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Oregon Occupation Creates Rift In Utah Political Party

The armed occupation in Oregon has caused a rift in Utah within a little known political party, the Independent American Party, with deep ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Central to the disagreement is Kelly Gneiting, who was dismayed when the church issued a statement earlier this week condemning the occupiers’ tactics. To him, they’re fighting for Constitutional and Divine principles.

Gneiting’s a national champion sumo wrestler, and he’s disgusted that the faith he’s followed almost all his life won’t use its own muscle to offer support.

“I denounce their statement,” he says. “They are in the wrong. They don’t have an understanding of the proper role of government. The blood of the Founding Fathers is not pumping through their veins.”

Gneiting expected to find allies in the political organization he led for over four years, the Independent American Party. It was founded in Utah and rooted in LDS principles. The Oregon protestors include two Mormon sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who sparked a standoff with federal law enforcement two years ago and who’s an Independent American Party member. But Gneiting’s comments about the Church have put him at odds with current party leaders.

“We’re going to decide this tomorrow,” he says. “I sent a plea this morning in an email saying, ‘Look, if we don’t get this right, just don’t think that we’re gonna gain the strength of the Lord’.”

The party’s executive committee plans to discuss the flap in a conference call Thursday. Will Christensen, the Independent American Party’s chairman, agrees that the federal government has wronged ranchers like the Bundys. But he says the Church is right about the takeover.

“There are members of the party who don’t see the wisdom of a takeover of a government building and what that has to do with the people they’re trying to support in Oregon,” Christensen says.

Meanwhile, Gneiting, who left the LDS Church last spring, accuses church leaders of conspiring with the Obama administration against the occupiers to “get along with the world.”

An LDS Church spokeswoman declined to comment.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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