With the upcoming trial of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs Utah law enforcement faces head-on the not so secret practice of plural marriage in our state. This week on Utah NOW - we ask - How should polygamy be prosecuted in the 21st century?
Tune in for Guest Host Ken Verdoia, and our newest addition to Speak Out Utah- Bill Allred, radio personality on X-96.
Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is facing trial in the Utah courtroom. And once again Utah 's none-too-secret practice of plural marriage is in the headlines.
But polygamy crackdowns in Utah are older than the state itself.
Are we finally forging an answer to eliminate the practice or are we crafting ground rules for the continuation of polygamy?
Tonight on Utah now.
[Ken Verdoia, Host]:
And welcome to Utah now. I'm Ken Verdoia in this week for Doug Fabrizio.
It's been quite a few days in Utah 's seemingly endless relationship with plural marriage.
One of the wives of John Daniel Kingston argued in front of the Utah state Supreme Court this week for the return of her children, and this of course is on the heels of the capture of polygamist fugitive Warren Jeffs, after a little bit less than a year on the FBI's Most Wanted List. And people are still waiting to see the results of a financial investigation into the management of the polygamist communities under Warren Jeff's influence.
This is, ladies and gentlemen, a big change in the way the wind blows.
It was just 20 years ago that I interviewed the elderly grandson of one of polygamy's earliest, fiercest defenders in the region, and he said our society simply did not know what to do with plural marriage so it did nothing.
And he quoted a nursery rhyme:
"As I was going up the stairs I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today, I wish, I wish he would go away."
What some are calling a major turning point in Utah 's battle with polygamy is on "pause" for the moment.
Fundamentalist leader Warren Jeffs is awaiting trial in a Utah court, and his communities on the Utah-Arizona border are quietly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The prosecution of Jeffs on charges tied to arranging plural marriages involving underage children is part of a long history of government struggling to rein-in the persistent practice of polygamy.
The federal government thought it had won the battle over 100 years ago. . .holding up Utah 's admission as a state until polygamy was squelched.
But the practice endured.
Fifty years ago, Arizona attempted to eradicate the practice by raiding communities on the border with Utah .
But every legal crackdown has been unable to root out what remains one of the most unique religious practices in America .
Financial investigations of the polygamous border towns, and the prosecution of Warren Jeffs, are the latest chapter of a book that seemingly has no end. . .
Now, if there is, indeed, a new era in dealing with polygamy, virtually everyone acknowledges the tip of the spear is Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Mr. Attorney general thanks for being here.
[Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General]:
Good to be back, thank you.
Let me acknowledge in the interest of full disclosure that I happen to be very pleasantly married to a woman who is a staff attorney in the Utah Attorney General's Office.
I do need to note that her career appointment service started before Mr. Shurtleff was elected to the office so she is not a political appointee of Mark Shurtleff and she's a darn good attorney too.
I think the world of her
Back to the point at hand. Everyone kind of agrees that Utah and, under the kind of the impetus of your office has started something akin to an offensive to identify those aspects of the plural marriage culture that cry for attention.
How do you define this new era that you brought about?
Well, like you say I'm the tip of the spear, because it really has been that. It had to be that. When I ran for office of attorney general, what, seven years ago, now, I didn't say polygamy one time. Didn't cross my lips. You never asked, nobody ever asked me about it. It wasn't an issue because nobody talked about it. Nobody wanted to talk about it.
Really kind of the result of the 50's raid we're finding out and as polygamy and some of these sects became more closed, they ran inside the city and barred the gates so to speak, and out of fear of the government and because of what happened afterwards and the fiasco the raid had and the impact it had.
Public officials decided it was easier and better to ignore them. Let's turn our backs and ignore them. Either that or we were embarrassed like them because so many of us like myself have polygamy in our history.
So we were at a point where, by ignoring them, it allowed certain people, like Warren Jeffs, to be able to abuse his position and victimize people.
And it was being allowed to occur for so many years, and law and justice and protect and serve and all the social services and all the things available to other Utahns were not being made available to people within certain polygamist sects.
You've made it clear you're going after the exploitation of innocent minors bound into marriages, you're going after financial fraud on a federal or state level, misappropriations of funds, you made it clear you'll go after law enforcement where they're not holding their oaths of office if they're engaged in certain practices.
So you've done this. But is the end game, is the end goal, to bring an end to plural marriage?
It has never been that. I think that's impossible, first of all. This is, we've tried to make it clear from the beginning this has never been about polygamy per se, about a religious practice.
It's not a bit about religion.
It's about bringing the law and justice and the protection of the laws to people being victimized in the name of religion by certain individuals.
But it does beg the question, the larger question, is polygamy is a felony crime, there are tens of thousands of polygamists, reportedly, in the west, and in Utah , with probably 10,000 or more kids who are the children of polygamists. How do you, how do you eradicate it? It can't be done.
Just with just a few hundred in that '53 raid they couldn't take care of the problem, and had to return people back. We'd have to double our prison space in Utah , quadruple in order to put everybody, every man and woman who practice polygamy in prison.
Imagine the money we'd have to spend on foster care, and on our system it would be overwhelmed.
But there are those who say if you go this with a scalpel and say the exploitation of children we will fight that, if you say fraud, we will fight that, that you're creating, really, a hand book for how to safely, practice plural marriage.
You're saying as long as you don't go into these areas, we'll leave you alone.
Well, I can see that people would find that. In fact I get criticized substantially for not doing enough, from all over the country, from people here that we should arrest every single polygamist and I basically said look, we have to deal‑ ‑ Utah has to deal with this and the West has to deal with the issue of polygamy.
It's a major question and I don't think we can ever go back to the way it was before.
So on one I'm being criticized for not doing enough and I have other people saying you shouldn't have started this.
Now when they talk about Utah they talk about polygamy, they don't talk about Olympics or wonderful parks it's about polygamy and your fault, Mr. Shurtleff, for starting this.
And look I'm not going to apologize. Because we have learned of so many horrific crimes and so many people being victimized, men, women, and children, that something had to be done.
And we still need to address the larger issue, but not only those who are committing crimes but just the lack of services that are available because of the, because of pushing them to the back or them pulling themselves behind, and closing the doors, they weren't getting the services.
Kids were not being taken for emergency care, you talk to any dentist ever treated the child of a polygamist they say their teeth are rotting because they wait too long because of the fear that they will be targeted, or something because of polygamy.
So it's a question that as far as what we do with the bigger picture of polygamy.
I don't think we can ever go back and we should never go back to ignoring the problem and pretending they're not there.
Is there a legitimate concern? Much has been made of the leadership style of Warren Jeffs which is very, very different than some of the people who preceded him in the positions of leadership with the FLDS community in Colorado City . Is there something to be made of this leadership style?
But if you push too hard in those communities, it could result in a confrontation, and if a confrontation results it could be a standoff, and Mr. Attorney general, bad things happen in standoffs.
And I believe we were very lucky, or perhaps even blessed, some people might say, that a man on the Top Ten Most Wanted List, who we knew was surrounded by people with guns, his security would said they would not let him be taken, that the night he was taken that he was alone. We couldn't be happier. We did not want a confrontation. I think every time in the last time year I talked on the TV hoping Warren Jeffs was watching I said Warren just turn yourself in. You say that god's fighting your battles and protecting you.
Come into court and prove it. Like your people who have turned themselves in you need to do the same. He didn't, he wouldn't, but he was captured and we're grateful that there was no violence. There's always that propensity.
Yet you can't let the fear of that happening stop you from doing what's right enforcing the law and protecting people. And in addition to this whole law enforcement tactic we've done wonderful things with what we call the safety net committee.
We were finding first of all my first concern was I'm not going to get a victim to come out of that community and bring me evidence of a crime if they can't survive outside that community.
And that was the big problem is that without education, without job skill training, with kids and without even the ability to control or own your own home or property where you could be kicked out and lose all that, no woman, no man is going to come out of that community to a society that they're ill‑prepared to deal with feeling that they're not secure.
And until one brave woman, Carolyn Jessop told me her story I felt like you know we have to do more than hope we'll be with us, we have to provide services to those people.
And hence was born the Safety Net Committee that was there to serve those willing to come out, but also those who still live in those communities have a right to protection of laws and the services the state of Utah has to offer.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Always good to listen to the voice of the people on polygamy.
We traveled to Bountiful and asked how should the state's law enforcement approach polygamy?
Consenting adults want to engage in polygamy I don't have a problem.
But when children are abused and my tax dollars are abused that's when I have the problem.
Some of these other factions of polygamist groups are low key, and the lifestyle that they live is their religious choice.
It's illegal. There's nothing to do with religion. I mean if a religion can say anything it wants doesn't make it right.
We've got to go after the crimes against children, and the welfare system, and insurance fraud and things like that, that are created by the polygamists, but it would be difficult at best to start just rounding them up and it would be very easy to park buses in front of the communities and load them you will and haul them away but there's no place to put them.
I don't think they do enough. I don't think they ever have. If they've done it, they would have had a lot cleared up by now.
The state is kind of stuck where they're at right now. It's hard to, if they process the fathers, then they have the children and the wives to take care of. So it's hard.
Well joining me now are two journalists who have researched and written extensively on the subject of polygamy and frankly their work is among the best work around on the subject.
Brooke Adams is a reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune and since February she has written exclusively on the subject of plural marriage.
And Ben Winslow is a crime reporter for the Deseret Morning News, and events in the past year have brought him to the subject of polygamy on a very steady basis.
Brook, Ben, thanks for being here.
Let's get to the bottom line. I was telling you old stories about when I chased the subject of plural marriage 20 years ago. Is it fair to say that we are in a very new era in the last couple of years?
[Brooke Adams, Salt Lake Tribune ]:
I think that's a fair statement. I think there's been a concerted effort by the states of Utah and Arizona to focus more attention on the polygamist communities, and particularly Colorado City and Hilldale.
And so there's a very, I think, quiet, silent attempt to address the problem there from both of those.
Ben you've spent time in a listening post trying to see how Colorado City is reacting to the scrutiny and pressure of investigations. How are the people down there?
And I mean the rank and file true believers, not necessarily the dissidents, but the true believers, how are they responding to this increased pressure on their subculture?
[Ben Winslow, Deseret Morning News]:
I think it's difficult to really tell because the people who are rank and file and extremely faithful really aren't talking.
But you can tell that there is a sense of entrenchment with the law enforcement scrutiny on them, and I think that it's one of those situations where we may not fully be able to understand where they're coming from, or why they're believing what they are, but they clearly are believing it, and I think the more scrutiny that's put on them, you may see this further entrenchment as well.
There was a sense in the day or two after the arrest of Warren Jeffs, outside of Las Vegas, a sense in some people's minds where, AH‑HA, there it is, that's the end game, it's all going to end now. We've taken the most notorious off the table. One of you is smiling and the other shaking your head. Reactions to that. Is the arrest of Warren Jeffs in fact the end?
He's not dead. I mean he's in prison. He can still call the shots. That's the concern that a lot of law enforcement has, is that this is a man who is allowed to make contact with people, he has a Constitutional right to do so. So, you know, he can still be in charge.
And if anything, there's also a concern, at least among some of the law enforcement I've talked to. That it fuels a martyr complex, that is someone who the prophets are persecuted and this is someone who's viewed as a prophet by a lot of people, and they're devoted to him, and so this may just play more into that.
[ Adams ]:
One of my favorite quotes is from 1953 when the governor of Arizona and the attorney general at that time said "Polygamy is gone from Arizona forever." And so these sort of crackdowns I do not think eliminate polygamy.
Well, and we should give credit where it's due that Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has certainly stopped very short of making such statements, but those statements were made in the 1980's, they were made in the 1930's, they were made in the 1940's, the 1950's, and there's been that sense that these crusades have back fired, and Ben's reference to martyrdom, I think back to the times of when men have been incarcerated on charges of plural marriage, they've emerged from jail, in many respects, exalted and more honored in their immediate communities.
[ Adams ]:
Well to this day the descendants of those men tell stories with great pride about their fathers and grandfathers' going to practice the principle. And one of the interesting things I think has happened as the state of Utah and also Arizona have cracked down on the FLDS, it's like putting their thumb on a ball of mercury. It's spread out many different directions and hence you have the compounds that have popped up in Texas and Colorado , and the spread into Nevada , much greater degree than they've been there previously.
But there is an effort, you can tell, by those other states as well, Nevada and Texas , their attorney generals are well aware of this, and they are starting to take more of a notice. Even Texas has started passing some legislation that apparently, at least what it appears on the surface, is designed at maybe cracking down and stopping the problem there, and then of course there are federal investigations under way in Arizona and throughout the nation, really.
But then isn't there a sense, too, that if we try to portray all people who practice plural marriage as consistent with Warren Jeffs or the very closed order in Colorado City, that we may be missing, in fact, the lion's share of men, women, and children out there connected to this practice?
[ Adams ]:
Right, you make a good point. I think to all of the other groups in Utah that practice polygamy have said that they will abide by the laws as far as underage marriage.
So they've vowed not to engage in underage marriage and some of those groups I think they've taken the stand that if it's a plural marriage, the woman has to be 21 or older.
I can't say that all groups do that, but most have agreed to do that. And so you know, some of those distinctions, I think, are lost in the public debate at the moment about polygamy.
Brooke, one thing, I'm going to divert here for a second.
You have a blog site through your position with the Salt Lake tribune.
[ Adams ]:
And you get a lot of very interesting input to that blog site. Your colleagues as journalists provide input but you also get input from the public. What sticks in your mind as some of the feedback? And perhaps feedback that you sense is coming from the plural marriage community when you report on these issues?
[ Adams ]:
Well one of the most interesting comments I've had posted to my blog was from a woman within the FLDS community, who asked that I share her view of her life with people who read my blog, which I did. I put a comment by her on that blog. And I've also heard from other people within different polygamist communities who want to share their perspective on current events, you know particularly some of the government actions.
And also I've heard from people in surrounding states who really find it more informative to hear discussion by people living the lifestyle than they're getting generally in the media.
Ben, one part of your reporting that I was greatly intrigued by was your obtaining copies of audio tapes of Warren Jeffs speaking to his congregation. And there was almost kind of a millennialist end of time flavor associated with some of those comments. Is that something, as you've done reporting, that this is coming further and further into play with these contemporary days for that group down there?
These tapes are older, and so there is a certain context there that they need to be into this but as you hear a lot of his sermons and things that Warren Jeffs says there is a certain apocalyptic to it, end of days, that's something commonly preached. A lot of these groups have an end of days, second‑coming kind of sense.
But in a lot of real respects that's used to keep the rank and file in order. I mean it's a management tool, if you will. The end is near and behave because we need you to behave. Are we gaining the sense that these people may, in fact, be girding their loins? There was the report that Jeffs when he took over was gathering people back down in Colorado City . Now he seems to be diversifying the settlements over the past couple of years and getting new placements.
There's been claims of the end of the world too, the lifting up.
[ Adams ]:
But that's not the fundamentalists either. A lot of religion groups talk about end times and end days so I would put that in there as well. I picked up another day at Deseret Book 50 Signs of the End Times. That's not unique to them.
What's interesting to keep in mind, I guess I'm so old that I remember the last time we had a violent upsurge, a seismic upsurge in the plural marriage community brought on by the violent kind of subcult of Ervil LeBaron and his belief that he was the anointed leader of the plural marriage community and his family members killed physician Rulon Allred in his Murray office.
It sent horrific shock waves through the plural marriage community. We have no sign of any violent conduct at this point, do we? Do we have LeBaron still rattling.
Jacqueline LeBaron is on the F.B.I.'s most wanted list but a lot of these groups are very, very peaceful.
[ Adams ]:
I'd say there's no sign of that with the FLDS, despite all the talk that people were going to throw themselves on the sword for Warren Jeffs. There's no signs of that in that community that I'm aware of.
So as a journalist, this is a very, very unique story, because oftentimes we're dealing with issues that pass through many layers of society. But this is a very isolated group. It's always easy to portray Colorado City and Hilldale as these isolated communities. What aspect does that isolation bring to the story for you as a journalist?
Obviously more difficult to penetrate but what other issues?
[ Adams ]:
I always feel like I'm telling part of the story and it's very filtered because they will not talk to us or set us straight, they will not share information about how they operate so I find that very difficult.
The wall is very difficult. Because you go down there, and you're met with nothing.
There is no response whatsoever, just silence, or they'll avoid you. If you ask, you know, go up to somebody and ask politely you'll get no, I don't want to say anything at all.
And that's usually your only interaction. Lately at least it's been that way.
I agree with Brooke, the silence can be deafening.
Ben Winslow, Deseret morning news, Brooke Adams Salt Lake tribune.
Check out Brooke's blogs and when issues dictate and events develop check out their writings it's worth the time.
In our Speak Out segment we're join by radio personality Bill Allred. Now the name Allred has been a big name in Utah 's plural marriage culture for over 100 years.
It figures that Bill would have a few things to say about polygamy.
Speak Out Utah
When you look at a picture of Warren Jeffs the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can there be any doubt in your mind that he ain't quite right? And when we hear some of the details of the polygamist leader's life our suspicion that this guy is just really, really creepy is confirmed.
Now, I should say, I'm speaking as a man whose male ancestors had multiple wives so I've got "polyg cred." My last name is Allred after all; related to the infamous polygamist Rulon Allred somewhere along the line.
And when you combine the Allred side of my family with the Wheelwright side the polygamy runs deep. Old Mathew Wheelwright married sisters and went to the Utah State Prison for it back in eighteen something or another. He was just doing what they called "living the principal."
There's something quaint and almost wholesome about that old timey polygamist stuff when you compare it with the unsavory goings on the modern polygamist world. Warren Jeffs arranging marriages between very young girls and much older men. John Kingston beating his 16 year daughter near death with a belt because she wouldn't marry his brother. Ervil LeBaron sending a couple of women to murder Rulon Allred in his Murray offices.
That's all very unsavory and nothing like the early days of polygamy when the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, married 33 women, most between the ages of 14 and 20, many already married to other men.
Brigham Young had an estimated 55 wives. Polygamy has always caused controversy within the LDS Church . When Joseph, died his first wife Emma, and his son, Joe the third, joined with others to form the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Good, old timey polygamy. The LDS Church abandoned polygamy in 1890 and today church leaders distance the church from the practice. They are upset when people connect the modern church with anything having to do with Jeffs or Kingston or Allred. And I, speaking as an Allred, understand. I empathize. And I cannot blame them.
I'm bill Allred, and if you disagree with anything I've said, go to our web site and make a comment.
I dare you.
Well that's Utah now for this evening; Doug will be back next week. And, remember you can join the conversation at any time by visiting our web site, share your thoughts and accept bill's challenge to provide feedback at KUED .org.
Thanks for watching, I'm Ken Verdoia.
Posted by Utah NOW on October 4, 2006 03:38 PM
Look, don't take this the wrong way Bill Allred, but although Warren Jeffs comes off as creepy, so do you. Granted it is a different creepy, but still.
If my daughter came home with you or Jeffs, either one, I think I'd be worried. Know what I'm saying?
I'm not sure the "look how creepy the guy looks" approach was really the right approach for you to take.
Just a friendly observation.
Posted by: Bill | October 6, 2006 09:10 PM
Thanks for taking the dare and commenting on the show. My comments about Jeff's appearance were meant to be sarcastic. I'm well aware that if people were judged only by appearance I'd have been locked up long ago.
Oh, and thanks for the offer but I'm happily married and have no desire to date your daughter.
Posted by: Bill Allred | October 8, 2006 08:37 AM
I just heard your comments on Utah Now. I would love to know where I could find the information about the ages of the plural wives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that you cited on the show. I have a lot of friends who are Mormon. If I told them that they would never believe it. And they go to church every Sunday (lol).
Thanks - interesting stuff!
Posted by: Debbie Miller | October 9, 2006 11:21 AM
Well, since you dared me...My wife and I saw your commentary on polygamy on the Utah Now program. We were curious as to
how you researched your information, particularly the information about Joseph Smith? We would be interested in any literature/resourses that you may have used. Thanks.
Posted by: sam l | October 9, 2006 11:22 AM
It was great to see Bill Allred's commentary. His smart sarcasm or (smarcasm) was a nice change of pace. If I had to hear another person say "One must contemplate the notion of what one must do if one were one who would one one one one one" Please who talks like that? Bring Bill back or else the terrorist win. Good day sir.
Posted by: Travis Tate | October 9, 2006 05:27 PM
Ken Verdoia and Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General-- Please try to be consistent in your beliefs/actions. Is polygamy illegal? Then treat it as such. If Colorado City or Hildale were known as illegal drug towns, illegal gambling towns, or illegal prostitution towns I'm sure you would not look away. I'm sure you wouldn't give your little speech about how they are consenting adults, aren't breaking other laws, and we'd have to make more jail space like you did in this episode when the topic was polygamy. You realize that the majority of prisioners are in for non-violent drug offenses, right? Are you going to let them all out now that we've heard you talk about how these consensual crimes are just too hard to prosecute and it would save money and not overwhelm the system? Are you going to turn your back and ignore prostitution like you say has been done with polygamy as long as they're not hurting a minor or violating tax laws? Either treat them all as crimes or start trumpeting the fact that you're no longer going to prosecute other consensual actions between adults. Your hypocrisy would be laughable if your actions didn't have such a negative effect on individual liberty and society as a whole.
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