For all the brouhaha over Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, you would think they were the first Mormons ever to run for president. Not the case. Eleven Latter-day Saints have run for the White House, including the faith's founder, Joseph Smith, whose campaign ended when he became the first presidential candidate to be assassinated. We've heard the words of Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, who warned against voting for Romney and claimed that Mormonism is a cult.
Mormonism is just as much of a cult as any other religion. (Are we supposed to really believe that the first woman was created from the rib of Adam?) Modern Mormonism shouldn't be confused with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). The FLDS Church split with the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in the early 20th century. This is due to the LDS Church's suspension of polygamy and its decision to excommunicate members who continued the practice.
The FLDS Church has roughly 10,000 members residing in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. To see the true cult side of Mormonism, I recently took a trip to Hildale/Colorado City. This multiple-wive hamlet is more inline with what Jeffress had in mind when he said the Mormon religion was a cult. To get a better understanding of this, I recently took a rumpus ride into the aorta of the diseased underbelly with a visit to the largest Mormon polygamy community in the country.
Set in the red-bluffed mountains on the Arizona border and isolated by a good 44 miles from the next sign of civilization, this haven is the home base of the FLDS. For these residents having at least 3 wives is their straight ticket to heaven. (Sorry ladies, that's wives not husbands.)
A few words to desribe Hildale/Colorado City:
Here's a little unsavory snapshot. The community has a combined population of roughly 10,000, while the average female age is 14-years-old. Mix that with the male population over 50, and you got a pedophile's paradise held together under the banner of religious freedom.
Located relatively near Lee's Pass (named after a Mormon Fundamentalist who instigated the slaughter of hundreds of people migrating West in the 1800s), the former big-cheese in these parts is Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault in 2011.
FLDS elders, such as Jeffs, are considered living prophets ("I'm a living prophet!") who have God's direct cell phone number. They claim to chitchat with The Almighty, conferring over important decisions. One such example is the "Law of Placing." These so-called "prophets" pull girls as young as 13 out of school and assign them to become, say, some 57-year-old man's multiple-wife. The girls are affectionately referred to as "poofers" (they're in school one minute, then "poof," an impregnated, polygamous wife the next). With both town officials and the police force FLDS members, this isolated locale is a perfect prison-like atmosphere for any women attempting to escape the polygamous, religious-swinger, lifestyle. These "prophets" also have the authority to reassign wives to other men if they feel inclined (local men remember, don't piss off the living prophets!).
Needless to say, the religious-sect-citizens of the community hate outsiders - especially journalists.
What a glorious sh*t-hole Hildale/Colorado City is! Tourist attraction-wise, there's not a whole hell of a lot to see. The town has about 4 businesses: Food Town, a take-away pizza place, Radio Shack (even people with numerous wives have electronic needs!), and one restaurant, Mark Twain Restaurant (because the author of Huckleberry Finn would have been tickled by this place), which also doubles as a motel-with-no-sign-of-usage. California might have Disneyland, but Colorado City has "Babyland." Coined by residents it's the local cemetery (A must see!) out by the canyon lands on the outskirts of town, named such due to all the unmarked baby graves. It gets better. Did you know the Colorado City/Hildale area has the world's highest incidence of fumarase deficiency-an extremely rare genetic condition that causes severe mental retardation? Who would have thunk the prevalence of cousin-marriage-inbreeding would attribute to something like that?! Boing!
Amped up on energy drinks-to the point of crack-addict paranoia-I begin to get the feeling that every car behind me is following me (Is word out that an intruder has entered the city limits?!), as I drive through the empty neighborhood streets, comprised of shoddy, grey-colored, shabby-erected houses, that look still under construction due to the numerous additions tacked on (to facilitate each new wife). The dramatic red rock landscape adds an eerie, threatening effect; like we're in Hell-on-earth and this town is angry with the world. To compensate, I make sure to give a friendly wave to all cars as they pass (they don't wave back).
This entire community seems to be deserted (or hiding), except for a couple of small boys dressed like elderly grown men from Little House on the Prairie. Operating farm equipment, they perform the work of adults, while silhouetted against the Mormon setting sun. Breaking child labor laws must be the least of worries for the youth of Colorado City. Known as the Lost Boys, when FLDS elders feel a competitive-threat for the limited amount of child brides, they'll drive teenage boys out of town. With nowhere else to go, they often end up becoming male prostitutes in Vegas. So these children toiling in the fields until dusk need to be very thankful for the work; but should also remember to keep their eyes off girls their own age!
Ok, I've been to a lot of creepy places, but this has got to be one of the creepiest -- EVER! The creepiness is more along the lines of the movie The Wicker Man (not the crap remake with Nicholas Cage, but the original British version), where suddenly I'll find myself surrounded by the entire town, as a secret ritual commences to make a sacrifice to Joseph Smith on a blazing bonfire.
I pull up to an intersection in the center of town and things get eerie. A large white passenger van drives by me filled with a group of identically dressed women; all wearing 19-century schoolmarm outfits and hair bonnets. This van contains one husband's several wives-it's his tribe! These are the real-life Stepford Wives; groomed and trained exactly to the men-folks' specification. Almost like it's happening in slow-motion, one of the wives-she appears about 16-looks directly out the van window staring at me like she's just seen a chimpanzee wearing a top hat riding a jetpack. Her face has an expression of both fear and astonishment as the van window makes her look likes a goldfish gaping out of an aquarium beyond her one-corral-castle world. Her eyes widen three times the size they should be in reality, with a combination of awe and please help me
LETS GO TO FOODTOWN!
Here's a funny local joke I concocted for the FLDS elders to tell: "Take my wife... please! (Pause.) Because I have several, because I'm a Mormon fundamentalist. (Pause.) And chances are my most recent wife was raped on her wedding night when I pulled out of seventh grade without her consent in order to be my newest bride! Ba-dum-dum."
Though the rest of Colorado City seems like a sinister ghost town, Food Town is bustling on Saturday night. The grocery store parking lot is packed almost entirely with white vans. (If you're going to have numerous wives, you got to invest in a good van!)
Alas, it's time to meet the Warren-Jeffs-following-polygamy citizens face-to-face. After changing into my standard small town redneck outfit (so not to draw attention), hesitantly I enter Food Town. Nearly turning back, my jaw drops to the grocery store floor; the entire place is filled with all women, dozens of them, slightly on the large size and identically dressed just like those twins in the movie The Shining. (One rebel wife wears a conventional sweatshirt over her schoolmarm dress-the town equivalent of having a tattooed face.) In groups of roughly five (are they sisters or wives?), they shop for their own personal David Koresh, adorned with the same hairdo; braided in back and flipped up like a Jack in the Box (so ornate you could easily see accessorizing with a small bridge, or Swiss Chalet). Each `do looks as if a painstaking amount of time was needed to prepare. That's one advantages of having several other wives on the team-more detail to hair-preparation.
I don't exactly get a warm reception. I feel like I'm in the middle of the Village of the Damned, and they have the power to read minds. Everyone stares at my every move (then quickly looks away) No matter how low key I try to appear, the entire store watches me like I were Hester Prynne with a huge Scarlet A. A man with a buck knife on his belt, wearing jeans and long sleeve shirts, enters the store amongst the dozens of identically dressed Shining twins. He look like the types who'd slit your throat while quoting Bible verses, giving me a confrontational look that says, "Are you staring at one of my wives?!"
I'm just going to act natural. You know, like I'm a typical community member who has come to Food Town to buy some apples. Yup, just a typical polygamous husband buying apples on a Saturday night. Or maybe I'm a new farmhand whose facial expression says there's nothing weird about being in a store filled with a tribe of identically dressed wives? One apple! Two apples! Three apples! In my attempt to look natural, I actually look so tense it could be misconstrued as great pain.
Quickly moving to the next aisle, acting enthralled with the soup selection, I pass a sign saying all toys are $1.00, noting the mixed message these devices of child-amusement send; from an old school Tic Tac Toe game, to toy farm trucks, and something called The Farming Game. (Yes, toys to take the kids' minds off of mandatory farming.)
"Hey look!" I exclaim with delight. The identical dress that the entire woman population of this town wears is on sale, here, at Food Town! So that's where they buy it. How surprising. These modest, ankle-length gowns are stationed right by the cash register as an impulse buy.
All the energy drinks I had earlier have scrambled my brain to crazy. "Aaaah!" I cry under my breath, as a small little girl freaks the hell out of me. Dressed and groomed just like the adult women, she pushes around a tiny child-sized shopping cart (is this to prepare them for early marriage duties?). I'm sure one of the town's elders already has his eye on her to make her his bride.
I ditch my apples in lieu of another purchase. Waiting in the checkout line with the Children of the Corn, I stand behind a child-bride purchasing four jars of seafood cocktail sauce. You have to buy in bulk if you're one of 90 wives. Obviously you'll run out of seafood cocktail sauce mid-meal leaving some wives cocktail sauce-less.
Maneuvering to the front of the line, it's my turn with the two large women cashiers (dressed exactly like the others). Their nametags read, "Fawn" ("Let's do Fawn's hair."), and the other, for some reason, "Giggles and Laughs."
From my shopping cart, I start setting by the register several boxes of feminine hygiene products. "My household goes through soooo many boxes of these," I tell the ladies, hoping they bond with me like a local.
Neither Fawn nor Giggles and Laughs find my jest funny, giving me, instead, a look that could curdle milk. Abruptly leaving without getting my change, I depart Food Town with my five boxes of tampons. Walking hurriedly to my rental car, I expect now is when it will happen; the one man with the buck knife will approach me and say "I think it would be best if you leave town-NOW!" I'll then be driven away by FLDS elders and dumped off on the side of the road like the Lost Boys. Or worse, I'll be stabbed in the parking lot because one of the living prophets just spoke God and that's what he said was the right thing to do in order to go to heaven.
As I swiftly point my PT Cruiser towards the city limits, three of the town's police cars (most likely the only three police cars) have pulled over a car on the desolate main street of Colorado City. The red cherry-tops swirl against the pitch-blackness of the isolated, mountain terrain. Drug-sniffing dogs surround the vehicle, as the officers do an extensive search. I'm sure the local police (Mormon fundamentalist with a past member of the force arrested for marrying a 16 year old), surely love outsiders. If I were pulled over, the dog-sniffing treatment would be the least of my worries to ensure I never come back to Creepy Town. As I tiptoe my car past the interrogation, perhaps the severe treatment I'm witnessing is due to some soon-to-be polygamist bride trying to escape town before her, so called, wedding night?
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