Under the Banner of Heaven Summary | Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven Summary. it is A Story of Violent Faith is a nonfiction book by author Jon Krakauer, first published in July 2003. He investigated and juxtaposed two histories: the origin and evolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism.

The Laffertys were formerly members of a splinter group called the School of Prophets, led by Robert C. Crossfield (also known by his prophet name Onias). The group accepts many beliefs of the original LDS church at the time when it ceased the practice of polygamy in the 1890s, but it does not identify with those who call themselves fundamentalist Mormons. The book examines the ideologies of both the LDS Church and the fundamentalist Mormon polygamous groups, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church).

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Under the Banner of Heaven Synopsis

Under the Banner of Heaven Summary

Krakauer explores the story of two men—Ron and Dan Lafferty—who participated in the ritualistic murders of a 24-year-old woman and her 15-month-old daughter in 1984. Motivated by extremist religious views with ties to fundamental Mormonism, the Lafferty brothers felt called by God to enact a blood atonement on their sister-in-law and her daughter: Brenda and Erika Lafferty. 

A childhood marked by physical abuse and strict adherence to a set of radical religious expectations left Ron and Dan psychologically marked. As Dan Lafferty began to explore the legacy of the Mormon faith and became increasingly involved with the principles of Mormon fundamentalism—including blood atonement, polygamy, and personal revelations from God—he encouraged his brothers to embrace his new ideals. Ron, vulnerable due to financial hardship, found strength in Dan’s message and embraced fundamentalism. Dan and Ron, along with their other brothers, forced their wives to submit to their religious views, including pioneer-type living and polygamy. 

When Ron’s wife, Dianna, expressed her concerns to Brenda, the wife of the youngest Lafferty brother and a strong-willed and confident college graduate, Brenda fought back against what she believed to be an evil influence on the Lafferty family. Ron’s behavior became increasingly irrational, and soon he began to physically abuse Dianna. Meanwhile, Dan suggested to his wife Matilda that he take his stepdaughter as his second wife. After learning of Ron’s abuse, Brenda urged Dianna to leave her husband. Dianna packed up her six kids and left the state, leaving Ron with a vendetta against Brenda. 

Krakauer juxtaposes the experiences and extremist spiral of the Lafferty brothers with the history of the Mormon faith. The 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre committed by Mormons fearful that an innocent wagon train might be part of a government plot against them provides context for the irrational behavior of the Lafferty brothers in 1984. The story of Joseph Smith’s secret commitment to plural marriage closely resembles the lengths the Lafferty brothers were willing to go to pursue the same marital principle. Krakauer suggests that faith itself is irrational and that the line between mainstream religious faith and religious extremism is thin and blurry.

While the mainstream LDS church abandoned Joseph Smith’s more extreme principles and maintains that fundamentalist sects are not part of the Mormon church, Krakauer suggests that the violent history and patriarchal structure of Mormonism create an environment in which these sects can function and lean toward radicalism. Those who turned a blind eye to the impact of this type of faith, as well as the continual conflict between the Mormon faith and the government, allowed many sects to isolate and operate unchecked. As Krakauer reveals in the book, Ron and Dan Lafferty’s actions are merely one part of a larger story of sexual and physical abuse, manipulation, and tyranny.

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Under the Banner of Heaven Themes

Religion and extremism: The book delves into the history of Mormonism and how certain fundamentalist sects have interpreted its teachings in extreme ways, sometimes leading to violence. Krakauer explores the concept of "righteous violence" and how some believers can justify harmful acts in the name of their faith. 

Family and community: The book examines the complex dynamics of families and communities within Mormon fundamentalism, where strict patriarchal structures and pressure to conform can have a profound impact on individual lives. Krakauer explores the role of women in these communities and the challenges they face in asserting their agency.

Faith and doubt: The book raises questions about the nature of faith and the line between genuine religious belief and dangerous fanaticism. Krakauer explores the experiences of individuals who have struggled with doubt within their faith and the consequences of questioning the status quo.

History and memory: The book delves into the history of Mormonism and how its past continues to shape the present. Krakauer explores the role of historical narratives in shaping individual and community identities, and the challenges of reconciling with a complex and sometimes violent past.

Justice and accountability: The book raises questions about justice and accountability within religious communities, and how to hold individuals accountable for actions committed in the name of faith. Krakauer explores the challenges of investigating and prosecuting crimes within closed communities, and the importance of seeking justice for victims.

Questions and Answers about Under the Banner of Heaven Plot

What is the short story behind Under the Banner of Heaven? Hulu's new limited series Under the Banner of Heaven, streaming April 28, is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer's 2003 true-crime bestseller of the same name about the gruesome killings of Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her baby daughter, which shocked a quiet Mormon town in the 1980s.

Who was the killer in Under the Banner of Heaven? It was Allen's brothers, Ron and Dan, who carried out the killings. They were Mormon fundamentalists, and Ron claimed he had received a revelation from God to "remove" Brenda and her child.

What happened to everyone in Under the Banner of Heaven? The two were tried separately. Ron received the death sentence but died in prison of natural causes in 2019 before his sentence was dealt. Dan remains in prison today, serving two life sentences. He was spared the death sentence by a lone holdout juror.

Who killed Brenda Under the Banner of Heaven? In 1984, Brenda and her infant daughter Erica were brutally murdered by Ron Lafferty and Dan Lafferty, aka Brenda's own brothers-in-law, because she had the audacity to stand up to their increasingly terrifying descent into Mormon fundamentalism.

What does the ending of Under the Banner of Heaven mean? The meaning of Under the Banner of Heaven's ending also preaches that faith doesn't necessarily mean an organized religion or unbending devotion to God, as faith can be found in the belief of one's own family or the miracles in the beauty of nature.

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