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It’s the rare mass murderer who gets a university named after him, but 19th-century Mormon leader Brigham Young pulled it off. In American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857, Sally Denton takes a fresh look at an old mystery: Who was responsible for the cold-blooded slaughter of almost 140 men, women, and children of the Fancher Party, who were passing through Utah Territory on their way to California—the Mormons, as many claim, or the Paiute Indians, as the Mormons initially held? Denton presents convincing evidence to support the theory that the massacre was orchestrated by Young, whose apocalyptic predictions of imminent warfare with the hated “gentiles” of the U.S. government eerily parallel those of today’s armed millennial sects. The author paints a highly unflattering portrait of Mormon “Deseret” as a theocracy run by a despotic Young with the help of a militia of assassins known as the Danites, who specialized in “blood atonement”—a church-sanctioned form of murder in which the murderer provided “the victim with eternal salvation by slitting his throat.” Throw in polygamy, the ruthless killing of “apostates” who attempted to leave the church, and lots of financial shenanigans, and you have the makings of an organization that makes the latter-day Catholic Church look, well, saintly. Denton’s book is a timely reminder that when it comes to religious fanaticism, we Americans can hold our own with anybody. Denton reads at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 1, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Michael Little)