L’affaire Denson and the Ex-Mormon Dilemma

Mike Norton and McKenna Denson, best of pals, cheerfully on their way to accuse Joseph Bishop of being a rapist in front of his friends and family on the afternoon of September 2, 2018.

On March 19, 2018, the website MormonLeaks published an audio recording of a conversation between Joseph L. Bishop and a then-unidentified woman. Bishop was the former president of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. The woman in the audio recording confronted Bishop with claims that he attempted to rape her while she attended the MTC in 1984. In the audio, Bishop admitted to sexual misconduct and asks for her forgiveness but also denies (or rather says he cannot remember) any attempt to rape her.

The allegation was, naturally, explosive. The story was picked up by mainstream media. Social media went ablaze. Bloggers took to writing think pieces about sexual abuse within the Church with the starting point of taking the MormonLeaks revelation at face value. Sizzling hot takes were fired into orbit on Twitter by blue checkmark pundits as part of the larger #MeToo movement gaining prominence at the time. Ex-Mormon redditors, predictably, heralded the woman’s account as yet further proof of the perfidy and moral repugnance of leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The public outcry was so pervasive that the Church itself issued an official statement responding to the alleged incident.

It was quickly revealed that the woman in the recording was named McKenna Denson. On April 4, 2018, Denson sued Bishop and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lawsuit attracted media attention. In the suit, Denson brought charges of “sexual assault and battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure and fraudulent concealment” against Bishop and the Church.

What was the defense offered by Bishop and the Church against these charges? Besides pointing out the expiration of the statute of limitations for the accusations, Bishop’s lawyer (and son) Greg Bishop and the Church’s lawyer David Jordan compiled a dossier casting doubt on Denson’s credibility. Bishop then leaked the dossier to the press. The dossier included Denson’s “criminal record, past allegations, [and] her church record.”

The response to this development from Internet ex-Mormons was, again, predictable. On the ex-Mormon subreddit, the Church’s effort in compiling the dossier was deemed a case of “smearing the reputation of the rape victim.” Other ex-Mormon redditors (such as those here and here) responded with:

  • “Victim shaming”
  • “it is horrible that the church assembled all of her dirty laundry into that dossier”
  • “[expletive] disgusting”
  • “These are all despicable people.”
  • “First rule of rape defense: attack the accuser not the evidence”
  • “SHAME on the Mormon church!!![sic]”
  • “Disgusting and wrong on so many levels.”

Other progressive- and ex-Mormon bloggers (including John Dehlin and Gina Colvin, among others) had similar reactions. Turner Bitton of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault was quoted in the press as tacitly criticizing the Church for the efforts to probe Denson’s past. “It sends a message to that individual person, but to everyone else, that if you come forward we are going to dig through your past we’re going to dig through your experiences who you are your very identity,” he said. “The vast majority of people that I know that are people of faith who are don’t want to see this kind of behavior . . . What they don’t want to see is the church engaging in a way that looks like a ruthless corporation at times.”

Victim shaming or not, the defense seemed to work . . . sort of. The case was brought before U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball. On August 13, 2018, Judge Kimball “dismissed all of McKenna Denson’s claims — with the exception of upholding a fraud claim against the LDS Church [sic]. The judge dismissed ex-MTC president Joseph Bishop from the lawsuit entirely.” The fraud claims against the Church proceeded. The Church requested for the trial to commence no sooner than March 2020.

A few weeks later, on September 2, 2018, Denson and Mike Norton (an ex-Mormon YouTuber who made a name for himself by infiltrating Latter-day Saint temples and secretly recording the ordinances performed therein) confronted Bishop at his home ward in Chandler, Arizona. Norton filmed while Denson repeated her allegations before the congregation. Before she could finish, however, she was physically removed from the rostrum by local leaders of the congregation (an action that earned blogger censure). The video of the incident went viral.

Fast forward to May 2019. As preparations for the trial are undertaken, another revelation once again brings Denson into the spotlight. On May 17, 2019 it was reported that Denson has been assaulted by, she believes, “someone is trying to intimidate her into silence.” The unknown assailant, Denson alleges, broke into her house to put Drano into her orange juice, burned her car, and then, with an accomplice, physically attacked her.

Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta covered the new allegations. “There are no suspects, so it’s difficult for law enforcement to take action, but Denson says she now travels with security precautions. Given that the only “enemies” she has in life are people inside the Mormon Church who think she’s trying to bring it down, she is convinced that the attacks are linked to someone on the inside. What else could it be?”

Who indeed? Metha urges his readers to wait and see how the allegations pan out (that is, if they’re credible), but also reminds them, “It’s hard to imagine someone sacrificing so much to expose the Church’s problems would put her own credibility at risk… including by putting herself in the hospital.”

When the news of Denson being assaulted reached the ex-Mormon subreddit, the response was, surprisingly, much more skeptical than heretofore. One redditor urged their fellow ex-Mormons “to be really careful buying into McKenna Denson’s newest claims.” They warned that “by giving a platform to some of these questionable claims, you are harming the credibility of all ExMos.” The ensuing discussion saw ex-Mormon redditors hashing it out amongst themselves over how believable Denson’s allegations of a mysterious Drano Danite really were.

(Other ex-Mormons, of course, remained resolutely credulous.)

Now, I’m sure there are some some details here that I’m missing. But in broad strokes, this chronicles L’affaire Denson up to this point.

Then, yesterday, on May 27, 2019, Memorial Day, Mike Norton dropped a veritable atomic bomb.

(Warning: video contains strong language and discussion of sexual assault and other topics not for the faint of heart.)

 

 

 

In this 42-minute-long video, Norton publicly denounces Denson as “a pathological liar” and “possibly the worst human being I have ever met.” He claims Denson (whose real name is June Hughes, he reveals) herself is the one responsible for the alleged attacks in May 2019. Among other things, Norton alleges that Denson has made multiple false or unsubstantiated rape accusations (including accusations of rape by black men), has harmed herself in an attempt to bring spurious lawsuits against various companies, has gotten money “under false pretenses” for cancer treatment, and has been tried and/or convicted for various crimes (including identity theft, DUI, and shoplifting). This, Norton says, is all made perfectly clear in police records going back decades. Norton openly encourages anyone watching to contact him to verify the accuracy of the reports he is reading. “I would not want to be anywhere near her,” he says, “because if you get alone with McKenna Denson she could very well make some sort of allegation that you sexually assaulted her.” He concludes the video with wishing Denson “rots in hell” and warning her that he will be “her worst nightmare” if she tries to bring legal action against him for the video.

(Norton also explains in the video that he has taken down his video of him and Denson crashing the September 2, 2018 sacrament meeting and apologizes to Joseph Bishop for “being slightly complicit in McKenna Denson’s current public meltdown,” although he still believes Bishop is “probably a man of questionable moral integrity.”)

But just when you thought the drama couldn’t get any thicker, Norton has released a second video (now deleted) on YouTube of a recorded phone call between him and Denson.

(Warning: video contains seriously strong language. Like, seriously. You’ve been warned.)

 

 

In this video, Denson confirms she has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a doctor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She also discusses working with a therapist helping her with issues involving Dissociative Identity Disorder and talks about “owning” any mistakes she may have made (even if that includes losing friends).

For his part, Norton unleashes a stream of profanity against Denson for “lying to him” and “countless people for literally 40 years.” He again calls her “a pathological liar,” as well as “a professional con artist,” “a grifter,” “a [expletive] monster,” and “a worthless piece of [expletive]” while reiterating his disbelief in her claims. “I can’t wait to see you go down in a ball of flames.” 

Speaking of the pending lawsuit against the Church, Norton informs Denson that he has been “cooperating” with the Church’s legal counsel David Jordan, has recorded “every conversation” the two have had “for weeks,” and is “going to burn [Denson] at the [expletive] stake.” (He later reveals that he has turned his findings over to the police and to Jordan, and is willing to testify against her in court.)

At one point Norton’s speech turns violent. Punctuating with a shout, he says, “Honest to God, if you were standing in front of me, let me tell ya, I would never hit a woman in my life, I would break your [expletive] nose!” He also warns her, “I want nothing to do with you, ever. And let me tell you something. You know where I live. Show up at my house and you get a [expletive] bullet between your head, your eyes.”

Norton likewise brushes off concerns he’s heard that Denson might commit suicide for him exposing her. “Big [expletive] deal,” he retorts. “One less horrible monster on the face of the earth!”

When Denson sighs “I have nothing to say,” Norton snaps back, “Good, you shouldn’t say anything.” Denson remains quiet while Norton calls her “a stupid [expletive] worthless [expletive]” (later a “racist [expletive]”) and goads her into daring to try to take legal action against him or confront him personally on his accusations.

Both videos are rough to watch, especially the recorded phone call. To borrow and reapply a phrase used by Reddit ex-Mormons when they describe their pseudo-scriptural vade mecum, the CES Letter, if even half of what Norton says in his first video is true, then, well, it would appear that Denson’s credibility has been irreparably compromised. I myself have read at least one of the police reports Norton alludes to in his videos. If, as he says, reports such as these can be multiplied, the situation does not look promising for Denson.

At this point I cannot say if what Norton alleges about Denson is true, since I only have his word and the word of a few anonymous redditors that he has accurately conveyed the details of Denson’s criminal record. At this point I don’t have any real reason to assume Norton is fabricating these reports. While the second video is especially proof enough that Norton is clearly not a paragon of emotional stability, his volcanic reaction against Denson is significant in light of the fact that the two were once fast friends and close allies. He has supported Denson financially (as Norton himself acknowledges in his first video, much to his chagrin) and has helped bring her accusations against Bishop and the Church to national attention. I suppose we will have to wait to see if Denson responds to his accusations and can account for the allegations made against her.

In addition, this scrape is unfortunate because if Denson does in fact have a history of prevaricating claims of rape and sexual assault, this will easily (and sadly) have negative repercussions for actual victims who may already have difficulty getting people to take their stories seriously. And to be sure, there seems to be credible evidence of some kind of sexual impropriety on Bishop’s part, although Denson’s accusation of attempted rape appears especially difficult to swallow in light of Norton’s evidence against her.

As more details unfolded yesterday afternoon, I was struck by the reaction of what I can only presume are the predominantly ex-Mormons commenting on Norton’s video. The comments largely extolled Norton for his bravery and integrity:

  • “Wow! Mike, I admire you for verifying the rumors about her that were going around. I realize in doing so you’re accepting that you were also used by her in the process. You’re not trying to sweep this under the rug to make yourself look good. People always say you have balls of steel. I think this video is the ultimate proof of that!”
  • “Thank you Mike for once again showing true integrity. It is not easy admitting we were conned by her. I hope the damage done can be minimized. Again thank you for being better.”
  • “You gain an abundance of credibility with this, BRAVO!!!”
  • “Wow, Mike. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am sorry that it happened to the rest of us. I am grateful that you have exposed her. This kind of breach of trust doesn’t get mended, at least not for me.”
  • “Well at least this is proof that you are an unwaivering principled man Mike. Thank you for that. . . . THIS is what virtue and courage looks like.”
  • “You are a HERO sir!! An actual real life hero. You are a shining example of integrity and rational evidence based thinking despite the desired outcome. Thank you.”

The reaction on the ex-Mormon subreddit has so far echoed these sentiments in many respects. In addition to dutifully continuing to condemn Bishop, comments from Reddit ex-Mormons have included:

  • “Wow… just… wow! So disappointing on so many levels.”  
  • “Yes! I am sitting here thinking about that very issue. She just set back any changes abuse victims hoped to implement. It makes me sick to my stomach.”
  • “So it is sad all around. I would cut Mike Norton a break in the sense that he put his own credibility on the line to support MD. Sadly, he feels foolish and exploited and probably is absolutely pissed about it. MD’s tough past does not give her cover for dishonesty and exploiting others.”
  • “But the lawsuits and faking cancer and razorblades aren’t helping. . . . False allegations aren’t ok. Against anyone. Even the church.”
  • “IMHO, she is a scammer, a con artist and an opportunist. . . . You should listen to the phone call on NNN youtube channel. It’s a very hard call to listen to, he doesn’t hold back.”
  • “Thank you for bringing all of this to light. Now, I need to delete everything I ever posted about her.”
  • “If only the leaders of the church would do the same when they find out they have abusers in their ranks… I’m glad Mike is reminding us all to be objective in all things.”
  • “I have no words. That’s despicable. Thank you for bringing the truth to light. You do so much good in exposing manipulators and scam artists both from the Mormon church and from people who claim to support truth.”
  • “Thanks for being an example of integrity, Mike. This couldn’t have been easy. I’ve always been concerned about her past and share your opinion. I really hope we’re all wrong about this.”
  • “I was always skeptical, and now even moreso. I believe you have more integrity that that other person”

To be sure, a number of Reddit ex-Mormons have rightly condemned Norton for his verbal abuse in his phone call with Denson. But so far, from the threads I’m seeing (including the archived ones that have been deleted by moderators), most of the commenters seem to be siding with Norton and are thankful that he has “exposed” Denson for being a “scammer” (their words) with nary a word of disapproval for his abusive, misogynistic, and violent language. “McKenna Denson has clearly made it less likely this community will trust someone, but it doesn’t change the fact that scam artists will try to take advantage of this community again in the future,” writes one Redditor in a moment of self-reflection. “When that happens, here’s the number one rule to sniff them out. If they are seeking money, push them out the door. Anyone with truthful claims doesn’t need money and if they do need money, they don’t need donations from a bunch of exmormons that might have an emotional vested interest in their claims.” (One wonders if this rule applies to Jeremy Runnells, who is currently accepting donations for his work behind his 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization the CES Letter Foundation. But I digress.)

As L’affaire Denson continues to unfold, we’ll see how Denson and Norton and other players in the online ex-Mormon community (including Reddit) respond. For now, let say a few parting words directly to Internet/Reddit Ex-Mormons everywhere and describe for them the serious dilemma they currently find themselves in:

The time is long overdue for you to take a good hard look in the mirror and collectively (and individually) acknowledge your transparent hypocrisy. When the Church’s and Bishop’s lawyers probed Denson’s background for their dossier, your reaction was apoplectic rage. You condemned the Church for victim shaming. You called Church leaders (and their hired legal counsel) defenders of rape. When Greg Bishop leaked the dossier to the press, you publicly crucified him. Yet so far the reaction of many of you to Norton doing literally the exact same thing (spending dozens of hours over the past week uncovering her criminal record and even, by his own admission, helping the Church’s lawyer David Jordan who worked on the original dossier) has been largely to herald him as a hero while giving him a slap on the wrist for being mean to Denson on the phone. (Do I even need to mention how if, say, Daniel Peterson ever said anything even remotely close to what Norton said in that phone call you’d be calling for his head on a silver charger?)

It’s time for you to own the fact that L’affaire Denson has laid bare how few of you actually care about truth and moral consistency; that many of you are wilfully residing in a noxious echo chamber devoted to nurturing and reinforcing your seething hatred for the Church and its leaders, your thinly-veiled contempt for believing Church members, and your ideological blinders and cognitive biases. Your reaction to Mike Norton not only doing precisely what the Church has done in this case but cranking things up to 11 by publicly going through her rap sheet case by case has exposed you as little more than sanctimonious moral grandstanders whose main concern is making sure you “own the TBMs” and burn “TSCC” to the ground.

If that’s what you’re about, then fine. But you need to own it. Own it and drop this laughable talk about your commitment to objectivity, your sterling rationality, and your transcendent wokeness. (#BelieveWomen ammiright?)

Or, alternatively, as L’affaire Denson continues to develop, prove me wrong. Disavow Norton in no uncertain terms, ban him from the ex-Mormon subreddit for his victim shaming and rape apologia, force him to make a digital walk of atonement through the streets of r/exmormon, and never let me hear his name uttered on the lips of a single ex-Mormon redditor ever again unless it’s immediately followed with the same breathless condemnation you so freely heap on the leaders of the Church.

Denson, as of yet, has not rebutted or addressed Norton’s charges against her. It’s not too late to decide if you’re going to side with Denson, “listen to the voices of victims,” and brand Norton a rape apologist, or side with Norton and cast Denson aside as a duplicitous mountebank. 

But remember, if you pick the former, Norton is to forever be branded a rape apologist, violent misogynist, and sellout to TSCC; if you pick the latter, you owe one whale of an apology to Church leaders for the calumnies you’ve spat at them over the course of this entire sad debacle.

The ball’s in your court, Internet exMos. Make your choice.

(Addendum: May 29, 2019)

Derek Knox reported on a recent podcast that he has spoken to Denson to get her side of the story. You can listen to Knox’s summary with his co-host James C. Jone of the conversation he had with Denson here (starts around the 10 minute mark). 

39 thoughts on “L’affaire Denson and the Ex-Mormon Dilemma”

  1. One of the things I see with believers is their consistent use of absolutes; black or white, right or wrong, us or them. You’re second to the last paragraph perpetuates this. There is obviously so, so much more going on that goes far beyond the black and white dichotomy. Don’t just throw it in to all one or all the other. I am sure there is more nuance in these stories.

    • The serious and direct accusations Norton has made against Denson does not allow for a middle ground.

      Either he is telling the truth and she’s all the terrible things he says she is (a con artist who accuses innocent men of rape and sexual assault and scams companies by hurting herself and then suing them) or he’s lying and she isn’t any of those things and he’s attacked an innocent woman (and sexual assault victim to boot).

      You have to decide.

      You can suspend judgment while you wait for further evidence to come in. That’s totally fair. But eventually you have to make a decision.

      • “You have to decide.”

        No you don’t. A critical point that Michael is making is that Norton’s accusations against Denson are not the most important factors to consider. She could be lying or telling the truth. The problem is the assumption made by so many apologists that proving her a liar completely exonerates Bishop. While your post here acknowledges that Bishop may still have done wrong, it doesn’t give this point enough weight. It focuses on hypocrisy in enemies only and is far too partisan.

        I would admire your positions a lot more if you did your level best to present your opponents’ views in the best possible light before defending your position. Acknowledge that this same hypocrisy exists in those who thought that by merely casting doubt on Denson they exonerated bishop. The same sleazy partisanship is present on that side as well, only with added implications of piety.

        • “The problem is the assumption made by so many apologists that proving her a liar completely exonerates Bishop.”

          This is entirely irrelevant since I never claimed that her possibly being a liar “completely exonerates Bishop.”

          I didn’t press this particular point further because that wasn’t the point I wanted to make with this post (which was already long enough), although it is something that obviously could be argued.

          “I would admire your positions a lot more if you did your level best to present your opponents’ views in the best possible light before defending your position.”

          I feel like I gave the denizens of r/exmormon more than enough fair representation (more than they even deserve, frankly). I saved my wrath in my concluding thoughts after I tried to the best of my ability to capture what I was seeing on Reddit after a few hours of combing through the site.

          “Acknowledge that this same hypocrisy exists in those who thought that by merely casting doubt on Denson they exonerated bishop. The same sleazy partisanship is present on that side as well, only with added implications of piety.”

          Your Tu quoque is duly noted.

        • “One of the things I see with believers is their consistent use of absolutes; black or white, right or wrong, us or them”

          I can cut the irony with a butterknife as Michael Roberts then proceeds to call for less of a “dichotomy” and more “nuance”.

          Don’t you see that you’re affected by the same kind of bias? I suppose you’re all just humans like we TBMs, except the MD implosion is occurring solely by and within the spaces you occupy.

  2. None of this changes the fact that Bishop confessed to sexual molestation of multiple young women at the MTC and Weber State. Also, the Provo Police felt the confession was strong enough that they would’ve charged him with a crime if the statute of limitations hadn’t run out.

    • “None of this changes the fact that Bishop confessed to sexual molestation of multiple young women at the MTC and Weber State.”

      No, it doesn’t.

      “Also, the Provo Police felt the confession was strong enough that they would’ve charged him with a crime if the statute of limitations hadn’t run out.”

      Which confession? That he raped Denson in the basement (which Bishop denied then and now) or that he asked her to expose her breasts and gave her a back rub (if I am recalling the details correctly off the top of my head).

  3. “None of this changes the fact that Bishop confessed to sexual molestation of multiple young women at the MTC and Weber State.”

    ==He did? Are you sure about that?

    “Also, the Provo Police felt the confession was strong enough that they would’ve charged him with a crime if the statute of limitations hadn’t run out.”

    ==”A crime?” Which one?

  4. Almost every time that I have heard anything against the church, the truth comes out later and something or someone was seriously wrong. But isn’t that the way Satan works? Throw it out there, true or not. Do as much damage as possible. Condemn and lie and accuse and swear with violent actions. Accuse. Accuse and Accuse some more. And then when the truth does come out, move on to another subject. Few will ever really know the truth of what happened and fewer will actually care. Gossip spreads like wildfire and no amount of air tankers can put it out.

    But true Justice will be served in the Eternities. They will never get away with it but will eventually stand before God in abject horror and guilt for all to see. They will condemn themselves and confess that Jesus is the Christ and head for their place in the corner of the Telestial Kingdom or worse, the basement of Outer Darkness.

  5. “Either he is telling the truth and she’s all the terrible things he says she is (a con artist who accuses innocent men of rape and sexual assault and scams companies by hurting herself and then suing them) or he’s lying and she isn’t any of those things and he’s attacked an innocent woman (and sexual assault victim to boot).”

    Stephen, this doesn’t strike me as correct. One could argue, for example, that Mike is representing all the police reports accurately, but drawing wrong conclusions about whether the reported accusations of rape were really false accusations (acquittals or failures to bring charges aren’t PROOF of innocence, after all). One could argue that Mike is reporting things accurately, and that he’s RIGHT in his conclusions that McKenna made all the earlier incidents up, but still believe that her allegations against Bishop are TRUE. I’m not saying either of those positions strike me as particularly plausible reads of events, but it IS possible to hold them.

    I think you’re conflating the question of whether Mike is reporting the evidence acccurately with the question of whether his read of the evidence is necessarily correct.

    Aaron B

    • “I think you’re conflating the question of whether Mike is reporting the evidence acccurately with the question of whether his read of the evidence is necessarily correct.”

      I see what you mean. Norton, however, says in his longer video that he spent the better part of a solid week looking into these reports, verifying them, and reading them carefully to make sure he knew what he was reading. Hence his explosive reaction, his feeling betrayed, etc. That to me would seem to indicate he looked at the matter carefully enough to make sure his conclusions were consistent with the findings, although I of course might be assuming too much.

      Still, your point is a fair one.

  6. I’m with Michael that this is a false dichotomy where there can only be two choices. If all of the Denson accusations against Joseph Bishop does that make him a good person? In many ways this is reminiscent of the Mark Hofman situation. Hofman was able to use the church’s desire to hide embarrassing history against them and manipulate other people. Dallin Oaks made a strong apologetic argument in favor of the Salamander letter. Gerald Tanner was suspicious even though he was an opponent of the church.

    Remember this is the same Mike Norton(NewNameNoah) that claimed to have temple footage of Mitt Romney during the election. I health dose of skepticism is necessary for all the claims made in this situation.

    • “If all of the Denson accusations against Joseph Bishop does that make him a good person?”

      No, it doesn’t. Joseph Bishop can still be guilty of sexual assault in some other capacity even if what Norton says is true. (Notice I link to the Salt Lake Tribune’s article of other allegations facing Bishop.)

      If, however, what Norton says is true, then Denson’s credibility is completely compromised, and so what do we have to go off of her specific claim that Bishop attempted to rape her in the basement of the MTC? (She gets very specific about what allegedly happened in the audio recording of her confrontation with Bishop back in 2017.)

      That’s why the stakes here are so high. Absent any other evidence for that specific alleged act of sexual violence, all we have to go off of is Denson’s testimony. But if Norton is telling the truth, then we cannot trust her testimony.

      “Remember this is the same Mike Norton(NewNameNoah) that claimed to have temple footage of Mitt Romney during the election. I health dose of skepticism is necessary for all the claims made in this situation.”

      You seem to misapprehend the nature of my estimation of Mike Norton’s character. I am by no means a fan of Mike Norton. However, I myself have seen enough evidence (three of Denson’s police reports mentioned by Norton) that leads me to cautiously accept that he is truthfully representing her criminal history.

      But I await to see if Denson can account for these accusations in some convincing manner.

  7. Love your analysis and pointed critique that challenges those who may, as you say, be “willingly residing in a noxious echo chamber devoted to nurturing and reinforcing your seething hatred for the Church and its leaders, your thinly-veiled contempt for believing Church members, and your ideological blinders and cognitive biases”. And so chaos came to pass.

  8. This is an outstanding article. One I hope all will read, because a conversation needs to start happening. Whether you are orthodox, ex, post, NOM, whatever, at the end of the day all come from the same roots. We are connected whether we like it or not, we are all we have, it is time for all of us to turn that anger, resentment, etc. around to something less destructive – there has been way too much war, we all deserve peace, the only question is who is going to have the guts to reach out to the other in peace? It is up to us, this could be another sad day in the seemingly never-ending anger/resentment/hypocrisy show in all our environments, or the wake-up we all need in order to start coexisting.

  9. Your post was thoughtful and carefully outlined the details until the last two paragraphs. You create a straw man. I’m not sure why.

    1. Criticism against the Dossier. Criticism came from more than just the exmo community. As you quote, it also came from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and other moderate voices. The criticism wasn’t against the Church’s efforts to do their research on Denson – no one denied the Church’s obligation to look into her. The criticism was against the Church’s total lack of pastoral care for her. You also left out how Denson’s closed-adoption was made public through the careless use of the Dossier.

    2. A further straw man: the phrase “believe women” has never meant to ignore critical thinking skills, or to assume without question that an accusation is the Truth with a capital T. It refers to society’s null hypothesis that accusers are untruthful. It means taking their allegations seriously. It is not a call to ignore due process.

    3. Something changed between Norton’s video and the leaking of the Dossier: Denson’s detailed accusations of assault against her. It became clear very quickly that there were problems with them. For example, she has used the orange juice poisoning claim multiple times throughout her life, including on exmormon venues see the link:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/bqhf3v/mckenna_denson_made_a_public_statement_on/eo6nfxc/?context=3

    These all came out before Norton’s video. In other words, there is more information available now than before.

    I’m not disagreeing with your point that r/exmormon can be insular and an echo chamber, but I don’t think the terms are as sharp as you claim. In short, someone could believe Denson initially, criticize the church for their lack of pastoral care, and subsequently doubt Denson’s claims once more information became available without hypocrisy. Changing one’s mind in light of new information is the very definition of a truth seeker.

    • There are other problems with this post.

      First, the fact that Stephen is grouping all exmormons, those affiliated with r/exmormon, and other social communities into a label as “hypocrites”, when many of us were having critical discussions surrounding the investigation into McKenna Denson, Joseph Bishop, the redacted BYU police reports, the GRAMA requests, the dossier, and other aspects of the situation. It’s not fair to holistically group many into one camp because of the vocal few.

      Further, it’s a false dichotomy that we need to choose either Norton or Denson. This isn’t sports, where I need to pick a winning team. If Joseph Bishop sexually assaulted McKenna Denson, and the church covered it up, then Joseph Bishop is a sexual predator, and it warrants caution when you and your kids are around him. As seems clear, McKenna cannot be trusted, and her credibility should be questioned. That doesn’t make her any less of a victim if Bishop did sexually assault her, and it doesn’t minimize the other victims Joseph Bishop may have assaulted.

      Mike Norton is clearly emotionally unstable, aggressively outspoken, and threatening. His past of uncovering temple endowment ceremonies on YouTube was certainly controversial, but he put his own ethics on the line by selling temple recommends to porn stars for the intent of recording a porno in the temple.

      So from where I stand, Joseph Bishop may be an alleged sexual predator, McKenna Denson has credibility problems and undermind #metoo victims, and Mike Norton has ethics and possibly aggression problems. So why do I need to pick a side? I can hold nuanced emotional judgements for BYU PD, Joseph Bishop, McKenna Denson, & Mike Norton.

    • “The criticism wasn’t against the Church’s efforts to do their research on Denson – no one denied the Church’s obligation to look into her.”

      The ex-Mormons on Reddit (and elsewhere) mercilessly criticized the Church for “doing their research on Denson.” The mere fact that a dossier existed was enough for many ex-Mormons to cry “rape apologists” and “shaming the victim.” I provide several examples of this in my post.

      “You also left out how Denson’s closed-adoption was made public through the careless use of the Dossier.”

      Yes, you’re right. And that was inexcusable. (My understanding is that Greg Bishop was the one responsible for that through his careless handlings with the media, although I could be mistaken. Regardless of who was responsible, it was completely abhorrent.)

      “the phrase “believe women” has never meant to ignore critical thinking skills, or to assume without question that an accusation is the Truth with a capital T. . . . It is not a call to ignore due process.”

      But that’s precisely what it is in many corners of the more radical Left (as well as the more radical corners of the #MeToo movement). It has morphed into a slogan and a pseudo-judicial paradigm that calls for exactly what you just described: ignore critical thinking and assume without question that the accuser is telling the truth. Otherwise you’re a rape apologist and blaming the victim. Now I don’t believe this is how “believe women” was originally intended, and in fact I agree with the sentiment (as I’ve said elsewhere on my blog). I think it is a self-evident moral truth that women should not have to face undue skepticism or have to jump over extra legal hurdles to have credible accusations taken seriously and adjudicated appropriately under the law.

      But in the Wild West of Internetville (including Reddit), the phrase “believe women” has taken on a grotesque new meaning that I find absolutely disturbing.

      “I’m not disagreeing with your point that r/exmormon can be insular and an echo chamber, but I don’t think the terms are as sharp as you claim.”

      That’s fair. I freely admit that my own bias (the fact that I myself as a believing “apologist” have been on the receiving end of r/exmormon) predisposes me to be less charitable with the Reddit crowd than others might be.

      “In short, someone could believe Denson initially, criticize the church for their lack of pastoral care, and subsequently doubt Denson’s claims once more information became available without hypocrisy.”

      Yes, someone could do this. But, frankly, that’s not what I’m seeing on r/exmormon and elsewhere. Hence my post.

      • “I freely admit that my own bias (the fact that I myself as a believing “apologist” have been on the receiving end of r/exmormon) predisposes me to be less charitable with the Reddit crowd than others might be.”

        I think this is the main source of our disagreement. Like any community r/exmormon is no monolith. Yes, many criticized the mere “existence” of the dossier, but there were many other important variables at play that indicate why that community reacted differently to the Church’s compiling the dossier and Mike Norton reviewing her criminal record.

        The first, as we’ve previously discussed, was the private information in the dossier from the Church’s records and how it was handled. Greg Bishop’s leaking this private information to the media was reprehensible. It was abhorrent for the Church (be it Kirton McConkie, or whoever) to be so careless with it, not making it clear to Greg Bishop the sensitivity of the document. Nor did the Church apologize for or acknowledge this “abhorrent” carelessness.

        Second, the church’s first public statement claimed it did not have the resources to investigate Denson’s claims, yet did have the resources to put together a so-called “hit piece”. This added to the perception of the Church behaving as a cooperation, rather than a pastoral ministry.

        Third, given the r/exmormon community is sensitive to the Church’s secret file system through the Strengthening Membership Committee, the dossier was perceived as another example of how the Church treats it “enemies” in a Hooverian fashion. It doesn’t require one to agree with this point to acknowledge that it holds some reason for them to believe it.

        To sum, if we allow some nuance and some color to the exmo community and give them some charity, we can understand from where they come. They had some reason to criticize the Church’s dossier, even if, at times, they got carried away with it. Recall the same charity and nuance that we ask the exmo community to treat the Church with its foibles, we too, should treat them the same.

  10. Clark: “The criticism was against the Church’s total lack of pastoral care for her.”

    No, the criticism of the church for conducting basic investigation of claims was consistently: “the church allows and sustains rapists to exist and prosper in its ranks, showing the foul core at the center of Mormonism. They only trying to protect themselves at the expense of a clear, honored victim.”

    The idea that the criticism of the events was “the Church should have been more helpful with her spiritual needs” (I.e. pastoral care) doesn’t pass the snort/laugh test.

    And you’ve switched targets mid-paragraph= criticism of the existence and leaking of a dossier to criticism of the church institution and practices.
    *Everyone* I saw that had an issue with the dossier made the same leap: that the church itself was based and evil because it was trying to protect itself by smearing a victim who was just trying to get justice.

    Clark: “no one denied the Church’s obligation to look into her”
    In fact, the people criticizing the investigation expressly denied this right/obligation. It was “victim shaming and the “perpetuation of rape culture” for merely happening, and DOUBLY evil to make any of it public.

    This is what the OP is pointing out. When the defense lawyers do it, it’s rape culture. Its protecting a rank corrupt institution.
    When Norton does it, and plasters it with threats of violence and with obscenities, it’s heroic balls of steel to be lauded, and it’s protecting the good name of the woke ExMos of reddit, so he is thanked and honored.

  11. Did the church not know about Denson’s past and activities? We know that the church takes note of and keeps records of “anti-Mormons” and other perceived troublemakers. Did the church know all along, and was the church just sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen that would discredit the ex-Mormon movement and/or its leaders?

    • “Did the church know all along, and was the church just sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen that would discredit the ex-Mormon movement and/or its leaders?”

      I think absent of even a single shred of evidence to support this supposition, the default assumption should be: no, it did not.

  12. Really Mr. Smoot? First, we know that the church has a powerful and sophisticated legal arm for dealing with opposition. And for someone with a record, they know perfectly well how to look up that record. And they certainly do keep an eye on people they perceive as potential troublemakers.

    Second, I personally experienced what might be called a dirty trick by a defender of the church. I was testifying in a child custody case on behalf of a female friend. The husband was LDS and his LDS attorney tried to discredit my testimony by describing me to the judge in open court as having been “excommunicated from the church.” This was not true: I had left on my own, for reasons of my own, without any disciplinary action ever being brought against me (nor any reason for it to ever happen). My friend had also left Mormonism, but the husband was still loyal, so he and his attorney were trying to get sole custody for him, in hopes that the children would be raised Mormon. This was in spite of his domestic violence legal record.

    The joke was on them: we were well outside of old Deseret and nobody cared, least of all the judge. And I went and raised holy heck with the attorney’s church leaders. There’s a lot more I could tell but this should do for now.

    My point: her record was where the church could easily find it, and they have a reputation for keeping an eye on opposition. And as I experienced, some folks fight dirty.

    So, what did they know and when did they know it? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m sincerely wondering.

    • I’m confused, a member of the church’s legal staff was representing your friends husband in a child custody case? It seems the attorney would have been familiar with the facts regarding your separation from the church. Can you provide a link to or any actual evidence of the database you’re alleging was consulted to get erroneous information regarding your separation from the church? I would like to see if certain people I’m associated with are listed there, that could be quite useful in any legal entanglements I might find myself in. Provided I’m well within the confines of “Old Deseret” legal system.

  13. Though it obviously isn’t what Jesus would do, I can’t bring myself to have a problem with Mike Norton saying some mean words to this wretched woman. She deserved every bit of it and much, much more. It’s honestly beyond my comprehension why she isn’t already in prison for life. And though Mike Norton still isn’t my favorite person, I honestly have a smidgen of respect for him now that he’s shown this integrity. It would have benefitted his agenda to continue supporting this wretched woman and pretending he didn’t know she was a pathological liar, but he risked internet-wide embarrassment and damaged his own cause by turning against her. I appreciate that.

  14. Sadly, #BelieveWomen was used precisely by the political opponents of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as justification to deny him due process of law and the presumption of innocence during the Senate hearings. It was used to justify a preposterous allegation brought forward by Michael Avenatti, embezzler of client funds and extorted of Nike. It was used to harm the husband and father of women, and it was used to counter the voices of dozens of woman attorneys who know Kavanaugh and attested to his support of their careers.

  15. Carl: He was not a central church attorney, but a local attorney who happened to be a very active Mormon. We’ve all heard of the “Strengthening the Members” committee, but my encounter happened somewhat before the Internet. When I resigned my membership, resignation was a relatively new practice. Before my day, if you tried to resign they would maybe excommunicate you for apostasy. I’m told that one or more lawsuits put an end to that (the Guinn and Hancock cases). But my resignation was in writing and private. So I really don’t know where that attorney could have gotten false information that I had been excommunicated. I personally suspected he was just using an old-timey Mormon attitude towards people who leave as an occasion to slam me and maybe help win his case. Their logic went: if you want to leave the church then you must not be a loyal believer, therefore you must be an apostate. But there was never any church action carried out or threatened in my case. Maybe he just got misinformation via some Mormon grapevine. In any case I raised a fuss about this with his church leadership and got sort of an apology after the fact.

    The ability to track potential troublemakers has come a long way since the Internet. The Strengthening Church Members Committee is a topic in Wikipedia now, and church security has been greatly modernized since I was a member. Temple recommends have had barcodes for some time now, and I hear a rumor that they’re going to add facial pictures.

    My point was that I felt that a member of the church was willing to play fast and loose with facts in order to win a legal case. I was able to pull up extensive records on the Denson cases as a mere civilian via LexisNexis. So I was wondering why the church hadn’t put that information to use long before Mike or others found out and said anything about it.

    He was a local Mormon attorney, rather high-ranking (locally) and sometimes a public spokesperson for the local church in news articles. Whether he had any dealings with church headquarters – I don’t know for sure. But I was contacted around the time of my divorce by a church authority (I don’t recall his name) so I was definitely on somebody’s radar at some point.

  16. Interesting development in the case. Last year, I tried my best to withhold judgement in the case, and was trying to be open minded and compassionate to McKenna Denson, trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, believing that she may have been telling the truth. Her credibility, to me, took a hit last September when she and Mike Norton pulled that stunt in the Chandler AZ ward sacrament meeting. I thought that stunt was done in poor judgement and poor taste, reflecting poorly on both her and on Mike Norton. It also bothered me that she had teamed up with Mike Norton, who is a pretty blatant critic of the Latter Day Saint faith, as evidenced by his tactics done in poor taste (in my opinion). Now, with this development, though I admire Mr Norton for his courage in admitting his error in judgement and in exposing McKenna’s history of lies and deception, I think this whole incident reflects poorly on both of them. It reflects poorly on McKenna Denson for obvious reasons, but it also reflects poorly on Mr. Norton as he comes across to me as a very judgemental and combative person in the video and not at all a compassionate person. He could have done the whole video in a much more compassionate and caring attitude rather then a vindictive and angry one. Sure, no one’s perfect and we are all human but I think years down the road he will probably regret being so angry and vindictive towards McKenna in a video that will proliferate over time and be impossible to delete. She obviously has some very serious mental instabilities and should be viewed with compassion rather than with hate and vindictiveness. I like to think that McKenna can be healed someday from her serious mental illness and instability and that Mike can also be healed someday of his angry and bitter heart to be more loving and compassionate. Both have to be willing for this to happen. We all have our weaknesses and issues that we have to deal with, and that is why religion is so important in peoples lives as it helps them to both be aware of and to deal with their own weaknesses and shortcomings and one of the positive outcomes of this is that it helps them be more compassionate and understanding of the shortcomings and weaknesses of others.

  17. All of the thing Norton describes are not uncommon for those who have Dissociative Identity Disorder. And it is also not uncommon for someone who is trying to start fresh to change their name. Norton seems to think that someone who is aquitted is always innocent, when that is just not true (however horrific it is for those who are falsely accused). What I find interesting is how Norton thinks that what she has done is so awful, without thinking anything he has done is dishonest or also awful. I’ve seen multiple videos of him admitting to lies — is he just made because she got him? Is it just about the money he gave her? Well, if a bunch of people gave her money, and they were prominent ex-mos out to get the church using her, didn’t they get paid for exactly what they sought?
    BTW, the reason the court dismissed claims against everyone but the church is the statute of limitations. Denson’s other sins/lies are irrelevant to whether the Church knew about Bishop’s sexual predation and failed to protect those in the MTC (though if she goes with a jury, their ability to believe anything she might testify to is surely impaired, which may mean her attorney isn’t willing to continue on contingency anymore). I cannot imagine how it is okay for any human to be so ugly, as Norton was in the telephone call.

  18. “it also reflects poorly on Mr. Norton as he comes across to me as a very judgemental and combative person in the video and not at all a compassionate person.” Waaaaait, that can’t be right. Those that fight against the 12 apostles of the Lamb are never judgmental or combative and are always filled with compassion.

  19. This article is full of false dichotomies, which, on themselves, are straw men. I bought the Denson story because of the evidence she presented. Now that Norton has shown all this material, her credibility is seriously damaged. The difference between his exposse and the church’s is that he shows her lying specifically about this case. The church just threw stuff out there to see what stuck. As you say yourself, Denson exposed Bishop as a perv, but, by her actions, she casts doubt in all other rape victims in the future. Luckily, the constant news reports of Mormon rapists going to jail show that victims are still believed. Unfortunately, the church is still a breeding ground for these criminals.

  20. Steve,

    In my experience, the vast majority of reddit users don’t have a position, and never have, on the Denson lawsuit.

    One of the main reasons is “LDS Lawsuit Fatigue.” There have been, and continue to be, so many lawsuits and allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct regarding various church leaders and members that people get fatigued when they hear about these lawsuits. People tend to just shut off mentally when news of the next sexual abuse/misconduct hits the media.

    Indeed, just do a google search for the last year and you will find so MANY sexual abuse lawsuits/allegations against LDS bishops, stake presidents and other teachers and leaders. For most people, the Denson lawsuit is just one more lawsuit in a long line of many. Unfortunately, it certainly won’t be the last…

  21. So . . . Two unsavoury characters agree to work together to do the work of the adversary. Then one of them becomes very distressed and utterly outraged when he discovers that he has been conned by the other.

    What a big surprise – not !

    “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord . . . for . . the devil will not support his children at the last day.” Alma 30:60 The footnotes to this verse are also instructive – we do indeed receive “wages” of our employer.

    The adversary is an ambitious person. Ambitious people have no friends – only people that they use.

  22. What specifically did Norton say that was misogynistic? Criticicizing one woman — even extremely harshly — is not misogynist. That requires making negative comments about ALL women.

    IMHO Denison lost all credibility with the drano/broken nose/car on fire incident. Typical attention seeking behavior, inflict self-harm for tangible ‘proof’ of being persecuted. The fact that she initiated a lawsuit then failed to comply with discovery and thus lost her lawyers only confirms she has no credibility.

  23. Stephen,
    This is a nice summary, including details I didn’t know. I am glad my own perceptions and written thoughts have been vindicated. Thanks for sharing this information; well done.

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