Polygamists also excel at ‘bleeding the beast’
Al Herron

Tuesday, September 02, 2003 - It was a nice coincidence that Jon Krakauer’s new book, "Under the Banner of Heaven – A Story of Violent Faith", went on sale last month. It’s about fundamentalist Mormons, and he confirms much of what I’ve been writing. A best seller – I recommend it.


How would you like for the state to pay your food bill, especially if you had dozens of mouths to feed? Would $2,000 a month be OK? This is not uncommon in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Some families get more.

This polygamist sect, which is not affiliated with mainstream Mormons, lives in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. They number in the thousands. The last census in 2000 showed that about 5,000 people lived within the two towns, but the entire community is now closer to 10,000, and increasing daily.

Among polygamists only the first marriage is legally recognized – after that they’re called "spiritual unions." So, even though a man may have five wives and 40 kids, the state considers most of them to be in single parent families because there’s only one legal marriage. However, that’s immaterial according to state and federal guidelines – what matters is the number of people living together. So, they’re usually eligible for food stamps, child care, and medical care at government expense.

The following numbers are estimates based on year-old statistics, and they’re all rising rapidly.

Arizona’s AHCCCS program provides most of the medical insurance for residents in Colorado City. Last year more than 4,000 residents were enrolled, costing the state about $8 million a year.

About half of the residents there receive food stamps, compared to 5 percent statewide. This costs the state and federal governments over $3 million a year for those in Arizona.

Five years ago there were no Colorado City children getting child care assistance, but last year there were about 200 – which cost the state another $600,000.

Colorado City gets back about $8 in benefits for every dollar the residents pay in state taxes, while for the rest of Mohave County it’s about one for one.

In the well-publicized case of Tom Green and his five wives in Utah, the state documented that the Green family received $647,000 between 1989 and 1999. Then they estimated that the grand total was more than $1 million – just for one family.

In addition to the public assistance programs, Colorado City has recently received about $2 million from HUD to pave streets, improve the fire department, and upgrade the water system. And the FAA built a $2.8 million airport that serves hardly anybody but FLDS leaders.

Remember also, last column we talked about the new $6 million school and $9 million in "rapid decline" money which the school board shrewdly harvested from the state after the prophet withdrew two-thirds of the kids from the public school system.

The various FLDS prophets justify taking tax money like this by saying that it is really coming from the Lord. Fundamentalists call fleecing the government "bleeding the beast" and regard it as a virtuous act. It’s the Lord’s way of using the system to take care of his chosen people.

Actually, "bleeding the beast" goes back 160 years to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Young was about to be arrested in connection with it in Illinois in 1846, and this forced the LDS to leave Nauvoo early, in midwinter, causing great hardship.

Next time, a wrap up: recent court decisions, need for legislation, and more.
Originally published Tuesday, September 2, 2003