With respect to the Mormon Church, the word 'Fundamentalist' has a quite specific meaning. Fundamentalist is the self-adopted term for those Mormons who chose to carry on the practice of polygamy, despite its official renunciation by the main line Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1890. Many main-line Mormons object to the use of this term, as it implies that Fundamentalists are observing some fundamental religious principle that has been ignored or rejected by the rest of the church. Rather, many Mormons view Fundamentalists as cultish splinter group, divorced from the main stream of Mormon life and faith
In truth, many practitioners of polygamy have been excommunicated from the Mormon church after their activities became public. Nontheless, Fundamentalists lay claim to authority that stretches back into the sacred history of the Mormon main stream. Most modern polygamist groups that lay claim to the title 'Fundamentalist' have their origin in a strange series of revelations made by an excommunicated Mormon named Lorin Woolley. In the 1930's, Wooley claimed that then-LDS President John Taylor had told he and four other men of a secret revelation regarding polygamy in September of 1886. At the time, Taylor was in hiding, charged by the federal government with violating anti-polygamy laws. Church leaders realized that the time was near when the Mormons would have to renounce plural marriage or face destruction.
Taylor, a convinced polygamist, allegedly told Woolley and his associates that God had informed him that the polygamist covenent must be kept in secret, even if it was formally renounced by the Mormon church. Taylor said that God's revelations regarding the propriety and neccessity of polygamy could not be retracted, and so Woolley and several others must carry on the practice in secret while the public church renounced it in order to save itself.
Woolley claimed that Taylor then ordained he and four other men as priests in a new, secret Mormon linneage. All five continued to live with their polygamous wives after the official end of polygamy in Utah (not uncommon practice for church leaders of the time). In the late 1920's, after the death of the four other alleged witnesses to Taylor's revelation had died, Woolley began to speak publicly about Taylor's revelation, and about his own polygamous lifestyle. Many pro-polygamists, dismayed at what they saw as an abandonment of sacred doctrine by the church in favor of political expediency, rallied to Woolley's cause.
Most Mormons dismissed Woolley as a crack-pot and a liar. Great effort has been expended over the years to disprove his claims of a private meeting with Pres. Taylor on the date that he names, with some success. Nevertheless, dissafection with Mormon renunciation of polygamy, combined with doubts raised about the authenticity of Mormon President Wilford Woodruff's public renunciation of polygamy meant that there was constant interest in the Fundamentalist cause.
Even if they had no interest in practicing polygamy, many Utah Mormons, the descendents of polygamists who had been oppressed by federal authorities, were unwilling to attempt to prosecute this rebel movement. While the official mouthpieces of the LDS have attempted to distance themselves from Fundamentalists, regularly excommunicating those who dabble in it or write in favor of it, in truth opposition to polygamy and Fundamentalism has not been that strong. Up until the last year, no polygamist had been prosecuted in Utah since 1953, following the disasterous raid at the Short Creek settlement. Exact figures for the number of individuals involved in the Fundamentalist movement are difficult to find or verify (for obvious reasons), but there is every indication that it is alive and well in Utah, Idaho, and a number of other areas settled by Mormons. Currently operating Fundamentalist groups, many of them tracing their linneage to Lorin Woolley, include the Apostolic United Brethren, the Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly, the United Order Effort, the Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times, and a number of independent groups.