FAQ on Escaping Polygamy

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Because of our connection with the Escaping Polgyamy episode that I blogged about a month or so ago, I have wanted to address some of the FAQs around this episode for a while. I guess today gets to be that day. Like I have already said, I can’t speak to all the circumstances that are portrayed, but I can offer some behind-the-scenes insight into the AUB with some of the false narratives that the show perpetuated. Shall we?

Was the featured family in danger from their church/community/the wives’ family?

No. Not only that, I don’t even believe they felt they were in any danger. Living in their community had become uncomfortable because the husband in this story had made bad business deals, taken advantage of people and just generally stopped interacting in a way that promoted neighborly feelings (lied, stolen, failed to keep commitments with no communication.) He was in hot water on multiple fronts (including a legal dispute with his non-member brother over ownership of the home they moved from) and wanted a quick and easy out. In addition, his wives come from a very close-knit family, and he wasn’t a huge fan of what he felt to be too much influence there. I’ve always found him to be very controlling and personally feel that if the wives are in any danger, it’s from him.

How hard is it to leave the AUB? How do people generally leave this group?

Most people quietly move away or just stop attending. While there is definitely cultural pressures to stay and comply with the lifestyle expectations, there’s no overt threat employed to ensure people do. In fact, if you want to go back to one of the earliest episodes featuring the AUB, they set up a scenario where the “young girl” was getting “picked up at church” to get away when this woman had left the church years before. (They showed the hosts “helping her shop for new clothes” when the reality was she had not only piercings and tattoos but a baby and had never worn a prairie dress as anything more than a costume. She certainly didn’t need help shopping for “regular clothes.” Please understand that I don’t care about the tattoos, piercings or the baby, but am merely illustrating that she left the church as a teenager on her own volition.) I still live right in the middle of a predominantly AUB community. I have never felt in danger in any way. My neighbors are still kind to me, and my kids still play with their kids freely.

Didn’t he imply that the church could take his wives?

Anyone can pressure anyone else to leave their spouse, and it happens here on occasion (and is wrong) in the same way that it would anywhere else, but “taking spouses” and “reassigning wives” does not happen in AUB culture. That’s just not a thing. If the family wanted to stay together, there is nothing anyone in the church could do to stop them outside of advising them that they think it’s not a good choice.

Is there an AUB militia?

This assertion that the husband in this episode made is based on a half-truth. Like many mainstream Mormons and even Christians, fundamentalists are apocalyptic in their beliefs. Jesse belonged to a church-sponsored preparedness group for a time that practiced self defense, first aid and community protection in the event that the world fell apart. (There are lots of similar, private groups among the mainstream LDS church membership, especially in our area.) Their approach was always defensive in nature with the main goal of being able to safely move people from other in-danger communities to safer, more rural areas like ours when things collapsed. The group was completely disbanded about 3 years prior to the show’s filming when new leadership took over and no longer exists, to my knowledge, in any fashion. His claim that this survival group was partially to control members and they were coming after him for turning on them is a blatant lie.

Is there a God Squad??

This was probably the funniest untruth in this whole show to me. There is nothing that could even be construed or rebranded as a God Squad. We have nosy neighbors that will probably peek out their windows if you drive through our subdivision, but that’s about it. The vehicle they showed that they said was watching them is an old, dead International Scout that belongs to my pack-rat neighbor. It literally had not moved from the spot they filmed it in on the side of my road for as long as I’ve lived here. We live in a regular subdivision with a public, county road running right through it. All our houses are privately owned and there are no church spies. (We have a very tall fence, but that’s because the freaking deer eat everything in sight if you don’t set up defenses. Ha ha ha!)

Was there a gun pointing at the family when they were moving?

I addressed this in a my first post, but the short answer is no. Absolutely not. This was a pretty disgusting lie, and not just because it implicated my family. Though they have plenty of actual problems, the AUB is arguably the most peaceful, mainstream, open-minded and non-violent fundamentalist group.  Nobody I know would have ever done such a thing, and we certainly did not. The fact that he targeted this claim at my home is ironic considering the pretty public disagreement I have with the church. I have zero motivation to protect the public face of the AUB at this point. But, I do care about my friends and neighbors. They’re good people.

Was anything this episode said true?

There were a lot of cultural things that were portrayed fairly, in my opinion. Polygamy is difficult for the staunchest believers, and that was discussed in a way that wasn’t dishonest. Whether or not I think Jesse was genuine in his criticisms is another thing and really just my perspective based on our long-time acquaintance and my pretty low opinion of his personal integrity.

What did this family get for being on Escaping Polygamy?

I don’t know what all the arrangements for financial compensation were. At the very least, their moving expenses were covered, and the show secured and paid for 6 months of housing for the family with separate homes for both wives. Upon their move, they were completely isolated and disconnected from their families, though they have since reestablished contact.

What’s your opinion on the show in general and the work the hosts do?

I have kind of mixed emotions about this. I definitely believe that no one should feel trapped and that everyone should have resources should they make a choice to move on. I believe that there are some circumstances where these women do a lot of good and provide an out, and I applaud those efforts insomuch that the stories are true as presented. Still, the fact that I have first-hand knowledge of dishonesty and the perpetuation of stereotypes with an agenda makes me really question their motives and the truthfulness of anything they present. I believe that the show’s producers, hosts and other crew knew that they were creating narratives that weren’t actually, ahem, reality. I think that is kind of a shame. There is enough complexity surrounding fundamentalist culture that just telling a story without embellishment is compelling enough – there’s really no need to lie.

Again, I do not intimately know the ins and outs of all fundamentalist communities. I can communicate what is generally considered to be credible rumor that circulates among the spectrum of fundamentalism about the hierarchical structures involved, and I can say what I know to be true of the AUB by direct experience. I will not claim that Escaping Polygamy is all a lie, but I can say unequivocally that it is most definitely not all the truth. At the very least, take it with a grain of salt.

 

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How to Get Banned From TLC’s Facebook Page

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For many years, I was very secretive about the actual details of my background. I lost a friend when I was in middle school because her parents banned her from hanging out with the “polyg kid,” so I learned very young that it was not okay to come from a fundamentalist background. (This was probably one of the most traumatizing events of my childhood.) A few years ago, however, I went public on my Facebook page, mostly by accident, really, with the fact that I was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon church. I also got banned from TLC’s Facebook page in the process. See, a few years ago, my neighbor went on the TLC show Escaping Polygamy. And, he lied. About my family.

I really don’t even know where to start with telling this story. (Maybe I can do a Q&A in a later post that separates the facts from the fiction in this particular show because I just won’t have room for it all here.) I should first offer a disclaimer with my take on the Escaping Polygamy show. I can’t comment on the details of all the stories they cover. There may be some situations where they are actually pulling people from dire straits. While many people equate fundamentalist culture with the highly-visible FLDS sect, the truth is that there is a huge spectrum between the different groups with some being very restrictive and controlling and some being quite liberal. I was raised in the AUB which is a more liberal fundamentalist church. (Think Sisterwives. And, yes, I know their family.) You don’t have to secret away from the AUB. You just move. Or stop attending. We still live right in the middle of a subdivision that is largely members of the AUB. (And, it’s a normal subdivision that has a public road running right through it.)

My neighbor is the family that “escaped” with two wives and the family stayed together. (So, he escaped polygamy to remain a polygamist. So much irony.) There were reasons they decided to go on the show but I guess I can sum it all up by saying that his personal and business dealings were not above board, and he had alienated himself from his friends, family and community by his lack of integrity – he’d made a very uncomfortable bed for himself. We started hearing rumors months before that they were going on Escaping Polygamy, and I kind of couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. I watched it as soon as it released. (I’m weird that way, I guess. It’s bizarre seeing what used to be such a secretive lifestyle on TV, especially when it’s people you know. My husband’s cousin was on One Husband, Three Wives, and I watched that, too.)

Imagine my surprise and anger when I realized that my son appeared on their show. My son was 13 at the time of filming. At almost 16, he now towers over almost everyone in our house and is well over 6 feet tall. A few years ago, he was getting pretty close to that. He is also, um, quirky? He’s my difficult one, and I often wonder if he’s not somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. If his brain isn’t engaged in something specific, he’s pacing. And, because we’re super on the ball that way, none of our upstairs windows have blinds. Anyway, I’m watching the whole story unfold, one that is filled with a little truth, a lot of half truth and a good dose of flat out lies, and they start freaking out because they “think a gun is pointed at their house.” The camera pans to the source, and they’re filming my son’s bedroom window with a light shining out of it! A light that I immediately recognize as the camping headlamp thingy that my boys have been playing with for months. The Escaping Polygamy show just filmed my child and my house and implied that we were pointing a gun at this family with a dozen young children! (Seriously, if you think someone is in imminent danger and THERE IS A GUN, call the freaking police, don’t zoom in and wax eloquent about the danger!) I. Was. Livid. Livid at our used-to-be-friends for implicating us in such a horrible way and livid at the production team for knowingly fabricating this scenario. (I actually think they got the footage of my son and the headlamp on a different night than when they filmed the “escape.”)

So, I went to their Facebook page and said so. And, so did dozens of other people who were familiar with the situation. People that were both still in the group and people who had left many years before. It took all of 6 hours for me to be banned from the TLC Facebook page. After a few days of heavy censoring, they stopped doing it and allowed comments that were calling out this family for their deception to stay. They had to hire extra staff to moderate the Facebook page and were really entirely unprepared for the backlash created from this episode. At one point, they gave me a contact to discuss the situation with someone on their PR team. I went back and forth via email with them for a bit but just walked away when I realized that they really had no intention of trying to make any of it right. Because they hadn’t shown my son’s face distinctly, I had no legal recourse.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m discussing something that happened two years ago now. I guess because, while my feelings about my culture and community are complicated, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Regardless of what I may or may not believe, these are still my friends, family and community, and I hate to see such misinformation perpetuated about decent people. I think it’s unfortunate to see good people lumped into stereotypes and boxes that they don’t deserve. (This is also why I chose not to do a story for the Tribune about the situation with my step-dad.) Like most high-demand religions, Mormon fundamentalism is largely populated by good people who are truly committed to their beliefs and lifestyle. There is good reason to honestly argue the merits of a belief system (this and others), but there’s no reason to lie about it to get the upper hand. Truth is like a lion; set it free, and it will defend itself. Which, apparently, is how you get banned from TLC’s Facebook page.

P.S. Escaping Polygamy is no longer affiliated with TLC. They switched networks a bit ago, so please don’t take this as a commentary on TLC specifically. That’s just who it happened to be when this situation happened.

P.P.S. If you have specific questions about this episode, please leave them here or in a comment on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can address them at a later date.