Thousands of years ago somewhere in Central America thrived two opposing civilizations, the Nephites and the Lamanites. Throughout their history, political intrigues plagued the Nephite civilization while the Lamanites sought to gain military mastery over them. About 50 B.C., the leader of the Nephites, named Pahoran, died. One of his sons—also named Pahoran—succeeded him, and was soon murdered. Significantly, his murder was not carried out by the Lamanite people who were his natural enemies, but by people from his own civilization.
An Unusual Succession
[In about 50 B.C. there] began to be a serious difficulty among the people of the Nephites. For behold, Pahoran [the Elder] had died…. But behold, Paanchi [one of the elder Pahoran’s sons], and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, … was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren [the rest of the Nephites].
And it came to pass as he was about to do this, behold, he was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people. Now when those people who were desirous that he should be their governor saw that he was condemned unto death, therefore they were angry, and behold, they sent forth one Kishkumen, even to the judgment-seat of Pahoran [the Younger], and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat.
And he was pursued by the servants of Pahoran; but behold, so speedy was the flight of Kishkumen that no man could overtake him. And he went unto those that sent him, and they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran.
Therefore, Kishkumen was not known among the people of Nephi, for he was in disguise at the time that he murdered Pahoran. And Kishkumen and his band, who had covenanted with him, did mingle themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found; but as many as were found were condemned unto death (From Helaman Chapter 1 in The Book of Mormon).
Thus began a secret organization within the Nephite society designed to destabilize the government, to provide protection from punishment for crimes to those who sought to gain positions of power through deception and/or violence, and overall to make it easier for people to get away with being bad.
From Bad to Worse
The next year after the murder of Pahoran the Younger, this group began to organize itself more formally:
And it came to pass in the forty and second year of the reign of the judges [that because there] was no one to fill the judgment-seat … there began to be a contention again among the people concerning who should fill [it]. And it came to pass that Helaman…was appointed to fill the judgment-seat….
But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness. For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and… the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen.
Therefore he did flatter them, and also Kishkumen, that if they would place him in the judgment-seat he would grant unto those who belonged to his band that they should be placed in power and authority among the people; therefore Kishkumen sought to destroy Helaman (From Helaman Chapter 2 in The Book of Mormon).
And it came to pass as [Kishkumen] went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman (having been out by night, and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman) … met Kishkumen, and … Kishkumen made known unto him … his desire… that he would conduct him to the judgment-seat that he might murder Helaman.
And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen, “Let us go forth unto the judgment-seat.”
Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design [to murder Helaman]; but behold, the servant of Helaman, as they were going forth unto the judgment-seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan. And he ran and told Helaman all the things which he had seen, and heard, and done.
And it came to pass that Helaman did send [men] to take this band of robbers and secret murderers, that they might be executed according to the law. But behold, when Gadianton had found that Kishkumen did not return he feared lest that he should be destroyed; therefore he caused that his band should follow him. And they took their flight out of the land, by a secret way, into the wilderness; and thus when Helaman sent forth to take them they could nowhere be found.
And more of this Gadianton shall be spoken hereafter…. And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi… (from Helaman Chapter 2 in The Book of Mormon).
The prophet-historians who compiled the Book of Mormon thousands of years ago laid out the pattern of secret combinations in an attempt to warn modern readers that such organizations would be found threatening civilization in our time. I believe that they were inspired by God as they did so, that good people in these days might stand firm in opposition to evil. I hope to provide examples of secret combinations in our day to bring attention to the accuracy of the Book of Mormon in its description of such activities, as well as to help people willing to oppose these evil groups and individuals to understand better the nature of the fight. All of this, I believe, can help point people towards the ultimate solutions presented in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the Bible and the Book of Mormon: that by coming to Christ in our own lives, we can find peace in our hearts that will strengthen us even in moments when we are surrounded by evil.