When Utah-based attorney Mark Naugle first opened the folder on his computer, he thought perhaps he might find evidence of church leaders’ private complaints about the recent spike in member resignations, or the alleged uptick in LGBTQ suicides. Or even hints of church efforts to ruin his reputation within Salt Lake’s tight-knit legal community on 200 East.
Instead, he found a series of private emails between Pres. Thomas S. Monson and his second in command, Pres. Russell M. Nelson, in which the prophet confessed a strong “calling” to support Sen. Bernie Sanders in his quest for the White House.
“Russ, his vision for America today reminds me of the early days in Salt Lake,” Naugle claims one of the emails said. “Sometimes, it’s as if I can hear the voice of Brigham himself coming from Mr. Sanders. I harken unto his message.”
Naugle says the stash of stolen emails were sent to him anonymously and that when he first received them, he had no idea who might have hacked into the LDS servers. “I assumed it was one of my clients,” he said. “So many of them feel such a deep sense of loss over the same-sex family policy.”
Over the past three months, Naugle has helped over 1,400 LDS members get themselves removed from the church’s membership registry in protest over the controversial church policy that first came to light last November. He says several of his younger male clients were so upset over the church’s ruling that even after they had resigned their membership, they threatened to get even.
“One of my clients used to work on the geek squad at The Church Office Building,” Naugle said. “Now that I’ve had time to make some inquiries, I believe I now know who provided the original information that allowed the perpetrators to gain access to the servers. But I still don’t know who actually executed the hack.”
Utah Deputy Attorney General Brian Tarbet announced that his office had opened an investigation into the matter. “This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it was the LDS Church who was hacked,” he said. “We take all cyber threats seriously.”
The entire contents of the email trove, comprising 1,342 individual emails between the two church leaders, were published anonymously early Monday morning on the BitTorrent network and simultaneously sent to Naugle from a bogus gmail account. Tarbet said their initial investigation had turned up few “breadcrumbs.” “The trail has gone cold,” he said.
Several LDS historians who have studied the contents say they reveal that Monson holds a surprising softness for the Vermont senator. “A true tenderness of spirit,” said Martha Wilson, an employee of the Tanner Humanities Center. “At one point, after exhausting all his more intellectual arguments, he tells Nelson, ‘Ah, heck, Russ, Bernie’s basically as old as I am. He deserves our support, one codger to another.’”
LDS Church officials refused to comment for this story.