Proclaimed by his own translation as a prophet, Nemelka says he’s rather a messenger for “advanced beings from another planet,” even though he’s issued several prophecies. Those same beings, he says, told him to sue his critics in 2007, something he’s told those who believe in him they shouldn’t do. “I have to disregard all rules of humanity,” he says, laughing. “I’m the ultimate hypocrite. I’m under mandate to violate every gospel of Christ that I perpetuate.”
To the bewilderment and despair of Ida Smith’s family and friends, Nemelka’s work won Ida’s faith. It’s not simply her lineage that made her such a prize for Nemelka. She also spent much of her life with LDS notables: Her father was a general authority and her cousin is Quorum of the Twelve Apostle Russell M. Ballard. She was director of the now-closed BYU’s Women’s Research Institute under Apostle Jeffrey Holland, and she counted former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, among her friends. Such was the consternation among Ida Smith’s intimates after her conversion to the sealed portion that her family, Sen. Bennett and apostle Holland all tried to dissuade her from following a man who claims not only to being mentored by 2,000 year-old beings from Mormon mythology called the three Nephites, but also says he’s the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith. Her family’s pleas fell on deaf ears.
Whirlwind of Dramas
Smith’s lifelong quest for “the real truth, which has great appeal to me” has an almost laser-like intensity in its piercingly focused path. Try to find the “truth” about Nemelka’s journey, however, and you can end up buried under the weighty tomes he has published with the help of followers and a daily blog drenched in smiley-face icons and Mormon mysticism, from which he pontificates and rails against those he calls his enemies and supporters alike. Then there’s the welter of court filings documenting Nemelka’s criminal history and highly litigious personality, which also illustrate, among other things, his contradictory claims over the years as to the origins of his translation. Whether you subscribe to critics and former followers who see Nemelka as a charismatic charlatan with a talent for writing and an ability to manipulate disenchanted former LDS members, or, as Ida Smith believes, a mortal messenger of the divine channeling her great-great grandfather, it’s arguably difficult to conjure up a more intrinsically Utah tale. Here, after all, is the story of how a LDS blue blood found her truth in a handyman’s “translated” writings. Nemelka acknowledges that unless you accept he’s a messenger for advanced beings, then he’s either “delusional,” a genius who “can write these books,” or “the devil is inspiring me.”
In a 2001 City Weekly cover story called “True Believer” by former editor Ben Fulton, Nemelka, at the time in jail, admitted to inventing rather than translating the sealed portion. He subsequently recanted his jail statements to Fulton, saying they were made to placate 3rd District Court Judge Denise Lindberg, who he claimed was persecuting him.
Lindberg was not the only judge unimpressed by Nemelka. In a scathing Aug. 1, 2007, decision, 3rd District Court Judge Stephen Henroid contrasted Nemelka’s aspiration “to be among the working poor” with the situation of the nine children he fathered with four women. “Respondent has a history of living off the support of others and apparently thinks his example is good enough for his children,” Henroid wrote in his ruling. He concluded, “His failure to pay even the nominal child support he owes, and condemning his children to live in poverty, is reprehensible.” While Nemelka disputes he is responsible for nine children, citing four having been adopted and two who were emancipated, he declares that “no judge, no state, no government official has the right to tell me what job I have to do. If I want to raise my kids in poverty”—as part of their education, he adds—“that’s my choice.”
Nemelka’s brother Joel sees Christopher’s aspirations in a darker light. Christopher “doesn’t want to go out as a footnote,” he says, and “couldn’t stand to live like I do, earning money, taking care of his kids. To me, ego drives it all.”
As a former acolyte, Idaho-based Sue Kammerman offers an equally critical perspective. “I believed with all of my heart and soul that he was a ‘true prophet,’” she wrote in an e-mail to Nemelka and City Weekly. She helped publish most of the books he is linked to. “I was as devoted and as loyal a ‘follower’ (for lack of a better word) that Christopher had,” she noted in the same e-mail. But while Nemelka’s initial message, as she understood it, had been to “love one another,” after a while, it devolved into “tests,” conducted by Nemelka to protect his work from those he claimed might betray it. “Mind games,” “white lies,” and “drama … drama … drama. That is how I would describe the 4 years of my knowing Christopher Nemelka,” Kammerman wrote. He turned his message into “book upon book … page upon page … of do I dare say … ‘bullshit.’ ”
“Tests” Nemelka has employed include requests for money. In 2005, he says, he decided to test those “who wanted to help” his work, by telling them “to send me what you think this work is worth.” He then sent the money back with interest. Two years later, in a September 2007 e-mail, Nemelka again asked for money, saying it would be a one-time request. Harry Dschaak, who says he was an inner circle member for 4 years until he and his family were effectively blacklisted by Nemelka, recalls how he and other members of the inner circle went through a “month of hell,” trying to decide whether Nemelka meant it or not. “You’d feel like your whole soul was at stake as you weighed those kind of challenges and asked yourself, ‘Do I believe this work is true or not?’ ” he says now. Nemelka used the money he raised to buy a recreational vehicle. He declines to comment on a second e-mail City Weekly has seen, allegedly sent out a month later, where he mourned for those who had not given funds “because of their doubts in me,” and with whom “I, personally, can have nothing further to do with.”
In contrast to Kammerman and Dschaak’s disenchantment and subsequent rejection by Nemelka, Ida Smith remains, much like Taggart, a fiery advocate for Nemelka and his work. “The world is such an effing mess,” Taggart writes in an e-mail. “Would you not gamble on something to reverse those trends?”
Her gamble was an $85,000 loan to Nemelka to publish his early works. He ended up, he says, taking out loans to buy Taggart a condominium in the same Orem complex as Smith, which his wife is helping pay off. Taggart is not the only member of the group residing there. Nemelka and his fourth wife, Sheri—he had two plural wives during a foray into polygamy in 1993—live part-time, Nemelka says, in Ida Smith’s basement, as well as in the RV. Sheri Nemelka financially supports her husband, according to Nemelka, while he writes his books and communicates with advanced beings only he sees.
“I was prepared to give up everything for the truth,” Ida Smith says. “I was looking for the truth all my life. And I wasn’t afraid.”
Smith traces her independence back to a three-day rail trip from Salt Lake City to Chicago in 1942. Her mother sent the then-8-year-old alone to visit an aunt. Since then, Smith wrote in her Internet-posted autobiography, “I don’t believe that I ever felt I needed to ask permission of anyone else to do what I wanted to do.”
Unlike her older sister, Ruth, Ida did not go on a mission, something she was grateful to miss. “While I can say the gospel is true, I cannot go out and honestly say the church is true. It’s an earthly organization, it’s people, and people are imperfect.”
In spring 1978, the LDS Church asked her to set up and run the Women’s Research Institute at Brigham Young University. She accepted the position, despite her misgivings that the institute would not conduct empirical research. Rather, the focus was to demonstrate that the LDS Church, according to the founding document, “cared about women.” Smith crisscrossed the country, meeting with ward leaders and women often struggling in the midst of identity crises. She remains haunted by the “empty” facial expression of one married woman with six children who told her, “I have no idea of who I am.”
Mormon men found her intimidating—too sure of herself, she recalls, while Mormon marriages, where “It’s a big him, a little her,” did not appeal to her. She never married, remaining, she says, “a straight arrow” all her life.
When Taggart gave Smith a copy of the sealed portion, Smith was entranced. She had been waiting for this her whole life. The first thing Ida’s brothers Denis and Hyrum did, when she gave them a copy, was to research Nemelka. “It never occurred to me,” she says. “Just read the damned book and you’ll know what I am saying.”
If she had investigated Nemelka before reading his work, she would have discovered a man with a controversial past. He says that in 1987, Joseph Smith gave him the plates of the sealed portion, along with the Urim and Thummim—intergalactic cell phones, Nemelka says, that receive text from advanced beings in another solar system—with which Smith translated the Book of Mormon.
Nemelka says he spent the next few years running from this responsibility, including a period as a fugitive from the law in 1991 after kidnapping one of his first two children. After he was convicted of several protective-order violations against one of his former partners, Nemelka violated his probation and was sent to jail in 2001 for a year by 3rd District Court Judge Denise Lindberg. When Nemelka’s attorney, Ed Brass, motioned for her to review her sentence, she refused, writing, “Mr. Nemelka continues to victimize others, manipulate and misrepresent facts, and in other ways demonstrates that he does not merit the privilege of probation.”
Nemelka fled to California in 2002 with an outstanding arrest warrant hanging over him. Three years later, he returned to Utah after Judge Royal Hansen inherited his case from Lindberg and closed it.
Of his checkered past, Nemelka now says he wants “society” to give him “a mulligan.”