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Hell on earth: Women's accounts of polygamy
By David Grant Long
“And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given to him; therefore is he justified. But if one or other of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed . . . .” — Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, from his Doctrine and Covenants, which includes the requirement to live polygamy.
In 1998 Mike Leavitt, then Utah governor and recently appointed U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services, said he believed polygamy was a protected freedom. After being informed that the practice of men taking multiple wives is illegal in Utah along with the rest of the United States, Leavitt then retracted what appear to be his true feelings on the subject.
The fact that the man now entrusted with the welfare of all American women could hold this benign view of such a scurrilous practice is just one of the many startling revelations in God's Brothel, Andrea Moore-Emmett's close-up and personal tour of polygamous cults conducted by former “wives.”
Unfortunately, Leavitt is far from alone in tacitly condoning the widespread and growing practice, which in grim reality couldn't be further removed from the beatific visions of shared love and happiness presented by polygamous leaders to the public as well as to female recruits — many of them young, even prepubescent, girls obeying “revelations from God” conjured up by horny old cult leaders on the make. For instance, the book includes a bizarrre example of these March/December unions that took place at the compound of the decrepit Rulon Jeffs, a highly respected leader in Colorado City:
“As a houseguest, Leona (one of the profiled former wives) was able to attend one of the prophet's many weddings. 'It was right after he had a stroke,’ she says. ‘He was marrying a couple teenage girls from the Steed family, and he had to be held up and reminded of what his name was.’ By 2000, Rulon Jeffs, age 90, had an estimated 60 wives.”
Still, most political and religious leaders in positions to fight polygamy choose to look the other way.
Author: Cult will come to Mancos
In a phone interview with the Free Press, Andrea Emmett-Moore, author of “God's Brothel,” predicted the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, which last year bought two tracts of land near Mancos, will soon establish a new branch of its oppressive cult there.
“Well, they're up to building a little compound where they're going to live and carry on the kind of abuses against women and children that they do here in Utah and in Arizona,” she said. “And the problem is people think, 'Well, as long as they're not hurting anybody, we won't bother them.’
“But the fact is they are hurting people, and they're going to cause a lot of social ills to people in the area — there's no way that it doesn't spill over into the rest of the population.” She said if a compound is built there, it will put a great strain on Montezuma County's social services.
“How can people let this stuff go on under their noses, what these (FLDS members) are doing to their own children?” Emmett-Moore asked. “These are predators who are breeding their own victims — and it's going to be going on right there in Mancos.
“They'll tell you (polygamy) is all about religion,” she said, “and I think it's all about sex and power — and money — but sex and power most definitely.”
Emmett-Moore believes the mainstream Mormon Church should be doing much more to address and eliminate the practice.
“The fact of it is they (the LDS Church) started this mess in this country and they don't want to own up to it and take responsibility, and so they are keeping very much a distance to what is going on right now,” she said. “They won't do anything, they won't say anything, they won't give any money to people who want to come out (of polygamy) or to Tapestry Against Polygamy, which is these poor women (profiled in the book), and the state won't either.
“They're all about recruiting members for their own religion, and if they own this problem it's going to look bad for them in a PR sort of way.”
Emmett-Moore said she would like to see the church “give some of their huge amounts of money, which could be great resources for helping people who are coming out of polygamy, and the best way to do that would be to give it to Tapestry Against P o l y g a m y , because they're really the only effective group that's actually dealing with the problem.”
TAP is in such dire straits, she said, director Vicky Prunty has occasionally resorted to selling her own plasma to get money to help women escape polygamy.
“It's just sad that it comes down to women in poverty trying to help other women in poverty get out of polygamy,” she said, “and the Mormon Church with all their vast amounts of money and who started this, they’re not giving one thin dime.”
(Contributions to Tapestry are tax deductible, and information on the group is available at www.polygamy.org.)
Moore-Emmett said the reason for the remarkable growth of polygamous groups is obvious: they multiply like rabbits.
“In 1953 when Governor Pyle of Arizona raided the Colorado City community, there were only 263 minors, but now today there are over 5,000 children — they are breeding and breeding and breeding,” she said.
“When you’ve got an organization telling women that they have to have a child a year, you’re going to have a lot of kids.”
Six brothers of the Kingston group have over 600 kids among them, she said, with the champion stud having sired 120.
America’s polygamous population is estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 and growing, but other than prosecuting the most sensational cases of murdered women (referred to as blood atonements by the cults), child molestations and welfare fraud, authorities in states where these proliferating cults and families reside (30 presently, including all Four Corners states) do little or nothing, having no answers to the knotty questions that would arise if the laws were enforced. Should the parents all be arrested and jailed? What happens then to the plethora of kids? Should they go to foster homes or institutions? Where does the money come from for such a huge and most likely futile undertaking? And would it deter the practice in the slightest?
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in the border-straddling twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, openly practices polygamy with the full awareness of state authorities, yet it continues to grow. The FLDS Church recent built and populated a large settlement near Eldorado, Texas, and purchased two tracts of land outside Mancos (Free Press, January 2005), which is widely feared to be the church's next community development project.
Many FLDS families, which commonly have dozens of kids, depend on welfare and food stamps to subsist. Multiple wives present themselves to social workers as single mothers while the patriarchs hide, smugly taking delight in “bleeding the beast,” their term for defrauding the hated government. The simple truth is that even its most vociferous opponents don't know how “plural marriage,” which frequently involves incest, child rape, torture and other physical abuse of its female members and children, along with welfare and tax fraud, can be stomped out.
Morre-Emmett sets the stage for 18 women’s personal accounts of living their hell on earth with an overview of present- day polygamy in America — a movement that includes a host of renegade split-offs from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which renounced plural marriage in 1890), as well as a few fundamentalist Christian groups.
While the Mormon groups base their legitimacy largely on the writings of church founder Joseph Smith, the Christian polygamists rely on some obscure Bible verses for their claim of being divinely ordered to this lifestyle, giving fresh meaning to the old saw about the devil quoting scripture for his purpose.
But, as one discovers in listening to this sad chorus of voices, polygamy has little to do with religion, and everything to do with sex and power — i.e., supplying the dominant males in these cults with a variety of sexual pleasures through their power to pick and choose the fairest young females from the ever-increasing supply. Women are expected to have one child a year because, as it is succinctly put by the FLDS, they are merely “vessels to be worn out in childbirth.”
And never mind that this reduces them to breeding stock who receive llittle or no prenatal medical care and spend their exhausting days cleaning, cooking and caring for their growing broods, because this the life God intends for that half of his children who lack penises.
In “God’s Brothel,” Moore-Emmett notes that the Fundamentalism Project, a five-year study of the thousands of such cults and religious movements worldwide, concluded that they share these common threads: “All are patriarchal, anti-feminist, anti-pluralistic and anti-liberal, with a belief that God is male, that the man in the family is the ultimate authority and that freedom makes sense only in the context of what is sacred” (i.e, we are free only to follow God's commands).
The polygamous groups and families examined in the book fit this profile perfectly, with each patriarch a law unto himself in all matters — such as the girls and women he will take as wives, who marries whom otherwise, who gets what amount of schooling, who deserves rare medical attention and what punishments are meted out for real and imagined transgressions of rigid rules guiding things as mundane as what food people of different status may eat. (One fugitive from polygamy recounts how she and her siblings would gather pigweed to supplement their sparse diet.)
This educational and interesting book is eminently readable, but at the same time not exactly easy to read. Following the women's tales of the physical and sexual violence they routinely experienced, along with the constant humilation and messages of worthlessness, is distressing. The women and kids in these enclaves are treated just as badly as were America's black slaves, or the women of Afganistan under the Taliban. They are mere property, to be used and exploited however their masters wish.
But this darkness is somewhat countered by reading that most of the women who gathered the considerable courage it took to leave their cults — despite having been deeply indoctrinated in their beliefs — are doing well, although the adjustment is difficult. Most had little education, limited social skills and few job skills; however, they all entered the modern world with a huge capacity for work, which serves them well as they forge new lives.
“God’s Brothel” was published just last year and is doing well, according to the author. During an interview with the Free Press, Emmett-Moore said her recent appearance on the Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” caused a huge spike in sales at amazon.com.
Let’s hope this upward trend continues. Books that both educate and outrage people about society’s injustices are all too rare, and this one needs to be widely read. More information about “God’s Brothel” is available from the publisher, Pince-Nez Press of San Francisco, at www.pince-nez.com.