This article appeared at The Huffington Post on August 22, 2012.
The Republican inquisition into Barack Obama's family roots is in total contrast to the avoidance of Mitt Romney's Mexican Mormon past. As recently as 2009, 72-year-old Meredith Romney, a relative of the Republican nominee, was kidnapped by Mexican gunmen in a strange vendetta involving drug cartels, land disputes and private militias.
Some Romney relatives, like Meredith, still reside today in a 1,600-member community where they "live in a level of luxury in stark contrast to the farmers and laborers around them," according to an investigation by the crime reporter Jerry Langton. (Langton, Jerry. Gangland. Wiley, 2012, pp. 152-155)
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, established a polygamous enclave in Mexico in 1885 to escape federal prosecutors in Utah who were denying polygamists the rights to vote, sit on juries, or run for office. According to Andrea Mitchell, "The Romneys that came back from Mexico to the United States... crossed the border illegally." (January 22, 2012)
Though polygamy in Mexico was illegal as well, according to a 1902 Mormon history by William Alexander Linn, the Romney enclave at Colonia LeBaron, in the Sierra Madre foothills, survived and prospered down to present times. Mitt's father, former Michigan governor George Romney, was born in Chihuahua in 1907.
In 1974, one of the leaders of the colonia, Ervil LeBaron, was accused of ordering several murders, including that of his own brother, which were considered revenge-related. Ervil was extradited to a Utah prison for one of the murders, where he died in the 1980s. While this involved the colonia that the Romney patriarch had founded, the homicides and trials were not directly connected to the Romney family.
In 2009, Meredith Romney was one of two colonia leaders who was kidnapped and held in a cave for ransom, which was paid for his release. The other kidnapping victim, Eric LeBaron, a grandson of Joel LeBaron, was held for a $1 million ransom. Eric's brother was the founder of a militia known as SOS (Sociedad Organizada Segura), an independent armed neighborhood watch group. When Eric was kidnapped, the locals sprang into action and lobbied successfully for the Mexican army to intervene, which they did, resulting in Eric's release.
Then on July 7, masked men broke into the home of Eric's brother, Benji LeBaron, the founder of the militia, dragging away Benji and a brother-in-law. Their bodies were found the next day; they had been shot to death. The Juarez cartel draped a banner accusing Benji of being an informant who earlier caused the arrest of 25 cartel members in Madera. Interestingly, the banner blamed Benji for being a gangster, and said in Spanish, "Ask yourself, where did all his properties come from?" referring to the landholdings. Mexican prosecutors blamed everything on La Linea, a secret enforcement unit of ex-police officers trained by the U.S.-supported Drug War bureaucracy.
In conclusion: A Romney relative, the head of the Mormon temple in Chihuahua, was kidnapped along with another Mormon in probable retaliation for 1970s murders carried out by a son of the founder of Colonia LeBaron, the polygamous enclave that gave rise to George, and now Mitt, Romney.
More investigation is needed. Who knows, the Romney campaign might spin all this, if forced, as a heroic tale of immigrant pioneers fighting off the bad guys. But it is easy to understand why the Romney team wants to divert attention from such a tangled story. It is about polygamy, running from the law, illegal immigration (twice) and present-day involvement by Romney relatives in an armed voluntary militia.
By comparison, investigative reporters and opposition researchers have scoured the earth for evidence of President Obama's birth, life abroad and possible involvement with Muslims, communists, terrorists, or relatives or associations with any of these disqualifying categories of people, past or present. So far they have airbrushed Romney's colorful Mormon past and present, which resembles the life of the character Roman Grant played by Harry Dean Stanton in the HBO series Big Love.