As the FBI closes in on Warren Jeffs, the fugitive “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), other polygamist leaders are beginning to sweat and wonder who will be next. One example is Canadian polygamist leader Winston Blackmore, who wants the media to know that his group is “not…like Jeffs” reports ABC News in Canada.

Winston Blackmore, was FLDS bishopAt a press conference Blackmore attempted to put his spin on recent events, speaking from his home in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Rulon Jeffs, the deceased father of Warren Jeffs, once ruled over approximately 10,000 polygamists, primarily located within Arizona, Utah and British Columbia. Blackmore was one of his “bishops,” presiding over the faithful Canadian faction much like a feudal lord within the Jeffs kingdom.

But with the death of King Rulon, Blackmore no longer wants to be simply a vassal, so he broke away from Warren Jeffs.

It seems when it comes to the younger Jeffs current status; Blackmore is more than content that the FBI is stalking his enemy.

Winston Blackmore reportedly has 28 wives and about 100 children, but he says “We are not [Jeffs] and he does not represent the fundamentals of our faith.”

Whatever “fundamentals” Blackmore observes they seem to be essentially the same as Jeffs. And the only difference between their communities is largely whose the boss.

What Blackmore fears is the decisive and growing law enforcement crackdown concerning the criminal behavior of polygamists.

For half a century polygamist leaders pretty much did as they pleased, sexually abusing and exploiting children, violating labor laws, beating up or otherwise brutally punishing those that dared to disobey their edicts and expecting taxpayers outside their communities to pick up much of the tab through welfare and various public funded projects.

However, after years of government neglect the bad behavior of polygamists has caught up with them as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The early beginnings of what can be seen as a virtual “sea change” amongst government officials from apathy to sympathy regarding the polygamy problem can be traced back to the late 1990s.

Tom Green, a relatively obscure self-styled Utah polygamist with five wives and 25 children, began grand standing and touting his lifestyle on television, through afternoon talk shows and evening magazine programs. In the end Green must have regretted this grab for attention, because it landed him up in prison after a child rape conviction.

Green is currently scheduled for parole in August 2007.

Tom Green and wivesThe image of polygamist patriarchs was rapidly changing by the turn of the last century, from the perception that they were strange but somehow honest and pious religious men, to that of wanton child abusers and sex offenders.

In 1998 a 16-year-old girl that fled from the rich and powerful Kingston polygamist group in Utah, after being raped and beaten, testified in open court against her father and an uncle she was forced to marry.

A sordid picture emerged of sanctioned incest, brutal enforcement practices, which shocked the public and the leaders of the Mormon Church. What Mormon leaders in Utah like the proverbial “crazy uncle in the attic” had once tolerated became fodder for the tabloids and focused unwanted attention on their state.

In the fall of 1998 Gordon Hinkley, the President and “prophet” of the Mormon Church spoke out publicly. Though the leader of millions of Mormons acknowledged that polygamy had once been a teaching of the church he denounced it and  stated bluntly that polygamists “don’t belong to the church,” and not pleased with how such groups labeled themselves further said flatly, “There are no Mormon fundamentalists.”

Senator Orrin Hatch, who at first attempted to defend Jeffs and his minions as “very fine people,” was later pressed to make a public statement against polygamy. ”No one should be raping a child … we need to protect our children,” Hatch finally said. 

However, it should be understood that the so-called “Mormon fundamentalists” have a long history that goes back many decades. The FLDS itself has been in Arizona for 60 years.

According to popular legend none other than Brigham Young himself once visited what later became FLDS land, then known as Pipe Springs and he beheld its towering Vermilion Cliffs.

“This is the right place [and it] will someday be the head and not the tail of the church [and]…the granaries of the Saints,” Young supposedly said.

But today the place is more like a pain in “the tail” of the Mormon Church.

And since the death of preeminent polygamist Rulon Jeffs, the land that Young beheld has never been the same. The partriarch begot a sprawling rural religious and commercial empire that crossed state and national boundaries. Jeffs also beget at least 60 children and may have had as many as 75 wives.

Warren Jeffs, on FBI 'Most Wanted' listBut his son Warren is not as wily or wary as the elder “prophet” was and he has failed to keep his father’s legacy intact.

Increasingly, internal community problems within the Jeffs kingdom spilled into the pages of the press. There were forced evictions, lawsuits and investigations and the younger Jeffs seemed fated to be deposed. Today he is a hunted man, forced to flee and live on the lam. Jeffs recently was placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list of criminals with a bounty on his head.

Perhaps this was due to the changing times more than just a single man.

An ill-fated raid on the Arizona polygamist communities some fifty years seemed to insure that they would be left alone. Polygamists and their problems were perceived as a political “tar baby” by state officials as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

But Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s state historian acknowledged, “We are a different society today than in 1953, and [state authorities] could take action without the political risk.”

Too bad for Warren Jeffs.

A seminal statement was made during 2004 by Arizona State legislators that probably marked the no turning back point. ”For too long, Arizona has allowed this grave problem to deteriorate. Too many young women have lost their virtue without their consent. Too many young lives have been shattered. Too many witnesses have been ignored. The time has come for Arizona to act,” they wrote.

And Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was willing to act. ”This issue should unite all Arizonans,” he said.

In Utah with the support of the all-powerful Mormon Church, its state officials were likewise at last willing to move forward there as well. And an unprecedented cooperation began between the two state attorney generals, which continues today.

Jeffs remains a prime target for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s prosecution of polygamists regarding marriages to  underage girls. Shurtleff told the Phoenix New Times as early as 2003, “Once we establish the case and have the evidence, we will charge him.”

Caught between the two top law enforcement officials that held within their jurisdictions his largest groups of followers Jeffs watched as his power was stripped away. His polygamist police, judges and other officials lost their positions. At the same time public funds utilized by the communities was scrutinized and eventually Jeffs assets were frozen.

Polygamists from the Kingston klan in Utah likewise faced withering criminal prosecutions and official scrutiny.

The once mighty and powerful polygamist kingdoms were crumbling.

It’s no wonder that Winston Blackmore wants to preserve his fiefdom in Canada, considering that this remnant of the former FLDS empire is worth millions of dollars.

Blackmore recently told the press that he expects to be arrested any day on charges of sexually exploiting girls in Bountiful. “We have one very reliable source that indicates that it will happen,” he said in an e-mail.

The polygamist patriarchs would have the public believe they are being “persecuted.” Not surprisingly the newspaper the Washington Times and wire service United Press International controlled by purported “cult leader” Rev. Sun Myung Moon reported that story.

Whenever “cult leaders” are questioned about their actions it isn’t long before allegations of “persecution” arise.

For example Rev. Moon, once convicted for tax fraud made such a claim, but the jury didn’t buy it. Interestingly, Orrin Hatch once defended Moon.

Posing as a concerned taxpayer Blackmore lamented the use of public funds to pursue polygamists. “A million and a half dollars, [a] five-year run to the Supreme Court of Canada — all when every single person knows, including the RCMP, that it would be a waste of time,” he said.

But if you ask the children that have fled polygamy, it seems doubtful that they would feel the same, considering the arrests of their one-time tormentors.

Canada and the United States have a history of protecting religious freedom. The questions about polygamy and its adherents has never been about their legal right to believe whatever they wish, but rather focused upon their desire to do anything they want in the name of their beliefs.

Polygamists live under the law and the prosecution of polygamists that break the law is not “persecution,” it’s justice.

Authorities now have a new photo to identify wanted fugitive and polygamist leader Warren Jeffs reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

wanted polygamist 'prophet' Warren JeffsJeffs is the supposed “prophet” and President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Once undisputed king of the largest following of polygamists in America and the final authority over about 10,000 followers situated in the states of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Texas, South Dakota, and in Canadian British Columbia, Jeffs is now a man on the lam.

Federal authorities are ready to pay $60,000 reward to anyone with information leading to his arrest.

The FLDS leader is charged with setting up underage girls with middle-aged husbands, a common practice amongst polygamist groups.

But his fugitive status Jeffs hasn’t stopped the so-called “prophet” from making a profit and moving money, which has enabled him to build new compounds for his most loyal followers in Texas and it seems South Dakota.

Jeffs was seen last at the dedication of a massive estimated 60,000-square-foot concrete temple erected by his diehard loyalists in Eldorado, Texas.

FLDS temple compound near Eldorado, TexasThe Eldorado temple is surrounded by 1,371 acres controlled by Jeffs, while the property believed to be set aside for a Black Hills, South Dakota compound is about 100 acres reports the Austin Chronicle.

However, despite having built the first temple in FLDS history and his frenzied real estate development, Warren Jeffs’ empire is crumbling under the withering weight of federal, state and local authorities, which are intent upon making polygamists, obey the same laws and courts as expected of everyone else.

Once seemingly above the law and virtually a law unto themselves, polygamist groups such as the FLDS and their leaders are now facing civil judgements, fines, loss of property, government funds and even imprisonment.

If the first installment of “Big Love” is an example of what HBO has planned for its new series, it has very little to do with the modern practice of polygamy in America and is instead something silly spun in Hollywood.

Papa Paxton and his wivesUnlike other HBO series such as Deadwood, Six Feet Under or The Sopranos, which at times take audiences on a trip to an otherwise unknown world, the world of “Big Love” is simply unknown and does not exist.

HBO’s contrived creation is inhabited by polygamists living in suburbia driving around in a shiny expensive SUV. This fictional family lives in three modern tract homes and has a pool. Their personal struggles include excessive shopping and viagra.

Viewers get an almost totally fictional world of polygamy that could only exist in the active imagination of a Hollywood writer.

What viewers got last night was not the often desperate existence of American polygamists living in Arizona, Utah and Montana, but something more like Desperate Housewives.

Real polygamists are frequently impoverished and subsist on welfare programs, largely subsidized by federal and state poverty programs.

In “Big Love” its star Bill Paxton has three wives and one spends $3,000.00 just for some home decorating. She is depicted as a shopping freak that shuffles through her credit cards like she’s playing a hand of poker.

However, real polygamist wives are more likely to be shuffling through their food stamps inside a trailer.

HBO’s fantasy world is similar to a network soap, something like Melrose Place, where you find out which woman Billy decides to sleep with each week and perhaps there will be a pool party.

There was a brief glimpse of a gritty poor polygamist community that Papa Paxton supposedly comes from, but viewers are asked to believe that he somehow left all that behind to become a very successful businessman who owns home improvement stores.

The audience is also expected to believe that Salt Lake City Mormons are oblivious to what is going on in their neighborhood and somehow either don’t know or don’t care. 

But the axiom “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not a Mormon doctrine.

Maybe HBO thinks this is somehow supposed to be 7th Heaven on steroids with a lot more of everything?

As Tony Soprano might say, “fogedaboutit”

HBO has created a polygamist Land of Oz “somewhere over the rainbow,” where the children are all well-fed and clothed and the only thing daddy has to worry about is essentially his business deals, weird wives, household budgets and erection.

It is hard to understand why someone as gifted and respected, as Tom Hanks would agree to produce such nonsense. It’s so ridiculous that “Big Love” could be a comedy if it wasn’t so insulting and disrespectful to those who have suffered through polygamy and its painful realities.

Mr. Hanks should know this was no television event like Band of Brothers.

HBO should be ashamed of its mess, which makes the NBC bomb the Book of Daniel look a lot better.

HBO will launch its new series about polygamy called “Big Love” this Sunday. But before the airing of the show’s first episode critics have already weighed in.

Joseph Smith the first Mormon polygamist“To make polygamy…the subject of television entertainment is not only a bad idea, but it’s going to add to the pain of those victims,” a Mormon Church spokesperson told Associated Press.

However, it should be pointed out that the pain of polygamy actually began in 1843 when Joseph Smith the fanciful creator of Mormonism claimed he received a “revelation from God” that essentially allowed him to have as many women as he wanted.

This supposed and rather self-serving message from the Almighty set into place a practice that would continue amongst Mormons for decades. And notably included not only Smith, but also the church’s second most revered “prophet” Brigham Young, who had scores of wives.

Later a very pragmatic Mormon prophet named Wilford Woodruff would come up with his own convenient “revelation” during 1890, just in time for Utah’s Mormons to meet a precondition for statehood.

However, many Mormons continued to believe in Joseph Smith’s earlier epiphany and kept observing the practice of polygamy, despite what would eventually be known as “The Woodruff Manifesto.”

There are about 50,000 polygamists still left in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Some are strange idiosyncratic groups like the one led by an excommunicated former Mormon James Harmston in Manti, Utah called “The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days,” or “TLC” for short. Harmston says that he is the reincarnation of Joseph Smith, that’s his “revelation.”

But many polygamists can trace their history back to the time when most Mormons routinely observed the practice as something similar to an “article of faith.”

And the Mormon Church doesn’t appreciate HBO reminding everyone about all this.

Brigham Young had scores of wives“You only have to mention Salt Lake City and polygamy and Mormons in the same breath and people will start to get those old stereotypes again,” the Mormon spokesperson told Associated Press.

The legacy of polygamy is indeed strewn with stereotypical patriarchal authoritarian types beginning with Smith and Young.

The Village Voice review reports that HBO has cast actor Harry Dean Stanton as the “cultish” leader of its fictional rural polygamist clan. At one point during the first episode Stanton declares, “There’s man’s law and there’s God’s law, and I think you know which side I’m on.”

Well, that sounds like something Joseph Smith and Brigham Young might have said.   

Most recently the pain of polygamy has quite literally come running and screaming from behind closed doors into the media spotlight. Those that have escaped its sinister embrace have told of rapes, beatings and the plight of underage girls married off to middle aged men.

Incest and birth defects due to the inbred nature of polygamist communities have also recently been detailed.

All of this has finally been scrutinized after years of official neglect by the legal authorities in Utah and Arizona, the two states with the largest population of polygamists.

The most prominent polygamist groups within these states are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) once headquartered in Arizona and the Kingston clan in Utah. Both of these rich and powerful groups have experienced judicial crackdowns as the courts have intervened to reign in their excesses. 

Warren Jeffs, the titular “prophet” of the FLDS is now a leader on the lam hunted by the FBI with a reward on his anointed head.

Kingston patriarchs have been sentenced to jail time and the courts regarding their care and treatment of children have monitored some families within that group.

The abuse is not in just the isolated areas, [polygamy] deals with power and control. Those individuals feel coerced into it, even if it’s a subtle coercion, a religious coercion,” says Vicky Prunty, director of the anti-polygamy group Tapestry Against Polygamy. 

HBO “Big Love” co-creator Mark V. Olsen wants everyone to know, “There is no way we want to whitewash the abuses. That’s very important to us. Stick with us in our story lines. This is a concern that we are responsive to.”

However, “Big Love” seems to have more in common with the hit show “Desperate Housewives” than the real living conditions often endured by polygamist families.

The Village Voice says HBO is “making the viewer sympathize with husband Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), who comes across not as an exploitative patriarch but as a decent man stretched to the limit…It’s an entertaining, never ending power struggle with a distinct pecking order.”  

Is this the Hollywood version of polygamy?

Meanwhile the women and children caught within the web of polygamy probably don’t find their lives quite so “entertaining.”

Beginning with the death of Rulon Jeffs in 2002 the largest polygamist group in America called the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (FLDS) began its decline.

The FLDS had reached its zenith of power and privileges under Rulon Jeffs; it was regarded as almost a virtual kingdom within the states of Utah and Arizona and seemed to be untouchable.Jeffs who ruled over as many as 12,000 members ran the twin state border communities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. He controlled vast property holdings through a trust, local government, schools, police, not to mention his own family of 19 to 75 wives and dozens of children.Warren Jeffs wanted fugitive

The Canadian polygamist community of Bountiful in British Columbia was a loyal FLDS satellite governed by Winston Blackmore, one of Jeffs’ obedient lieutenants. But when Jeffs died at 92 or 93 Blackmore’s loyalty did not transfer automatically to his leader’s son and heir apparent Warren Jeffs.

Warren Jeffs, though declared “prophet” and undeclared king of the religious empire, proved to be something of a bungler and unable to hold it together. The FLDS beset by both criminal and civil proceedings and also internal wrangling is now crumbling and falling apart.

Another very prominent polygamist family the Kingstons held sway over a 1,500-member sect with an estimated worth of $150 million in business assets. Their empire exists within Salt Lake County and in other parts of Utah and Nevada. But it would be a runaway 16-year-old girl that would begin to unravel this polygamist kingdom. A minor child that escaped after a brutal beating for refusing to marry her 32-year-old uncle and become his 15th wife. For the first time the secrecy surrounding the Kingston clan and its hierarchy fell away as it was scrutinized in open court.

The most prevalent theme of public disgust with polygamy seems to be the treatment of minor children such as the Kingston teenager who testified that her father “belt whipped” her “28 lashes across her back and thighs” until she bled and lost consciousness.

The courts have refused to consider that the Kingstons or the Jeffs were somehow above the law because of their religious beliefs. And court rulings instead have made it clear that they may believe whatever they want, but not do anything they wish in the name of those beliefs.

A warrant was eventually issued for the arrest of Warren Jeffs on sexual misconduct charges. Now the 49-year-old heir to his father’s kingdom is a fugitive.

The Mormon Church (LDS) in Utah, which pretty much has veto power over whatever goes on in that state, apparently has had enough of the polygamists. LDS leaders have seemingly decided to do some housecleaning regarding something like a crazy uncle in their attic.

Once upon a time the LDS essentially mandated polygamy. Its founder Joseph Smith was a notorious polygamist as was his successor Brigham Young who brought the new religion to Utah. But in 1890 in preparation for statehood and to avoid federal intervention the LDS gave up that practice through what is called the “Woodruff Manifesto” issued by its then president and declared “prophet” Wilford Woodruff.

Nevertheless there were those diehards that would not let go of polygamy and they persisted, often isolating themselves in Utah, Arizona, Montana, Canada and Mexico.

Recent events appear to be leading to the demise of the two largest, richest and most well organized polygamist groups in America. Almost certainly the FLDS will eventually collapse and the Kingston clan has been badly bruised by its legal troubles.

Rather than continuing to exist in relative secrecy North America’s polygamists now live largely in a fishbowl watched by the media and frequently spotlighted. HBO is even running a dramatic series called “Big Love” about a fictional polygamist family living in Salt Lake City.

Temple within polygamist stronghold in TexasWarren Jeffs in an apparent futile effort to hold onto whatever he can has built his own compound with a huge temple as its centerpiece in West Texas. The 1,700-acre “retreat” is called the “YFZ Ranch,” which stands for “Yearning for Zion,” near the town of Eldorado. This may be the last stronghold of the once mighty Jeffs clan and it includes group housing, farming, and an array of machinery and work projects.

The edifice built within the YFZ is impressive and it is the first-ever temple built by the FLDS.

However, it is likely to also be its last.

The YFZ property itself may not exist long either as a holding controlled by Warren Jeffs.

“They’re going to lose the whole thing,” says former FLDS member Ross Chatwin. “It was built upon money that didn’t belong to Warren. It was built on the backs of the UEP (United Effort Plan, the FLDS financial trust) itself, the people that built it,” he told the Desert News.

So it seems that the temple built by Jeffs is likely to eventually become a peculiar ruin and historical anachronism, connected to another time.

There is a $50,000 reward now being offered by the FBI for information leading to the arrest of Warren Jeffs.

The residents of the tiny town of Eldorado worry that another Waco might be in the making, the 1993 standoff at the cult compound of the Branch Davidians led by another would-be “prophet” David Koresh that ended in tragedy.

More than one hundred years after the Woodruff Manifesto the organized practice of polygamy and its primary strongholds seem to be falling apart and their era may have finally ended at the beginning of the 21st Century.