Prescott Daily Courier - a four part series written by Al Herron|
Focusing on polygamy on the Arizona - Utah line 6/30/03
Something very disturbing is happening up along the Arizona - Utah border. It is illegal, immoral, traumatic for most of the people involved, and you and I help pay for it. We're talking about polygamy.
Those who have lived in Arizona for more than a few years have heard about the renegade Mormon settlement up in Colorado City AZ and Hilldale UT. (It is really one community with the state line going through it.) Do not confuse this group with mainstream Mormons who gave up polygamy over a century ago.
Not much space for history, but we need some: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) was founded in 1830 as a religion which advocated polygamy. Joseph Smith, the founder, had more than 30 wives. Brigham Young, his successor and the church's most important leader, had from 21 to 56 wives, depending on how you define marriage. Church doctrine said that a man needed at least three wives to be able to attain the highest level of heaven.
The LDS settled in Utah in 1847 and subsequently applied for statehood, but Congress made it clear that the Utah Territory would not become a state as long as the Mormons practiced polygamy. Congress also passed legislation making plural marriages illegal in U.S. territories, but Brigham Young and the church refused to give it up. The U.S. military forcibly removed Young as territorial governor in 1858, but he remained the most influential person in the territory until his death in 1877.
The LDS church did renounce polygamy in 1890, and Utah was admitted to the union six years later. But those two events did not mean that all Mormons changed overnight -- many continued with plural marriage in enclaves around Utah.
One of those groups moved to the Arizona Strip in the 1930s. They are still there, still practicing polygamy, openly and brazenly, even though it is illegal in both states.
I was astonished to learn what goes on up there.
This is the first of four columns dealing with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- which we shall shorten to FLDS. Other polygamous groups still exist in Utah, but the one in Colorado City/Hilldale is the only one legally using this name. The FLDS also have a smaller branch in Canada and another in Mexico -- which comes in handy when someone is running from the law, or to exchange girls for "spiritual marriage."
Two people helped greatly with these columns. John Dougherty, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times, spent five months investigating the FLDS church, and has written several articles about it. Much of what I've written stems from his articles -- with consent from Dougherty and the New Times.
Flora Jessop was born into an FLDS family in Hilldale. She ran away at age 13, but was caught and brought back, and was kept locked in one room for the next three years. She escaped again and now lives in Phoenix -- married, with two children -- but the rest of her family is still FLDS. Mrs. Jessop sent me additional information.
The next column will be about life, marriage, and making babies in this polygamous community. It's different, to say the least.
Then a column about the school situation, which is outrageous. The FLDS members took all of their children out of the public school system in 2000. But they still elect the public school board, and that board now uses tax money to benefit church schools and officials.
Lastly, a column about how our tax dollars are being used to feed and support the huge FLDS families and pay for their medical care.
The Arizona Constitution forbids polygamy, but our legislature and governors seem to have closed their eyes to it.
Religious sect's Prophet wields absolute control 7/14/03
Polygamy is alive and flourishing within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). This sect in Colorado City AZ and Hildale UT is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church. In the last column we reviewed their history; today we look at life, marriage, and making babies.
The FLDS leader is called the Prophet, and he controls the members' lives by allocating wives. The more wives and children a man has, the greater his stature in the community, and in heaven, so this is a big deal. The Prophet assigns a wife to a man without regard for her wishes. He can also remove wives and children from a man who disobeys the Prophet, and reassign them to someone else. This is spiritual control -- you can't get to heaven without the Prophet's help.
Members believe that the Prophet has direct communication with God, and they treat him like God. He controls all levels of local government, plus the public school system, and most of the land in town -- just like a medieval fiefdom. He tells members how to vote, and controls property through an FLDS collective called the United Effort Plan.
Colorado City was incorporated in 1985 because incorporation provides more tax income, but there has never been a contested election. Dan Barlow has been the one and only mayor. The City Council is still the same seven people. The population was 3,334 in 2000, but in 2002 only 86 people voted. There is an occasional contest for the School Board, but the FLDS candidate always wins. Almost all of these officials are openly polygamous.
Nowhere else in the United States is there an incorporated town controlled by a religion whose leader performs polygamous marriages and has several dozen wives himself.
Anyone who is in the religion and then leaves is an "apostate," consigned to eternal hellfire. Any outsider is considered a "heathen."
The church-controlled United Effort Plan owns most of the property. A worthy family can be assigned a building space but they pay for building their own house on it, and then it belongs to the U.E.P. Homes are built piecemeal and expanded as necessary -- pay as you go, no mortgages. Since a home is rarely finished, the tax bill stays small. If a family leaves or is evicted, they own nothing. (Financial control also -- you stay "in harmony" with the Prophet or lose your home.)
FLDS girls rarely get more than an eighth grade education. Dating is forbidden, and many girls like the idea of marrying early because it's the only thing they know. They typically marry as teenagers and have 8 or 10 kids by the time they're 30 -- and a bloated body. Some are not eager to marry, but a father can ask the Prophet to assign his daughter to a husband anyhow, which may help that father get another wife for himself. (I am not making this up!)
Young men who are deemed unworthy are run out of town so they can't compete for wives. Older men want the girls.
A man's first wedding is legal; after that they are called "spiritual unions." The Prophet just does it, and then the girl disappears into the home of her new husband. Spiritual marriage is good enough to get into heaven.
"Poofer" is FLDS slang for a girl who vanishes into her husband's abode. "One day she's here, the next day she's gone. Poof!"
It's extremely difficult for a girl to flee. She has no money, no transportation, the community is isolated, and the church will send out a posse to bring her back. (Physical control as well.) She must adopt the "keep sweet" mantra that the religion pounds into women's heads.
One Prophet admitted, "We are in the business of making babies here."
Colo. City district thriving, thanks to AZ taxpayers
Until the year 2000, all of the children in Colorado City AZ attended public schools. But then the FLDS Prophet, Rulon Jeffs, ordered the faithful to stop all contact with heathen and apostates -- which meant anybody who is not FLDS. So about 650 children left the 950 student system. Imagine the chaos that resulted from this religious edict.
Even though all the churchıs children left, the School Board has remained 100 percent FLDS. Remember this as you read.
Most of the remaining students were from polygamist families also, but they belonged to a smaller, dissenting group called the 2nd Warders -- apostates, doomed to hellfire -- who live three miles away.
This is a very poor school district, and the board never tried to build its own schools. Instead, they leased space in buildings owned by the FLDS church. After the edict in 2000, the district did not need as much space, so even though some leases were paid up for several years in advance, the board relinquished most of it. Now the church has that space for its own schools.
Every negotiation was a sweetheart deal which favored the church at the expense of the taxpayers.
Next, the school board pleaded poverty to the newly created Arizona School Facilities Board. The facilities in Colorado City were indeed bad, so in 2001 the state built them a new $6 million K-12 school, and we taxpayers paid for it.
At about the same time, Arizona launched a program to provide a financial cushion for schools in the event of a rapid decline in enrollment --something usually caused by a major employer shutting down. After the FLDS suddenly removed two-thirds of the students, the Colorado City district qualified. They have received about $1.5 million per year for the past three years under this 'rapid decline' program, and will for three more years -- about $9 million total. So we paid again.
FLDS teachers were forbidden to teach the heathen and apostate kids, so most of them moved to the new church schools. Most other employees stayed, and the public school district remains the largest employer in the area. It still has 100 employees, for only 300 students now -- an outrageously high 3 to 1 ratio.
Every student is now bussed to the new school from outlying areas. And guess what -- all the school bus drivers are FLDS who kept their jobs and earn an average salary of $30,000. (The new teachers earn $20,000.)
This amazes me! Starting with the Prophetıs edict in 2000, the FLDS have crafted a scheme that defrauds Arizona taxpayers on several levels, and it seems that nobody even realizes it. Or nobody cares.
District School Supt. Alvin Barlow has been in his job longer than any other superintendent in the state, so heıs knowledgeable. (Incidentally, he also has four secretaries and four administrative aides.)
Barlow goes to state surplus property sales and gets school equipment and supplies on the cheap, then shares them with the church schools.
One of the perks of being a public school official in Colorado City is free transportation. The district owns 15 vehicles (mostly big SUVs, vans, and pickups) which are assigned to various administrators and principals who happen to be FLDS. Theyıre supposedly for official business, but they get a lot of personal use with the district paying for fuel, maintenance, and insurance. Free use of a large vehicle is a great benefit for a polygamist family.
This little 300 student district also bought an airplane last year -- a used Cessna 210, for $220,000 -- so the officials can get to meetings easier. Then they contracted with the son of the school board president to fly it for them.
Board President Bistline says, 'If the people donıt like it, they can go to the polls and get someone else.'
Next: the welfare rip off.
Polygamists also excell at ³bleeding the beast² 8/11/03
It was a nice coincidence that Jon Krakauer's new book, Under the Banner of Heaven -- A Story of Violent Faith, went on sale last month. Itıs about fundamentalist Mormons, and Krakauer confirms much of what Iıve been writing. A best seller -- I recommend it.
How would you like for the state to pay your food bill, especially if you had dozens of mouths to feed? Would $2,000 a month be OK? This is not uncommon in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Some families get more.
This polygamist sect, which is not affiliated with mainstream Mormons, lives in Colorado City AZ and Hildale UT. They number in the thousands. The last census in 2000 showed that about 5,000 people lived within the two towns, but the entire community is now closer to 10,000, and increasing daily. (In the 1950s, the population was only 400, so itıs almost doubling every decade. This is internal growth -- there arenıt many immigrants.)
Among polygamists only the first marriage is legally recognized -- after that they're called 'spiritual unions.' So, even though a man may have five wives and forty kids, the state considers most of them to be in single parent families because there's only one legal marriage. That really doesn't matter, however. According to state and federal guidelines, what
counts is the number of people living together. Consequently, they're usually eligible for food stamps, child care, and
medical care at government expense.
The following numbers are estimates based on year-old statistics; and they're all rising rapidly.
Arizona's AHCCCS program provides most of the medical insurance for residents in Colorado City AZ. Last year over 4,000 residents were enrolled, costing the state about $8 million a year. I donıt know what Utah does for those across the line in Hildale.
About half of the fundamentalists receive food stamps, compared to five percent statewide. This costs the state and federal governments over $3 million a year for those polygamists in Arizona.
Five years ago there were no Colorado City children getting child care assistance, but last year there were about 200 -- which cost the state another $600,000. These benefits can be paid to care-providers who are related to the children, so sometimes one wife can get paid for taking care of another wifeıs kids.
Colorado City gets back about eight dollars in benefits for every dollar the residents pay in state taxes, while for the rest of Mohave County itıs about one for one.
In the well publicized case of Tom Green and his five wives in Utah, the state documented that the Green family received $647,000 between 1989 and 1999. Then they estimated that the grand total (for a longer period) was over $1 million -- just for this one family.
In addition to the public assistance programs, Colorado City has recently received about $2 million from HUD to pave streets, improve the fire department, and upgrade the water system. And the FAA built a $2.8 million airport that serves hardly anybody but FLDS leaders.
Remember also, last column we talked about the new $6 million school and $9 million in 'rapid decline' funds which the school board shrewdly harvested from the state after the Prophet withdrew two-thirds of the kids from the public school system.
The various FLDS prophets justify taking tax money like this by saying that it is really coming from the Lord. Fleecing the government is called 'bleeding the beast' by the Fundmentalists, and is regarded as a virtuous act. Itıs the Lordıs way of using the system to take care of his chosen people.
Actually, 'bleeding the beast' goes back 160 years to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Young was about to be arrested in connection with it in Illinois in 1846, and this forced the LDS to leave Nauvoo early -- in the middle of winter -- causing great hardship.
Next time, a wrap-up: recent court decisions, need for legislation, and more.
AZ legislature should speak out on polygamy 8/25/03
Weıve shown how the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (up on the Arizona - Utah border) marries teen-age girls against their will to older men with several wives already. Also, how they use public assistance programs to support their huge families, and how the school district is defrauding the stateıs taxpayers. They excel at 'bleeding the beast.'
Three years ago, the Arizona Attorney General's office began an investigation into charges of illegal marriage with underage girls, sexual assault, statutory rape, incest, and other such pleasantries up in Colorado City, but so far nothing has come of it. Itıs difficult to get witnesses because they are told by the Fundamentalist Mormon church that they will be shunned for life and then spend eternity in hell if they talk.
Also, the Arizona Auditor Generalıs office has begun an investigation into practices of the Colorado City School Board. They routinely use the schools' credit cards and vehicles for personal use. They spend funds extravagantly, such as buying an airplane, and then make the students raise money to go see The Wizard of Oz.
The students and teachers (none of whom are FLDS any longer) claim that the board members (who are all FLDS) are running the district primarily to benefit the private FLDS schools instead of its own schools.
County school officials told state officials that the district is spending state funds improperly, but nothing more has happened. Itıs an 'ongoing investigation.' I sure hope it gets there someday.
Recently the State of Utah prosecuted Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm for illegally cohabiting with his teen-age third wife, and the jury found him guilty. Hooray for Utah! They have more gumption than Arizona.
But then the Utah Attorney General said, 'We are not prosecuting polygamy itself, but only the crimes, particularly against children, based on religious beliefs.' Well, why not prosecute polygamy itself? Itıs illegal. I donıt understand why prosecuting it seems to be unthinkable.
This Rodney Holm case will be appealed. Fundamentalist Mormons claim that they have a First Amendment right to practice their religion as they choose, even though in 1879 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 'religious doctrine could not become superior to the law of the land.' It will be interesting to watch.
Our Arizona Constitution explicitly forbids polygamy. Article XX says: 'Polygamous or plural marriages, or polygamous cohabitation, are forever prohibited within this state.' So why has it survived and flourished long after Arizona became a state?
Primarily, because the legislature has never enacted laws necessary to make polygamy a crime. Arizona has no law that says if a man has multiple wives he goes to jail or pays a fine, or some other penalty. The state cannot enforce laws that donıt exist. So, the perpetrators do not become felons; they remain entitled to all the benefits of law-abiding citizens. They continue fleecing the tax system without fear of prosecution or removal from office for being polygamists.
Now youıre wondering why the Arizona legislature has never passed such laws, and I do not know the answer. Iıve heard that itıs because our legislature has been dominated by Mormons through the years, as it certainly is today, and they are personally sympathetic to polygamy even though the LDS church officially denounces it. But hearing that doesnıt prove it.
In Arizona, several powerful political clans have polygamous backgrounds: the Flakes, Farnsworths, Udalls, Tenneys, and others. It could be awkward to criminalize what your grandfather did that brought you into the world.
I would like to hear our legislative leaders speak about polygamy -- how they feel about it, their interest in eradicating it, and what efforts theyıve made.
Some thoughts on polygamy 9/8/03
Thereıs been a startling development within the polygamist community up in Colorado City/Hildale. The FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs, announced last month that all church services would be suspended immediately, and he would no longer perform polygamous marriages. Both suspensions are to last indefinitely. Imagine the shock.
The prophet said that he had received a revelation from God telling him that his members had been disobedient. Jeffs sermonized, 'Until this people honor the word of God, this privilege (spiritual marriage) is withdrawn from them.'
Some observers say that the prophet took this action because of political infighting with the Barlow family. (John Y. Barlow founded the community, then called Short Creek, in the 1920s, and other Barlows hold many of the top political offices now.) Cynics say that Jeffs is preparing to flee the area ahead of Utah authorities. And, of course, I could claim that he read these columns in the Daily Courier and was overcome with great fear and trembling. Who knows?
Another new development: Arizona and Utah authorities are planning a cooperative effort to curb the sexual abuse of minors in the Fundamentalist Mormon community. They plan to open a joint sheriffıs substation to take the place of the existing police department, which is managed and staffed by polygamist police officers. It would also be a refuge for underage girls trying to flee from forced marriages. There is no such refuge at present.
The sheriffs of Mohave County AZ and Washington County UT say: 'We have a gentlemenıs agreement to do this. It will work.'
Hallelujah! Letıs hope so.
In my last column about polygamists, I stated that it would be nice to hear some of our legislative leadersı thoughts on the matter. No response to date, so Iıll be more direct.
To Senator Ken Bennett: As the state senator from this district and President of the Senate, would you please share with us your thoughts about polygamy. Why are we allowing the practice to grow rapidly even though our constitution says it is 'forever prohibited within this state'? Why has the Arizona legislature refused to pass laws to punish the perpetrators?
What should be done to control the polygamistsı various frauds against the state? And anything else youıd like to mention.
We would appreciate your reply.
(This one will be published next Monday, October 13. AL)
Iım sorry that Bill Wolf thinks Iıve been conducting a ³McCarthy-like anti-Mormon crusade.² He says that my ³diatribes² about Mormon control of the Arizona legislature, which even asked about the rumor that they might condone polygamy, ³is outrageous and morally reprehensible .... spews hatred and promotes religious bigotry .... is more at home in Nazi Germany.² Wow! But if he feels that way, others may also, so letıs clear up a few things.
First, there is a big difference between the polygamist sect up on the Arizona - Utah border and mainstream Mormons. In each of my columns I pointed out that they are different groups. The polygamists are a tiny fraction of the Mormon faith, and their actions are an embarrassment to the others. Utah, which is 75 percent Mormon, is far ahead of Arizona in prosecuting polygamists.
I also made it quite clear that I do not know how mainstream Mormons really feel about polygamy today. The Arizona Constitution (adopted in 1912) says that polygamy shall forever be prohibited in this state, but we still have no laws to punish anybody who does it. The prevailing rumor is that our Mormon legislators remained sympathetic to polygamy through the years, and were unwilling to pass such legislation. So I asked about that rumor. If that makes somebody uncomfortable, Iım sorry, but if itıs a false rumor letıs clear it up.
I asked Ken Bennett to let us know his thinking about polygamists and their fraudulent activities, and what is the feeling at the legislature. He is the senator from this district, and is also President of the Senate. Is it so terrible to politely ask an elected official for that information? (I said please.)
Bennett hasnıt responded, which is his right, but Iım quite sure those questions will come up again at election time if they arenıt answered beforehand. Hopefully this issue will be raised with legislators all over the state.
The polygamy problem is just now coming to the forefront. On Sept. 26 the Arizona Republic had several articles about it -- half of the front page, plus two full pages inside, plus opinion pieces by the Attorneys General from Arizona and Utah.
Something is finally starting to happen, and faster in Utah than in Arizona. I just hope that we can thaw the iceberg at our legislature a little bit.
In case Mr. Wolf missed it, Mormons really do control the Arizona legislature even though they make up only five percent of the population.
In the House, they hold these key positions: Speaker, Majority Leader, Speaker pro tem, Chairman of the Rules Committee, and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
In the Senate they hold: President, Majority Whip, Minority Leader, and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
It amazes me! Thatıs about 80 percent of the top leadership spots in the hands of a 5 percent minority. They cannot dictate everything that gets done, but they sure can prevent anything they donıt want.
I am not anti-Mormon. I think they are good people -- hard working, conscientious, probably more honest and truthful than most. We have some in our family and love them dearly, but that doesnıt mean that Iım never going to question Mormon political activities in Arizona.
In Utah, with that 75 percent majority, they can do whatever they like -- so long as they abide by the U.S. Constitution and donıt try to impose a 'tyranny of the majority.'