Under the Banner of Heaven: Jon Krakauer Book Reports on Extreme Mormonism and Polygamy


Krakauer’s book is engaging and chronicles the mysterious, fascinating history of Mormonism, Mormon Fundamentalism and their intertwined violent past.

Jon Krakauer, author of such novels as Into the Wild and Into Thin Air chronicles the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her toddler daughter, their deaths at the hands of Ron and Dan Lafferty who killed their sister-in-law and niece, they claim, at God’s request.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Temple Square, what Mecca is to Muslims, is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) or Mormons. It’s located in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Krakauer quickly points out that Mormons and those who call themselves Mormon Fundamentalists (FLDS) subscribe to the same holy texts and the same history—both believe that Joseph Smith, played a vital role in God’s plan for mankind. Other beliefs they share:

  • They consider Joseph Smith to be a prophet like Moses and Isaiah
  • God favors them and them alone

The major schism in these two groups lies in the belief of taking multiple wives. Followers of the FLDS faith openly engage in polygamy, vehemently explaining it as a matter of religious duty.

The Lafferty Family

Krakauer’s story shells around the 1984 death of Brenda Lafferty and her toddler daughter. Brenda, raised a Mormon, married one of the five Lafferty brothers. The Lafferty brothers were raised Mormon, but either were banished or left the faith to join the FLDS. The elder brothers, Ron and Dan, convinced their younger siblings that they too should take multiple wives.

Brenda, a skilled journalist and pious wife and mother, urged her husband, Allen, to isolate from his dominating brothers. Their beliefs were so different and against her own, she feared for her own safety, and adamantly refused to adhere to multiple marriages.

Ron and Don believed that God had given them messages, and in those messages it was their duty to kill Brenda and the baby. They despised her for her beliefs and disrespect for their religion.

Web of Names and Families

Krakauer balances the history and the Lafferty family story in near poetic style. It’s concise and astonishing. Because he notes so many cases of men marrying their own step daughters, or nieces and other abuses, it’s easy to get tangled in the web of names.

His work is genuine reporting, never judging or condemning. Certainly, he doesn’t applaud the Lafferty brothers, often giving a different side to the convicted killers; he humanizes them and furthers the conversation and memory.

Under the Banner of Heaven is striking and profoundly generous in the history of the rapidly growing Mormon faith, at the same time, leaving a reader wondering what does it all mean for the rest of the world?