Longform

Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

Page 2 of 17

But Carl never appeared, and 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs was "sealed" to her 32-year-old brother-in-law by the Prophet in a "spiritual" ceremony. No marriage certificate was issued. Ruth had no right to community property. Even death was not to part them. Ruth was to be Rodney's possession for eternity.

Her marriage wasn't the only one conducted that day by the Prophet.

"At the time, [he was] marrying four or five couples a day," Ruth told the Attorney General's Office.

That evening, Rodney Holm took Ruth to the area's only motel the Mark Twain Inn in Hildale where his marriage to the virgin bride was consummated.

It was the beginning of a journey of physical, spiritual and mental abuse that took Ruth Stubbs to the brink of suicide.

At the time, the outlook was far brighter for Holm. He was on his way toward becoming a god in fundamentalist Mormon heaven, having acquired the crucial third wife.

He had had sexual intercourse with a girl half his age who was not his legal wife a felony in Arizona and Utah but that fact made no difference to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).

State Inaction

Ruth Stubbs is among scores of teenage girls, many of whom are underage, who have been married by fundamentalist Mormon prophets into polygamy in recent years. The tally reaches hundreds of girls over the last seven decades.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has compiled a list of more than 40 teenage girls it suspects have been coerced into polygamy by the FLDS in the last decade, state records obtained by New Times through the Arizona Public Records Law show.

A few decades ago, the FLDS routinely married girls as young as 13 into polygamy. The practice still occurs from time to time, but the girls tend to be at least 15 these days.

The state has been conducting a broad grand jury investigation into polygamy in Colorado City since at least December 2000, but no arrests have been made. One reason is that state investigators have been unable to persuade polygamous wives to testify against their husbands.

Such wives, even if they wanted to cooperate with authorities, know that assisting the government would bring retaliation from their community.

In Colorado City, women, and men, risk losing their children, their homes, their livelihoods and most terrifying to fundamentalist Mormons their salvation for uttering a single negative statement about their religion.

Underage, polygamous marriages are merely a symptom of a greater problem.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Colorado City is a virtual medieval fiefdom overseen by an omnipotent Prophet who is accountable to no one but presumably God.

The FLDS is subverting a wide range of civil liberties with taxpayer assistance.

Cloaked in the legitimacy of town government and public schools, FLDS polygamists receive more than $6 million a year in public funds to support these institutions.

Through his proxies, the FLDS Prophet controls all levels of local government and the Colorado City public school board. He controls ownership of virtually all the land in town and most of the businesses. He controls local law enforcement.

But, most important, the Prophet controls the minds of the faithful, convincing them that, if necessary, they must forgo happiness in this life for eternal bliss after death.

"We don't have minds of our own," former FLDS member and Colorado City High School science teacher DeLoy Bateman told New Times. "We are taught to follow."

Nowhere else in the United States is there a state-sanctioned town that is overwhelmingly controlled by a religion whose current leader performs polygamous marriages and who himself has anywhere from a dozen to 70 wives.

The unchecked power of the leaders of this dictatorial society over the past 70 years has led to a number of illegal or unconstitutional abuses that have allowed an often cruel and demeaning culture to flourish.

A five-month New Times investigation has revealed:

• Women and children are considered property of the religious leadership, called the Priesthood, which, in turn, is controlled by the Prophet.

• More than 50 families have been ripped apart and "reassigned" to new husbands on the Prophet's command. New husbands sometimes marry the daughters of their reassigned wives.

• Many young men deemed unworthy of the Priesthood are driven out of town with police assistance so that they cannot compete with men in polygamous marriages.

• Many followers of the Prophet would kill to defend him from arrest, leading Arizona authorities to fear another Waco.

• The Colorado City town government has never had a contested election, or even a political campaign.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty