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.
At 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.
The 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.
But 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.
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.