On the EDge: Simmering below the surface of polygamy

File photo of the FLDS South Dakota compound courtesy of Fox 13 news. File photo of Warren Jeffs, St. George News

OPINION – On the surface, it would appear that things are changing a bit in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community.

But, like all things FLDS-related, it’s all a matter of context.

So while we hear of community events – from concerts to gatherings in the park and outreach groups to help those trying to leave the polygamous culture – the undercurrent remains swift and disturbing in the polygamous communities.

Kids, described as “hooligans,” continue to take delight in lighting tire fires in the streets of the twin cities along the Utah-Arizona state line.

Among sparse and grudging moves for a more open community, there is still a secretive shroud surrounding it.

And, somehow, justice continues to turn a blind eye to the culture and lifestyle, as evidenced when 10 members and leaders of the FLDS Church copped plea bargains with federal officials after a raid in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, turned up evidence that they had collected benefits from Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, and turned them over to the church. Instead of jail time and fines, all they had to do was attend a special class on the proper use of government benefits.

Read more: FLDS members attend food stamp class as part of plea deal

The only real loser in the case was interim church leader Lyle Jeffs, who was also charged and released on home confinement while he awaited trial.

Lyle Jeffs, the brother of Warren Jeffs – the FLDS president and prophet who is serving a life-plus term in a Texas prison for engaging in sex with two underage wives – decided to follow his brother’s footsteps and run, using olive oil to slip out of a GPS monitoring device placed on his ankle, and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. He is still on the run.

Considering the slap on the wrists his co-defendants received it was not the most brilliant of moves and Lyle Jeffs will face additional charges and prison time when the FBI finally pounces on him.

Read more: FBI issues wanted poster for polygamous FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs

The woes of the FLDS Church spread much wider than a fugitive on the lam, however.

Paragon Contractors, an FLDS-affiliated business, was ordered by a federal judge to pay fines and $200,000 in back wages to children forced to pick pecans illegally.

The precepts of polygamy were struck a blow when the Utah Legislature passed a bill reaffirming the state’s stance on polygamy, although none of the state’s prosecutors seem likely to enforce it.

The feds also gave the community a minor slap on the wrist when although it found the local police force and town officials guilty of discrimination against those few residents of the twin cities who are not church members, it did not disband the police force, ordering “retraining” instead.

The legal troubles continue to stretch far outside of the twin cities.

In South Dakota, where the FLDS has built a scaled-down complex similar to the Yearning For Zion compound in Texas, Rep. Tim Goodwin, R-Rapid City, has asked for an investigation into what is taking place behind the walls of the 140-acre fortress in Custer County where members of the FLDS Church have lived for a decade.

Oddly, during that time there have been no reports of births or deaths within the compound, even though the state requires such reporting. Goodwin’s suggestion, however, was opposed by South Dakota Speaker of the House Mark Mickelson.

How this will play out remains to be seen.

And, in western Canada, two FLDS leaders – Winston Blackmore and James Oler – are currently on trial facing polygamy charges. The case has taken 25 years of investigation, with the final break coming from documents seized when Texas Rangers raided the YFZ compound.

One document shows Blackmore to be “married” to 24 women, with Oler wed to four.

It has been, and will continue to be, argued that the FLDS are merely practicing their religious beliefs, that polygamy is part of their stairway to heaven and eternal bliss.

But, it is not that simple, as the convictions for pedophilia, fraud and other crimes – ranging from abatement of civil rights to murder – are a part of Mormon fundamentalist history, a part of that all-important thing called context.

The morality of polygamy is not on trial here, rather the morality of the overall polygamous lifestyle.

Splitting hairs?

Not really.

We cannot and should not regulate what takes place between consenting adults in the confines of their own home as long as they are not harming each other or infringing on the rights or liberties of others.

But take that step and all bets are off.

And, as we have seen, many have taken that step and married underage girls; denied women their rights; discriminated against others of different faiths; defrauded the government and others out of benefits, goods and services; or abused and illegally used children in the workplace.

We’ve seen the families on television’s reality shows extolling the virtues of their polygamous beliefs and claiming persecution, and maybe in those isolated instances, they are, perhaps, true believers who think that the road to eternal salvation is lined with multiple wives and hordes of children.

But the simple fact is, when those wives and children are abused, when they are supported on the public dime, when they are given no choice in their beliefs or lives, then that is an aberration of the basic liberties and freedoms guaranteed to all.

That only comes, however, when you look beyond the scandalous headlines, go deeper than the titillating stories and check your prurient curiosity at the door.

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

No bad days!

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • comments April 25, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I’d put money on it that there are high-up Utah officials that know exactly where Lyle Jeff’s is hiding. I’d not even be surprised if they helped him escape and are aiding him. Joseph Smith’s masonic-based polygamous sex cult known as mormon fundamentalism is like a cancer, and the infection is deep; it needs to be cut out like a cancer is cut out, but i’m not sure that’s possible here. It’s also a bit like whack-a-mole; you can try to clean it up it one place but it just pops up somewhere else just as strong as ever. The biggest problem is that mainstream LDS mormonism and Utah’s goverment officials have close and deep ties to polygamist fundamentalists, and they enable and support them, and as I’ve said before, many of Utah’s high-up officials are closeted plygs, probably swapping young girls and women as “wives” in return for political favors to the plyg groups. Yes, I think the situation is that troubling. All is not well in Mayberry. The one’s who could but refuse to solve this polygamous cancer are the mainstream LDS apparatus. But the cancer is too entrenched into that organization, so things will continue as they are.

    • Californicater April 25, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      A Pervert is a pervert and certainly not limited to just the Mormons. Your argument has so many flaws in it I don’t even know where to start. You seem like the type that comes to conclusions tailored to your beliefs. I am not a Mormon but I don’t go around blaming everything that goes wrong in this state on the predominant faith of said State. One will find perverts and perversions wherever one wishes to look. An ignorant person only see’s it where it suits there preconceived perceptions. I would suggest you figure out how to educate yourself but based on your comments, you seem to be pretty set in your dark cave and i bet it feels pretty comfortable in there. Your poor spouse. Or worse, Ex-spouse…. I bet everything that went wrong in your life was your Ex’s fault huh? Well that which wasn’t the Churches fault, that is…

      • comments April 25, 2017 at 6:39 pm

        I see that you’re not at all familiar with the LDS church’s history, and all the polygamy that first began with the founder, prophet Joseph Smith. There are to this day real victims of mormon fundamentalism whether sex abuse or other forms. It isn’t just cases of random perverts within the flds cult; it’s organized and sanctioned child sex abuse that’s ordered by the leadership of the cult. Even when the child sex abuse isn’t officially sanctioned by the cult the culture of polygamy breeds an environment where it happens frequently, and it has become an accepted part of their culture.

        The leaders of the LDS church have a deep reverence and respect of the prophet Joseph Smith and for his polygamy. They believe the practice of polygamy was ordered by God himself, and so may within the modern LDS church continue to practice it secretly, 12 year old brides and all. You can blah blah attempt to troll me all you want, I don’t care, you don’t refute any of my original comment. Cute name, btw.

        • comments April 25, 2017 at 6:42 pm

          *many within the modern LDS

      • Real Life April 25, 2017 at 6:43 pm

        I am not a Mormon either. Never was, never will be. The one thing that MOST outsiders who move here can’t figure out is why there are no reprisals against the FLDS, despite the fact it has been PROVEN that they continually scam the government, force their children into slave labor, abuse the women, and rape the girls AND boys who live under their dark curtain. The only thing that myself and many others see protecting them, is the certain bible they are being “commanded” by. These “preconceived perceptions” you speak of, are brought on by simple observations. You bring nothing to the table. Maybe try reading about it, or if you don’t read, try catching one of the many, many programs about it. You will hopefully see why these “perceptions” exist.

      • comments April 26, 2017 at 11:55 am

        Call out trolls (Californicater) on their complete ignorance and they go as silent as a church mouse.

        Ed, you should do a write up on the f-LDS’s secretive ties to the mainstreem LDS organization (might not even be possible to find much info on it because they are so secretive in their dealings, after all, it’s how they’ve gotten away with child “marriages” and all the fraud and abuse for decades– a combination of secrecy and ties to Utah’s LDS political elite.)

  • comments April 25, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Actually respect Ed for writing about these plygs, because they have been know to retaliate violently against their critics. A lot of those bloodlines from the mountain meadow massacre are alive and well, and mormons (lds, flds, etc) are no stranger to resorting to violence

  • utahdiablo April 25, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    The FLDS didn’t just “collect” Snap monies, they stole $12 Million in taxpayer monies, contact US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the more voices he hears the soon this crap ends….and that gun shop sold more than one gun, just sayin’…Conceal & Carry

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