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The Polygamy Cults of Southern Utah

Time to Rescind Utah’s Statehood?

by SUZAN MAZUR

Polygamy is illegal in Utah and forbidden by the Arizona constitution. However, law enforcement agencies in both states have decided to focus on crimes within polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence and fraud [emphasis added]. The Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office also worked together [with polygamy advocates] to produce "The Primer — Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities." This manual provides basic information about various communities that will assist human services professionals, law enforcement officers and others in helping victims from these communities. The Primer will be updated regularly to reflect modifications in the law and changes in each organization’s beliefs and practices. . . .

Office of Mark Shurtleff, Attorney General, State of Utah

No General Shurtleff, polygamy cults are not okay. As Utah’s Attorney General and a boy scout leader for over 20 years, you should know better than to post a statement like this, whose language serves to institutionalize crimes against humanity. These cults should not be given another day of sunlight to breathe.

Beyond the Wasaatch mountains lies the real world where almost 200 countries have declared polygamy a human rights violation, including the United States, which is morally bound to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, since the US has signed (though not yet ratified) the convention.

Wellesley political science professor Katharine H.S. Moon has told me she sees CEDAW as a historic penetration of the walls of national sovereignty, making it possible for women for the first time to "bypass their governments and complain directly to the UN" about discrimination, sexual exploitation and other violations. Moreover, she says that "nationalism, national security and economic competition are not faith acts ordained by God".

Utah was given an ultimatum in 1890 to abandon polygamy or lose US statehood. Utah has not held up its end of the bargain. Neither has Arizona, Montana (where the fine for polygamy is $600) and Idaho. And so it is time to seriously consider the case for rescinding statehood for perpetuating the cockroach-like infestation of such cults, which devastate lives from cradle to grave and siphon the country’s treasury to do it.

Most unsettling is the revelation of countless numbers of unmarked baby graves in the canyonlands attached to the FLDS polygamy cult headquartered on the Utah-Arizona border. Local residents call it "Babyland" and law enforcement’s response to human rights activists questioning the graves has been that unmarked graves are not illegal.

On Thursday, March 3, Utah and Arizona AGs are hosting a two-hour polygamy summit in southern Utah ("Dixie") to discuss the "unique issues" surrounding polygamy. The town meeting will be moderated by Cliff Donovan News Talk 890 KDXU (435-627-9582). And cult leaders from far and wide will attend with their wives and extended families to argue their case. The result of the last such town meeting was a grant of $700,000 for more law enforcement and social services personnel to work with the polygamists.

The US outlawed multiple wives in the late 1800s with the passage of the Morrill and Edmunds-Tucker acts and the Supreme Court ruled in 1879, in George Reynolds v. the United States, that religious beliefs — but not religious conduct — are protected by the First Amendment. But Utah-Arizona’s deep Mormon polygamist roots have led to a situation where even state officials have in effect become accomplices to the practice of merchandising women and children in the polygamy cults dug in there. Cult members number in the tens of thousands.

State officials have been aided and abetted by local law enforcement — some of whom are said to be polygamists themselves — who refuse to take the issue seriously because of loyalty to the Mormon Church, which still includes polygamy in its scripture.

The FBI’s reluctance to move in (J. Edgar Hoover created the bureau with Mormon agents who he felt could keep a secret) has led to further obstruction of justice, which then should become a matter for the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees Justice and the FBI. But the Senate Judiciary Committe’s chairman in recent years was Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R­Utah) whose ancestors were prominent Mormon polygamist pioneers.

In April of last year, I phoned and emailed Senator Hatch for comment via his Communications Director, Adam Elggren, after viewing photographs of Babyland and in response to phone-recorded interviews I conducted with activists about the graves adjacent to the polygamy enclave on the Utah/Arizona border. Elggren sent the following email to me about a week later, on April 27, 2004:

"I was told you called again looking for comment. I regret to say that I still have not been able to contact anyone in the Utah AG’s office who can speak to this, and so Sen. Hatch will not be able to comment. Sorry for your trouble-"

I immediately emailed Elggren with the cell phone number for Ron Barton, Utah’s "investigator for closed societies" in the Attorney General’s office, and received this email from Elggren two days later:

"It appears there is an ongoing investigation into this matter. Our office policy is not to comment on ongoing investigations. Thanks-"

This is exactly what Barton told me a few days earlier ­ after a bit of a laugh: "I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation".

I asked Barton whether the investigation was a priority (the polygamists first colonized the Utah-Arizona border in 1911 after members were excommunicated from the Mormon Church when the church said it had renounced polygamy).

Barton replied: "I can’t comment on whether it’s a priority either. Good luck."

Barton has since resigned. And activists who contacted the FBI with evidence of Babyland were given the runaround and then withdrew their research from a story we’d been working on. They have now chosen to keep silent about the problem for reasons that are unclear.

Endless questions remain as to who these children are buried with the tumbleweed. Why and when they died. And if any child is safe.

Utah’s Senator Hatch in choosing to publicly ignore Babyland and the malignancy of polygamy cults in his state has blood on his hands. His cavalier treatment of the crisis is best represented by his statement during a visit to southern Utah in 2003:

"I’m not here to justify polygamy. All I can says is, I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me evidence of children being abused there and I’ll get involved. Bring me the evidence." [He said further,] "I personally don’t believe in polygamy. But I’m not going to judge others who feel differently."

Hatch’s lawyer has said the Utah AG’s office is dealing with the situation.

But the situation gets even more convoluted because Rodney R. Parker — who continues to represent members of the FLDS legally — is with the law firm of Snow, Christensen and Martineau, which also represents "the State of Utah, its officers, agencies and employees". Parker previously served (1988-89) as Associate Deputy Attorney General "on the immediate staff" of the Deputy Attorney General of the United States in Washington D.C.

Harold G. Christensen, Of Counsel, at Snow Christensen & Martineau, served as Deputy Attorney General of the US in both Ronald Reagan and Bush I’s administrations, as well as head of Litigation of the Utah Attorney General’s Office. And Reed L. Martineau of Snow Christensen & Martineau, was President of the Utah Bar Association from 1987-88.

In a letter to Utah AG Mark Shurtleff, Rodney Parker said he’d been working for the FLDS for 12 years. And he cited the last polygamy summit Shurtleff was about to hold, telling him he should include the polygamists, because without them it "reinforces the mistrust and fear that has been the hallmark of the state’s relationship with the polygamists for the past 100 years".

Parker goes on to say, "For example, at least in the organized plural culture of the FLDS church, young women are not "forced" into marriage. They enter those relationships voluntarily with the consent of their parents and the support of extended family."

Maybe like pharaonic circumcision — where a woman is taken to the stream by the family and tied down while her clitoris and labia are sliced away.

Beswick believes the reason so little has changed in Utah and in the "Arizona strip" is the relationship Parker alludes to in his letter to Shurtleff –

"a network of attorneys who are mostly mainstream LDS have defended the rights of polygamists, while the LDS church publicly has denounced the practice."

"Such cases are a cash cow for these LDS attorneys (from a polygamist background themselves)", Beswick says, and that "their 10% tithes continue to benefit the mainstream Mormon church". Beswick sees Rodney Parker as representing this conflict of interest in a nutshell, and says his promotion of religious and political tolerance of the state and mainstream Mormon church regarding polygamy should stand as evidence of the unofficial/official church line.

Beswick has been one of the most aggressive voices in opposing child brides in polygamy. He says he is fed up with the corruption of the legal system and posturing of the LDS church on the issue and that he’d "like to hear just once that the mainstream Mormon Church rejected these attorney tithes as blood money because they perpetuate a pedophile colony and that the attorneys be excommunicated."

Arizona is even less responsive on the Babyland issue. Senator John McCain (R–AZ), who is incensed about Iraqi POW humiliation, takes campaign contributions in part from Mohave County where the FLDS is headquartered on the Arizona side of the border. McCain failed to comment for my Financial Times October 2000 cover story on polygamy. And his assistant press secretary, Crystal Benton, told me last year regarding the Babyland matter that his schedule was "too hectic" for him to make a statement ­ although she wouldn’t want it to be reported that the senator had "no comment".

Funny, the night before Benton told me McCain’s schedule was too hectic, he appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball promoting his new book (he’s a frequent guest). He’s also found time to host Saturday Night Live.

So if the states and the states’ representatives will do nothing to put an end to the polygamy cults, it is indeed time to question whether those states belong in the United States of America. The other question is how many more lives will be buried anonymously in these cults before authorities are put under enough public pressure to move in?

SUZAN MAZUR has traveled through the western states covering polygamy for the Financial Times, Newsday and Maclean’s and was a guest on Fox television, including O’Reilly, discussing the polygamy issue (O’Reilly pulled the segment). She chaired the first major benefit for battered women in Manhattan in 1985, which brought together fifteen victim services agencies, and was co-sponsored by the National and New York State Coalitions Against Domestic Violence. Email: sznmzr@aol.com