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Fake version of LDS website fools readers and media with fake apology for racism

A fake LDS news release website fooled the public and media Thursday with a fake apology for racism on the same day the LDS Church issued a joint statement with the NAACP. (Photo: Larry D. Curtis / KUTV)

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) - A fake version of a LDS Church website with a counterfeit apology about racism caused a ruckus on social media and in Mormon communities Thursday.

The fictitious website closely resembled the authentic MormonNewsroom.org, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posts information, press releases, photo and video assets and official statements to the media. The hoax site not only fooled readers but at least one media outlet with its URL that used mormon-newsroom.org, which was differentiated with the hyphen.

The confusion with the sites happened at about the same time the LDS Church made a genuine announcement with the NAACP, making the hoax seem more authentic.

The genuine MormonNewsroom site posted a release Thursday with a video of a media event, that was a joint call for civility and racial harmony by the NAACP and the LDS Church.

The fake website created a similar page with a similar story but with the headline: "President Nelson Meets With NAACP; Offers Apology for History of Racism," followed by a fake statement from the Nelson and the LDS Church.

The man behind the parody said there has been a strong emotional response and said many current and former Mormons were celebrating the bogus apology.

"I had no doubt that people would immediately accept the statement," website author Jonathan Streeter said. "It appeals to our own hope and idealism for the church to step up and do the right thing."

"They were elated that the prophet seemed to be doing the right thing, even if they no longer consider themselves Mormon," he said. "Faithful believing Mormons also expressed a great deal of excitement, gratitude, relief and pride when they initially read the statement."

When readers realized they had read a fake, according to Streeter, the response was more varied.

"Believing Mormons have had more of a mixed response. Many of them are hurt, others become introspective. There has been some anger," he said.

The genuine article and press conference featured statements from high ranking officials from both the international church based in Utah and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons. The authentic media event did not allow any questions from the media.

First to speak was LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson who delivered the message that all men and women are created in God's image and are therefore brothers and sisters.

"Today, in unity with such capable and impressive leaders as the national officials of the NAACP, we are impressed to call on people of this nation and, indeed, the entire world to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect," Nelson, who spoke first said.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, spoke next and affirmed Nelson's message.

"The very core of our belief and mission as NAACP, we admire and share your optimism that all people can work together in harmony and should collaborate more on areas of common interest," Johnson said. He said organizations should work to secure peace and happiness for all of God's children.

Johnson said also:

We are clear, it is our job to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we do so with an advocacy voice but now with a partner who seeks to pursue harmony and civility within our community.

The parody account statement said in its hoax that racism has caused great suffering and division and racism of individuals can lead to institutional racism. It also spoke of Christ's unconditional love of all and repentance and quoted LDS scriptures and a conference talks from prominent leader, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who said leaders in the church have made mistakes and then pointed to a church essay on LDS.org, a confirmed website of the church, about race and the priesthood. In 1978 the LDS church allowed all male members, regardless of race, to participate in the rites and rituals that members believe lead to eternal salvation. Previously members of African decent were not allowed to participate or perform the ceremonies.

Under a section subtitled: CONFESSION, the fabricated website lists bullet points it says are described in the LDS.org essay, including the "perpetuation of slavery in Mormon-controlled Utah, advocated by church leaders," denying priesthood and temple participation to those of African descent and the sealing of Jane Manning James "as an eternal servitor, or slave, to Joseph Smith after denying her requests for her personal sealing to her own family."

The website then issues a fabricated apology from Nelson and his counselors and other leaders. It said in part:

Today, as Prophet, Seer and Revelator, and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I offer a full unqualified apology for the error of racism which was taught from this office and in the tabernacle and over the pulpits of our churches the world over.

The phony apology then points to a June 1 event that is to celebrate the 1978 priesthood announcement on its 40th anniversary and links to an LDS.org webpage that promotes the streaming event from the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

A news website in Salt Lake City published an article Thursday morning at 8:50 a.m. with the headline: "LDS Church offers formal apology for history of racism." The writer stated that the apology was part of the authentic meeting between LDS and NAACP officials. The article has been removed but has been cached by Google.

"I think as a community Mormons have wrestled with issues of race for a long time and there's been disagreement about whether or not an apology is even necessary or would be helpful," Streeter said. "The strong emotions that people feel about this parody inform that debate."

He also seems sympathetic to those who were angry about his parody.

"When I went on my own journey of discovery about the church and its history in race relations, I was upset and hurt," he wrote in an email. "It was hard for me to accept that men that I had respected as men of God could have taught many of the things that are part of the Church's history."

The LDS Church declined to comment on the hoax website.

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