The Gadianton robbers were masters of guerrilla warfare and terrorism by stealth. Joseph Smith did not fight in a war, and he probably did not have access to books about warfare. With his military experience limited mostly to the drills of the Nauvoo Legion (which post-dated the publication of the Book of Mormon by many years), it is highly unlikely that he could have invented and realistically depicted the Gadianton robbers’ extended guerrilla struggle. It is important to note that the first well-known guerrilla warfare theories were not published until more than a century after the publication of the Book of Mormon. (See Echoes, 197.)
“Gadianton, the Enemy of Liberty”
The Book of Mormon is the supreme handbook of liberty—liberty anchored in the eternal principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By way of contrast, Gadianton stands for everything antithetical to the patterns of heaven. He is the archetype of the primordial destroyer, bent on instilling into the hearts of the people a commitment to use secret combinations to facilitate the ascendancy of evil over the forces of good. It is his diabolical movement—sustained by the pride and ungodliness of the people—that undermines the Nephite nation, as Mormon later confirms (see verse 13, below).
In the days of Captain Moroni the land is ablaze with an ongoing political revolution in which ruthless conspirators attempt to overthrow the free government of the land. This campaign of treachery is to continue for many years, abetted by the treasonous cunning of undercover assassins such as Kishkumen, whose successor, around 50 BC, was Gadianton. The Gadianton syndrome does not originate with Gadianton. Rather, it has its origin in the design of Satan, launched from the beginning of the world, to thwart the plan of salvation through secret oaths and combinations of murder and mayhem (see Helaman 6:26–27, 29–30). It is Gadianton’s band that will murder future chief judge Cezoram and his successor son (Cezoram II) around 26 BC (see Helaman 6:19).
The notorious robbers will continue their intrigue and carnage until they at last infiltrate all of society and take over the government (see Helaman 6:38–39). These murderers carry on the cause of Gadianton in sweeping cycles of sedition, advancing upon cities to achieve their ends and then retreating to their mountain hideouts. Eventually they, with all the wicked, are destroyed in the upheavals attending the death of the Savior (see 3 Nephi 9:9). However, Gadianton casts a long shadow over the landscape of the Book of Mormon—in the shape and form of Satan—and his doctrine arises once more in the third century AD (see 4 Nephi 1:42–46) to infest the hearts and minds of the people in a virulent malaise that continues for several generations, leading to their ultimate destruction.
Why take notice of someone as vile as Gadianton? Because in the contrast between the harvest of his evil fruit deriving from prideful depravity, and the vision of peace and glory deriving from the gospel of Jesus Christ, the honest at heart will be confirmed in their motivation to hold to the iron rod and look forward in faith to eternal blessings: “And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old” (D&C 38:39).