A church ripped open by dynamite. A symbolic pole painted blood-red with nine feathers and a note warning of the destruction of church, state and nation. Six adults and nine children barricaded inside a rustic cabin on a mountain farm surrounded by an army of law enforcement officers.
And the media.All the elements of a high-drama spectacle were intact.
Every move, every attempt from the protesters to communicate with the outside world was recorded in banner-headline style during the 13-day siege that began in Marion on Jan. 16.
Through a violent act - blowing up a chapel with 87 sticks of dynamite - Addam Swapp had become an instant celebrity and, through access to the media, a controlling protester with a message. National news carried his bizarre story of revelations, resurrection and revenge. A pack of reporters, cameramen and more than 100 police officers camped outside the Marion farm awaiting Swapp's word sent through mediators and the media.
Inside the cabin, Swapp and his clan huddled around their television set, watching the world watch them. The matriarch of the group, 44-year-old Vickie Singer, recorded with delight the extensive news coverage in her diary during these heady, center-stage days. "We watched the news. Twenty whole minutes were spent on our story. We don't think any other story has received this kind of attention in the news," she wrote. "The world is watching us."
Four months later, as Swapp exited a federal courtroom after having been found guilty of bombing the chapel and attempted second-degree murder, he flashed a winning smile at reporters and a triumphantly signaled thumbs-up. "We've already won the victory," he declared to reporters.
Although he faced a long prison term, he claimed he was victorious because he had communicated his message to the world through the media by telling his story on the witness stand in a Salt Lake courtroom.
On June 21, 1988, another Utah protester, Newton C. Estes, Kaysville, pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child and to showing pornographic materials to a minor.
The criminal complaint alleges Estes showed an 11-year-old nude photos from magazines and asked her to assume the same poses.
Estes is scheduled for sentencing July 19.
Six years earlier, Estes used violence to gain media attention and access to a Utah courtroom as a public forum. His target of protest - pornography.
At a 1982 Salt Lake convention before rolling television cameras, Estes stormed to the head table and landed three punches to Supreme Court Justice Byron White's head.
After being restrained, Estes was immediately surrounded by news reporters. Facing microphones and bright camera lights, Estes eagerly told reporters, "He (White) is causing four-letter words to come into my home on my television set. I don't know how else to get it stopped except through the source."
Estes repeated his message of protest against pornography in federal court as he answered charges of assault.
Convicted of attacking White, Estes was sentenced to 10 days in jail and fined $500. On his way to jail, Estes boasted of his efforts "to strike a blow" against pornography.
Committing a violent act ensures a protester with an ax to grind or a grievance to air - no matter how absurd - an immediate, captive audience. The violence and the subsequent court actions are the stuff that news is made of.
Rightly or wrongly, violence grabs headlines nationally and locally. The more twisted, sensational or bloody, the more extensive the coverage. On the surface, violent disobedience to law appears a sure-bet to widespread publicity. And a high-profile trial can perpetuate front-page coverage.
But in the end, how effective is violence and using the witness stand as a soap box for protest? Were Swapp and Estes successful in manipulating the media and the judiciary to convey their grievances? Do Utah reporters and judges have a responsibility to control or minimize a violent protester's ability to manipulate publicity?
Media attorney Pat Shea was present when Estes slugged White, and he counseled editors at KUTV Channel 2 on legal matters surrounding the reporting of the Swapp siege and trial.
The lure of media publicity entices unbalanced persons to believe they have some magical power - a power that can elevate them beyond themselves, said Shea.
He compares those drawn to committing irrational acts of violence for publicity to a moth drawn to a flame's glow.
"Swapp and Estes wanted the glare of publicity, but they didn't understand how singeing the flame can be on their families and their general well-being."
After the initial high of being in the limelight, the public grows tired of the message. The act and accompanying theatrics, such as Estes' ranting speeches and Swapp's buckskin jacket with nine Indian feathers, become boring. Long after the public's eye is turned to another event, the criminal protester is left with the grim residue of his actions - a destroyed reputation and time in prison, said Shea.
"Ultimately, neither Swapp nor Estes were successful in conveying their message. Media attention focused on the act of violence - not the message they hoped to deliver by the act. Our society responds to forms of rationality. If someone acts irrationally, the public will focus attention on the absurdity - not the message," said Shea.
As the tedious tension of the Marion siege dragged on, Channel 2 considered pulling its cameras and reporters out of Marion.
"Imagine what would have happened - how different the tragic results may have been - if all the media left Marion," said Shea. "If the glare of publicity had been removed, I believe Swapp would have eventually given in - without the loss of life."
To provide the media with continued drama, Swapp and Vickie Singer conveyed a constant threat of battle through conversations with reporters, an FBI agent and through letters to the governor. In wild rhetoric peppered with claims of revelation they discussed the inevitable confrontation that would bring about John Singer's resurrection and the end of a wicked society.
Threats became the symbolic ink and paper to publicize their vengeful complaints. Their message targeted the wrongful death of John Singer (Swapp's father-in-law and Vickie's husband) nine years ago, the alleged cruelty of their neighbors who had cut off their irrigation water and the corruption of society at large.
(John Singer was killed by lawmen trying to arrest him over his refusal to send his children to public schools and his defiance of a court order that he release the children of his second wife to their father.)
Sadly, it was almost inevitable that death occur at Marion because of Swapp's promise to carry through with his threats, Shea said. Officer Fred House was killed during the bloody confrontation between law enforcement and the Singer clan that Swapp apparently sought as part of his message to the world.
In Estes' case, public interest in his message against the evils of pornography was a flash in the pan. Because Estes was regarded as irrational and obsessed, his message lost all credibility. Initially, he planned on taking the witness stand to speak out against pornography but was advised by his attorney against it. His effort to use the courts was thwarted.
Estes' recent guilty plea on attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child and charges of showing pornography presents a dark irony. The motive underlying the rage that compelled him to slug a justice in 1982 definitely lost credibility, the media attorney said.
Swapp attempted to keep his message before the public by grabbing every photo opportunity as he - and his three relatives - entered Salt Lake's federal courthouse, grinning and appearing confident.
From jail, Swapp continued to phone newspaper reporters and radio talk-show hosts to re-tell his story, often reading from prepared scripts. His revelations and predictions of doom and gloom, however, have become mundane, contends Shea.
The Swapp saga is not over. Swapp, his brother, Jonathan; Vickie Singer and her son, Timothy, are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 2. They were convicted on 20 of 23 charges stemming from the bombing of the chapel and the subsequent police standoff.
State homicide charges in connection with the murder of House are expected to be filed after the September sentencing.
While the disturbing story continues, the public's interest in what Swapp has to say has waned, said Shea.
"People are no longer curious about what makes him tick or his message. They have heard enough."
Brent Ward, U.S. attorney for Utah, is troubled by the power of the media to transform a misfit like Addam Swapp into a national newsmaker through what he calls National Enquirer-type coverage of Swapp's crime.
"Media exposure can become the incentive for someone out of kilter to commit sensational acts to attract attention and have his complaint broadcast to the world," said Ward.
Ward prosecuted the Estes and Swapp-Singer cases and saw similarities in their blatant intent to gain publicity through manipulation of the media and the court system.
After Estes was convicted in 1983 of assaulting the Supreme Court justice, Ward recalls, Estes expressed bitter disappointment that he didn't testify during his trial because he had hoped to use the trial as a forum.
During that trial, Ward condemned Estes for his violence, saying "crackpot moralists" across the country must be sent a message that such methods of airing their views will not be tolerated.
At that time, Ward could not predict the awful and more tragic consequence of Swapps' convoluted efforts to manipulate the media through acts of violence.
"Addam Swapp seemed to think in his warped mind that if his situation was thrust into the national scene through the media and a trial, it would make his farm the center of government for the nation. I'm sure he saw the publicity and his calls to the media as calculated means to an end. It didn't matter who got hurt by his efforts to become a celebrity," said Ward.
"He blew up the church for the purpose of setting up a new nation."
The standoff at Marion was similar to a hostage or terrorist situation. Violence is committed as a means to control media, government and law enforcement, the U.S. attorney said.
As reporters camped near the cabin, they got caught up in the unfolding drama and "tended to want to become part of it."
"Every little word or act of the Swapp-Singer clan was recorded. The sensational-ized coverage by the media threw the usual handling of a crisis out of balance."
Particularly annoying was the media's use of what Ward termed "instant-experts" on police tactics. Criticism that the police weren't concerned about the well-being of the children "was a bitter pill to swallow," said Ward.
Protesters might be less attracted to committing acts of violence for publicity if news coverage was more balanced, presenting the other side of the story with equal emphasis and space.
Swapp's strategy for setting up a new nation to be presided over by himself and the late John Singer did not end with his arrest. The court trial was the second part of his publicity plan, said Ward.
On the eve of the 13-day trial, Ward offered Swapp and his three co-defendants a plea bargain. Prosecutors were willing to offer less severe penalties for the Swapp-Singer clan's alleged crimes in exchange for guilty pleas.
At Swapp's prodding, however, the other three family members turned down the offer. "Swapp wanted to tell his story from the witness stand. It was part of his plan," said Ward.
Despite his attorney's adamant advice against taking the witness stand, Swapp testified before an overflow courtroom crowd that he dynamited the Kamas LDS Stake Center.
Picketers marched outside the courtroom, carrying signs that read, "Let the whole truth be told."
While Ward could have requested that Swapp's testimony be limited to the scope of the charges on trial, he decided to allow Swapp to say whatever he wanted - to suppress the suspicions of picketers who believe the government was trying to hide something and "to allow Swapp to hang himself."
"And hang himself is exactly what Swapp did. He went down kicking and screaming. Despite his story about John Singer's wrongful death and his criticisms of society, there's no defense for what he did - and that's what the jury believed too."
Bombing a church and barricading his family inside a cabin certainly received media attention. But Swapp's ultimate goal - to persuade the public of John Singer's wrongful "murder" and to change the course of history - was not achieved, the U.S. attorney said.
"In actuality, Swapp didn't get past go. He was not successful in using the court system. He lost all credibility. His predictions didn't come to pass, and now Swapp will spend a great deal of time behind bars."
Most protesters who have a story to tell have the sense to tell it in a more rational way.
In Estes' case, it was not rational to think that slugging a United States justice could change court decisions on pornography.
In Swapp's case, "he was no better off in sending his message than the guy in the streets wearing a message board."