Sunday, September 20, 2015

In the rural world, no one can hear victims scream

Some people seek out the rural life to hide from the sight of society. One of the great allures of the rural landscape is that society cannot look over the a person's shoulder and cast judgment on them. In the same vein however is the fact that many seek out the rural life to escape the vision of authority figures, namely prosecutors and the police. This is particularly true of the polygamist communities that occasionally dot the rural landscape, secluded and distant communes that seek to have little contact with the outside world. In this private world preachers can coerce and threaten young girls into arranged marriages, abuse and drive off young boys, and brainwash the community as a whole to think that this is God's will. There are an estimated 30,000 to 75,000 polygamists in Utah, around 1% of the state's population.

Even with a short amount of research a multitude of issues and contradictions occur with the polygamist communities. There are allegations that the communities, who pride themselves on self-sufficiency, practice the act of so-called, "bleeding the beast." The beast is the government, state or federal and bleeding it references taking tax payer money, to weaken the government and take advantage of it. The communities drive away young boys, often as young as fourteen, partially because of the issue that where sect leaders have taken multiple wives, there aren't enough women for the young men. As a result the leadership will drive the boys away, creating, "lost boys."

Finally is the greater issue of the systemic use of the rural to force women to remain in the communities and be subjected to ongoing brainwashing. Women who attempt to contact the authorities need the police to escort them out and there are often costly legal battles for mothers to retain control of their children, particularly their daughters. Women are less persons in these fundamentalist sects, more chattel, to be sold and bartered.

Consider the case of Lu Ann Kingston, who was married off to a cousin at the age of fifteen. This was considered a common practice, to the point that her community was training twelve year-old children on how to be parents. However the attorney who represented the fundamentalist Mormon sect that practiced this child abuse claimed that marriages before the age of fifteen were rare. While ignoring that he had effectively agreed that it was common for children fifteen and old to be married off. Within the community young girls are told that unmarried women at seventeen years of age are old.

In the infamous incident in Texas, a FLDS compound was dramatically raided by Texas officials. Hundreds of women and children were removed from the compound, which featured medical facilities and an eighty foot tall temple. One woman who had fled the sec years prior stated that there was no leaving, once a woman went into the compound, she never left. Of interest was the leader of the group, Warren Jeffs, had moved the group from Utah and Arizona to a very rural part of Texas, as other parts of his sect were being scrutinized by state and federal authorities. This was a blatant attempt to use the isolation of the rural life to evade inspection. What was extremely striking is that while in Utah, which is 70% Mormon, had largely overlooked the activities of polygamists, Texas state authorities struck hard when it was suspected that compound members were engaged in underage sexual relations.

Bleeding the beast is the method communities use to further the polygamy activities at the cost of the taxpayers. In 2003, 80% of Colorado City received welfare funding. The community as a whole paid $72,000 in taxes, while receiving roughly 8 million dollars. This has been reported by assorted media outlets and one of the more fascinating bits of information to emerge was that the group under Warren Jeffs had approximately $110 million dollars in various accounts. According to the state attorney general for Utah in 2006, the communities hate the government and deliberately commit tax evasion and fraud, to better the community and harm the state.

It is controversial that many of the raids conducted on communities involves removing children from their mothers. In the case of Texas, the boys taken from their mothers would likely have entered the foster system, which has massive issues with children entering the criminal system and having lifelong problems. Experts complain that taking children away is abusive and will mentally impair the children. There are other factors to consider.

Despite the attacks on the FLDS leadership polygamy has continued. In the trial of Warren Jeffs, now convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, jurors listened to a recording of Jeffs' conducting a marriage of a child to an adult, followed by the marriage being consummated on an altar bed, in the temple, with Jeffs and several adult wives present and observing. When asked, the child assured Jeffs she was ok, while her new husband raped her on the bed. Adult women were present to hold the girl down if she fought. While experts may claim, rightfully, that separating children from their parents is wrong, it is apparent that the adult women in the communities accept this way of life and may promote or continue the lifestyle.

The communities are often far from metropolitan areas. St. George, Utah, considered a sinful place by fundamentalists, serves as the place for sect members to get supplies. It is two hours from Hilldale, Utah, one of the largest sects in the Warren Jeffs empire. As local economies have grown polygamists have begun to get involved with St. George employers. However, the communities are located at least an hour away, in secluded areas designed to discourage casual tourism.

One such secluded place is Short Creek, which pulled in federal money for street building and general township maintenance. While there, Jeffs would exile men, sometimes dozens at a time, in order to give the wives to other men. Miles away from any other form of civilization there was no recourse but to leave. Those that stay could be subjected to "God's Squad," a group of fundamentalist enforcers who act as law enforcers for the community. Former sect members who stay in their homes will be subjected to being driven off the road, mutilated animals thrown into living rooms, and arrested on trumped up charges.

In closing. It seems that polygamists, in their quest for the ideal living situation for their personal and religious beliefs, have embraced the rural environment for its secluded nature. This has played a part in creating the problems outlined in part above. The systemic abuses however have made the 1979 quote from Alien extremely relevant, "In space no one can hear you scream."

Other posts relating to polygamy can be found: here, here, and here.


Taylor Call said...

I knew that many of these communities/people are reliant on welfare, but not that the figure was as high as 80%. I wonder if the hatred for the government stems from the fact that the Mormons were unable to set up their own state (Deseret) in the mid to late 19th century. Or maybe it was because polygamy was outlawed. I also wonder how long they have been dependent on the government. It is interesting to see how their hatred towards the government has actually made them dependent on the government. Now, it seems that they couldn't function without government aid. So much for an independent state.

Daniel Quinley said...

The fact that these polygamous communities continue to persist in such numbers is shocking to me. Amongst the horrific details, the thing that strikes me is to the extent that distance is a major factor in allowing these sects to persist. The communities "bleed the beast" and collect a significant amount of welfare money. To do so, they have to interact with the government in some capacity. But, with the exception of monetary interactions, these communities have isolated themselves.

This raises an interesting question--to what extent are these isolated communities attempting to function as de facto states? If the purpose of the state (and its formation) is predicated on communities forming and agreeing to a set of social and governmental norms to protect themselves from the anarchy of nature--what does it say that these communities have set themselves up in the most remote places in the US? What does it also say about the structure of government that different states treat these sects differently? In Texas, there was a hard nosed response to the sect; whereas in Utah, it seems like the sects are allowed to simply be.

So while these sects are clearly not independent states, I think the extent to which they have persisted says something significant about the tyranny of distance for the rural experience. I wonder to what extent technology will succeed in diminishing this distance.