Polygamist families have had a bit of a “coming out” in the last few years with The Browns, The Williams, and The Darger families showing up glimpses into their complicated, but pretty normal lives via reality television and memoirs. Part of why these families have been so open is to combat perceptions about polygamists sects in America after the abuse of one polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was exposed.
But Jeffs’ extremist offshoot of FLDS isn’t the only abusive polygamist sect in the United States. A new two-hour special on LMN, Escaping Polygamy focuses on three sisters who left The Kingston Group (sometimes called The Kingston Clan,) a secretive polygamist branch based in Salt Lake City.
“It’s all about sex, money, and power,” one of the sisters says of the group in a promo for the series.
According to a 2013 interview with a former member of the clan who had 14 moms and 160 siblings, the group has thousands of members and owns almost 100 businesses in Salt Lake City. They are instructed not to forge friendships with others, but they blend in because they are polite and wear normal, modern clothes. In 1998, officials estimated that the Kingston’s empire is worth about $150 million, and that number has no doubt grown substantially since.
In 2009 one member of the clan accused another of stealing millions in gold and silver bullion, and in 2011 The Rolling Stone published a long-form report describing the group as a massive crime ring and estimated their assets at $300 million. According to RS, they pay workers in their businesses not with US Dollars, but with “scrip,” their own form of credit they can spend in the group’s stores.
As for alleged abuse within the group, RS describes an incident where one of the leaders was jailed for beating his daughter for leaving an arranged marriage to her uncle, his brother. Family intermarrying is a huge part of the Kingston Group’s beliefs. “They’re the ones who really believe they have to keep the bloodline pure,” a former member named Rachel told a Brown University reporter in 2008. “They think they’re directly related to Jesus Christ and they don’t want anything to taint that. As a result they have a lot of deformities and mental illnesses.”
Rachel, who had only seen her father twice in her life, accounts frequent child abuse. She remembers one instance of staying home with her little brother because her family was afraid of letting him go out lest outsiders see his bruises. When she was fifteen she was married off to a man with two other wives who was both her cousin and her nephew. The idea of getting married sickened her, but her mother told her “Rachel, you’re going to get married this evening, and you’re going to be a perfectly sweet wife.”
She had two children in this marriage, and was soon being scolded by other members of the group for not using physical punishment against her crying babies. At that point, she decided that the only option was to leave the group, which is an extremely hard thing to do both practically and emotionally.
As one woman says in the preview for Escaping Polygamy, “My whole life I was told, ‘If you leave, you’re going to hell.’ You would rather be in hell with everybody else than in heaven with them.” This is probably one of the heaviest issues with leaving a cult, even if you no longer believe in their tenets, the people you are closest to do still believe. Even so, it’s still better to live a life of better freedom. “Ever since I left polygamy, I’ve wanted to tell people, ‘You can get out,’” says a former member in a preview.
Escaping Polygamy premieres Tuesday, December 30 at 9/8c