When extremism lurks: more than a real detective story

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, a couple from Rexburg, Idaho, are charged with murdering two of Vallow’s children.

North West journalist Leah Sottile wrote a book about the case: “When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Wild Faith, and End Times.”

Three years ago, Sottile realized the story was much more than crime tabloid fodder, when she learned of Vallow’s journey from the Mormon church to sectarian religious beliefs. She spoke to KUOW’s Kim Malcolm about what she learned.

Here are excerpts from our interview with Leah Sottile, presented in the words of the author:

I have been writing about extremism in the United States for a long time.

I have specifically written extensively about people on the fringes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). I started looking at the case and realized that people were missing something in the story. It wasn’t just about that pretty mom and her missing kids, and some potential murder bullshit. It was something about extremism in the western United States. That’s what got me started.

In November 2019, police in Rexburg, Idaho came to Lori Vallow’s doorstep.

They asked about his children. Some family members had called worriedly. Vallow gave an excuse that they were out of state to visit a friend. Then she disappeared. This is where the story began. Where has she gone? Did she disappear in some kind of bunker somewhere with her children? After being missing for a few months, Lori Vallow was found in Hawaii on vacation without her children. Where were her children if she was in Hawaii? These were the first questions people asked about him.

The police extradited her to Idaho.

She continued to remain silent about the whereabouts of her children. For months, she sat quietly in prison without saying anything about the whereabouts of her missing children. In June 2020, the FBI and authorities in Rexburg found the bodies of her two children. They were buried in the garden of Lori Vallow’s new husband. And of course he was arrested.

None of them have been convicted of the murders of these children, but they are accused of several deaths, the children and others, and all of this will go to trial next January. The book is really a questioning of how someone who seemed like such a loving mother, a very religious woman, someone who would show up at the neighbors doorstep with money if they were in trouble. How did she take such a turn? It’s about those fringe beliefs that have been simmering around the LDS church for a long time that aren’t recognizable to mainstream Mormons, and how those beliefs seem to have a whole culture around them, especially in the west. the United States.

A lot of my reporting was about Chad Daybell, Lori’s husband.

He is actually her fifth husband. He is a prolific writer of LDS fiction, whom I did not know before I started writing this book. Chad has written a ton of books that are really grounded in his Mormonism. But over time, you might see progression. He started saying, I’m talking about things in these books that are actually what might happen in the future. He began to see himself as a visionary and a prophet. And he was really praised for that within this specific culture of hardcore preppers, LDS church survivalists.

I’ve written a lot about the far right, but I’ve also written a lot about fringe cultures in America. This story was at the intersection of those two things. I began to realize that to understand how the fringes of the LDS church work, you need to understand this culture of preparation and survival and where it started.

The Vallow-Daybell story has really been relegated to tabloid coverage.

I think it’s partly because Lori Vallow is a supposedly amazing former beauty queen, cheerleader and mother. One thing that I started to notice was that the victims started to get lost in this mystique, of the murderess and all the people dying around her. That’s what I want people to understand. There were child victims here. When a community does not speak up, the most innocent people can pay the price. Extremist ideologies don’t always wear a suit. Someone with extremist views might be sitting next to you at church. And maybe it’s up to you to say something. We have seen time and time again that these far-right ideologies, whether religious, white supremacist or anti-government, end badly. They end in violence.

I think we are living in a time of real fear right now.

And that was something Daybell and Vallow were up to. They knew that people were very afraid of what they saw happening politically in the country. I have learned over the years from writing about extremism that extremist ideologies and ideologues are kind of on the prowl, waiting for people to be scared. When people are truly afraid, they offer an answer. They offer explanations. They offer solutions. And I think everyone is vulnerable to that. When people talk about the end of the world — the world is going to end, when it reaches the nth degree, very bad things can happen, because that’s where extremists wait and offer answers. In this case, it resulted in the death of many people.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Please note: This interview contains descriptions of violence.

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