Sinful Ties: Polygamy In Modern Day America
“They caught the prophet!” — my normally reserved friend suddenly exclaimed, making me spill half of my coffee. He handed me a newspaper and pointed at the “One of FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives Arrested North of Las Vegas” headline. A highway patrol stopped a red Cadillac, the article said, as the vehicle had a paper tag instead of a license plate. When they asked the driver for an ID, the backseat passenger suddenly started munching on a salad — and because of the pumping carotid artery in his neck this oddly timed action raised suspicion.
I glanced at the picture of the man — tall, thin, with hollow eyes and the sharp teeth of a vampire bat. When searching his car, the police found three wigs, fifteen cell phones, $54,000 in cash and a long list of safe-house addresses. What can I say, if you ever make it into The Most Wanted league, next to Osama bin Laden, only with more wives, and there is $100,000 bounty on your head — you should consume the salad prepared by one of your 78 spouses in a setting better suited for having a meal.
The True Mormons
In 2007, my infamous former neighbor prophet Warren Jeffs had been wanted on a variety of charges including child rape that was linked to his arranging polygamous marriages between girls and older men in his organization, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that splintered from the mainstream Mormon Church at the end of the 19th century.
If you think you know about the Latter-Day Saints, please keep in mind that the fundamentalists are not your typical suit-and-backpack-clad Mormons who your grandma sprayed with holy water when they showed up on her doorstep smiling. There are 7 million Mormons in this country of bigamy laws, 15 million worldwide. I even got married to one who cursed like a sailor, smoked two packs of Winstons a day and had a kiss tattoo on his ass that he acquired somewhere in East Asia back in his drinking days. He married me in a car at the drive-through Chapel in Vegas and it was his fourth marriage — but I didn’t have four sister wives. Polygamy stopped being a part of the church’s doctrine in 1890. Non-creepy Mormons viewed this change as a positive development, along with allowing black people to be ordained for the first time. Yet the “true believers” decided that the church had lost its way, as apparently the real Jesus was a bitter racist and in favor of a bunch of hot, young wives.
An estimated 37,000 Latter-Day Saints still see the taking of multiple wives as one of the central tenets of the Mormon religion. I lived in southern Utah, just an hour away from the largest polygamist enclave in America, and shopped at the same store as many sister wives did. I always admired their complete disregard for fashion and makeup, and the way they drove tractors — as if they were at the wheel of a sports car. I got to watch them closely and came to the conclusion that the chores got assigned by seniority as the older fatties always drove the minivan and the young ones had to carry and load the groceries, and do all the dirty work.
These joyful ladies lived in a desert outpost on the edge of the Grand Canyon where ten thousand followers founded two unique towns with 67% of population younger than 19 and with a median age of 12.6 — one of the lowest on the planet. The twin towns Colorado City and Hildale featured numerous multiple-room compounds, a few locally owned restaurants, a grocery store, a Radio Shack and a zoo with a zebra and two other animals in it. They called themselves “the Creek”, a secret society that practices polygamy and believes God speaks to the faithful through the prophet, Warren Jeffs.
If you are thinking that polygamy is a sexy, nightly threesome, you should know that it is not that simple. Besides the obvious hazard of having multiple PMSing women in one household, the peculiar church-and-state integrating system based on the faith-sanctioned adultery has several other pitfalls.
The Lost Boys
The FLDS alpha-males fiercely protect their territory from competition similar to opossums and feral cats, only on a more psychopathic level completely skipped over by the theory of evolution. Up to 1,000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities to make it so that more young women would be available for the older church oligarchs and men like Warren Jeffs could marry girls like 12-year-old Merrianne Jessop.
After his arrest, Merrianne had told investigators that during her marriage ceremony in the Yearning For Zion temple, Jeffs had laid her down on a ceremonial bed and had intercourse with her while many of his other wives watched. If you are perverted enough to want more details, there is an audiotape of the creepy sex session peppered with biblical references, where Jeffs instructs the wives “not to sit around but to assist each other” and eventually they all wrap up the 3-hour-tryst with a passionate “Amen”. 18 out of the 78 of his wives were 15 years old or younger.
His sexual palate had a taste for boys as well. His own young sons and nephews later accused him and some other spiritual leaders of sodomizing them at the age of 5 or 6 under the handy cover of “God’s will”.
FLDA survivor Rebecca Musser testified about being forced to marry a 85-year old prophet Rulon Jeffs when she was only 18. She remained his wife till his death at the ripe age of 92 — mountain air and a healthy sex life had kept him around way longer than it was necessary. Then she had to marry the next prophet, his son Warren Jeffs.
The prophets are the only ones who can sanction a marriage, a divorce, wife-shuffling, and the removal of children from their families. Mothers are discouraged from hugging their own kids because only the prophet is considered their true parent.
Miraculously, despite having to serve life in prison for child abuse, 57-year-old Warren Jeffs remains the leader of the church. Moreover, he is considered to be the true American president, therefore the members of the community never participate in the presidential elections.
As the only voice of God, Jeffs takes his duties seriously and consistently comes up with new laws and regulations, purely through the means of revelation. He is in charge of every aspect of his followers’ lives, including even such trivial things as clothing and personal hygiene. All women and girls must wear pioneer-era prairie dresses in pastel colors that reach down to their ankles and out to their wrists, over several layers of full-body underwear. Their ankles can never be seen so they finish the look with a pair of socks and Sketchers, their favorite sneaker brand.
All men and boys wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, even in the stifling summer heat. Jeffs prohibited the color red because it was Jesus’s favorite color. Interestingly, when he got arrested he was in a red Cadillac wearing shorts and a T-shirt which are the taboo clothes no member may ever be seen in. Women never cut their hair because when they make it to heaven they will need every inch of it to dry their husbands’ feet after washing them, which is the least appealing version of a paradise I’ve ever heard of. They don’t tweeze their eyebrows either but when it comes to the underarm and pubic hair the prophet Jeffs has had some very detailed revelations about to how to keep it tidy — he gave out private instructions to each of his wives and told them not to share it with each other.
TV, radio and the Internet are prohibited. But some inquisitive teens do manage to stream a bootlegged movie once in awhile, not that I blame them, after all Hollywood is only a few hours away. If you get caught, the punishment could be harsh so you better make sure that the movie is worth a blood atonement and a trip to a distant spiritual rehab facility in Texas.
One of the newly revised rules is the updated interpretation of the Law of Sarah which tells the FLDS women to perform sex acts on one another to prepare for an encounter with a man in the Priesthood. It’s a group sex version of the traditional Law of Sarah (Genesis 23:1) when existing wives provide their consent to new plural wives, which is symbolically shown at the wedding ceremony by the first wife putting her hand over the hand of the newbie. It sounds boring, so I can certainly see why the kinky prophet wanted to add a modern twist to it.
His most recent innovation, fresh from prison, is a secret breeding program called “the seed bearers”, a God-sanctioned attempt to create a new race. The prophet issued an edict that says married couples aren’t to have sex or even touch. Think that sounds bad? If a woman wants to get pregnant, Jeffs has hand picked 15 “trusted” men to father potential children, usually in a public setting of a temple with the inseminators’ faces covered. It is the husbands’ responsibility to hold the hands of their wives while the seed bearer “spreads his seed”. All of which exacerbates the already pressing issue of inbreeding in this tight-knit community.
Your family tree shouldn’t be a wreath. The two families that, in a very Game-of-Thronesque manner, settled along the Utah/Arizona border in the 1930s, began passing on to their descendants a recessive gene for a severe form of mental retardation called Fumarase Deficiency. The birth defect causes serious mental issues, epilepsy and the disfigurement of features. Mental retardation is in the severe range — an IQ of around 25.
Until 1990 there was only 13 known cases of Fumarase syndrome worldwide. Since then it has taken hold in the Mormon fundamentalist community due to intermarriage and incest. If you have two parents with the gene you are going to have a one-in-four chance of having a child afflicted with it.
The only way to avoid it is to stop procreating, or at the very least stop doing it with your uncles. But since it’s not a feasible option for Colorado City where everyone is already related, the locals just blame it on “something in the water” or “in the air”, and use it as yet another excuse to seek government aid that they describe as “bleeding the Beast”.
Despite the unusually high mental retardation rates, the FLDS religious community demonstrates a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit while taking advantage of state-funded medical care. The “God’s vessels” also readily participate in extensive money laundering and welfare fraud. When you have a few thousand unemployed “single” mother-heroes who qualify for food stamps you basically have it made and most certainly can afford a few new Cadillacs with extra features.
In 2015, 700 Hildale households received a total of $7.2 million in food stamp benefits and got busted for the fraudulent stamp redemption at the local grocery stores while channeling the government’s cash into the church trust.
The sect’s mafia, who prefer to be referred to as spiritual leaders, own all the houses in the area, about 100 mil in property value. But since Warren Jeffs’ arrest things slowly started to shift and 24 families are now receiving deeds to their homes to officially own them. One of the women interviewed by a local newspaper when her family was granted a deed, and her sister wife with 21 combined children, said the sect leaders have been moving people from home to home “for so long, it felt like we had our own little Soviet Union here”.
Wives or Victims?
Historically, polygamy has had a profound effect on the legal and social development of America. While challenging the traditional notions of gender and marriage, it may be the next frontier of marriage law and possibly the next civil rights battlefield.
I firmly believe that monogamy and female emancipation is a formula for a safer world, yet I still question whether the criminalization of polygamy might be unwise, as it drives those crimes “underground” and makes them difficult to police. Polygamy is not an unusual phenomenon. Its basic moral acceptance by Americans is up from 7% in 2001 to 15%.
The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, had taken 33 wives by the time he was murdered by an angry mob in Carthage, IL, in 1844. Among those women were the already-married spouses of his top male lieutenants — a practice anthropologists say can actually breed loyalty among the tribe.
Somehow it almost made sense as I was catching up on Mormon culture while slowly sipping coffee in Hildale at the Merry Wives Cafe, owned by a plural family. I looked out of the window — nothing appeared to be sad or depressing about this quiet town where coffee and alcohol is not considered a vice and group sex is highly encouraged. People seemed to lead normal lives.
Three young women in long pastel dresses were passing by holding hands. I wanted to stop them to say: if you are abused by your husband, there is hope and I can save you. But they were laughing seemingly having a good time. They didn’t look intimidated or indoctrinated. One briefly inspected my messy hair, wrinkled t-shirt, and the absence of a wedding ring. She noticed that my only company was a coffee mug gaping back at me with its glistening eye of a horny old man. As she pranced away, her eyes filled with genuine pity. I sat there, dumbfounded, in this little cafe located on the corner of virtue and sin, at the intersection of right and wrong, too scared to face my own corrupt inner prophet. And at that moment I couldn’t help but think that maybe the only one here who needed saving was me.