Activists prod officials to crack down on polygamy

Associated Press, Oct. 18, 2002

Polygamists have lived mostly undisturbed for the better part of a century in northern Arizona, but anti-polygamy activists are hoping to capitalize on the recent publicity given to their cause by an independent gubernatorial candidate to bring about changes.

A handful of activists gathered Friday at the state Capitol to accuse authorities of going easy on members of a religious sect that believes in plural marriage.

Polygamists have lived for decades near the Utah state line in Colorado City – suffering only periodic crack downs. But activists are pushing authorities to act now, fearing that interest in the issue will subside after the Nov. 5 election.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Richard Mahoney has been accusing Democrat Janet Napolitano, currently the state Attorney General, and Republican Matt Salmon of being soft on the polygamists living in Colorado City.

“We never would have had this voice if it weren’t for Mahoney,” said Linda Walker of Child Protection Project, a California-based advocacy group.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has been investigating allegations of child abuse, welfare fraud and other polygamy-related offenses in Colorado City for two years. Spokeswoman Pati Urias declined to comment on the status of the investigation, but she said it has been difficult.

“(The activists) know the difficulties of getting something done up there. It’s extremely difficult to get into a closed community like that,” she said.

Most of the residents of Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church, which openly advocates plural marriage, is a sect that began after the mainline Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890.

To date, no arrests have been made as a result of the recent investigation by Arizona authorities, though Utah officials arrested a man and one of his wives early this month.

Urias said the arrests of Rodney Holm and his only legally recognized wife, Suzie Stubbs Holm, were largely the result of Arizona investigators’ work, but the alleged crimes occurred in Utah.

Flora Jessop, a former resident of Colorado City who ran away after she was married to a cousin at age 16, applauded the Holms’ arrests but said it’s not enough.

“It’s truly amazing that the abuses and the crimes being committed in these communities are ignored,” she said.

The 30-year-old, who grew up in the Fundamentalist church, said children are threatened physically, taught to be distrustful of outsiders and told they are acting against God if they run away.

“This is about child abuse. That’s what this is about,” said Jessop, who also accuses Colorado City residents of collecting large sums of public money through cash welfare payments and food stamps.

Officials at the Arizona Department of Economic Security say only three families are currently getting cash assistance in Colorado City, though roughly three-quarters of the town’s population of about 3,300 receives food stamps.

Calls to Rodney Parker, the Holms’ attorney and an attorney for the Fundamentalist church, were not immediately returned Friday.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday October 21, 2002.
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