“They Were Called Gadiantons Robbers and Murderers”

Bryan Richards

Hugh Nibley

"As the type and model of secret combinations to be avoided, the Book of Mormon gives us the Gadianton Society. Let us look at it. Gadianton history really begins with the skilled professional killer, Kishkumen…who ’murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat’ (Helaman 1:9). Then they all took an oath, following Kishkumen’s instructions (for he had ‘the goods’ on them and they could not refuse) to support Kishkumen and preserve complete secrecy regarding their operations; after which they went forth and ‘did mingle themselves among the people’ as respectable citizens (Helaman 1:11-12).

Thus they became an underground organization, whose members‘ identity was ’not known unto those who were at the head of the government’ (Helaman 3:23). And that explains how it was possible later on, in the midst of great peace and prosperity, for the chief of state, Cezoram, and after him his son and successor, to be murdered in office in such a way that the assassins were never discovered (Helaman 6:15). It is significant that the times of great prosperity and abundance were also the times when murder and intrigue were the order of the day." (Since Cumorah, p. 363-4)

Hugh Nibley

"Let us summarize the essential nature of what some have called ‘Gadiantonism’:


(1) ’Power and gain,’ the two being interactive: power wins gain and gain wins power for whoever has either.

(2) Control or overthrow of the government; using political office ’to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory’ (Helaman 7:5).


(1) Secret agreements between individuals and groups. The Gadiantons are essentially an underground movement.

(2) Assassination. These two things, ‘secret combinations’ and ’that men should shed blood,‘ have been forbidden by God ’in all things … from the beginning of man’ (Ether 8:19).

(3) “Payola”: ‘Akish did offer them money’ (Ether 9:11); ’letting the guilty … go unpunished because of their money’ (Helaman 7:5).

(4) Skillful propaganda and public relations: ’flattering words.’

(5) The hate campaign: a steady output of charges, accusations, and rumors, in the manner of Amalickiah: Accuse--always accuse. Eagerness to accuse is from the devil, as Brigham Young often taught.

(6) Intimidation: ’breathing out many threatenings,‘ operating ’by the hand of secrecy,’ wearing fearsome disguises (3 Nephi 4:7).

(7) Showmanship, e.g., the picturesque uniforms and romantic appeal to the young (3 Nephi 1:29).

(8) Tight control of members--death penalty for betrayal (Ether 8:14; Helaman 1:11).


(1) The Gadiantons were totally partisan, the laws and interests of the combination taking priority over all other laws and interests.

(2) All were ambitious, hence the labor for power and gain: Cain is the type and model.

(3) The combinations were highly competitive, feuding fiercely among themselves.

(4) They sought to project a noble image, with much talk of rights and wrongs, high courage and upright character (the letter to Lachoneus).

(5) They professed piety and religion, swearing their forbidden oaths not by the demons but ‘by the God of heaven’ (Ether 8:14), ‘by their everlasting Maker’ (Helaman 1:11).

(6) They were paranoid, always attributing their troubles to the wickedness of others; never the aggressors, they are constantly seeking to avenge their wrongs. Vengeance is their watchword.


(1) They flourish best in an affluent business society, and wither in times of poverty.

(2) They crystallize around ambitious individuals.

(3) They readily coalesce with king-men, would-be nobility, great families, ambitious local officials, and rapacious Lamanite overlords, i.e., with all who are opposed to popular government among the Nephites.

(4) They have destroyed every civilization in the New World in which they have been able to thrive.

(5) They cannot thrive or even survive without the acceptance and encouragement of the society in general. Being predatory and non-productive, i.e., parasites, they must have a complacent society to host and support them. Such a society is one which accepts as desirable the Gadianton goals of power and gain.

(6) They can become dormant for long periods of time and then, when circumstances are favorable, suddenly appear in full strength and vigor, their plans having been buried and preserved intact against the day of opportunity.

“The Gadiantons, terrible as they were, are treated more as a symptom than as a disease: the society that has them is sick, but they are like maggots that prey only on dead tissue; they simply exploit the evil situation that gives them their opportunity.” (Adapted from Since Cumorah, pp. 370-2)