He Murdered His Whole Family. Who Will Be Held Accountable?
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I’m very angry. I will probably cuss a lot in the newsletter. I’m going to talk about abuse and murder and misogyny and other horrible things. Skip it if you need to. You could read about grandparent nicknames instead.
My intention in writing this, which I want to state clearly before I get going, is to prevent something like this from happening again. Something like what happening? Something like Michael Haight murdering his wife, his five children, and his mother-in-law after many long years of abusing them. Abuse that many men in their community knew of, and chose to do nothing about.
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Men murder family members and significant others frequently. The same weekend Michael Haight’s murders were reported, two other men in America also murdered their wives and children. And it’s estimated that every 8 hours in the US, a women is murdered by her partner. So why am I writing about this instance? Why has this particular family murder made me even angrier than these things normally do?
It’s because I know this community, and I know how fucking preventable these murders were.
That’s not actually accurate. I don’t know this community. I’ve never been to Enoch, which is a small Mormon town in Southern Utah. But, I grew up in another small Mormon town in Southern Utah. It’s bigger now, but when my family moved there (I had just turned five), it was tiny. So it’s easy for me to picture what Enoch is like, what the people are like, and how our shared religion functions in their town. The image I conjure won’t be exactly right, but it will be pretty accurate.
I first heard about the murders from this BBC article. He killed his wife, his five kids (the youngest just 4 years old), and his mother-in-law, two weeks after his wife filed for divorce.
My blood boiled immediately. I turned to Ben Blair and said, “They knew!!!! So many men in that community knew he was capable of killing his family, and they chose to protect his gun rights over their lives.” I had only seen that article — I had no other details or context, but as my blood continued to boil, this is what I tweeted out:
I’m no prophet, but as details have come to light, it turns out my assumptions were exactly right. I’m so fucking furious. So many men knew about this. Specific men. Not just “generally, people were wary of this guy”. Specific men, who had specifically agreed to care for vulnerable people in their community, and who had authority to do something about it, knew how shitty this guy was. And they did fucking nothing.
People knowing is not always the case. There are times when abuse is hidden and people don’t even suspect what’s really happening in someone’s home. But in a Mormon community, it’s much more likely that there are a bunch of men who know when abuse is happening. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s much more likely.
I’ll try and explain why. Mormon congregations are led by a Bishop. The Bishop isn’t a trained clergyman, and it’s not a paid position. In fact, while he’s the bishop, he almost always has another full-time job. I’ve had bishops who are lawyers, a bishop who worked in advertising, a bishop who was a high school counselor, a bishop who ran a restaurant, and many others. Bishops typically serve in the position for five years, and then they get a different assignment in the congregation. The five years isn’t absolute, but if you live in the same place for 17 years, you’ll most likely have at least four bishops.
Each bishop has two helpers, called counselors. The counselors have other careers as well. The three of them meet regularly and split up the work of running the congregation.
In general, I like that my bishops have had a whole other career and life. I think it can help them stay grounded and in tune with the realities of life that members of the congregation face. But of course, the downside is that they are not trained clergy. One of the best bishops I’ve ever had was the high school counselor I mentioned. Why? Because he was a trained counselor who had already had a long career and knew how to counsel.
I also need to explain that Mormon congregations are organized so that the bishop typically has a one-on-one conversation with every person in the congregation every year or two. These are meetings to talk about church assignments or visiting our temples. If you don’t have a meeting with the bishop coming up, but you have something you want to say, you can also make an appointment with him at will.
These meetings are a great way for the bishop to get to know every member of the congregation, and be able to help them as needed. These meetings are also meant to be a safe space where you can talk about what’s on your mind. During these conversations, the bishop will typically ask something like, “Is there anything you need help with? Anything troubling you?” Most of the time the answer is a variation of, “Doing fine.” But other times, the bishop might hear some really heavy stuff. Maybe he finds out that a family in the congregation is food insecure, or that a parent just lost their job and can’t pay the rent. Maybe someone wants to talk about deciding to leave Mormonism. Maybe he hears the confession of a crime. Maybe he hears an accusation of abuse.
If you’re a Mormon, you’re taught that if you have something troubling you, you can always talk to the bishop.
Because of this, I knew instantly, that Tausha (the murdered wife) had most certainly told her bishop about the abuse she was experiencing. And not just one bishop, multiple bishops.
Let’s do the math: Her oldest child was 17. Based on what we know about abuse, it doesn’t come out of nowhere; it’s not an extreme position to assume he was abusing his family since the marriage began, for 17 years at least. So she would have had, at minimum, 4 different bishops in those 17 years. She would have had regular opportunities to speak one-on-one with her bishop, and she would have been taught that she could talk to the bishop about problems in her life and get help. More math: This is a heavy problem and the bishops she spoke to most certainly would have discussed this with their counselors. Four bishops, eight counselors. At least 12 men knew what a shitty man Michael Haight was, that he was abusive, that he had a gun, that he was capable of hurting or killing his family. Maybe my math is off. Maybe fewer men knew. Maybe more did.
The other fact that points to many men knowing about the abuse, is that she had filed for divorce two weeks before the murders. Mormons don’t divorce casually. It would have taken every ounce of bravery she could muster to file for divorce from a terrifying man when she had five kids and no way to support them. There’s no way she would have done so without talking to her bishop first and there’s no way it would have happened all of a sudden — she would have thought about this for years. And for divorce to be actually happening, not just something she’s thinking about, we can assume the abuse was really fucking bad. Really, really fucking bad.
Michael Haight’s abuse and shitty-ness is not conjecture; it has been confirmed:
It’s not just men from church who knew about the abuse. The police also knew. When the oldest daughter was 14 she went to the police. She told them her father choked her and that she was afraid he was going to kill her. The fucking misogynist cops decided this was only "close to assaultive.” Can you imagine for a minute how much guts it would take to be 14 years old and go to the police to report your own father? And then the police did nothing?
And it’s not just the police. When Tausha missed her appointment, someone called the cops to check on her. As I said in my initial tweets: No one calls the cops to check on me when I miss an appointment. The only reason someone would call the cops to check on you when you miss an appointment, is because you are in grave danger.
The town fucking knew this man was a fucking piece of shit. A dangerous fucking piece of shit. These murders were entirely preventable. All that needed to happen was for ANY ONE OF THE MANY MEN who knew about the abuse to value the lives of the women and children more than the man’s reputation? his gun ownership?
I suppose I could be mad at women too — I’m sure plenty of women knew about the abuse. But I’m not. I’m just not. I know too many Mormon women. I guarantee many women tried to help her, to ease her burdens, tried to make their houses a safe space for the children to hang out or escape life at home.
And it also makes me wonder: How many other women in Enoch are facing their own persecutions at home? As Trump came in to power and many in the LDS community embraced fundamentalist fanaticism, it would only make sense that domestic abuse would increase; the more they push back on women’s rights and fight to preserve patriarchy, the more abuse will occur. There is no model where fundamentalism increases, but abuse doesn’t.
The response from the town has been disturbing. The mortuary published an obituary for the murderer, praising his life, and didn’t mention the murders. Not everyone needs to have an obituary, folks! Eventually, after so many people pointed out how disgusting it was, they took the obituary down.
Okay. So we know the murderer was a shitty man. But he’s dead now. So what is it that I want to happen? I want accountability. I want accountability, so this doesn’t happen again. In Enoch, or in any other Mormon town.
I want a list. I want a list of every man who knew about the abuse. Every bishop and counselor. I want a list of the cops who knew.
I want to see the cops fired immediately with no chance to work in law enforcement for the rest of their lives. I want to see each one of the men on the list, publicly investigated for abuse in their own lives. If they couldn’t take abuse seriously, when someone they were tasked with caring for and protecting came to them and told them about the harm, then do they even understand what abuse is? Are they themselves abusive and in denial about it?
My thinking is that a bishop would be more likely to take an accusation of abuse seriously, if he knew he could be publicly investigated.
As for religious accountability, first, the Mormon men on the list need to think back to every story of abuse they’ve heard about in their congregation, and use their relationships of trust to systemically take the guns of every accused abuser and every man in a rocky marriage and every man going through divorce.
Then, every Mormon man on the list should have their priesthood removed. In what world would they be worthy of the priesthood? Either priesthood is important and sacred and you must be worthy of it. Or priesthood is meaningless and it doesn’t matter if you’re worthy. Pick one. If Mormon men knew that their misogyny could endanger their priesthood, perhaps they’d learn to value women.
As it stands right now, no one is facing accountability, and the next time a woman attempts to divorce a horrible man in Enoch, this could easily happen again.
I’m angry at Mormon men. What is the fucking point of accepting a position as bishop if you’re going to let this shit happen? The entire purpose of having the priesthood, of being a bishop, is to serve others. How did these men serve those five children? How did they serve Tausha and her mother? They didn’t. They only served Michael Haight. They believed only him, protected only him, prioritized preserving his reputation and his status in the community above all else, and they continue to praise him even now. It’s misogyny at every point, at every level, at every interaction.
And this is no surprise to anyone, but I’m also angry at the fucking gun fanatics. It’s 2023!!! What kind of idiot still keeps a fucking gun at home?!!! Every scrap of data we have paints a really conclusive picture that keeping a gun in your home puts ALL household members at risk and is very likely to be used to harm a family member. Having a gun will not help you protect your family.
Michael Haight, a known abuser, should not have had easy access to a gun. He should not have been able to buy one, own one, or borrow one. If you can’t see that it’s a bad idea to have laws that ensure Michael Haight could easily access a gun, then you’re being intentionally obtuse, incredibly selfish, and you’ve demonstrated you’re not worthy of engaging seriously.
Anyway. I’m very angry. These were highly preventable and easily preventable murders. If only the men in Enoch cared about the lives of women and children, as much as they care about the reputation of men.
P.S. — You man be interested in Kate Manne’s work on family annihilators.
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