Gary Johnson apologizes for comment on violence in early Mormon history

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Libertarians selected former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson as their nominee during the second round of voting on Sunday

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson issued a statement Tuesday to clarify and apologize for a recent comment he made about a sensitive part of early Mormon history.

Timothy Carney, Senior Political Columnist for the Washington Examiner, asked Johnson about his stance on discrimination and whether or not it’s the federal government’s job to prevent it. As part of his reply, Johnson said this:

“I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything. Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead.”

Boyd Matheson, president of conservative think tank The Sutherland Institute, wonders why Johnson would have made that remark, given that Johnson’s campaign headquarters is in Salt Lake City and many of his potential voters belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“You would think he’d be more politically aware of who might be listening to those comments,” Matheson said. “His reference to religion in general, in terms of its role and calling it a rabbit hole, a guise to do whatever you want did not sit well with the people of Utah.”

Some assume the former Republican governor of New Mexico was referring to the Mormons’ early history in the 1800s, particularly the Mountain Meadow Massacre. In the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a Utah militia killed more than 100 men, women and children who were passing through the Utah Territory.

“It’s not entirely clear to me what event he was referring to in his comments. It certainly elevated the discussion, certainly has a lot of people wondering what he meant and he has some explaining to do if he wants to mitigate these comments,” said Jason Perry, director of The Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Johnson issued a statement Tuesday to clarify and apologize for the comment.

“My reference to the LDS church, made during an impromptu conversation, was an admittedly very imprecise reference to the violence that accompanied the Mormon’s early history in the 1800s– violence that was prompted by the persecution of the Mormons themselves by both the federal government and others. Absolutely no offense was intended, and I regret any that has resulted,” the statement said in part. (Read the entire statement below.)

Even though Johnson apologized, Matheson believes Johnson’s original comment won’t be forgotten.

“He rang the bell. He rang it big, he rang it loud and I just don’t think he can un-ring that one,” Matheson said.

Experts say this likely won’t affect Johnson’s base of supporters in Utah, but it could sway the opinions of voters who hadn’t considered voting for Johnson until recently.

Johnson was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but he plans to be back in Utah on Saturday for a rally at the University of Utah. Watch FOX 13 News and fox13now.com for further coverage.

Read the Full Statement Gary Johnson Issued Tuesday:

“My reference to the LDS church, made during an impromptu conversation, was an admittedly very imprecise reference to the violence that accompanied the Mormon’s early history in the 1800s– violence that was prompted by the persecution of the Mormons themselves by both the federal government and others. Absolutely no offense was intended, and I regret any that has resulted.

My point, made with an unfortunate example, is that religion has been used too many times to justify discrimination, persecution and, yes, violence. Acts of violence and aggression can not be excused by religion and all people must be held accountable for their own actions.

Few in America have experienced that persecution more than Mormons, and I understand and respect that. The LDS church and its historical struggles with the government are perfect examples of the need for true religious freedom, not selective freedoms legislated and created by politicians. I consider many of the LDS faith to be my closest of friends including National Campaign Manager Ron Nielson.”

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