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Wikipedia definition [as of Jan 25, 2011]: The Danites were a fraternal organization founded by Latter Day Saint members in June 1838, in the town of Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri. During their period of organization in Missouri, the Danites operated as a vigilante group and took a central role in the events of the 1838 Momon War. Whether or not the Danites existed in the years after the 1847 arrival of the LDS in Uth is still debated. However, they remained an important part of Mormon and non-Mormon folklore, polemics, and propaganda for the remainder of the 19th century, waning in ideological prominence after Utah gained statehood. The exact nature and scope of the organization, and the degree to which it was officially connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are a matter of some dispute among historians.
In 1834, during the march of Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith created a militia known as the "Armies of Israel" to protect his community; this group was also called the Danites. After the 1838 war, the term "Danite" was often connected with any Latter Day Saint militarism, including the Nauvoo, Illinois police, the bodyguards of Joseph Smith, Jr., the "Whistling and Whittling Brigades", and Brigham Young's so-called "Destroying Angels" or "Avenging Angels." Although some members of these later groups had been Danites in the Missouri period, the leadership of the 1838 secret society, particularly Sampson Avard, was not associated with the leadership of the peace-keeping militias using the same name.
In Bennett's time the number of the Danites was over two thousand. From their "elite," to use the word of George Q. Cannon, twelve men were selected, called Destructives, or Destroying Angel, and sometimes Flying Angel. Their duty was to act as spies, and to report to the first presidency. Their oath was as follows:
Church Essay on Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
The Church essay, published 5/12/14 on the LDS.org website, acknowledges that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites (emphasis added):
References: Wikipedia on Danite
More Information: Wikipedia on Danite