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April 21, 2006
Polygamy Is Rather Taxing

A band of polygamists face prosecution from the state of Utah not for their unusual marital arrangements but because they refuse to pay property taxes. In a dispute that resulted from the collapse of their commune, the individual members of the LDS separatists have refused to pay the taxes due and may lose their homes. They have responded by fortifying defenses around the houses and community:

Thousands of polygamists are engaged in a highly unusual standoff here over property taxes that could ultimately cost them their houses or thrust them into a mainstream America they fear and despise.

In one corner is a group of 8,000 or so adherents of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon Church that had long paid the property taxes of its members, sometimes even rolling a wheelbarrow through meetings to collect the needed cash. ...

The church hierarchy is in chaos. Its former leader is on the run, facing criminal charges of arranging sex between a minor and an adult in a polygamous marriage, leaving the old tax-collection system in shambles. Now the property taxes for hundreds of houses — around $1.3 million — are overdue and mounting.

This is not the first time in the spotlight for this group. Their prophet, Warren Jeffs, took off with a lot of the group's money last year. He has continued to collect tithes from the people in the FLDS community in Hildale while fleeing prosecution for arranging marriages between underage girls and older members of the sect. That money could be used to pay the back taxes, but the Prophet uses it to pad his fugitive lifestyle instead.

In that sense, the entire community could be prosecuting for aiding and abetting a fugitive, but the payments get handled by cash and are difficult to trace. Jeff's brother Seth got caught muling the tithes and special assessments that the Prophet has demanded. He now faces an indictment for concealment (hiding his brother).

This could turn out very badly, and authorities will have to proceed with caution. Fringe groups such as the FLDS often stockpile weapons, both to keep their own people in line and to hold off state law enforcement if necessary. A measure of their ruthlessness can be found in their abandonment of adolescent boys in large cities, attempting to whittle down the competition for the young girls of the group. So far, no one has been charged with these crimes, but it shows that they have little regard for law or for humanity in their zeal to promote their lifestyle. If it comes down to a shooting war, they wouldn't mind sacrificing a few of those same boys if it meant buying enough time to escape. And if Utah actually tries to evict them without an overwhelming presence of the law, they might just try it.

By the way, the FLDS and Hildale serve as an inspiration for HBO's new series, Big Love. It's not a representation of this specific group, but it is an intriguing dramatization of the same components of the issue. I'd recommend it to viewers; it does not in any way glamourize polygamy. In fact, it makes it look like one gigantic pain in the rear end even to those who profess to believe in it. Bill Paxton does an excellent job in the lead role, but Harry Dean Stanton is nothing short of bone-chilling in his portrayal of the group's prophet.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 21, 2006 6:52 AM

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