Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

For decades the state has let a feudal colony of fundamentalist Mormons force underage girls into illegal polygamous marriages

Criminalizing the practice today could rekindle harsh family memories of persecution of polygamous Mormons for many Arizona families, including some of the state's most powerful political clans such as the Udalls, the Tenneys, the Farnsworths and the Flakes.

William J. Flake, co-founder of the town of Snowflake, is the great-grandfather of Arizona Speaker of the House Jake Flake, and the great-great-grandfather of U.S. Representative Jeff Flake. In 1884, William Flake was convicted and sentenced to the Yuma Territorial Prison on polygamy-related charges. After serving his sentence, he continued to live with his two wives.

House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth also hails from a prominent polygamist forefather. Flake and Farnsworth are joined in the Legislature's leadership by fellow Mormons Senate President Ken Bennett, Senate Majority Whip Marilyn Jarrett, Senate Minority Whip Jack Brown, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Russell Pearce.

Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow has held his post unchallenged for 18 years.
John Dougherty
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow has held his post unchallenged for 18 years.
Men and boys devote Saturday afternoons to community projects including the construction of apartments in the rapidly expanding town of 3,300.
John Dougherty
Men and boys devote Saturday afternoons to community projects including the construction of apartments in the rapidly expanding town of 3,300.

The Legislature isn't the only branch of government that has avoided the issue. Governor Janet Napolitano initiated the grand jury investigation of Colorado City when she was attorney general, but her office never filed charges. The inaction by Napolitano – known as a middle-of-the-road careerist politician – became a campaign issue last fall after New Times published a story based on what appeared to be an AG's special-investigations memo describing serious abuses in Colorado City and efforts by the AG's Office to keep the information from the public.

Napolitano declared the memo a fake, and called for a criminal investigation into how the document – which appears to be on office stationery – was generated. No arrests have been made in the memo probe.

Subsequently, New Times began its investigation into Colorado City – which has included examination of AG's files that show the state has long had substantial evidence of illegal activity in the fundamentalist Mormon community.

Governor Napolitano declined to comment for this story.

New Times has found that the state's failure to criminalize polygamy has allowed the fundamentalist Mormon church unfettered access to public funds without fear of criminal prosecution or, in the case of elected officials in Colorado City, removal from public office.

This subsidy is destined to rapidly expand. With each passing year, as the FLDS population grows, the cost to state taxpayers rises. In addition to the $6 million going to FLDS-controlled governments, Arizona is footing the bill for health care in Colorado City. Nearly everyone in the area receives state-managed health-care benefits, costing taxpayers another $8 million annually.

Taxpayers are also feeding the huge families resulting from polygamous marriages. More than half the population on the Arizona side of the area receives food stamps, worth more than $2 million a year. Another $500,000 a year goes to help pay for child care.

The public funds are directed toward maintaining a community rooted in an unconstitutional practice where the ultimate power rests not with citizens, but with the FLDS Prophet.

"We treat our Prophet as God himself," says former FLDS member Pamela Black, who recently left the church after a lifetime of turmoil. "That's how much respect he has."

The Prophet controls the culture and economy in the Colorado City area for an overriding reason – he is the only person under fundamentalist Mormon doctrine who can conduct plural marriages.

"The power in this operation comes from the person who decides who marries who," says DeLoy Bateman, who quit the church after it tried to take away four of his kids by his second wife.

The Prophet decides which men get which wives, and how many. The addition of each wife to a man's family is called a "blessing."

The more blessings a man has, the greater his prestige and power in the community. A minimum of three wives is required to enter the highest levels of the complex heaven called the Celestial Kingdom.

Women, according to the religion, can't reach the Celestial Kingdom unless their husband first achieves the lofty height and then agrees to bring his concubines into paradise. The chase for plural wives dominates earthly pursuits.

"If the men don't do what the Prophet says, then [they don't] get more wives," affirmed town historian Benjamin Bistline, who has self-published a book about the town titled The Polygamists, A History of Colorado City. "It's extortion."

Warren Jeffs, the 46-year-old current Prophet and son of Rulon Jeffs (who died in September 2002), rarely makes a public appearance other than to preach Sunday sermons at the massive Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall. Jeffs did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The fundamentalist religion holds that the end of the world is near, while at the same time warning young girls who rarely finish high school that they won't get to heaven without the Prophet sealing them into a cohabitation.

Outsiders are considered wicked, and anyone who leaves the religion after learning its gospel is branded an "apostate" and consigned to hellfire.

The FLDS practices racism against black people that was first espoused by the early Mormon Church. They believe blacks are an inferior race descended from Cain, who was cursed by God for killing his brother.

Religious indoctrination begins at birth and never stops. Those who manage to break away from the community often do so with little or no financial support. Few are emotionally capable of living outside of the community, and many who do leave – particularly the women – soon return.

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My Voice Nation Help
2 comments
Lydia
Lydia

Ken, (with regards to your comment on Apr 20th, 2008, 07:50)

I don�t believe what you suffered had anything to do with God; it�s a power struggle being fought by the truly weak and unstable inhabitants of this word, desperately trying to convince themselves of their self-righteousness when it�s so plain to see all they want is to be impervious to our laws and poke fun at morality. These people could sit in front of a mirror and look themselves in the eye and truly believe what they are doing is correct, like the saying �as happy as a pig in s**t� these creatures have never been educated to question, just to accept without question, so have no comparison. As for taking your own life, would you hang yourself in a barn cos the pigs got in the shit again?

What I�m trying to say is that you have broken away from that way of life, as you understood it be wrong, despite the fact it was the way you were raised, so you must see you are a very special, insightful and strong willed person to go against your family, your blood, and do what is obviously right and moral in this very corrupt world, this world needs more people like yourself to stand up for what is write, no matter what the consequences, don�t deprive the world..

Ken
Ken

Living without freedom.

Being born into the Polygamist Cult,FLDS Headquarter at the time was colorado city AZ, Being a child of the Black Family, knowing of others that have left (My couple of Uncles), that joined Satan and the evil people, outsiders the Gentiles as they were called,

It just meant that we would have to make up for the wrong that we had done to the community by being Pure and doing everything that the only proffit of god told us, even if it meant Killing anyone that he had asked us to even our parrents or brothers.

This life was just a test, a test to see if we are ready to Join Jesus in heaven, To build up the kingdom of heaven we need children and wives to bring with us in the afterlife, there are three levels of heaven and to be on the highest level where Jesus is then we need 3 wives, God knows when it is time for us to have children when girls can have children then they must have a child every 11 months and we will follow there cycles so we know when the time is right.

I felt bad for the Gentiles, Asking my Father "Is it fair that they are going to hell?" and the answer was well they might have another Chance but a new world will have to be built but God did that in 6 days so anything is possible.

Then he would add but since you have been chosen by god to be a part of Zion then if you were to leave then God would through your soul into the melting pot of Hell, where you would no longer exist in the afterlife,

I asked allot of questions wich was not good it meant that the evil spirit as my grandma taught me was doubting my faith in God (blind faith),

I remember being punished as a Child, Water torture was the method used by my grandma, I remember her water boarding my younger Brothers, to the point of breaking there spirit (spanking them then runing water over there face from the kitchen sink) , Grandma would say that the young toddlers were susceptible to evil spirits entering there bodies and that by doing this they would leave, Then as we got older around 9 or so she would change the methods of purifying our bodies by as she would say "Shocking the Devil out of us" throwing ice water in our face and making me angry at what point I would run as she would have my Cousins chasing me with water around the Yard and running away.

Remembering why I hate my brothers, I was always active when I was younger, running ect. my grandma would resort to giving me enema's as a form of discipline, she would ask my older brothers was (me) good when I was gone? and they would say nope, I would be like please don't lie, (They would mock me saying how does it feel to have water up my butt?)and laugh at me and my grandma would administer the water to the point I could not hold, crying the whole time, I would talk to my parents, and they would never listen. even to this day,

My mom says that grandma was just trying to help me and I was probly sick. no I was not sick my family was and is.it has been 5 years since I have talked to my family, My dad is dead and my family is living to the best of there ability.

It has been 15 years since being kicked out by my Mom and I was 16 at the time and I still feel sad, Should I have just taken my life when I was younger, so much pain and unhappiness in the name of God.

 
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