Photograph by Gage Skidmore

So much for the White Horse

On March 18, 2016, Glenn Beck appeared at an event with Ted Cruz in Draper, Utah. Prowling the stage like a circuit rider at a makeshift pulpit, Beck told a passionate story about Benjamin Franklin and George Washington at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Beck took some liberties with the story, as we all do when recounting a good tale. He seemed to be recounting the story of Benjamin Franklin asking the convention to open with prayers. In Beck’s version, the 81-year-old Franklin was 88 and on opium at the time. After hearing this speech from Franklin (according to Beck), George Washington said, “Gentlemen, let us a raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair…”

Beck insisted Washington knew — he just knew — that one day America would lose its way and this Constitution would give those wise and honest men a refuge to which to repair.

And then he quoted a Mormon prophecy about the Four Horses of the Apocalypse.

It’s an old-fashioned American story — except maybe for the drugs and Armageddon — but we have to pull it apart to learn a little more about the man telling the story and the man he was endorsing.

Let’s start with the origin of George Washington’s statement because it explains a bit about how sources will be used throughout this story. The line Beck cites from Washington is a quotation attributed to Washington by Gouverneur Morris in his own recounting of the events of 1787. It does not appear in the Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 but in Morris’s Oration Upon Washington eulogy from 1799 (included as a supplement to the Records).

In other words, Beck quoted a guy quoting a guy and then imagined that quotation as part of a dialogue with another guy. A few seconds later, Beck said Washington knew a time would come when “America would not even recognize the rights in the Constitution anymore, where the Constitution would hang by a thread, he saw those times.”

Put on your tinfoil hat now.

“The Constitution would hang by a thread” is Beck quoting the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Joseph Smith, delivering what is known as the White Horse Prophecy.

But hold on, Beck is not actually quoting Smith. He’s quoting a man who is quoting Smith. He may even be quoting a man who is quoting a man who is quoting a man who is quoting Smith. It is a strange game of telephone these millenarianists play when they try to make sense of what the village clairvoyant meant in a vision related to the religion he invented.

The White Horse Prophecy began with a Mormon named Edwin Rushton who wrote down his recollections of a vision that Joseph Smith told to him and others in 1843. Rushton did not record these events until 1890 or later. The most cited source of the prophecy is from the diary of another man, John Roberts, who recorded Rushton’s recollections. No connection between Roberts and Rushton is known. This history as well as the text of the prophecy quoted here comes from a paper for FairMormon by George Cobabe.

The story starts at a meeting of the Nauvoo Legion. At this meeting, Smith toasted the demise of the “Mobocrats” who were harassing the Mormons. The next morning, a man who had heard the toast “abused” Smith with bad language and Smith ordered him out. In the commotion, a few Mormons gathered around Smith who told them not to wish harm on their persecutors (as he had done the previous evening) because worse things were coming for them.

Smith then told his audience:

I will speak in a parable like unto John the Revelator. You will go to the Rocky Mountains and you will be a great and mighty people established there, which I will call the White Horse of peace and safety.

As he described a legislative war conducted against the Mormons by Congress, he said the words that have been passed along for more than 170 years:

You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber.

Smith said the Constitution would “be preserved and saved by the efforts of the White Horse, and by the Red Horse who will combine in its defense.”

A “terrible revolution” will happen in America which will be left without a “Supreme Government.” There will be “peace and love only in the Rocky Mountains.” People will flee to this Rocky Mountain panic room.

Then we meet the third horse in his story: The Black Horse.

The Black Horse will flee to the invaders and will join them for they have fear of becoming slaves again; knowing that England did not believe in slavery, they will flee to them that they believe will make them safe. Armed with British bayonets, the doings of the Black Horse will be terrible.

If it seems Joseph Smith’s prophecy just took a racial turn to describe African-Americans as the “Black Horse” who will do terrible things, it absolutely did. When Smith gets to the fourth horse, it becomes clear:

During this time the Great White Horse will have gathered strength, sending out elders to gather the honest in heart from among the Pale Horse, or people of the United States, to stand by the Constitution of the United States as it was given by the inspiration of God.

In Smith’s vision, the Apocalypse begins in America and ripples across the world. Instead of Four Horsemen (War, Famine, Pestilence, Death), Smith names Four Horses. The White Horse is the Mormon people (the “Saints” in their vernacular). The Red Horse probably relates to the “Blood of Israel” (the color red figures in the prophecy). The Black Horse is probably those whom Smith saw as the descendants of Cain. In the “Book of Moses” (included in one of three Mormon holy books, Pearl of Great Price) the author says, “a blackness came upon all children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people” (Book of Moses, 7:8). The Pale Horse is the honest Gentiles (non-Mormons) whom the White Horse was able to save.

As Smith’s vision continues, Europe falls. Its good people submit to the “nations of God.” The Messiah visits America. A temple is built in the great holy land of Jackson county, Missouri. Smith warns of the “heathen Chinese” who would invade the West coast unless “great care and protection be given.”

Finally, America realizes its destiny as Zion.

Power will be given to the White Horse to rebuke the nations afar off, and you obey it, for the laws go forth from Zion. The last great struggle that Zion will ever have to contend with will be when the whole of America will be made the Zion of God. Those opposing will be called Gog and Magog. The nations of the earth will be led by the Russian Czar and his power will be great, but all opposition will be overcome and this land will be the Zion of our God.

George Cobabe’s paper for FairMormon spends another four and a half pages discussing the credibility of the prophecy, the concept that the Constitution will “hang by a thread,” and the notion that the LDS will take over the US Government. He concludes: unreliable and unconfirmed, Smith definitely spoke of the challenges to the Constitution, and oh, of course not, respectively.

If you leave out all the horses, racism, and strange European politics, it’s actually a damn accurate prophecy. In 1843, when Smith allegedly delivered the prophecy, the Mormons were being harangued by their neighbors and the government. The “Mobocrats” of whom Smith spoke would eventually murder him and his brother Hyrum.

In 1846, Brigham Young led the Saints beyond the Rocky Mountains to their Zion in the Utah Territory. The US Government sent troops to the territory to pacify the polygynous Mormons (“Your enemies will continue to follow you with persecutions”). In 1856, a notable part of the Republican Party platform was to prohibit polygamy and slavery in the territories (“They will make obnoxious laws against you in Congress to destroy the White Horse”). Previously, the Compromise of 1850 had delayed this debate about federal rule in the territories (“You will have a friend or two to defend you and throw out the worst parts of the law so they will not hurt you so much”).

The possibility that Joseph Smith gave the White Horse Prophecy is less significant than the legend it has created. In canon, the prophecy would be examined, justified, subjected to apology. As hearsay, the White Horse Prophecy is a powerful myth for the Mormon people that can be safely disowned for political expediency.

In 2009, Rex Rammell, a Mormon running for governor of Idaho, set up a series of meetings with men who were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the Deseret News, Rammell said the meeting, “will include discussion of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith’s ‘prophecy that the Constitution will be hanging by a thread and that the Latter-day Saint elders will step forward and save it.’”

Publicity from this event led the LDS to issue the statement:

The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.

While the LDS does not embrace the White Horse Prophecy as church doctrine, their presidents have been using the language from it since the Prophet’s death. At least seven presidents of the LDS have used the “thread” metaphor including Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, and Harold D. Lee.

So when Glenn Beck (who became a Mormon in the year 2000) uses the same turn of phrase in 2016, he is not citing some long discredited prophecy of the Church. He is saying what LDS leaders have been saying since the second presidency. Moreover, these leaders have all cited Joseph Smith as the originator of the phrase.

Though the LDS may declare that the “White Horse Prophecy” is not doctrine, the language about the “Constitution hanging by a thread” is as canonical as could be.

On May 4, 2016, after another primary loss to Donald Trump, with only 564 delegates of the required 1273, Ted Cruz suspended his campaign for president, punched his wife in the face, and went home. Glenn Beck possibly felt “suicidal.”

What went wrong? How could the anointed one quit? How could Glenn Beck have been so wrong?

One answer is that Cruz wasn’t the anointed one. Perhaps the man about whom colleagues have said “nobody likes him” (Bob Dole), “I just don’t like the guy” (George W. Bush), “that jackass” and “false prophet” (John Boehner), “carnival barker” and “counterfeit” (Peter King), “an opportunist” (Lindsey Graham), and “Lucifer” (Boehner again) made the same impression on Republican primary voters.

Another answer is that we aren’t living in the End Times. Beck, Smith, and the LDS presidents are seeking the signs of the End Times to legitimize what otherwise sounds like fantasy literature (kinda racist fantasy literature). Because the Mormon Apocalypse is specifically American, they’re searching for the signs of the end in America.

Even still, Beck did not let the failure of his unanointed one diminish his faith. Less than a week after Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race, Beck went all-in on the apocalypse.

When we say, we don’t know what the Lord has in store for us…oh, I do. Our reaping of what we have sown. I really think this was the last reckoning for us…
I think the country and all of us as individuals are going to reap what we have sown. And there is nothing that’s going to get us out of that. His consequences are eternal. And they are not judgements, they’re promises.

Beck has upped the stakes. Now, only an apocalypse can prove him right.

It’s a bet that he is sure to lose. But like those spiritual prognosticators before him, he will later equivocate and retcon events to match his beliefs. When the time comes for him to change his story, he can learn from his Prophet and LDS presidents: new prophecies are better than old ones.

Joseph Smith knew how to do it: never produce physical evidence; never give precise dates; use new revelations to overwrite mistakes; stop interpreting the old books, write your own; intertwine your story with another, factual story. These have been the rules of fortune tellers and psychics all over the world since Michael the archangel changed his name to Adam and created the Earth.

(What? You didn’t know about that?)


This isn’t even a quarter of the story. So Much For The White Horse: Glenn Beck, Ted Cruz, and the End of the End Times — a short Kindle book — covers more details about the Mormon religion, Ted Cruz’s father’s beliefs, and the story of a former FBI agent and End Times enthusiast who is an influence on Beck, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Orrin Hatch and more. Coming to Amazon Kindle on June 19, 2016. Pre-order it now.