Book Review - Polygamy’s Rape of Rachael Strong Protected Environment for Predators

Cultic Studies Review, 6, (1), 2007

Polygamy’s Rape of Rachael Strong: Protected Environment for Predators

John R. Llewellyn

Reviewed by Laura A. Weber, M.A.

John R. Llewellyn is a retired Salt Lake County sheriff’s lieutenant who specialized in sex crime investigation, which included polygamy complaints. He has written other books concerning polygamy, including Murder of a Prophet, A Teenager’s Tears: When Parents Convert to Polygamy, Polygamy Under Attack, and From Tom Green to Brian David Mitchell. Llewellyn studied Mormon doctrine and was converted to Mormonism, and then Mormon Fundamentalism. Eventually, he disassociated himself when he realized the sect’s leadership claims to be the sole conduit to a celestial exaltation. He has knowledge about how government has dealt with polygamy. Also, he knows members of polygamist groups and polygamists living outside of groups.

Currently, Llewellyn is the lead investigator in a lawsuit against polygamist James D. Harmston and his True and Living Church (TLC) in Manti, Utah. He has appeared for interviews on ABC Primetime, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel’s The Edge with Paula Zahn.

In his book, Polygamy’s Rape of Rachael Strong: Protected Environment for Predators, Llewellyn provides his perspective concerning the issues associated with polygamy. He organizes the information in a topical format, which is for the most part adequate. However, there are times when the material becomes disjointed and the reader might become confused. Llewellyn begins by providing historical background information in the introduction. He uses the voice of Rachael Strong’s mother to tell her daughter’s story of how she believes she was systematically violated and abused by James D. Harmston, leader of the True and Living Church (TLC) in Manti, Utah. Then, he addresses the political motive of decriminalizing polygamy, which is promoted by the pro-polygamist group called “Principle Voices.” Llewellyn quotes member Anne Wilde as saying that decriminalization, as opposed to legalization, will assure that polygamy will not be prosecuted or controlled by the government in any way.

Next, the author returns to Rachael’s story in his own words and details some of the history of the True and Living Church (TLC) to which Rachael belonged. Then, he presents the views of “Tapestry Against Polygamy,” an organization of former wives and children of polygamy whose purpose is to assist refugees in transition from polygamy to a new life of freedom.

Once again, Llewellyn returns to Rachael’s story of how she attempted to seek justice. Then he jumps back to explaining more details about the doctrine of the mainstream Mormon Church. In the next chapter, he tells another real life story of Kelli Cox, who lost her husband to Mormon Fundamentalism and polygamy.

The remainder of the book discusses the current political climate in Utah, including the perspectives of the different players involved. Llewellyn describes the roles of government officials, law enforcement, the LDS Church, advocates for and against polygamy, and the media. In the final portion of the book, he includes profiles of organizations involved in polygamy, a bibliography of resources, and, finally, reviews of the publisher’s books about polygamy.

One of Llewellyn’s purposes is to call attention to what he terms “an unlawful, abusive way of life in which the LDS Church must bear some responsibility” (page 86).  Pro-polygamists believe that the “authority” of Doctrine & Covenants 132 in church scripture transcends the authority of the laws of the land. This doctrine makes plural marriage a commandment if one wants to become like God and be with Him. Llewellyn’s point is that Section 132 is the basis of Mormon cults that have all originated in the LDS Church. He says that although there are “millions of decent, upright members of the LDS Church,” they continue to publish and promote their sacred book, Doctrine and Covenants, with Section 132 still intact. Llewellyn writes that the Manifesto of 1890, the last entry in the Doctrine and Covenants, was written to satisfy the federal government and was supposed to be a cure to the practice of polygamy. In 1905, the LDS Church officially abolished polygamy for good.

Llewellyn claims that although the Manifesto might have satisfied the United States government, it also motivated some true believers to take plural marriage underground. Now there is a Mormon subculture where “any unscrupulous man can claim authority from Doctrine and Covenants 132 to practice plural marriage” (page 87). The author wants to convince society and the Utah government of the degree to which victims of polygamy experience intimidation, powerlessness, and subserviency at the hands of the leaders, or royal priesthood, of Mormon Fundamentalism.

The author claims to be exposing the truth of what actually happens within Mormon Fundamentalist polygamy. For example, he quotes LuAnn Cooper, a dissident from the Kingston Group, which practices incest to preserve their blood line. LuAnn was coerced into a polygamist marriage at age fifteen. She opposes decriminalization of polygamy because of the tendency towards abuse.  She says, “fear, threats, and trickery are used to coerce women into accepting plural marriage. For example, they are told that they will go to hell or God will destroy them” (page 100).  To decriminalize a statute means not to treat it as criminal.  So, if polygamy were decriminalized, as opposed to legalized, then the government would have no regulation over polygamy at all.  In comparison, monogamy is legalized in this country and the government regulates it.

As a former polygamist, Llewellyn can identify with how people become entangled in Mormon Fundamentalism because he and his wife went through the step-by-step transition of reading literature and meeting with Mormon Fundamentalist intellectuals until they were converted. The author seems to understand the process and intricacies of coercive mind control. He thoroughly fleshes out different aspects of a psychologically abusive system such as dependency, submission, programming, control, authority, oppression, exploitation, and confinement. He explains parallels to domestic violence, such as the reasons victims sometimes return to abusive polygamy. They are unable to make it on the outside, which is labeled by polygamists as wicked and dangerous. Llewellyn believes that, from birth, the victim is taught not to trust her own perceptions and interpretations; her programming is intentionally designed to destroy self-esteem and make her powerless. She doesn’t have the emotion and social skills to survive and compete in the outside world on her own. In Llewellyn’s opinion, there is a need for government and society to step up to mend the victim’s broken mind and spirit (pages 110–111).

The book paints a picture of how the government is accommodating polygamy. For example, the author explains that in 1896 Utah passed a law against polygamy, making it a third-degree felony. In 2001, Bill 146 made it a crime to perform unlawful marriages, made child (bigamous) marriages a felony, and bigamous marriages between adults a first-class misdemeanor. However, Llewellyn says, “To my knowledge there have been no arrests made” (page 10). He also says that Rachael has never been given an official response from the Utah Attorney General explaining why he will not prosecute her abuser, Mormon Fundamentalist leader James D. Harmston.

The information in this book contributes to the knowledge and understanding of Mormon polygamy as viewed by the author. The author asks questions to help the reader think critically about the consequences of polygamy in Utah and the surrounding states. He believes that Mormon Polygamy causes inadequate nurturing of children in large families, and more wives and children than can reasonably be supported by one man. This situation then forces women to seek welfare services, which in turn becomes a financial burden upon society.