On the EDge: The polygamy wars, from Short Creek to reality TV

OPINION – There comes a point where you have to draw a line in the sand and simply say: “No more lies.”

All of this talk about polygamous marriage being nothing more than a “lifestyle choice,” that most polygamists are good, law-abiding people, that, perhaps, only a few participate in such illegal activities as sexual assault upon little girls forced into marriage with older men, the practice of “bleeding the beast” (which translates into welfare fraud), and other criminal activity is nothing more than talk and it is time for the state to stand up to the realities of polygamy rather than shove them to the side.

We have seen it take what it calls a “moral stance” to do all it can to oppose same-sex marriage, which does no harm and poses no threat to what is referred to as “traditional marriage,” yet allow these horrible transgressions by a group of religious fanatics to propagate.

The thinking is flawed, especially in the face of continuing evidence that these holier-than-thou claims from Short Creek are hollow.

Last September, Arizona’s Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson told us that the community of Colorado City, Ariz., has been taking outrageous amounts of money through the Department of Economic Security’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Payments and Medicaid.

These welfare benefits are generated by hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Colorado City, of course, is part of the area referred to as Short Creek, which also includes the town of Hildale, Utah. Short Creek is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a fundamentalist Mormon group that practices plural marriage, or The Principle, as it is called.

Johnson recently received an updated report from the DES detailing the number of recipients receiving SNAP and Medicaid payments in the Colorado City area.

This new report continues to show that over 90 percent of the population of Colorado City is receiving supplemental nutrition and medical assistance,” Johnson said. “Over $400,000 a month in SNAP benefits alone is being paid out for a town with a population of only a little under five thousand.”

According to DES figures, more than $12 million in SNAP assistance was paid out from July of 2011 to December of 2013.

The figures are in for December of 2013, revealing no change, as approximately $428,099 was paid out for SNAP benefits on 529 cases resulting in a total household SNAP benefit of a little more than $800 a month.

“The average benefit for a household in the state of Arizona is roughly $288,” Johnson said. “The households in Colorado City are receiving over two times that amount.”

That does not take into account the amount paid in medical assistance to the residents of Short Creek.

This is part of the deep context of polygamy that is largely not understood by those with only the distorted view of the subject that is presented and popularized in the glut of pro-polygamy reality TV shows offered by TLC.

The network, which once represented itself as The Learning Channel, boasts “Sister Wives” as one of its strongest entries in a lineup that also includes such reality programming as “Sex Sent Me To The ER,” “My 600-pound Life,” “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” and a host of other shows certain to stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Missing from the lineup, curiously, is a show that was scheduled for a six-week run that was cancelled after only three airings.

“Escaping The Prophet” was a program that was supposed to show the other side of fundamentalist Mormon polygamy, to expose the downside of a practice that is force-fed into the hearts and heads of FLDS followers from cradle to grave.

The show followed FLDS escapee Flora Jessop, who was born in Colorado City, had two mothers through polygamy, and 27 siblings.

She has a history of familial sexual abuse and was forced to marry her cousin when she was 16 before eventually fleeing.

Jessop became an activist, her purpose to help others escape from the abuses that robbed her of her innocence and left her scarred.

It wasn’t a pretty show, it wasn’t a funny show, it was a somewhat gritty show, in spite of the obvious scripting influences of the show’s producers.

But, it was a good counterpoint to the sit-com that is “Sister Wives,” where Kody Brown bumbles, stumbles, and fumbles his way through life with his one legal wife, three so-called “spiritual wives,” and 17 children.

“Sister Wives” is sanitized, it’s superficial, worst of all, it is one-sided.

We shouldn’t be surprised, not with the niche programming that is taking place on television these days, which follows the model of the Internet where truth is a commodity often difficult to discern.

The thing is, TLC was under mounting pressure from some corners to tip the scales into some sort of balance, to offer something that wasn’t all puppies, kittens, and unicorns when it comes to polygamy, which is, I believe, the only reason why Jessop’s show, “Escaping The Prophet,” was aired.

The thing is, it wasn’t a fair run.

Jessop’s show was not given the same kind of production values, the same sort of promotional boost, the same public relations push as “Sister Wives.” She made a fraction of what Brown and each of the women on his show earn per episode.

The show never had a chance, yet TLC can now say that it tried to show the other side of polygamy and that viewers just weren’t interested.

I realize polygamy is a complex issue, that to understand it takes patience and a willingness to dig a little beneath the surface and realize that there is a deep context to that world, that it is not simply a lifestyle choice, or a freedom of religion issue; that the sexual, emotional, and fraud abuses are all part of that context.

Jessop’s show gave us a dose of that context, that truth.

And, as the Georgian Orthodox Church author Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) wrote, “The truth, even if bitter, will prevail with time.”

We can only hope.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.


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  • Molly February 4, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Too bad, I would have loved to see the other side.

  • Sarah February 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    The legislature of all states needs to get off their … and protect these woman and children. They need to support the efforts of Flora Jessop and others that are fighting the effort to end the abuses of the FLDS.
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • Sean February 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      It should be a felony to spend food stamps (SNAP) not intended for yourself or your legally declared children.

      • Marion February 19, 2014 at 9:24 am

        It IS illegal. The Attorney General’s office is aware and still does nothing.

  • But Seriously February 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Once again, these people are sick beyond treatment. You wanr an interesting reality show about these freaks? Find out where all of the children with down syndrome go.

    • Xshort creeker February 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Your so full of …*. The kids with special needs STAY with their parents. And no they are not sick….. yes, they are blindly following a sick man but it don’t make them sick. There is something sad happening in my hometown but that don’t make my relatives freaks. Give them time they will see whats happening, I know this because I did and so have a lot of my family. Get your …*facts straight!
      Ed. ellipses*

      • But Seriously February 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

        I am sorry. Freaks was to much. How about raging pedophiles?

      • But Seriously February 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

        Some real winners on here defending these FREAKS. Pedophiles are what they are.

      • Kathleen February 18, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        No, they are not bad people some are very good with honest intentions, but mislead. Yes they are blindly following someone who’s interest is not for the good of the people where breaking the law to promote polygamy disregards every sense of right and wrong justified by a perceived “higher law”. History often repeats itself and we are seeing that happen here. If we look at the middle eastern countries where polygamy has been practiced for centuries women are hidden behind burkas not allowed to have jobs and dependent on the men for survival as in Afghanistan. Remember there are other groups out there who put their beliefs or leaders before God or common sense. When men stop thinking for themselves and allow someone else to control the good in them taking away our ability to make decisions and know God for ourselves for a “perceived higher law” or “greater cause” whatever it is, it becomes a cult. Logic mostly goes out the window in favor of the belief, culture or higher purpose that is taught. After many generations of dysfunction those who are close to these practices lose sight of reality and those brave enough to leave will usually have a hard time coming back into society.

  • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    A very good commentary. I can’t see any points to disagree with. IMO Brian Hyde could learn a little about fair , fact based discussion from this article 😀

  • Sean February 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Join this Facebook group to express support for Flora Jessop and Brandon Jeffs and organize with others in effort to restore ESCAPING THE PROPHET to TLC.


  • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    And a big part of the problem is that the policy of the official LDS church is to just pretend the problem doesn’t exist. One has to keep in mind that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of plural marriage is what started all this in the first place (Flds, LDS, other sects, etc.). And conveniently enough, when huge amounts of pressure were put on Utah to end the practice of polygamy, God(Heavenly Father) decided to tell the mormon leaders it would be ok to give it up. Of course they didn’t give it up then, it just moved into the shadows, and so was born the secrecy mentality of polygamy. So a start is for the rulers of this state (the LDS majory) to actually acknowledge that we have problems with pligs, and then we can focus on some creative ways to solve them. And TLC is a garbage channel, and that’s another rant entirely about the dumbing down of America, so I won’t go into it.

  • ladybugavenger February 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I watched . Escaping the Prophet…I would still be watching if it was on. Not interested in sister wives, that’s sick….escaping the prophet and the short lived show Escaping polygamy showed the side of warren jefffs that we know to be true ( the abuse of children) Bring it back!!!

    • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Most viewers want fluff entertainment. They don’t want serious issues.

    • ex plig February 4, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      That show was … she made up half the … on it. That’s why it got cancelled.

      Ed. ellipsis

    • Xshort creeker February 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Lol! Im from The short creek group and I LOVE the Sisterwives show, It actually shows how it is! All the newer ones have way to much bull … and nonsense. They make something that is in fact sad, sound so bleeping wicked and dreadful. There are so many lifestyle choices in this world and polygamy just happens to be one, one that has been around off and on for centuries.
      Ed. ellipsis.

  • Craig February 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Before being able to collect food stamps and welfare/medicaid, the women should name the father of the child/children they are collecting for. Then, the state needs to after those men and make them pay child support and/or reimburse the state. It really is quite simple in this day and age of DNA testing.

    • Pamela Nelsen February 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      You just hit the nail on the head Craig……its that simple

  • kristin schwiermann February 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Ed, Can I just say again what a ONE SIDED IDIOT you are! You know NOTHING about the Browns or their religion. Maybe you can get your facts about them correctly. You must be jealous of Kody because you always use them as an example in polygamy. Use the Greens once in awhile……Just because they are in the lime light trying to tell people about the correct way of living their religion you condemn them. Shut up already…or find out about the true Brown family. But then again you are an IDIOT!

  • Annie Bananie February 4, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    This important reality show needs to be seen. When this type of abuse is occurring in these United States of America, and these people are abusing our state and federal welfare and medical care programs, something needs to be done about it. People need to stand up and voice their objections, and our legal system needs to start prosecuting these people who are blatantly breaking our laws!
    Flora and Brandon are helping not only children, but women and men who need help to escape the cult. I’m happy to see that so many people are rising to the occasion and demanding that something be done about it before it goes on any longer!

  • Noam February 4, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    While I agree with many of the points Kociela brought up, I feel like people are trying to oversimplify the issues using one extreme template; the Colorado City Polygamists. No one thinks child molestation is OK, or that TLC is really a learning channel. But the problem of fixing Colorado City comes down to very specific implementation problems.

    We can’t constitutionally make laws that target one group – because the 14th Amendment exists. We can’t just say “well, you don’t have to pay taxes on an unfinished property in Arizona – unless you live Colorado City, because we know they’re scalping the government.” You can’t say “you have the right to organize your community and city with your own elected officials – unless you’re Colorado City because we know your officials are evil.”

    Everyone knows the CC polygamists are getting away with a lot of fraud but that fraud is hard to combat when the whole town, including the elected officials, are in on the fraud. They’re hard to combat without writing laws that specifically target one group of people. It’s not like Utah and Arizona haven’t tried to deal with this problem in the past. Both states have. Even when the show Sister Wives came out, there were lawyers that immediately tried to find specific laws the family were breaking so they could nail the stars of the show. They couldn’t. People on both sides of the border have been trying to get Colorado City for a long time. Some of the commentors under this article make it sound like the problem is: ‘Nobody CARES enough!!!’ And that’s just… not… true. The problem is getting legit search warrants, getting people to testify against their family members (NOT EASY), and trying to nab government officials who are extraordinarily careful.

    So… since apparently nobody in Arizona or Utah cares enough to protect these women and children, why don’t you figure out a way to go into Colorado City and pull these women and children out of their houses without breaking any laws.

    Then email your ideas to local law enforcement.

    • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Yea its complicated. The FLDS cult has stuck around a long time. It’s a hard one to get rid of…

  • KanabCowgirl February 4, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Do not judge the people in hildale/colorado city. A lot of people who call themselves good mormons share a common background and yet they consider themselves to be better & feel it is their right to stand as judge, jury & executioner to those who don’t share their beliefs.
    I was raised to be a good Mormon girl and so I know about the persecutions the church went through in its early history. I had family killed in those persecutions. I’m seeing history repeat itself and it seems to me that the people who are spearheading the persecutions are the mormons

  • SHAWN February 4, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    The problem with your article here Ed is you are trying to use a blanket statement to cover everyone who participates in polygamy. Not everyone who practices polygamy lives by the same rules. Should all blacks be put in prison because some fall into the gang lifestyle? Should all mexicans be deported cause some are here illegal? Have you ever looked at the Amish? Many different sects with many different rules and guidelines.

    The Browns are not part of the Jeffs (FLDS) Cult. They follow the same beliefs, but not the same practices. Centenial Park dose not follow Jeffs but practices polygamy. Ever tried to talk to them? Try getting some education on a subject before you try to use a blanket statement to cover a group of people.

    Yes there is a bad side to polygamy , but there is also a good side to it. Just like you will find with every group of people you gather.

    As far as the Jeffs Cult(FLDS) yes there are many problems that both the state of UT and AZ seem to turn a blind eye to for what ever reason they chose. Yes the show “ESCAPING THE PROPHET” shed good light on the problems in “Short Creek” just as the show on National Geo “Breaking The Faith”.
    Show such as “Polygamy USA” and “Sister Wives” show there is a functional side to polygamy also.

    • ladybugavenger February 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      Breaking the faith that’s the show I watched ( I earlier said escaping from polygamy 😮 )

    • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      ALL polygamy is a sexual perversion. Can’t really ban it in that respect though.

      • Shawn February 4, 2014 at 9:35 pm

        Define your “sexual perversion” statement? All sects or the “Jeffs” sect?

  • Laura Lounsbury February 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    The monthly amount that people receive in food stamp benefits depends on their household income and the number of people in the household. If there are six people in the household (including the father) they are obviously going to get more than a family of three. (The average is $288 a month in Arizona because there are plenty of single people, couples, and small families claiming benefits, hence the AVERAGE being way less than CC.) The state of Arizona is not favoring the town of Colorado City and giving them more money because they are polygamists. They are getting the maximum amount because they have HUGE households and fall below the income line. I personally know a family of 6 living in Arizona, who are NOT polygamists, that includes a father who works full time for the city, and they get about $700 a month in food stamp benefits. If you have a big family you can get A LOT in monthly benefits. If polygamists are falsifying documents and not claiming income to get food stamps, that is one thing. If they are simply utilizing the system that is available and getting the maximum amount of benefits because they have big families, SO WHAT! Blame the government system for providing it and offering ridiculously high amounts of money, not the people using it.

    • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      the pligs would starve w/o food stamps

  • Tonya Post February 4, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I agree 100% with you Annie… My mother helped Flora run away from that lifestyle…. In fact my grandma ran way back in the early 50’s with her children and pitched a tent a block away from the St. George Temple where she raised her children.. while my Grandpa was back in Hildale having more and more children with the 2nd wife… My Mother was in the show Escaping the Prophet they have worked so hard putting these shows together we need to see the rest of them .

  • ladybugavenger February 4, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Breaking the faith that’s the show I watched ( I earlier said escaping from polygamy 😮 )

  • Elise February 4, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Kody Brown is my uncle and their family is amazing. They are kind, authentic, intelligent people who deserve a lot more respect than they are often given. However, you are right in that they represent a minority among polygamists. Something needs to be done about Colorado City. It’s so sad the things that happen there.

  • Jessica February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    It amazes me how many people believe everything they see on tv. Someone gets on and tells a poor pitty me story and everyone believes the lies. I’m glad tlc cancelled the show! I would watch and laugh as I pointed out lie after lie after lie. True things out there aren’t all peaches and cream, but why take what is already a horrible thing and add even more to it? Isn’t the truth bad enough? I love how so many are focused on this one group when there is so much evil all over this country.

    • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      hurr durr… maybe cuz its a few miles up the road??? derp

  • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    dont forget the randomly buried stillborns and inbred malformed babies… Polygamy is a textbook example of why inbreeding is a bad idea!

  • Doofy February 4, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    and to the poster above: YES Polygamy is an evil under all circumstances. It is amoral and just nasty to hoard a bunch of sexual concubines and call them wives. I don’t give a crap if your god said it was ok. My God thinks its evil and polygamists are adulterers and scoundrels! plain and simple!

    • DoubleTap February 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

      “….and polygamists are adulterers and scoundrels…..” You forgot fraudulent welfare cheats. I hate it when I see them at WalMart or Costco pushing the “flatbed” carts stacked taller than the women pushing them to their nice fancy new Escalades and Suburbans. I wonder how much of my tax dollars they spent at the stores while I walk out of the store with my milk and bread and 4-pack of toilet paper. Seeing these cheats load their items into their vehicles, you would think they were stocking a C-store somewhere…..probably are. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

      • Bender February 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

        Dude, you found a 4-pack of toilet paper at Costco? I always end up leaving with enough for a small army. Pew, pew.

        • DoubleTap February 6, 2014 at 10:40 am

          Bender: Uhmm…no. I found it at WalMart.

  • Godzgomer February 5, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Thats the way its done in CA. This cult is so sick and has brainwashed all its members. They put so much fear into them about leaving the cult that what they dont realize is that by always defending their cult to please the prophet (and keep sweet) so they will make it to heaven…..all they are doing is securing their place in hell. JESUS will not come again until His word has reached all ends of the earth. It doesn’t say until all follow Him, until all believe Him or until all give their life to Him. Ignorance or brainwashing stubbornance will not keep you from hell and it certainly will Not get you into heaven. Just as numerous wives and rapes will NOT get you into heaven eitber. Flora and Brandon and Aunt Jenny and all those that have seen the light and are trying to spread Gods true word and love..may God truly Bless you because He SEES everything in your heart.I will miss the show. I have read several books and I HURT because of what these YOUNG girls and boys go thrwough. No wonder our world is sooo screwed up. I pray for all of the ex-FLDS that the one and only TRUE GOD who loves us all will give them healing, comfort and strength for a better, wonderful life with HIM. and the power to be a true Vessel for HIM.

    • Doofy February 5, 2014 at 10:53 am

      They need to be made aware that they worship a false god, who is more than likely the devil himself!

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