ll call it.)

That same day () I attempted to contact Bill Reel via Facebook Messenger (screenshot), in person, by voicemail, and by SMS text message. In each of these instances, I denied that I have ever claimed to be Richard Nygren or any other Black man. I told him that his claim bordered on libel and requested that he delete his Facebook post and issue a retraction and an apology. He responded to me via SMS text later that day; he ignored my requests for a retraction and pressed me to explain my involvement. I had no information to give him other than it was Robert Boylan who made the original statement and that I had never claimed to be Richard Nygren or any other Black person. I simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

It wasn’t until Reel went public with his “evidence” two weeks later that I learned what he believed he had on me.

: Bill Reel’s YouTube livestream

On the afternoon of April 15th, Bill Reel and Steve Pynakker co-hosted a 2 hour, 45 minute YouTube livestream titled “LDS Apologists & The Invention And Coverup Of Richard Nygren,” in which they went through the evidence of my perfidy as they understood it.

In their discussion, Reel referred to a , YouTube livestream interview with Pynakker, Jonathan Neville, and ex-Mormon Kerry Shirts. Shirts has his own YouTube channel called “The Backyard Professor” and posts frequently on the Peterson Obsession Board as “Philo Sofee.” (Reel and Shirts share the distinction of being ex-Mormons who were formerly associated with FAIR.)

According to Reel and Pynakker:
[38:40] REEL: On March 25th, Steve Pynakker informed his followers that he and Jonathan Neville would be on the Backyard Professor’s show the following day, and [Mike] Parker notified the host, Kerry Shirts, just before showtime that he would be in the chat for that show. Would they be reporting on Peter Pan’s identity? He had to have had the thought. Regardless, he writes this blog post on the same day as the show. Maybe before I read what he says here, would you mind just telling a little more of that story, how that all unfolded?

[Skipping a bit of Pynakker’s explanation of how he came to do the Shirts/Neville podcast and how he learned my identity.]

[40:18] PYNAKKER: A couple days later I announced that I’m going to be co-hosting with Jonathan Neville, and in my mind what happened is, right before—um, Kerry Shirts tells me earlier in the day; I don’t remember the exact thing—I think he actually said before we were taping that, “Yeah, by the way, Peter Pan is going to be in the discussion.” I thought, “Oh, that’s very interesting.” And then also we had started connecting the dots because just a few hours before this episode goes live, this is when he [Mike Parker] announces who he is he gives his identity at that point.

This misinformation is the origin of Reel’s accusation against me.

In response to Pynakker’s claims, I make the following statements of fact:

  • I had no advance knowledge that Pynakker, Shirts, and Neville were going to be on a YouTube podcast together. I don’t follow Shirts or Pynakker’s YouTube activities. (I’ve barely read any of what Shirts posts on the Peterson Obsession Board, and, except for a few pages of posts about my real identity, I’ve ignored the very outré conversations going on over there.)
  • It is a complete coincidence that I happened to publish my blog post (“Questions and answers”) on the same day that the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville livestream took place.
  • I did not indicate to anyone, including Kerry Shirts, that I would “be in the discussion” on their YouTube video. As far as I can determine, I haven’t communicated with Kerry Shirts for over ten years. The last email I wrote in which I even mentioned him was on , in which I responded to someone who asked me what had happened to him by saying that he’d apparently become “something of an agnostic” (screenshot).
  • I did not watch or participate in any way in the , Pynakker/Shirts/Neville YouTube video.
  • I first learned of the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville video from Jonathan Neville’s , blog post about it. To the best of my knowledge, Neville did not announce his appearance on that livestream video ahead of time.
  • On , I published a blog post about the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville video. At that time I had not watched it, and I still haven’t watched it (except for a ten-second portion that someone else sent me as a YouTube link with a timestamp; see below). I linked to the video in my blog post, but my post focused on Neville’s lack of wisdom in having anything to do with Kerry Shirts, not on the content of the video.

I do not know where Kerry Shirts got the idea that I would be participating in that video. I can think of three possibilities:

  1. Someone trolled Kerry Shirts by impersonating me or “Peter Pan,” and he sincerely believed it.
  2. Kerry Shirts invented the claim that I would be participating in his YouTube livestream, either as a lie or as a joke directed at Pynakker.
  3. Pynakker’s recollection of his conversation with Kerry Shirts is mistaken.

I’d like to give both Shirts and Pynakker the benefit of the doubt here and go with possibility #1, but I honestly don’t know what the truth is.

: “Richard Nygren” appears in the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville video

In the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville livestream, someone appeared in the chat with the screen name “Richard Nygren” and using an avatar of comedian Dave Chappelle dressed as the rock star Prince (explicit content in that link). This person asked (in all caps), “Do you think you will ever sit down with Mike Parker over lunch and be friends?” (Timestamp 1:27:42.) As I stated above, I did not watch (and have not watched) that video, nor did I interact with it in any way. The person who commented in that livestream as “Richard Nygren” was not me, and I had no knowledge of what took place in that livestream until I watched Reel and Pynakker’s livestream.

: Steve Pynakker plays connect-the-dots

Returning to Reel and Pynakker’s discussion:
[46:09] REEL: So, then you guys do your show and this aired on the 26th of March 2023. Mike Parker has informed you guys—specifically Kerry Shirts—but he’s informed you guys that he is going to be participating in the chat of this show. He’s going to be in participating—I don’t mean necessarily interacting, other than he’ll be there, he’ll be watching the comments, he’ll be observing, and he certainly has ample opportunity to comment and to speak up. Strange thing happens in the middle of the show is that a comment comes on the screen from Richard Nygren with a picture of David Chappelle dressed as Prince, and the comment is, “Do you think you will ever sit down with Mike Parker over lunch and be friends?,” and whoever this person is—and again we can’t conclude conclusively that it is Mike Parker—but I want you to explain the context of this comment: Why this person is asking if Neville and Parker will sit down over lunch and be friends.
Reel then added that this had been a opportunity for me to “resolve the Nygren connection,” even though, as he admits, he couldn’t conclusively conclude that it was me in the chat. (Again, it wasn’t.)
[47:34] PYNAKKER: So this is what was so funny is I didn’t catch it at the time when it was live; I actually re-watched the episode the next day and I remember looking at the screen and thinking, “Oh my goodness.” I was like—that to me as I—immediately I made the connection, that’s Mike Parker commenting as Richard Nygren. That’s how I saw it; that was my immediate response. Now I can’t say for 100 percent certain, but if you look at the chat history, Richard Nygren is actually interacting during the chat as well. So we have Mike Parker, who—and I didn’t know all this, I mean, again, this is, a lot of this information was after I first figured this out was—he’s interacting with people. Mike Parker said he’s going to be in there. Why isn’t Mike Parker going in there and saying, “Hey, who are you? Who’s this Richard Nygren guy?‘ Or interacting or saying something? It just seems to me as you read this—this to me appears to be Mike Parker’s voice under the guise of Richard Nygren, and he seems to have some intimate knowledge—or if it’s not Richard, if it’s not Mike Parker, it’s somebody that’s close enough that they would feel they could ask, “Would you do lunch with him,” almost like asking for a friend, you know. So, either it’s somebody but I—my hunch is that’s Mike Parker.
And there is Reel’s supposed smoking gun: The day after the Pynakker/Shirts/Neville interview, Pynakker had a sudden realization that that was me posting as Richard Nygren in the chat. He says he “can’t say for 100 percent certain” that I was posting as Richard Nygren, but since I had purportedly told Kerry Shirts that I’d be there (again, I said and did no such thing), in his mind it was either me posting as Nygren or I was watching the video but didn’t speak up to deny that was me posting as Nygren. Neither Pynakker nor Reel ever considered the third possibility that I wasn’t in the chat at all.

Calumny may defame

As I have stated above and from the start, from the moment that Robert Boylan made a joke about fictional Black man to, in his own words, “tweak Heartlanders,” I have not used the name or identity of “Richard Nygren” anywhere for any reason. I didn’t even repeat his joke in any forum at any time. It happened, I wasn’t going to throw a friend of mine under the bus for a joke, and so I ignored it and went on with my life.

Bill Reel’s key piece of evidence that I “fabricated and perpetuated a fictional black apologist” and then engaged in a cover-up is based on a fallacious comment purportedly made by Kerry Shirts and an erroneous conclusion reached by Steve Pynakker based on that comment.

If this is how carefully they weigh evidence and devise arguments against the Church of Jesus Christ and its followers, then I think any reasonable person should sincerely question everything they say.

This is all it takes these days for someone like Reel to engage in character assassination that drives clicks on—and ad revenue from—a YouTube video (one that now has over 9,300 views).

Will I ever get the retraction and apology that I asked of Bill Reel on ? I think that’s unlikely. I also think that it’s more likely that he and those who side with him will accuse me (falsely) of making up this explanation as just another part of the supposed cover-up. Even if I don’t get that apology, though, hopefully this blog post will clear up any confusion that people of good will have about this.

I’m willing to answer honest, sincere questions about this incident in the comments.

—Mike Parker [“Peter Pan”]


  1. Hey, after reading neville's response to your posts, this response finally fills in all the gaps of where he is jumping quickly to conclusions that simply never were. That's really nice that you filled in all the missing parts of the story for me. I was very confused because he kept referencing these things you posted here as if they were something you did; but you hadn't mentioned doing anything that they were claiming you did. I hope it simmers down a bit. Things are hard enough with the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephites showing only michael cole and Smithsonian links on the wiki. :-P

    1. I’m glad that my post was helpful. I don’t know what Jonathan Neville knows, but I can only assume that he’s spoken to Steve Pynakker about this and believes Pynakker’s version of events. (He’s appeared on Pynakker’s YouTube channel several times.)

  2. So sorry that you are being subjected to these attacks against your character. In the years that I have known and associated with you, I have known you to be a man of honor and integrity. Your ongoing defense of the Church and the doctrines of Christ are appreciated by me.

    1. Thank you, Brian. Kind words such as yours are in short supply these days.

  3. I like Steve Pynakker, but Bill Reel sounds like an absolute twit, as does Kerry Shirts. Steve is actually a really nice guy, but he does interview people that are pretty much jerks. He also interviews some really good people, quite a mix actually. I only listen to his interviews with people that I like :)
    By the way, I just listened to your interview from last March on Robert Boylan's youtube channel. I loved that interview and appreciated hearing both yours and his side of this whole story. What a wild a crazy world this whole internet media is. Unfortunately it scares many people away from posting content.

    1. Thank you, Phil. I'm not convinced about Steve Pynakker's sincerity, but I agree that he's not nearly the worst in the Mormon YouTube ecosphere.


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