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CULTURE WATCH / At Last, a Freedom Raid on the Kingdom of Polygamy

'THEY WANT ME to marry my father-I don't want to!' But no

one took Utah teen LeeAnn Beagley's pleadings to her high school counselor

seriously enough to prevent her fundamentalist Mormon family from pulling her

from school. At age 14, LeeAnn became the seventh wife of her 43-year-old

stepfather, Tom Green, and then the mother of five of his children.

Currently with five "wives" (two left him) and 30 children, Green told me

at a meeting in Salt Lake City surrounded by his clan that he is "building a

patriarchal family." However, his kingdom is likely to crumble at a trial this

spring in Provo, Utah, where he will face four state felony charges of bigamy,

a felony charge of criminal non-support and a separate child rape offense.

Prosecutors say Green has deliberately violated federal and state polygamy

laws in his marriages to three sets of sisters, which include the daughters of

two of his original wives. Neither is Green's polygamous lifestyle a protected

religious freedom under the First Amendment. More importantly, however, the

future of tens of thousands of women and children in America now trapped in

plural marriage will be affected by how responsibly the criminal justice system

responds. And for the past 50 years it has not.

"No one ever looks at what's happened to the women," Juab County Prosecutor

David Leavitt told me at a meeting in his office in Nephi. "They never see the

heartache or the inward soul of the woman who's been 'drug' into it."

The fact that the trial was recently moved from Utah's outback to a more

secure courtroom in the ski town and film capital that Robert Redford made

famous is an indication of what a high-profile case this has become. Green and

his family have now appeared on so many television talk shows that they are a

well-rehearsed act. The danger in the media romance is that the charges

couldn't be more serious.

Unfortunately, Green's case is not atypical. There are an array of

self-styled "religious" polygamists throughout the West and parts of the

Southeast, including many now advertising on the Internet. The polygamist

population in America, according to historians, is 50,000 to 100,000 and

doubling every decade. Numbers are more definitive in cases where polygamist

communities are incorporated towns.

Ex-wives and countless others who have fled polygamy report the patriarchs

of these communities use religion as a guise for pedophilia and incest. They

build a power base by sexually enslaving young women and eroding their

self-esteem. Women are kept isolated from mainstream society, ignorant,

financially dependent and pregnant, eventually physically consumed by multiple

births. They are indoctrinated that they will go to Hell unless they consent to

plural marriage; this remains part of the scripture of not only the

fundamentalist Mormon church, but the main Mormon church(although the the

latter abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890). To remove this covenant

from the text, say believers, would unravel the religion.

Why has polygamy not been eradicated in America, even though it has been

illegal ever since the time of Abe Lincoln? And why was white slavery allowed

to flourish in the United States while black slavery was crushed? In the case

of Utah, Idaho and other states, the answer may be that the early settlers were

white Mormon polygamists. In fact, Utah's leading officials today, including

Gov. Mike Leavitt and his brother, David Leavitt, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch,

are descendents of those pioneers.

Utahns, therefore, have mixed feelings as to whether polygamy should be

prosecuted or decriminalized.

Only a handful of people have even been charged with bigamy in Utah since

the 1953 police raid of the polygamist enclave on the Utah-Arizona border,

known then as Short Creek, and now known as Hildale/Colorado City. The

operation failed because the media highlighted the anguish of families being

separated and the court didn't know what to do with the children.

However, law enforcement has looked the other way because of sexism. There

is a certain acceptance of the sexual exploitation of women in American

society. Men have difficulty in understanding the extent to which women

internalize the sexual experience. And they still share political power with

women reluctantly.

Polygamist police who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but who are

answerable to "God" and the priesthood, pose a unique problem. In the case of

the incorporated polygamist town of Colorado City that technically lies within

Mohave County, District Attorney Bob Ekstrom said police do not answer to him

or anyone; they are part of an incorporated city.

Lenore Holm, an apostate who still lives in Colorado City, should know. She

now faces eviction by the fundamentalist Mormon church, which owns the land

her house is built on, because she refused to give consent to her daughter

Nichole to marry into polygamy. Holm said she appealed to the media and state

and federal authorities when police failed to respond to her calls and a

written request for a rape investigation of her daughter. Holm's case will be

heard in April in Kingman, Ariz.

Arizona State Rep. Linda Binder says Colorado City is a hotbed of

pedophilia and racketeering, where there is ongoing bilking of public

assistance dollars for multiple wives who claim they are single mothers. As a

result, Arizona's state attorney general has now launched an investigation. But

the failure of law enforcement has also to do with lack of

resources-personnel, computers, computer literacy, education and funds.

Case in point: It's taken Juab County Prosecutor David Leavitt two years to

bring the Green case to trial, although he says government should either

enforce the law or change it.

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