One wife, two wives, three wives, four? Five wives, six wives, seven wives? Really? More?

Suspending judgement tends to be a good policy for the intellectually inclined. So much of our human knowledge is frail, fraught with errors, subjective, or misinterpreted as deterministic. Yet, far too often, we acquire a bit of knowledge and feel compelled to castigate everything around us that doesn’t dovetail nicely with our new information. A sort of irony masquerading as enlightenment like when you blame the dog for your fart simply because the dog lacks the vocal chords to effectively lodge a retort to your outright lie (and before you think too long about it, the previous analogy doesn’t stand up logically).

Live and Let Rape?

In the normal course of daily events, I tend to believe that the rationale “live and let live” is compatible with the concept of suspended judgement. People should execute the details of their lives to the best of their ability and allow others the opportunity to do the same so long as neither party is adversely impacted (certainly difficult to quantify) by the other’s choices. Simple concepts to grap, however, real-world implementation remains a challenge since it is difficult to clearly draw the lines (especially with broad legal language) to articulate where my rights end and your rights begin.

Take the issue of polygamy. Personally I don’t give a shit if Jed has 100 wives so long as he:

  1. doesn’t receive preferential tax treatment as a result of his choices, and
  2. the most vulnerable among us are not subjugated, oppressed or otherwise victimized

Personally, I’m happy not to be swimming in that estrogen-fueled madness that Jed has to endure, especially when the menstrual cycles of five score align with a full moon. No amount of sexual variety can properly temper so much hormonal insanity.

Unfortunately, for one isolated Arizona town, polygamy is merely a gentle cover for a culture of oppression, subjugation, rape, abuse, racism and even disease. In this community, Jed’s not marrying a stable of educated, adult women of their own volition, rather, Jed is being given 13 year-old brides, with 9 year-old educations by an all-powerful “prophet” enabling Jed to relieve his pedophilia tendencies on multiple child-brides under the guise of religion. Furthermore, much of this activity is financed by tax payers because Jed believes it is his duty, as a man of God, to “bleed the beast” (ie: US Gov’t) of funds to support his unmanageable large household of incestual rape.

Now I give a shit and can’t suspend judgement.

Westward Bound

So I found myself out west last week (not in the existential sense – simply on a quick visit), far from my cramped Brooklyn apartment and spared from the 114 Fahrenheit radiating from the concrete. On a high-speed romp through the desolate, crusty nothingness north of Las Vegas (still can’t figure out why anybody likes this place), I was compelled to pass through the little town of Colorado City while en route to visit my Jack Mormon friend up in Salt Lake. Colorado City, you may remember, is the community of FLDS polygamists formerly ruled over by FLDS ‘prophet’ and imprisoned serial rapist Warren Jeffs. My interest here was a sort of sociological one; an itching curiosity to attain even just an outsiders glimpse at such a secretive and brainwashed community. My intent wasn’t to gawk so much as it was to simply experience whatever there may be on offer. I set the GPS to northern Arizona.

A Stop at Big Devil (WalMart)

On the advice of my SLC buddy, I paid a visit to a Walmart about 30 miles outside of Colorado City. The site, he claimed, provided an excellent juxtaposition of new-world consumption with old-world polygamy. It did feel a little weird stalking grandmas and kids in a retail establishment, but curiosity has done far worse to the cat in the past. I did my best to enter stealth mode and because of it, I’d say my pictures are mostly crap. I’m a terrible spytographer:

polygamists shopping

polygamists buying goods from Satan

It was odd to say the least. Not quaint, simplistic and old-worldly like a visit through Amish country, more like a sort of white-trash-come-wanna-be-wholesome with a dash of Little House on the Prairie. A mashup of “yes, I made this cotton dress with…aren’t these Nikes just to die for?” A blending of beehive hairdos and trailer-park braids. A “fuck you outside world” mixed with a bit of “how much did you say this digital camera costs?”. I hope this is coming across clearly. I hope you get the picture. You’ve got Grandma’s furiously punching buttons on her smartphone while daughter(or more probably, sister-bride) is pushing the cart full of Lay’s potato chips to the Ford F-150. Modernity appears to be perfectly acceptable beyond the thin veneer of an ugly hand-made night-gown thing. Strange. Fascinating. I stalk on.

Arriving in Zionborhood

It only got increasingly odd after entering the pearly gates of Colorado City:

welcome to colorado city

welcome to colorado city where "We Lik'em Young"

Straight away it was clear outsiders were not welcome as “No Trespassing” signs hung from every fence, gate and building. Houses were massive and crudely built with nearly all of them sided with plywood Spackled together at the seams. Many houses had boards or plastic sheeting as windows. Every house had “Zion” emblazoned above the front door. Few people were out and about. The few kids that were outside stared us down, scowling; it felt like a segment from Children of the Corn.

plywood polygamist palaces

plywood polygamist palaces

victims, I mean kids

victims, I mean kids

Unfortunately, many of the pictures are fuzzy because I rushed, fearful that some crazy fundamentalist might fly off the handle (at this point I’m thinking Waco, Jonestown, Taliban, and on and on). We drove around the dirt roads for about 25-30 minutes snapping pictures and trying to get a feel for daily life in this isolated community. Some houses had industrial metal trash bins out front. Several houses had massive, metal shipping containers in the backyard (storage?? extra lodging??). Each house had multiple cars parked in front of it. We did spot traces of kids playing behind corrugated aluminium fences…normal stuff…jumping on trampolines, riding plastic cars, smacking at a water tank with tree branches. All the while, huge puffy white clouds drifted along a brilliant blue sky and massive red cliffs provided a beautiful backdrop to the community:

Colorado City backdrop

Colorado City backdrop

We did happen upon one Zion which had a clan hanging out of it (given the size of the home, it most likely belongs to an apostle fleecing the community of its meager, gov’t subsidized funds):

pious plygs party on the porch

pious polygamist porch party

As we were leaving, we happened upon Mother Plyg and her little ducklings; can’t help but wonder how many of those kids have already been sexually assaulted. Sad.

mother plyg duck

mother plyg duck

Final Thoughts

All up, the visit to Colorado City was strange, surreal. It would have been interesting to have a conversation with some folks, but without anyone on the inside, it is difficult to engage. After the visit, propped up in some dingy motel dive about 40 clicks east, I dove into a late-night Google-hole of an evening and learned about the timing coincidence of my visit. In July of last year, Warren Jeffs’ multiple rape conviction was overturned due to deficient jury instructions. His new trial is set to begin this month (July 2011) with potential life sentence hanging over his head. Unfortunately, this trial will probably not get nearly as much coverage as the Casey Anthony trial. White trash is Florida is apparently much more broadcastable than an isolated rape factory in the middle of nowhere Arizona. Sad, because the many victims rotting away in FLDS communities around the country could certainly use popular support and media attention to bring about much needed change.

Ironically, even through his years of incarceration, Jeffs has held a rather substantial grip on power – conducting sermons from his jailhouse home and breaking up homes at will. Even after he admitted that he lied about being a prophet in jail, many FLDS members still believe he is their prophet.  Since admitting he lied, he has retracted the statement, gotten back to health, and retained power among many FLDS members. Currently, he is being challenged by another power player (William Jessop) in a struggle to wrestle hearts, minds and property from the followers from Jeffs. Time will tell who grabs the reins. It is difficult to determine the power structure (if there is a formal one) in Colorado City today, however, one thing seems clear; FLDS leaders are clearly centered around a perverse ideology and will continue to abuse power and rape kids until outside forces intervene.

There are many interesting documentaries/reads out there on the FLDS. Here are some I highly suggest:

Finally, a weird sort of “drive-by documentary” (in three parts) done by a former polygamist. Basically, this is a Lost Boy doing a driving thru Colorado City 3 years after being kicked out of the community. He drives around the city pointing out places of interest. He also stops by his parents house in an attempt to talk to them. It is a fascinating view and explanation of some of the specifics from the community: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTv4zVyTk_8&feature=related
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If you have a moment, check out my debut novel, Where’s Unimportant. It can be found in any major online retailer (or on my website at http://www.danielshortell.com) in ebook ($2.99) and paperback ($10.99). (Disclaimer: no children were raped in the process of writing/editing/publishing the book).
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5 Responses to One wife, two wives, three wives, four? Five wives, six wives, seven wives? Really? More?

  1. Daniel this is a fascinating post, but horrifying for those poor children. thank you for sharing it and I hope the rape case does got a lot more media coverage than you anticipate.

  2. Charlie says:

    Sharing with my readers. Excellent article!

  3. Very interesting. Have you read “under the banner of heaven”? A great book that looks at this issue as part of the larger LDS religion. I believe the book discusses this very city!

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