Singer was born to German immigrants. Singer's father, Hans, was part of the Nazi movement, and as Hitler and the Nazi movement rose in power, he moved his family back to Dresden in 1932. Singer's mother's religious preference was Mormon; therefore, his childhood was filled with conflict because his father forbade his mother to practice or teach her religious beliefs. Singer and his brother Harold were part of the Hitler Youth. Singer's father was drafted in 1940 and, before leaving, enrolled his sons in a school run by the Schutz Staffeln (SS). The brothers were expelled for being rebellious, and Singer's hatred for authoritarianism developed from this experience. His parents divorced in 1945 and Singer emigrated to the United States.
In 1964 Singer married Vickie Lemon, who shared his religious views. They quickly began a family which grew to seven children. Singer raised his family in Marion, Utah, on a 2.5-acre farm, much like a nineteenth-century homestead. Religion was important to Singer and his family. He entered into a plural marriage in 1978 with Shirley Black, an already married woman with four children.
Singer's stand against the public school system began a road of court battles. His dissatisfaction with the school system escalated over a picture in a textbook showing whites and blacks together. He confronted the school superintendent and objected that his children were being subjected to what he considered immoral secular influences. His legal confrontations began when he declared that he would withdraw his children from public school because the Constitution states that states cannot interfere with religious beliefs. The state countered by showing him a copy of the State Compulsory Attendance Law, which states that parents with children ages 6 to 18 must send them to school.
Singer's defiance of the law and his determination to have his children removed from the public school system led to his ostracism in the community and eventual excommunication from the Mormon Church.
After his first arrest and court appearance, Singer was allowed to teach his children at home under guidelines from the state which included testing twice a year and evaluation by a psychologist. Even though his children tested below average, the psychologist advised the school board to continue the exemption. However, Singer grew dissatisfied with the arrangement and felt that the state still had too much authority over his children. He informed the psychologist that the family would no longer comply with the state's program.
Singer faced new legal problems after 19 October 1978 when a district court awarded Dean Black a decree of divorce from Shirley Black and temporary custody of the couple's children. When authorities went to the Singer farm to pick up the children, Singer refused to surrender them.
On the morning of 18 January 1979 Singer was confronted outside his home by Utah law enforcement officers. His home was surrounded and he was told to surrender his weapon. Singer pointed a pistol at the officers and the officers responded killing Singer with multiple gunshot wounds. His wife Vickie was taken to jail and his children were placed in shelter homes. John Singer was buried in the Marion cemetery on 22 January 1979.