DEATH OF AN AMERICAN: The Killing of John Singer by David & David M. Friedman Fleisher

DEATH OF AN AMERICAN: The Killing of John Singer

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How a fundamentalist Mormon's decision to remove his children from Utah's public schools, in defiance of state compulsory education laws, led to his death at the hands of law enforcement officers. John Singer's boyhood experiences as a member of the Hitler Youth in Germany left him with a deep distrust of regimentation, and his fundamentalist religious views (he'd been excommunicated from the regular Mormon church, believed in polygamy, and found it immoral for school textbooks to show ""whites and Negroes intermingled"") left him no option: he had to pull his kids out of school to give them ""a chance of survival when the judgment of God comes upon them."" With the help of his wife Vicki, whom he'd converted to his beliefs (against the wishes of her mother, who threatened to throw herself under a train), Singer established a selfsufficient family unit in a Utah mountain valley, ""a scene out of the nineteenth century."" The Singers lived in a log home, grew their own vegetables, canned their own fruit, never visited doctors, had no bank account, and believed in personal revelation through dreams; the kids were ""educated"" desultorily in a small family schoolhouse, with religion classes taking precedence. Local school board officials went to court, charging the Singers with the ""neglect"" of their children. Singer's principles told him to ""defy mens' corrupt laws,"" and the court battle escalated. Even after the court made a finding of neglect, there was still room for a face-saving compromise, but Singer Would not permit a state-ordered tutor to come to the family home (""I will not sell my liberties""). Held in contempt of court, he made it clear that he would resist arrest, and pulled a gun on the lawmen who bungled an attempt to take him into custody. Local officials became more edgy when Singer contracted a polygamous second marriage to a not-yet-divorced woman whose ""first"" husband threatened to take the law into his own hands. An arrest plan involving a ""massive show of force"" was developed, the rationale being that a ""reasonable man"" would submit. Singer--as law enforcement officials should have figured out long before--was not a reasonable man. Though sympathetic, Fleisher and Friedman avoid the trap of pumping Singer up into a martyr (the courts agreed--a wrongful-death suit filed by flamboyant lawyer Garry Spence was tossed out), and scrupulously refrain from how-did-this-happen, we-are-all-rasponsible breast-beating. Well documented and unsettling--with obvious appeal to readers of a libertarian stripe.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Continuum