MWEG: Partisan Echo Chamber, Not Ethical Arbiter
Updated May 28, 2021
Partisan hypocrisy is the antithesis of ethics. MWEG does not bring faith-based values to activism, but projects religious zeal and false claims of moral mandate onto a partisan political agenda. MWEG's hyper-polarization, which views all evil as associated with one party and is unable to identify substantive wrongdoing by the other, is anathema to both faith and ethics and makes the world less just.
Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) is a controversial activist group. which claims to be nonpartisan, "transcend partisanship" and "advocate for ethical government." Many Latter-day Saints (Mormons), both women and men, have expressed that MWEG does not represent them or their views. They and many others are troubled by MWEG’s appropriation of the Mormon name, this tiny group’s representation of itself as of speaking broadly for Latter-day Saint women, and its weaponization of faith for political gain.
A full review of Mormon Women for Ethical Government’s official statements from its inception through October 2020 is online at http://cumorah.com/mweg, and a review of a social media propaganda piece is posted at http://cumorah.com/mweg/mweg-spreading-misinformation.html. This essay summarizes key findings.
A comprehensive review of all of MWEG's official statements was performed to evaluate the veracity of the group’s claims. All official MWEG statements from January 2017 to September 2020 were reviewed. Of 59 statements, 49 made specific claims or took positions which could be evaluated. These statements were evaluated for selection bias, interpretive bias, factual accuracy, and factual integrity.
MWEG purports to provide “voter education” and to teach its members to “address misinformation” on social media. These areas were evaluated from a post of the group’s founder dated September 5, 2020, referencing the November 2020 election. This post had been shared more than 250 times - many by MWEG members - to reach a presumptive audience of 10,000 or more. MWEG was founded through social media activism on Facebook. Moreover, the lines between official statements and community advocacy are blurred for so-called “grassroots” activist groups. This evaluation was intended to determine to what extent MWEG social media activism provides truthful, accurate, unbiased “voter education,” and to what extent the content of this activism reflects the values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and normative ethics.
Of 49 official MWEG statements taking advocacy stances, 38 (79%) censure the unfavored party’s policies, platforms, and figures. None seriously critique the group’s favored political party's platforms or figures. 39 (81%) convey interpretive bias for the favored party, whereas none demonstrate bias towards the unfavored party. Contrary arguments and perspectives are never disclosed. Partisan claims are sometimes stated as fact. Evidence and context undermining favored narratives are withheld in 19 of 30 (63%) statements making representations of fact. Official statements of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are cherry-picked while inconvenient teachings are ignored. MWEG’s official statements closely parrot talking points of political favorites, translated into moralizing language. Few issues falling outside of partisan “hot button” agenda items are addressed.
MWEG’s promotion of grassroots "voter education" was also evaluated from a widely distributed post of the group's founder (5 September 2020) referencing the November 2020 election. Ten of eleven statements in the post made claims that could be evaluated for factual accuracy and bias. Two replies were rated as mostly false, three were rated as false, and one was rated as “blatant falsehood with no merit” and was additionally cited for gaslighting. In total, six of ten (60%) contained narratives that were mostly or entirely false. Four replies represented partisan allegations as fact. Two of these were already cited for additional claims that are false or mostly false. When aggregated with prior ratings on factual accuracy, eight of ten items contained statements that were either false, mostly false, or represented disputed partisan allegations as fact. Five replies were rated as distracting, misleading, or involved gross misrepresentation. Valid or partially valid concerns by others were wrongly dismissed by the poster on five items. One item was cited for extreme partisanship with the claim of a religious mandate for representing an unfavored politician as an anti-Christ.
Not evaluated here were many op-eds citing MWEG affiliation. These op-eds almost uniformly seethe with partisan zealotry even while demanding that readers suspend disbelief in the group’s claims of nonpartisanship.
MWEG’s record demonstrates its activism to be ideologically predicated. Critics have noted that the MWEG’s conduct has been inconsistent with its professed values, and that its partisanship is too blatant to ignore. The findings of this evaluation support those concerns. The group’s advocates are articulate and capable organizers but have failed to disclose bias and agenda.
Whereas partisans of all stripes often couch their beliefs in moralizing language, bludgeoning designated political enemies with dubious claims while giving favorites a free pass is the antithesis of ethics. No authentic voice of conscience crying in the wilderness denounces only the real or perceived transgressions of one party while credulously spouting the narratives of the other and even acting as its apologist. MWEG conflates ideology with virtue, channeling Herbert Marcuse over Mahatma Gandhi and Adam Schiff over Jesus Christ. The group’s pledge not to “privilege one party over another” belongs to an Orwellian dystopia. MWEG uses these false claims to gain support, influence elected officials, and receive free publicity and editorial authorship.
The duty of the ethicist is to be fair, not to sell a narrative. As foundational obligations, ethical arbiters must demonstrate the integrity to consistently disclose accurate, balanced data, strip away favoritism, and be fair towards those with whom they may disagree. Sadly, MWEG fails in all of these areas.
Many of MWEG's statements are astonishing to anyone expecting impartiality and fairness. At times, MWEG’s pervasive “double standards” have posed demands for political enemies to prove their own innocence against unsubstantiated charges to an impossible level above the highest extant legal standard. In contrast, MWEG has routinely ignored abuses of favorites, and at times, even served as an apologist or commended their wrongdoing.
When efforts to conceal biases have failed, MWEG has spun rationalizations of partisanship as morally laudable. One example is the MWEG’s disturbing spring 2020 op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune regarding allegations against their favored candidate in the face of public outcry over the group’s double standards. The essay acknowledged that MWEG’s failure to speak out reflected the opinion of many of its members, who felt that other considerations largely overrode any concerns of alleged transgressions by their favored candidate. Observers panned the piece as demonstrating what was already obvious to many: MWEG’s illusory “ethics” are beholden to a political agenda. Personal opinions, biases, and preferences are not ethics. Such conduct is forbidden to legitimate ethical arbiters and runs contrary to MWEG’s professed principles.
Americans in the center of the political spectrum overwhelmingly identify substantial concerns with the conduct of figures of both political parties and are tired of political polarization and propaganda. Yet MWEG and its leaders repeatedly identify all ethical wrongdoing with figures and platforms of one political party, while being apparently unable to identify substantive abuses of favored political figures or movements. This polarization is classic group identity thinking. It is palpably absurd and is contrary to Jesus’ teachings and those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In an era when partisan antipathy is increasing and people yearn for bridge-builders rather than dividers, MWEG’s conduct is recklessly irresponsible. While professing to “help” the situation, the MWEG pours gasoline on the proverbial fire.
Many have been concerned by MWEG’s breaches of professed ethics and nonpartisanship while using the Mormon name to push an ideological agenda. They have noted the stark contrast between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which presents moral and ethical statements fairly and calls for accountability across the political spectrum, and MWEG, which has weaponized ostensible “ethics” to bludgeon political enemies while suspending them in regard to abuses by favorites. Such conduct is morally repugnant. Also troubling is the extent to which MWEG and its affiliates have been oblivious to their own unethical conduct and partisanship while ironically professing the moral high ground.
More than three and a half years after founding an allegedly “nonpartisan, faith-based ethics group,” one would expect Mrs. Glenn to be a kind of “senior stateswoman” offering balanced, thoughtful, and accurate insights. Instead, MWEG’s founder’s grassroots social media posting constitutes one of the most egregious pieces of disinformation and propaganda I have ever seen on social media. The picture is of a blind partisan so extreme as to be unable to distinguish truth from lies and fact from opinion. Other posts I have reviewed from the group’s founder and from other MWEG affiliates construe similar misinformation in the form of partisan talking points lightly re-packaged as “ethical” imperatives.
The group's modus operandi of criticizing only one political party while routinely providing a “free pass” to serious ethical violations and abuses of power by the other squarely identifies MWEG as a partisan special interest group, and not a legitimate ethics watchdog. The gross disregard for fairness and basic factual integrity is astonishing from a group that purports to be “non-partisan” and ethics-based.
MWEG’s unequal and discriminatory conduct would be unlawful if committed by any public agency. The group represents itself as a self-appointed ethical arbiter yet exempts itself from the standards, transparency, and accountability of our public institutions. Fair-minded centrists willing to stand up for equal treatment of all parties and to advocate a broad agenda of ethics and human rights rather than a narrow partisan one have been conspicuously absent.
Like some other groups employing virtuous-sounding names to mask a hyper-partisan agenda, MWEG has routinely conducted itself contrary to its publicly professed values. We do not grudge the right of the group’s affiliates to their personal political opinions. We do, however, find MWEG’s usurpation of the Mormon label to push a political agenda to be inappropriate and offensive, and are deeply troubled by the group trampling the very principles of faith and ethics it professes to uphold.
MWEG has continued to attempt to alter outcomes of national issues from impeachment to confirmation of Supreme Court justices by framing partisan agendas as ethical imperatives and lobbying co-religionists as potential swing votes. This is done under the fundamental deception that it is an impartial faith-based defender of ethics rather than an ideological interest group. Such behavior should concern all Americans.
I and others call upon MWEG to cease and desist from using the Mormon name to spread misinformation and push its partisan agenda, as well as falsely claiming the mantles of ethics, faith, and nonpartisan impartiality. These mantles impose specific duties and are defiled when appropriated to serve a political strategy.
Covering Up Partisan Origins
MWEG represents itself as a “nonpartisan” group and has used the hashtag #countryoverparty. MWEG’s "Principles of Nonpartisanship" claim that "MWEG will not…privilege one party over another." MWEG has also repeatedly represented itself to the public, and to the newspapers that carry the group’s op-eds, as a “nonpartisan” group advocating for “ethics” and faith-based values.
MWEG is organized as a 501(c)(4) with an ancillary 501(c)(3) organization. IRS rules note that “the promotion of social welfare [by 501(c)(4) organizations] does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office” with very limited exemptions. The IRS code notes that “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
MWEG’s origins are anything but non-partisan. MWEG was founded by Sharlee Mullins Glenn in January 2017. Following the shock defeat of Glenn’s favored candidate during the 2016 US presidential election, Glenn’s political posts on Facebook were widely shared and gained notoriety with like-minded partisans. A number of these individuals happened to identify as Mormon women, which appears to reflect Glenn’s social and identity circle more than any affinity between her political beliefs and the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As Glenn’s posts gained popularity, coordination with ideological fellow-travelers culminated in the organization of Mormon Women for Ethical Government during the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration as an appendage of the Obama resistance.
Early social media posts of Glenn and her associates demonstrate unmistakably that the group was not organized to advocate for ethics in government generally, but to oppose designated political "enemies" and to promote a partisan agenda, even while representing themselves as “nonpartisan.” Glenn acknowledged in a national op-ed in the New York Times that MWEG was organized to oppose Donald Trump. She railed on the John Birch Society for promoting conspiracy theories in her childhood before pivoting to Trump:
“When I went to sleep at night, I didn’t fear monsters beneath my bed; I feared Communists….With Donald Trump’s election, I knew I could not remain silent...in January 2017, just after the inauguration, I opened my computer and worked late into the night setting up a ‘nonpartisan’ Facebook group for myself and a few like-minded friends. I wanted to create a space where we could discuss ways in which we might join forces to counterbalance the fear…” [quotations around ‘nonpartisan’ mine].
A practiced propagandist, Glenn invokes partisan tropes to frame “fear” as the bugbear of contemporary American conservatism. Communism's victims are widely recognized as constituting the largest victim group of any ideology in world history, and Barrett and Johnson's World Christian Trends lists the execution of religious believers by the Soviet regime as the largest martyrdom event in world history. Yet to Glenn, concerns about communism, which was repeatedly denounced by numerous LDS Church leaders including church president David O. McKay, constitute little more than fringe conspiracy theories contrived to keep small children awake at night. Leftism, in contrast, apparently represents “love,” even as Glenn ignores the hate-mongering and fear-mongering of the far left that have incited violent unrest and spurred civic dysfunction.
Normative ethics would demand disclosure of conflicts of interest and biased partisanship. This is especially true for a group which presents itself as an ethical arbiter. Yet MWEG’s website falsely represents the group as a neutral, nonpartisan arbiter of ethics, even while carefully avoiding mention of the group’s history as a partisan activist group. MWEG’s leaders, presumably, are aware that the group’s history is inconsistent with its public claims and have acted to conceal it. Contrast the actual story of MWEG’s founding as a partisan activist group with the propaganda version composed by founder Sharlee Glenn for the group’s web page, “Founders - The Story of MWEG:”
“On January 26, 2017, Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) was born. I knew that as a citizen of this great country I love so much, I could no longer stay silent in the face of the distressing polarization, hyperpartisanship, and eroding ethics in our government. And so, impelled by my faith and spurred on by President Nelson's call to the sisters to ‘speak up and speak out,’ I set up a Facebook group and put in place the basic principles and guidelines that still govern MWEG today...And then I invited a few friends to join me. What happened next was miraculous and completely unexpected. Friends began adding friends who added friends, and within just a few short weeks, thousands of women had joined MWEG — strong women of faith who, in the words of founding member Melissa Dalton-Bradford, ‘refused to be complicit by being complacent.’ The original founding members ... together with a large team of extraordinary volunteer leaders, worked around the clock, day after day, week after week, month after month, prayerfully seeking God's direction at every step, to put into place a structure that could accommodate our growing membership and most effectively advance our mission, all while engaging wholeheartedly in intensive in-the-trenches advocacy work.”
Glenn's inspirational-sounding tale citing a supposed religious mandate likewise crumbles under scrutiny. Conspicuously absent from her MWEG statement is any mention that the proximate cause of the group’s organization was Trump’s election, and that the group was organized within a week of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “President Nelson” refers to Russell M. Nelson, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time of Glenn’s composition of this narrative. Other Latter-day Saint acquaintances with whom I have reviewed Glenn’s statement understood it as a claim that she organized MWEG in response to a call from the church president. But President Nelson became president of the church only on January 14, 2018, almost a full year after MWEG’s organization. Senior apostles are sometimes referred to as “President,” but Glenn fails to provide clarity and context.
The actual remarks Glenn is referring to come from then-Apostle Russell M. Nelson’s talk in the LDS General Conference on October 4, 2015, over 15 months before MWEG was organized. Glenn misquoted Apostle Nelson’s call to “speak up and speak out.” His actual statement was: “We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils.” He subsequently stated, “I plead with my sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God.” An 2015 article in the Salt Lake Tribune provides additional context for Apostle Nelson’s talk, which is very different from Glenn’s representation. Nor did Glenn, hearing Apostle Nelson’s remarks in 2015, organize an activist group to oppose human rights abuses and ethical overreaches of then-Obama administration. Tellingly, her account to the New York Times makes no mention of any call from the faith’s leaders. Few will be convinced by Glenn's representation of then-Apostle Nelson’s 2015 talk as the impetus for MWEG’s organization in 2017, even while misconstruing his statements and evading mention of the group’s partisan origins.
These discrepant accounts pose obvious contradictions. Sadly, the pattern of playing "fast and loose" with the facts, suppressing contrary data, and twisting narratives to promote an agenda which is ideological rather than moral, has been MWEG's modus operandi from its inception. Further claims about MWEG’s “miraculous” growth and its leaders “prayerfully seeking God’s direction at every step” contrast markedly with the observations of myself and many others who have witnessed the group’s social media activism from early days to include partisan scheming, blatant hypocrisy, and deceptive narratives inconsistent with professed values.
I have written to MWEG’s leaders for an explanation as to why they have chosen to suppress information regarding the group’s true history from the Mormon/LDS public, even while acknowledging partisan tropes to political allies including the reliably far-left New York Times. If these individuals were basically honest, there would not be contradictory claims made in different venues, each to procure an advantage. Yet these same individuals are set forth as moral guides and exemplars. How, exactly, can others expect integrity, fairness, and accuracy from MWEG, or deem the group’s pronouncements credible, without basic forthrightness from the group and its own commitment to adhere to the ethical principles it professes? To date, MWEG has evaded the question. Selective “ethics" are a weapon to bludgeon others, but are apparently not deemed to apply to the group and its members. These are troubling behaviors from a group that purports to be about truth-telling, ethics, and moral courage.
The response of MWEG spokespersons to date has been to point to professed principles and to assert their impartiality. There are two major problems with these responses. First, I and other critics are not principally concerned with the values that MWEG professes, but what the group actually does. Pointing to nomenclature and professed principles while ignoring actual conduct is a tactic of authoritarian states, like the numerous “People’s Democratic Republics” which are none of the things their name suggests, and for which ostensible constitutional guarantees of human rights serve only as propaganda. To date, MWEG’s professed principles have been manifested primarily through their breach. Second, MWEG’s assertion of its own impartiality is deceptive as it obfuscates the role of human agents with their own biases, opinions, and agendas. The distortions of partisan echo chambers are often more apparent to those without than within.
MWEG was founded on a lie, professing to be an impartial ethics group rather than a partisan activist group, and has systematically misrepresented itself. It is unethical for an organization or individual to act as an ethical arbiter on matters on which it is tainted by conflicts of interest or biases or which render it incapable of impartiality. An example is the New York Times’ suggestion that the Democratic National Committee should lead the investigation into allegations against Joe Biden: a suggestion so absurd that it was mocked as a putative Onion headline. MWEG's public representation as a self-proclaimed "nonpartisan" arbiter of government ethics is no less absurd. This is undoubtedly a major reason why MWEG’s leadership has attempted to suppress or distract from the group’s partisan history. Neither MWEG's origins nor its subsequent record support any credible claim to moral authority.
Building the Echo Chamber
MWEG’s pervasive “double standards” can be readily identified by virtually any basically honest, thoughtful person willing to critically scrutinize the group’s statements. My fifteen-year-old daughter was troubled to witness duplicitous conduct by MWEG affiliates, and by their claim that the group’s partisan activities represent Latter-day Saint values. One acquaintance published several inflammatory op-eds in a major newspaper under the MWEG banner representing her conclusions as impartial ethics, only to then engage in blatantly dishonest partisan scheming on social media.
MWEG’s conflation of partisanship with virtue, and all of the downstream problems this leads to, can be readily explained by the group’s status as a partisan “echo chamber.” A recent article in MIT Technology Review describes how Facebook creates and amplifies “echo chambers,” as well as the company founder’s continued refusal to address the algorithms and financial interests at the root of the social network’s misinformation problem. It was precisely in this environment that MWEG arose.
Reasonable people acknowledge that adherents of various faiths may hold a range of political views. It is another thing entirely to claim a religious mandate for partisan political positions, as MWEG has repeatedly done. The group’s official statements have referred to those who have not supported their desired activist outcomes as “rank partisans,” denying any principled basis for differences. MWEG’s attempts to impose its “echo chamber” political agenda on others as an orthodoxy of faith and ethics are reprehensible.
MWEG’s shibboleth of animus towards unfavored candidates, while ignoring the ethical wrongdoing of favorites, has posed severe selection bias for affiliates, attracting those who share a common partisan agenda over any other qualities. MWEG is neither representative of Mormon values, nor a legitimate arbiter of ethics.
The Psychology of Partisanship and Extremism
While fair-minded people will find little of value in MWEG’s partisan hypocrisy, it offers an interesting (albeit troubling) study in the psychology of partisanship and extremism. The group has deemed all consequential evil - according to a complete analysis of its official statements - as the domain of one political party, and figures of the other as entirely benign, even virtuous. It is hard to see how the demonization of political opponents as literal anti-Christs, pervasive "double standards," disinformation campaigns, and a priori denials of any merit of opponents' arguments represent more virtuous civil discourse, are grounded in "love" rather than "fear," or are any better than scare tactics of the Birchers that allegedly kept Mrs. Glenn awake as a child. Such fanaticism is troubling, and more so to the extent that it is represented as moral and praiseworthy, even as an ethical imperative.
How do individuals who engage in wide dissemination of lies and misinformation come to regard themselves, and present themselves to others, as beacons of truth? How does a community come to believe that blatant double standards are virtuous and that purveying deceptive narratives is an act of moral courage that “transcends partisanship?” How did the "Omerta" mafia code of silence, which forbids any critique or acknowledgment of wrongdoing by allies, become the operational standard of a supposedly faith-based ethics group? What level of indoctrination and bigotry leads individuals to clamor for abrogation of rights and the weaponization of the justice system against those with whom they disagree?
My daughter expressed concern at changes observed in family acquaintances who had affiliated with MWEG. Individuals who had previously been perceived as decent and reasonable increasingly manifested hardened partisanship, perseverating in pushing predetermined political narratives even after factual errors and ethical problems were pointed out by third parties. Such behavior is typical of the inhabitants “echo chambers:” as one essay noted, “different groups of people living in different worlds, populated with utterly different ‘facts.’” The “echo chamber” effect tends to heighten “radical polarization.” Efforts at rational dialogue with such individuals are largely fruitless: “Echo chambers are far more entrenched and far more resistant to outside voices than epistemic bubbles.”
A recent study by the Cato Institute found that an alarming number of Americans view the morality or rightness of a cause through the lens of political partisanship, rather than through objective moral principles. Many individuals agreed with hypothetical policies when presented as platforms of a favored politician while disagreeing with them when presented as platforms of their unfavored candidate. The role of ethical watchdogs is to maintain impartiality and ensure that issues are evaluated on their merits, rather than through partisan bias. Sadly, rather than offering a positive example of standing up for principle and integrity, MWEG offers the extreme opposite.
MWEG’s #partyovercountry partisanship is not benign and not to be taken lightly. The group has largely ignored political violence by favored groups and has repeatedly taken stances for politicization of the justice system, agitating for excessive punishment for designated political enemies while refusing to hold favorites accountable for breaches of law and ethics. MWEG’s partisanship subverts constitutional guarantees of equal protection under law.
At the core, MWEG’s moral inversions are anathema to both faith and ethics. The great Russian moralist and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his masterwork, The Gulag Archipelago:
“To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he's doing is good, or else that it's a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions...
“Ideology — that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.
“Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed.”
Those seeking a better future for our nation and for our world generally have a moral obligation to speak out against such abuses, and against destructive ideologies which privilege partisanship over fairness, misinformation over truth, and opportunism over integrity.