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Salt Lake City Weekly The Mormon Games

Does Utah's Gov. Mike Leavitt understand that the 2002 Olympics are for all Utahns?

By John Harrington

MARCH 16, 1998:  Are you going to apply to be an official "Utah Mormon Olympic Volunteer (UMOV)?"

You can get your UMOV application at Gov. Mike Leavitt's office. He's the head UMOV organizer, you know. Don't apply if you're not Mormon, though, because Leavitt is calling upon the Mormon Church to raise an army of volunteers to run the 2002 Utah Winter Olympics. He hasn't mentioned the Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Eastern religions, agnostics nor atheists—or virtually anyone else.

Leavitt is the public Mormon, don't you know? He reminds us almost every day. His high-profile "Mormonness," craftily displayed in a planned manner every chance he gets, is, well, very Mormon, as in, "We're Mormons and the rest of you are not."

To drive the nail home, I hit the Internet and logged in these three words in tandem: Leavitt/Olympics/Mormon. The search engine inundated me with worldwide news-story hits. In case you missed all the stories, Leavitt announced to the world media while attending the Nagano Olympic Games that he would call upon the Mormon Church to raise that Mormon volunteer army to run the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Leavitt's global welding of Mormons to the 2002 Winter Olympics reminded me of something similar that happened in previous Olympic history, where a specific organization with special beliefs and membership requirements was called upon to raise an army of volunteers to operate an Olympics.

If you have been watching, listening to or reading my Olympic coverage over the past 13 years, you may know I am an avid Olympic historian. I have collected volumes of books and videos and other stuff about the Olympics. I dearly love the athletic competition and stories of personal triumph.

When Leavitt so completely and intentionally linked the Mormon Church to the 2002 Winter Games, he sent me scurrying to my Olympic collection, asking this question: "What other single, easily identified, highly-visible organization in the past was tied to the Olympics the way Leavitt is doing it with the Mormons today?"

The answer is, only one: The Nazi Party at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin.

Lets toss out ideology, because I am not comparing Nazi/Mormon beliefs. The issues are inclusion versus exclusion and the use of the Olympics-as-propaganda to promote a single belief system.

Leavitt for years has been reminding every non-Mormon in Utah that's it's not "our" state through his sanctimonious, sermon-like public testimonials dripping with religious overtones—his religious overtones. Every time he does it, Leavitt forces Mormon/non-Mormon relations in Utah back by decades.

Whether you want to hear it or not, Leavitt's outrageous attempt at the religious hijacking of the 2002 Winter Olympics is strikingly similar to the way Adolph Hitler used the 1936 Summer Games as a platform to show off his member-specific organization.

Leavitt has sent this Olympic message to non-Mormon Utah: "You're not included, this is our propaganda opportunity."

So it was in the 1930s. I have a copy of master filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935-36), the Nazi propaganda film about the Berlin Olympiad and "Aryan superiority."

It has numerous scenes depicting what can happen when one member-specific organization is "officially" tied to an Olympiad, to the exclusion of all others.

The 1936 Games were opened as a sea of brown shirts marched into the stadium, the 1936 Summer Olympics' "official volunteer hosts"—the Nazis. If you didn't belong to the Nazi Party, you weren't part of the "official" group at the 1936 Olympics.

Like, say, if you were a Jew, or a homosexual or a Gypsy or some other ethnic, non-Aryan type. Those folks didn't qualify for Nazi Party membership.

With his Nagano announcement, Leavitt and Hitler now strikingly compare when it comes to using the Olympics as a prime propaganda opportunity to promote one organization over all others.

Like Leavitt, Hitler, too, had a large, multi-lingual, educated organization to call upon to raise an army of volunteers: the Nazi Party. He showed them off to the world.

Leavitt has been quoted worldwide that 2002 will be a great opportunity to come to Utah and get to know the Mormons. Hitler used the 1936 Summer Games to tell the world what a super opportunity that would be to go to Berlin and get to know the Nazis.

Propaganda is propaganda. Period.

Well, enough! It's time somebody had the guts to tell the governor to stop. It ought to be the PR department of the Mormon Church. Since that's not likely, though, I will.

This isn't Iran, where Islam is the government; this is the United States, Mike. Your constant and, I might add, terribly inappropriate parading of your own personal religious affiliation—as documented in everything from your Mormon Tabernacle Choir inaugural to your Mormon-based "family values" crusade to every speech where you have evoked your "Mormonhood" through transparent, coded comments directed at "the faithful"—is a slap in every Utahn's face, Mormon and non-Mormon alike.

Your "Mormonizing" of the 2002 Winter Olympics is exactly the same thing Hitler did in Germany with his Nazi Party with the 1936 Summer Games.

You abuse the platform of public office to promote your member-specific organization to the constant, painful exclusion from the halls of power of all other people who do not "belong."

Never in recent state history has a governor done more to destroy the line between church and state. As you do it, you rip us further apart, dividing us against ourselves. Now, you have taken this disgraceful habit of yours to a worldwide stage with the Olympics.

Take your UMOVs and give us back our money. You are humiliating us with your message.

The Olympics are about people, all people. Governance is about balance and fairness under a rule of law. Mainly, it's about leadership, not propaganda.

Get your own copy of Triumph of the Will. Maybe it will wake you up.

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