History piqued Green's interest

He says stories of pioneers led to his polygamy

Deseret News/August 22, 2001
By Geoffrey Fattah

Provo -- From the time he was old enough to walk, Tom Green's dreams were of early Western settlers and Mormon pioneers. By all accounts, Green, who is arguably Utah's most noted polygamist, had a typical 1950s upbringing.

"I was normal once," jokes Green, showing a characteristic off-beat humor. Sitting in his mother's Holladay home, where he spent most of his childhood, Green told the Deseret News about a path to which he was drawn - one that could land him in prison. He says he's prepared if that is "God's plan."

Green, who will be sentenced Friday in 4th District Court in Provo on four felony counts of bigamy and criminal nonsupport, faces up to five years in prison on each count. The nonsupport charge stems from his wives' acceptance of state welfare assistance.

Judge Guy Burningham has also scheduled a Thursday evidentiary hearing for a felony child-rape charge that is scheduled for trial later this year. The charge involves one of his current wives, who was 13 when they married.

Green, who lives with the five women he claims as "spiritual wives" and his 30 children in Juab County's sparse west desert, admits his life is a far cry from his so-called "mainstream" upbringing in the suburbs of Salt Lake City.

Green was born June 9, 1948, in Salt Lake City, the fourth of five children. He has two older sisters, one older brother and one younger brother.

He attended Morningside Elementary School and graduated from Olympus High School in 1966. His family members remain devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Green abandoned his LDS upbringing to follow a polygamous lifestyle.

From an early age, Green read everything he could about Utah's early settlers. "I studied a lot about early Western history - mountain men, fur traders, pioneers and Mormons."

It was from his foray into stories about polygamy in pioneer Utah that a thought took hold in his mind and never let go.

Green's fascination grew after learning his great-grandparents had fled to Canada because his great-grandfather had more than one wife. While most of his Olympus High classmates joined clubs and played sports, Green studied Utah and LDS Church history.

But his uncommon teenage pastimes did not prepare classmates for the man Green would become. At his 25-year high school reunion in 1991, Green and his then-seven wives drew mixed reactions.

"Some people avoided me like the plague," Green said, "and others were friendlier to me than they ever had been in high school."

Until the reunion, many of his old classmates had not made the connection. They hadn't recognized the outspoken polygamist as the freckled redhead from their high school days.

"It was interesting to see these guys who had been the football jocks in high school, who had all the good-looking girls, and I looked across the next table to see them sitting there with . . . their wives as old as them, and I was sitting around a table with a whole bunch of beautiful women, and it just felt good," Green said.

Green has been criticized for marrying his wives when they were barely the legal age, and in one case at 13. Green said all of his wives approached him for marriage and that it has always been their choice to stay with him.

As for his wives accepting state welfare, Green says that was sought following a devastating fire that killed a son and destroyed the family's trailer and caused other financial setbacks for the family.

After high school, Green served an LDS mission to Indiana. "I enjoyed it," he said. "I gained a lot of self-confidence." After his return in 1969, Green registered at the University of Utah as a history major. He wanted to teach history; specifically, church history.

In 1970, Green, then 22 years old, met and married Lynda Penman, a 20-year-old student who at the time was competing in beauty pageants.

Green spent much of his free time poring over library documents. He said that is where he learned of small groups - fundamentalists - that were still practicing polygamy. He embraced what he calls "Mormon fundamentalism."

"Finding out that plural marriage existed," he said, "that blew me away."

Green said his studies led him to what he believes was an 1886 revelation given to then-LDS Church President John Taylor. "God had told him, 'I have not revoked this law, nor will I,' " Green claims.

But Utah historian Martha Bradley says that, while many polygamous clans attribute the quote to Taylor, documentation for it has remained elusive. Yet, she says, the "myth" is strong among polygamists.

Knowing it would put him at odds with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Green decided to embrace plural marriage. "It was frightening to her," Green said, recalling Penman's reaction to the news. "When I explained to her what I believed, it was a shock to her."

Shortly after, the two separated. In 1980, he was excommunicated from the LDS Church for joining a fundamentalist group. In 1981, Penman filed for divorce. That path has made him a global celebrity. He has appeared on national and international television shows and graced the pages of magazines and newspapers worldwide. Green doesn't seem to mind that he's often treated like a sideshow curiosity - as long as he can speak his mind.

In 1986, Green met Beth Cook and her daughter, Linda Kunz. Cook, then single, had once been involved in a polygamous relationship. By year's end, Green had "spiritually" married both mother and daughter.

Green has since married five other women. Cook left Green before 1995. Green's religious choices do not curry favor with his family. "My older sister in Idaho is really bitter. She really hasn't spoken to me in any practical way," Green said.

Green's mother, who requested that her name not be used, said she does not like to talk about her son's life, saying she'd rather leave that to him.

Bill Green said he does not agree with his younger brother's "lifestyle." But he believes Green is being singled out for being so outspoken. He remembers his brother being a normal kid who was curious.

"He was normal. We did Scouts, we went to church every Sunday, we weren't out of the normal," he said. "On his way to school he'd get down on his hands and knees to watch a worm."

But now?

"I think he's nuts," Bill Green said. "I don't agree with what Tom does - but he has a right in this country to exercise his freedom of speech."

Bill Green accused Juab County Attorney David Leavitt of trying to gain notoriety at his brother's expense.

"I don't mind him going after my brother, only if they go after these other jerks that are doing the same thing," Bill Green said. "This isn't about polygamy, this is about trying to get Tom Green to shut up."

Tom Green says he is driven by his belief that he is doing what God wants him to do. He recalls seeing the "wanted fugitive" posters of early church leaders, issued by the federal authorities who were cracking down on polygamists.

"I thought, how could these men be prophets of God and be criminals and lawbreakers?" Green said. "But they were. I'm no more a lawbreaker than they are, and if they were lawbreakers for keeping God's commandments, they're my example."

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