Right or wrong, fact or myth, whether we like it or not, the Mormon fundamentalist religious movement has evolved into a bonafide subculture with its own literature, heroes, symbols and communities.
Why? Because the practice of plural marriage has been allowed to grow and flourish in Utah for nearly 50 years with impunity. Since the fiasco of 1953, when Colorado City was raided, politicians, lawmakers, law enforcement and religious leaders have turned a blind eye, tantamount to sweeping polygamy under the rug.
Anthropologists who have studied and identified the subculture, estimate that the polygamsit population in Utah and surrounding states may exceed 50,000. Self-styled pundits and dissidents with personal agendas push the population figure to 100,000 or more. No one knows for sure how many polygamists inhabit the Intermountain West. But the more outrageous the pundit, the higher the population estimated.
Within weeks after the two-year media frenzy over the Kingston belt-whipping finally subsided, Tom Green, Utah's most televised and loquacious polygamist, rekindled the fervor when he was charged with an assortment of crimes, all arising out of polygamy.
Green will go on trial for alleged violations of the Utah Criminal Code. But in the court of public opinion, the polygamist subculture will also go on trial, and it's about time, proof that the ugly head of polygamy, once reared, will not go away.
Green cannot turn the clock back and is taking his lumps for marrying 14-year-old girls. But is prosecuting Green going to seriously impact the polygamist subculture?
Not really. Oh, it will make polygamist men think twice before marrying adolescent girls, but it won't in-and-of itself make a dent in the polygamist subculture where the real problem is firmly rooted -- the cults.
About 80 percent of the polygamist population in Utah belongs to three groups, the Colorado City group, the Allred group (Apostolic United Brethren) and the Kingston group. The Kingston group is the smaller of the three, and the most secret.
Growth in the Colorado City and Kingston groups come from within. Converts from the frustrated ranks of the LDS Church are the Allred's primary source of growth. Ethos, unification and momentum in these three groups, as oppressive as they may be, are so strong that it is doubtful that they will ever be eliminated short of "ethnic cleansing."
Independent polygamists, those who believe and live the Mormon fundamentalist doctrines, but do not organize, comprise the balance of the population, except for a cluster of Christian polygamists. Green is an independent. He does not belong to an organized group.
The impetus to Green's prosecution, according to Juab County Attorney David Leavitt, was Green's confession of bigamy on national television. However, other polygamists have made the same admissions on national television.
Owen A. Allred, revered prophet and leader of Apostolic United Brethren, and James D. Harmston, True & Living Church -- the most innovative of the polygamist prophets -- have confessed many times in newspapers, magazines and television that they are practicing polygamists. But these two men live outside Juab County and are apparently under no threat of prosecution.
There are other differences between Green, Allred and Harmston other than where they live. Allred is the surrogate god of more than 7000 acolytes.
His people claim he holds all the keys of the priesthood and only he can give the temple endowments indispensable to a celestial exaltation. Allred collects tithes and other consecrations in the name of God and controls millions of dollars of assets.
Tithing money is laundered into profit and nonprofit corporations. He gives and takes wives with impunity. He is the theocratic leader over two polygamous, incorporated cities, Pinesdale, Mont., and Rocky Ridge in Juab County.
The power base of Allred's theocracy has been reinforced by civil law and incorporation. The differences between Allred and Harmston is in the number of their true believers, ruthlessness and innovation. Harmston is an ambitious, penurious neophyte compared with Allred.
But both are merchants of faith, hope, exaltation and plural marriages. Both preside over private schools. Both initiate programs in which young girls are inculcated with the belief that the only way they can achieve a celestial glory is through plural marriage and subservience to priesthood, their priesthood.
In contrast, Green claims no priesthood authority over others, has few assets, collects no tithing. Green does not trade the guarantee of a celestial exaltation for equity in houses.
He does not frighten older people into believing that without his priesthood and personal acquaintance with the Godhead they will not go to heaven. In fact, Green is held in contempt by other polygamists because he will not grovel at the feet of their priesthood. Green is a mouse among rats.
Polygamy in Utah is a mess and disgrace with no realistic solutions. The Utah Legislature turned down two bills asking for money to combat polygamy. Practicing polygamists are safe in one county but not in another.
Rep. David Zolman, whom some polygamists see as a modern Moses who will eventually deliver them from political bondage, made it out of the Republican Convention unopposed, in spite of his public defense of the polygamist lifestyle. What kind of messages are these events sending to the nation?
Does Utah really want to solve the polygamy problem, or is it too late, or is the way to solve the problem to pretend its not really a problem?
Is Green just another symbolic prosecution of a little guy to appease our conscience or take revenge, while the affluent cult leaders like Rulon Jeffs in Colorado City, Allred, Harmston and Paul Kingston build their economic empires, erect incorporated cities, passionately procreate new disciples, indenture their converts and propagandize their youth?
You can't combat the practice of Mormon fundamentalism unless you understand its purposes, motives, economics and political agendas in context to the frustrations and needs of adherents.
Maybe that's why polygamy has grown to be a giant, out-of-control tar baby.
After pondering the overall problems comprehensive, in-depth scrutiny of the polygamy vexation could create, iconoclasm might be better left alone. There is no telling what sacred foundations iconoclasm might shake.
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