The story of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been irresistible to the news media for weeks, with images of FLDS women living as though in another century. But now the sister wives are fighting back in a very 21st century way. Salt Lake Tribune’s polygamy reporter Brooke Adams reviews the narrative.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [CLIPS] MALE CORRESPONDENT: Winston Blackmore won't say how many children he's got, but it's widely believed to be more than 100. He's got two dozen or so wives. FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Franklin, do you know how many sisters and brothers you have?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, about three dozen. MALE CORRESPONDENT: Is there that brainwashing to this degree? Do you have pity on these women? [END CLIPS] BOB GARFIELD: Polygamy, an outlaw sect of Mormons, possibly abused children at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. It's the kind of story nobody could ignore, especially as the coverage continued for a fourth week. The news from this strange corner of hidden-in-plain-sight America continues to take surprising twists, not least when the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began to mount a modern online P.R. campaign in their own defense, in which the key pitchmen are the mothers.
Those women in their Little House on the Prairie costumes – perhaps innocents, perhaps victims, perhaps criminals in their complicity, are demanding to nurse their babies, and, in so doing, striking a chord. WOMAN: She walked right up to the lady and said, please, let my mother come. And they would not let her. BOB GARFIELD: As the removal of more than 500 children from their families' custody triggers controversy in Texas and around the world, the very parental relationships in question in the case are being invoked to generate sympathy for the Zion Ranch community. Brooke Adams – and this is a first for OTM – is the polygamy correspondent for The Salt Lake Tribune. Welcome to the show. BROOKE ADAMS: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: The FLDS community has been described as something like a tribe in Papua, New Guinea, that is untouched by the modern world. Are they really living in the middle of the 18th century? BROOKE ADAMS: I think that's a false perception of this group. They have a number of people who have been to college. They are quite Internet-savvy, as the world now knows with the websites that they have put up to spread their view of what's happened to them in Texas. So I think the idea that they're totally isolated is false. BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about the websites that have popped up amid all of the uproar. Are they coming from within the Yearning for Zion compound itself? BROOKE ADAMS: Yes and no. The FLDS that are there at the ranch have put up, as far as I know, two websites on which they have posted a number of the pictures they took during the initial days of the raid there at the ranch. But there are a number of other websites that have been put up related to the actions in Texas.
One of the most interesting ones to me was a coalition of breastfeeding mothers who put up a website when the judge initially talked about removing the children who were still nursing from their mothers. BOB GARFIELD: Did you get a sense that the story changed a bit, that the narrative changed when the issue of breastfeeding came up and it kind of stopped focusing, at least briefly, on the men in the community and on the women and their physical relationship with the kids? BROOKE ADAMS: I did think that it would bring in a different audience, and it did. I was surprised at how quickly people, women out beyond this community who may not have been paying total attention to the issue until that moment, suddenly chimed in. I think that got at a very fundamental belief that there's a close bond between women and their little children and that this seemed to take what was happening in Texas to a whole new place in making an arbitrary decision to separate certain women from their young children.
And then the other point at which I thought we were bringing in a different audience was when somebody here in Utah staged a protest at the Houston Rockets/Utah Jazz playoff game. [LAUGHS] You know, and I just think that showed the broad spectrum of people who were paying attention to it. BOB GARFIELD: There is another issue, apart from the welfare of the children, that has emerged in all of this, and that is the women in the community, who have been occasionally portrayed as essentially being slaves, having to be utterly submissive to the men in the household.
And I wonder if, in your reporting on this story, you get the sense that the women are utterly powerless within this community. BROOKE ADAMS: I don't get that impression. And I'll talk about two women that have spoken publicly about their lifestyle in particular.
One of them testified she talked about how she had gone to college and then had gone on to pursue training as an EMT. And she said she did that even though her husband had not wanted her to become an EMT. So there was an example of some independence and modern thinking and making her own decisions about her lifestyle.
Another woman testified about going to college, again, and being trained in computer design and Web design. And, again, she decided to pursue her career interest.
So I think there's more women like that than we hear about. The problem is we hear so little from this community over the years and we hear mostly their characterizations put out by critics or people who've left the community.
And what you can see when you're there at the ranch is that these women were pretty outspoken about their making a choice to live this way. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Brooke. Thank you. BROOKE ADAMS: You're welcome. BOB GARFIELD: Brooke Adams covers polygamy for The Salt Lake Tribune.