The Mormon church is furious about an ex's hidden videos
The Mormon Church has a leaker problem. A spy is in their pews.
Last month, he was key in spreading a viral video of a Mormon 12-year-old girl named Savannah who came out as lesbian to her Utah congregation. She was speaking from the lectern, saying that God "did not mess up" when he "made me this way" — when the church leader abruptly cut her mic asking her to sit down. Norton edited the video. It quickly garnered a half-million hits on his YouTube page, and millions more on other channels through coverage on The New York Times, Time, and The Guardian. It brought love and solidarity to the girl. And it gave the church a lot of headaches.
But this is just the latest in Norton's quest to be a one-man wrecking ball against Joseph Smith's religion. Even more than Savannah's silencing, it's his videos of the church's secret rituals that have really put it on the defensive.
It's not well known, but, at the heart of the religion, Mormons have secret rituals only true believers ever see. These happen in temple rooms decorated as white and glittery as you imagine heaven to be. The believers — those who tithe 10 percent — wear bright white outfits, do choreographed arm waving, use secret handshakes and codewords and baptize each other in large pools. These rituals are so secret Mormons used to vow to slit their own throats rather than reveal them.
Since Norton is an ex-Mormon who knows all the secret passwords, he bluffs his way into these secret rites. Norton runs wires up his leg and pokes tiny pinhole cameras out his shirt buttons. He’s taken many first-ever videos. Predictably, they go viral, with the Mormon Church looking less mainstream Christian sect and more kooky cult.
The church isn't excited to talk about him.
"He's breaking laws, he's invading privacy," says Doug Anderson, spokesman for the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. "They're sacred and they're pretty special and it's pretty disrespectful to be engaging in even talking about it."
Mormon parishioners, too, have called Norton "tactless" and a "coward." They threaten to kill him and behead him. They call him "the antichrist," which, Norton says, "I took as a compliment."
Norton is a 49-year-old insurance guy, father of three in Phoenix with enough energy in his voice to power a toaster oven. Norton isn't an atheist; he believes in some sort of spirit.
Norton thinks his videos — controversial as they are — show an important, unseen side of the church.
"Everybody knows that Mormons aren't exactly gay friendly, everybody knows they're a little racist," Norton says, "but if people knew what they do behind closed doors it would seriously hinder their proselytizing efforts."
Norton grew up Mormon. He even proselytized as a missionary, going door to door with a Book of Mormon in his hand, as earnest and happy as a real-life Elder Price. Nothing felt better than winning a soul for the church, and he kept a tally of his converts: 12.
Then, in his early 30s, he started to, as he says, "realize that I was in a cult." (In case you're interested, the clincher was the Book of Abraham, an Egyptian scroll Joseph Smith said revealed truths about Jewish prophets and life-before-birth, but is in fact a funeral scroll that talks only about Egyptian gods.)
As a crusader against the church, Norton now keeps a tally of how many people he's converted away from Mormonism: hundreds. It's not the feeling of pure joy he felt at 19, believing he was saving souls, he says.
[Mike Norton as a young missionary, spreading Mormonism door to door.]
Today, Norton adds, "I feel like I saved them 10 percent of their income, I saved them from joining a racist, misogynist cult."
Norton says he's done 25 or 30 secret recordings, from 13 different temples. He says he's expanding, recruiting people in Mexico, Norway and Japan to spy on the rituals there. "I've had a lot of ex-Mormons asking, 'How in the flying fuck did you get that footage?'" Norton says. But his methods of hiding cameras are so good, "I could be having a face to face conversation and they would have no idea what I was doing."
Norton is proud of many things he's done. But it's supporting gay Mormons like Savannah that makes him cry.
After the 12-year-old lesbian's video went viral, Norton says he's had 50-year-old Mormons tell him, "I've been gay my whole life and I've never had the courage to come out and say that I'm gay, and this little girl gave me the courage."
Norton, too, was deeply moved by the little girl’s courage. "I watched the video and just sobbed," he says. Then, of course, he set about editing it and making it go viral.
Which Doug Anderson, Mormon Church spokesman, says — with a distinct tone of contempt in his voice — is a "violation of a worship service" and "Mike Norton to a tee."
Which Mike Norton no doubt takes as a compliment.