Due to being tired and stuff I've put off writing about this for a couple weeks, and now it's rather old news and the LDS Church has already moved on to its next controversy, this time pissing off its right-wing members by distancing itself from Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard over alleged predatory sexual misconduct that's no worse than Joseph Smith's. But this news blew up in my circles a couple weeks ago, and I thought I should do my part within my maddeningly limited capacity to spread it further. As I said recently after watching The Last Voyage of the Demeter, how can I possibly be scared of this
when real monsters look like this?
These women were both arrested and charged with six counts of felony child abuse after an emaciated child with ropes on his wrists and ankles escaped from their secluded house and asked a neighbor for food and water. On the right is Ruby Franke, a Mormon mother of six who ran the YouTube channel 8 Passengers, which I had never heard of until this news came out, but which was apparently very popular among people who have nothing better to do than watch other people's families do normal family things. Granted, they weren't all normal. Ruby has some twisted ideas about discipline. Like a true Republican, she believes that things like food and beds are privileges, and appeared to take a sadistic level of pleasure in withholding them from her children to teach them lessons. She let her six-year-old daughter go hungry at school and took away her teenage son's bed for months. People raised concerns about her over the years and called Child Protective Services multiple times, but nothing happened to her and her channel's popularity continued.
So of course many are wondering, is she a terrible person because she's a Mormon, or is she a terrible person who just happens to be a Mormon? The LDS Church covers up child abuse, silences the victims, and protects the abusers, but it doesn't condone child abuse as such. No normal member would think that what she did is okay. Yet the church does condition people to believe that their irrational or delusional thoughts come from the Holy Ghost, so that may have been a significant factor in her justifying her unorthodox methods. And frankly, it often frames trials and deprivations as God intentionally giving us "learning experiences." Heavenly Father, the perfect all-loving parent, allows billions of his children's basic human needs to go unmet every day so they can grow and become more like him. Why is it divine wisdom when he does it but child abuse when Ruby Franke does it?
The one on the left, Jodi Hildebrandt, is much worse. If Ruby Franke is Iran, Jodi Hildebrandt is Afghanistan. They entered into a close relationship after Ruby gave up her YouTube channel to join Jodi for a weird pseudo-therapy program called Connexions. A very close connection. There's been a lot of speculation that they're more than business partners and more than friends, and while it is homophobic to assume that raging homophobes like Jodi are closeted, it's hard to avoid that kind of speculation when she sits so close to Ruby and strokes her leg. Anyway, Jodi is a straight-up sociopath, pathological liar, and gaslighter who used her therapy practice to destroy marriages and families. She reminds me of a neighbor I used to have who claimed she could read people's auras and see the future, then drove people apart with lies and manipulation. In this case, her influence undoubtedly made Ruby worse. My understanding is that she was the one who actually carried out the physical abuse of Ruby's children that got her arrested, while Ruby was arrested for living in the same house and knowing about it and not doing anything.
Jodi is also Mormon, and in her case, the church has a lot more direct and obvious culpability. She isn't entirely in sync with it either - it's run almost exclusively by men, while she holds all men in contempt - but she worked with apostles such as Richard G. Scott to design its addiction recovery program, she was on its list of approved therapists, and she was recommended by countless bishops to help with so-called pornography addiction. The way she pathologized masturbation and portrayed anyone who did it once a month as an addict in Satan's grip was at odds with legitimate science and therapeutic practices, but very much at home with Mormon teachings. People assert, and I have no reason to doubt, that Mormon therapists throughout Utah, Idaho, and Arizona are still doing the same thing, though they aren't on the same level of pure intentional evil as Jodi Hildebrandt. I don't know who needs to hear this, but masturbation is a normal, healthy, and almost universal activity that evolved in our primate ancestors as much as forty million years ago. I think, too, that Mormon clients were more susceptible to Jodi's psuedoscience because they're taught to base their worldview on feelings.
After the arrests, Jodi's niece Jesse (they/them) came forward to share how she physically and emotionally abused them while their family was making them live with her for an extended time. Jesse's family didn't know the extent of what was going on and didn't want to. Jesse's family got upset with them for creating controversy by publicly criticizing Jodi over a decade ago. The LDS Church is not blameless for that. It teaches Mormons that "contention is of the devil" and that negative emotions come from Satan, so many of them are very immature about conflict and treat calling out unacceptable behavior as a bigger sin than the unacceptable behavior. I hope Jesse's parents and siblings have all seen this interview and done some soul-searching.
Then a formerly anonymous client, Adam Paul Steed, shared his story in greater detail than before. Jodi got her license suspended for a while in 2012 after she told the BYU Honor Code office things about him that, even if she hadn't made them up, would have been confidential. (Of course, the BYU Honor Code office has its own long history of crossing legal and ethical boundaries to persecute students, which a few years ago resulted in BYU's police department becoming the only one in Utah history to be threatened with decertification.) Jodi destroyed Adam's marriage by convincing his wife that he was a sexual predator and a threat to their children. The best part? She apparently did it on behalf of the late Elder Harold G. Hillam, a high-ranking Mormon and Boy Scout leader who held a grudge against Adam after his role in getting the statute of limitations for child abuse victims in Idaho extended and getting Boy Scout leaders who abused children removed.
With the exception of Elder Harold G. Hillam, I wouldn't say that LDS leaders are personally to blame for this abuse. I would say that they actively fostered an environment where it could happen, and they proved themselves yet again to be horrible judges of character and no more "inspired" than anyone else. The LDS Church deserves the negative publicity this story has brought it and will bring it for years to come.
Saturday was one year since the Islamic Republic murdered Mahsa Amini for not wearing a hijab, sparking protests throughout Iran. After a few months, the Western media largely ignored these protests or straight-up lied that they were basically over, but the truth is that they aren't going to stop until the Islamic Republic is dead. The Islamic Republic has passed the point of no return. It's lost its legitimacy, it's become desperate, and its collapse is a matter of when, not if. The sooner the better, of course. The US and the EU need to hasten that day by growing some spines and treating it like the global pariah that it deserves to be. Down with all dictatorships, down with all theocracies, down with all religious extremism, and down with all misogyny and other forms of bigotry, no matter how much they wrap themselves up in the supposed respectability of faith.
Today I went for a hike in Tony's Grove with members of the local Unitarian Universalist congregation and three dogs. I was the youngest human there by a wide margin. The next youngest human was a mother of adults and teenagers, and everyone else had white hair, or in one case would have had white hair if she hadn't dyed it purplish red. I didn't remember where Tony's Grove was and I didn't realize the drive and the hike combined would total four and a half hours, but I'm not mad. Just tired. The temperature was perfect and the views were gorgeous. Susanne Janecke, a geologist from USU, told us about the caves and the rocks. Supposedly some of the latter were shaped by the ocean before life existed on land. I'll take her word for it. I felt, as I often do these days, insignificant against the scope of this planet's history, and since we'd just had a presentation on climate change by USU hydrologist Patrick Belmont earlier that day, I thought about the possibility that my entire species might not be here much longer, and I wondered why we evolved to be so stupid and whether there's any real purpose to the suffering we've inflicted on ourselves and our home. But mostly I just appreciated the views.
The bus that picked me up from Green Canyon High School was moving through the final crosswalk before the transit center, already late, when one of Utah's special drivers tried to turn in front of it and forced the driver to slam on the brakes, sending my phone through the air. I took the Lord's name in vain and extended my middle finger toward her, but she probably didn't notice. Then I went to pick up my phone, but it wasn't on the floor. It wasn't on a seat. It wasn't anywhere. The bus pulled in, everyone else got off, and I kept looking back and forth and over and under and behind with no success. I knew my phone was still on the bus because it was still broadcasting music into my headphones. I told the driver what had happened, and then to my surprise, a transit center employee came on and looked for it too. We were already late, and I knew the other passengers must hate me, and I couldn't blame them. But it wasn't my fault, it was that damn driver's fault. The employee said they'd have to look more thoroughly when the bus was out of commission.
I didn't want to leave without my phone, so I saw no alternative but to stay on for another loop. I tried really hard to take a Buddhist perspective and not be totally pissed off about this waste of my time. The smallest events change the courses of our lives in unpredictable and unknowable ways, so who's to say this waste of my time wouldn't save me from some horrible fate or expose me to some glorious opportunity? Of course, it could also have done the opposite of either of those things, but I tried not to think about that. The point was I didn't know, so I shouldn't be mad. I took the empty spot next to the one girl who had asked me what I was looking for while all the other passengers ignored me. By this point I had turned off my headphones. Maybe she would become my best friend, I thought. Maybe that was the silver lining here. I had the idea to ask if I could log into Google on her phone and use "Find My Phone" to make my phone make a noise even though it was on silent. It took me a while to build up the courage to make such a bold request, but I did, and she said yes.
I put in my email and then her phone just spun a loading circle at me and did nothing. She said she'd just gotten it from her stepdad and it didn't work very well. She played with some settings and tried to fix it. She called her mom. I got up a couple of times to look for my phone again in the same places I had already looked four times. It's not like there were a bunch of nooks or crevices for it to be hiding in. The girl couldn't get her phone to work, but she said I could get off the bus with her and go to her apartment and try to track my phone from her laptop. I couldn't believe it. We were going to be friends! So I did that. Her apartment was surprisingly well-furnished and had two cats, one of whom took an instant liking to me. The girl said that meant I was special. I was okay with that as long as she didn't start saying stuff like she could read my aura and my heart was a nice color and she could see the future. She offered me water and said she was a bad host for not offering sooner. I said it was nice of her to invite me inside in the first place. She said she likes to help people, and if most people were as helpful as her, the world wouldn't be in the state that it's in.
As you may have already guessed, I couldn't log in to Google on her computer because it required a verification code that it sent to my phone. There was literally no other way to do it. No security questions, nothing. She said I could report it as a theft to the police and they could help track it. I hoped it wouldn't come to that because I hate the police. I went back out to the bus stop in front of her apartment, and she asked if I wanted her to wait with me, and I said I didn't care, so she did. She asked about my life, and she said she wanted to go to USU, and that was when I figured out that, contrary to my assumption, she wasn't an adult. She still had a couple years of high school left. I now realized that we wouldn't be friends because it would be inappropriate for me to try to stay in touch in any way. Also, maybe she shouldn't have invited me into her apartment when her parents weren't home. But it's not like she was unfamiliar with stranger danger. When I said I didn't know my roommate before he moved in a couple of weeks ago, she said she hopes he's not a serial killer and doesn't murder me.
Because the bus on this route was so far behind schedule, only partially because of me, another bus came through this time. I went to the original bus and asked the driver about my phone. Still nothing. He said maybe it was in the lost and found. I didn't have time to check right then because I took a detour to campus to turn in my city council ballot. I didn't vote for any incumbents because they all ignored my email of complaint about the police department. Then I walked home and opened "Find My Phone" on my laptop, where fortunately I was already logged into Google. At first it appeared that my phone had somehow fallen off by Mount Logan Middle School, just a few blocks away, even though we hadn't stopped there. But I refreshed the page and saw that, in fact, it was still traveling along the bus route. I took my laptop with me back to the transit center so I could use it to make my phone make noise as soon as the bus pulled in. I could do this because a few months ago, my neighbor didn't pay his power bill, and the WiFi went out, and he gave me access to xfinity WiFi hotspots. I was very curious to see where my phone had ended up and how the hell I had missed it over and over again.
So the bus pulled in, I clicked the button, and I got on. Everyone missed or ignored the noise as they filed off, but as I headed toward the back of the bus it got louder and louder, and then my phone was right there on the floor, exactly where it should have landed when it flew out of my hand in the first place. It wasn't camouflaged by any stretch, but on top of that, the white sticker that I'd found on the grounds of Green Canyon High School and stuck on it that very day was still on it. I was too dumbfounded to be upset. And although I've all but completely lost faith that God intervenes in my life at all, I don't have a better explanation this time. Maybe he had saved me from a horrible fate or exposed me to a glorious opportunity and wanted to make sure I noticed even though I'd probably never figure out what it was.
Last weekend, I had planned to go camping in Bryce Canyon with some friends, but at the last minute one of them needed to stay somewhere with WiFi access to work something out with his fiancee's visa. They've been working on her visa for over sixteen months, which is why I support illegal immigration. He wanted the rest of us to go camping without him, but the rest of us decided to hang out at his place instead. We went to the zoo and had a swell time. I was going to write some commentary to go with these pictures, but I decided it wasn't worth the effort for the three people who would read it. Sorry. I'll just say that the highlight of the trip was the orangutan who looked right at us while masturbating, but I didn't take a picture of that.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.