Criticisms of Russell M. Nelson

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Criticisms of Russell M. Nelson

Was Russell M. Nelson part of a satanic cult called “Skull and Bones” in college?

The collegiate honor society “Skull and Bones” began at Yale University in 1832. Students at the University of Utah formed their own Skull and Bones society in 1909. Like other honor societies, this society is “comprised of students who have been actively involved on campus and who are committed to furthering the U’s success and notoriety.” To be admitted, a student is invited and has to “maintain a 3.5 GPA, and be actively involved in different campus groups.”[1]

One member of the society described those who are invited and who participate: “They’re the ‘difference-makers’—people that get stuff done. . . . Our affiliation is one that doesn’t revolve around us socializing as much as accomplishing the task at hand.” This includes “assisting and leading campus groups, networking, working with the Alumni Association and supporting administrators.” Another member of the society said, “We really meet as a group of friends. We go to dinner and talk, get to know each other…try to create a better bond of brotherhood.” .[2]

Since the society’s founding in 1909, members have had varying levels of privacy or secrecy. Currently, membership is anonymous to those outside the society. This is intended to “creat[e] an ‘invisible force’ and ‘honor[] tradition,’ [and] works to ensure that no one in the group lets their membership go to their head.” For this reason, members may dress in a mask and hood for meetings. “Despite their off-putting appearance, the group assure[s] . . . they were actually quite relaxed. One individual described the group as ‘one big happy family’ comprised of ‘light and fun interaction.’"[3]

Prominent members of the Skull and Bones society (living or deceased, either from the University of Utah or other universities) include George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Russell M. Nelson, Robert D. Hales, Arnold Ferrin (a famous basketball player), David McCullough (a famous author), and Daniel Gilman (founder of The Johns Hopkins University).[4]


  1. Rochelle McConkie, “Bonesmen celebrate 100 years,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, 3 February 2009.
  2. McConkie, “Bonesmen celebrate 100 years.”
  3. Casey Koldewyn, “Getting to Know Secret Student Society Skull and Bones,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, 8 December 2015.
  4. McConkie, “Bonesmen celebrate 100 years”; William H. Jarrett II, “Yale, Skull and Bones, and the Beginnings of Johns Hopkins,” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 24:1 (2011).

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Did Russell M. Nelson exaggerate his story about being in a falling airplane?

In 1976, Russell M. Nelson was in a small commuter airplane traveling from Salt Lake City to St. George. During the flight, the plane experienced engine trouble and rapidly decreased in altitude. President Nelson described the experience:

I remember vividly an experience I had as a passenger in a small two-propeller airplane. One of its engines suddenly burst open and caught on fire. The propeller of the flaming engine was starkly stilled. As we plummeted in a steep spiral dive toward the earth, I expected to die. Some of the passengers screamed in hysterical panic. Miraculously, the precipitous dive extinguished the flames. Then, by starting up the other engine, the pilot was able to stabilize the plane and bring us down safely.[1]

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) summary report the next year, this accident was one of three involving Sky West Airlines over the course of a month. As a result, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) temporarily suspended Sky West’s authorization to fly to certain airports. As part of proceedings regarding the suspension, the FAA provided summary information regarding the three accidents. The FAA’s summary of the incident involving President Nelson’s plane reads:

Second incident occurred Nov. 11, 1976 involving Piper PA 31 N74985. Pilot experienced rough engine on scheduled flight between Salt Lake City and St. George. 3 passengers on board. Engine was feathered and precautionary landing made at Delta, Utah, per instructions in company manual. Investigation revealed cylinder base studs sheered. As result of occurrence Sky West changed maintenance procedures by checking torque studs at each 100 hour inspection. No damage to aircraft. No injuries to crew or passengers.[2]

Because the summary report does not mention a fire, some have wondered if this means President Nelson exaggerated his story. It is important to remember that this summary is not the investigative report of the incident and thus would not include complete details regarding the investigation. The summary was included with summaries of two other incidents in order to determine what led to airplane malfunctions for Sky West aircraft.

That is important because the fire President Nelson saw was likely a result of burning fuel leaking from the engine. Thus, it is not necessary that the mechanical components of the engine burned in order for the engine to appear to be on fire. Thus, the summary report would state there was no engine damage while at the same time there was a fire during the incident.


  1. Russell M. Nelson, “Doors of Death,” April 1992 general conference.
  2. James H. Stevenson, letter to Billy L. Abram, dated March 30, 1977, included in filing for Dockets 27907, 27908, Hughes Airwest, Deletion—order 77-4-50 adopted April 11, 1977; included in Civil Aeronautics Board, Economic Decisions of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Volume 73 (1977), 1090; cf. 1087–1090.
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