The Mormon Church renounced polygamy in 1890, but several Fundamentalist groups in the State of Utah still practiced it, one of which was the Kingston Clan. The reality-documentary series, “Escaping Polygamy,” gave an inside look into how this particular sect was run, as three sisters helped others break free from the horrendous life that they were born into, from forced incestuous marriages to slave labor practices. The clan, referred to as the Order by its members, was regarded by those outside their community as more than just a religious cult, but as an organized crime group that prompted the government to investigate their operations.

About the show

“Escaping Polygamy” made its television debut on the Lifetime Movie Network on 30 December 2014. Andrea, Jessica and Shanell, who shared the same father, Daniel Kingston, belonged to the Kingston Clan, one of the wealthiest and most powerful religious groups in Utah. The three women escaped the repressive environment they were in, and forged a life for themselves outside the clan. They had since helped people who wanted out as well.

Jessica was 14 when she was being courted to become the third wife of her 42-year-old uncle. She and Andrea, who was 12, left The Order with the help of their mother, Heidi Mattingly Foster, the sixth wife of Daniel. Heidi called the cops and filed protective custody against their father for her two daughters. They were placed in separate foster care homes., and their parents relinquished their rights as the court ruled against them because of abuse and neglect. Jessica pursued a career in social work while Andrea became a Civil Litigation Attorney in Seattle, Washington.

Shanell was in a verbally and physically abusive marriage to her first cousin at 18. As she couldn’t take it anymore, she left her husband and The Order with the full support of her mom, Shirley Snow, the seventh of the 14 wives of Daniel. She had since remarried and had three children. Her mom lived in a house that was falling apart, and was neglected by her husband for not being an ideal submissive wife.

Stories of women they rescued from the Kingston Clan

The culture in the clan was most toxic for women as they had no rights and control over their lives – the Order ruled by fear and intimidation. If they leave, they would be shunned by their family and would not be given any financial support. They were told that they would go to hell.

Melanie was being forced to marry a relative

Jessica received a text message from a sister who was too scared to identify herself, but expressed her intention to leave the clan and wanted assistance to make it happen. It was difficult to know who it was because Jessica had over 200 siblings. She feared that it could be a setup because those from the Order knew that she was helping people who wanted out, but it didn’t stop her from meeting her sister.

Melanie was 18 and the youngest of 11 children. Her parents were half-siblings, and her mother was Daniel’s second wife. She didn’t want to get married but her father gave her a list of potential grooms: two brothers-in-law, one uncle, and three cousins; their ages ranged from 56 to 18. She knew her time was running out.

Jessica didn’t want Melanie to end up like the latter’s full sister Mary Ann, who was forced to marry her 33-year-old uncle David Kingston when she was 16. Mary Ann ran away after that, but her dad found her and almost beat her to death. Both men served time; her dad for child abuse and David for unlawful sexual conduct and incest.

Melanie’s family was poor, and had to go dumpster diving every week. She had grown to hate vegetables as they ate rotten ones. She had been raped and had seen her dad beat her family up. It was a tough life, and this was contradictory to what their church promised them – that they would have the best life, be with the best people, and become successful. Melanie escaped that life but not before the police had to be called in because members of the Order were in the house and they were physically holding her down to prevent her from leaving.

Kathy wanted out to protect her 14-year-old daughter

Shanell’s cousin Mark wanted help in getting his mom Kathy out of the clan after 53 years. Kathy was the first wife of Robbie Brown, a ‘numbered man’ – he was number 63. It was an honorary title given by Paul Kingston to men who were dedicated to serving their community. These chosen men had a higher rank, more authority, and given stewardship of the Order’s business holdings.

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Kathy was taught at an early age that a woman’s goal in life was to marry and build a family, so getting an education wasn’t encouraged or not a priority. Her husband was 33 when he began courting a 12-year-old girl to become his second wife, and the two were married when she turned 14. Kathy was sickened by this, but stayed because she thought it was her destiny. She said, ‘I remember feeling that the Lord hated me. The Lord must hate women to make them go through this, to live plural marriage.’

She had 16 children with Robbie, and felt lucky that 12 of them were boys. She was worried about her daughter Becky, the last daughter who wasn’t married. At 14, Becky had guys who were beginning to court her to become a wife. After their escape, Kathy’s older sons found her a house, and supported their family in their new life outside the Order.

The origin of the Kingston Clan

One of the central doctrines that defined Mormonism was polygamy, but its practice was banned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Charles W. Kingston was disappointed by this development, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to believe in the principle of plural marriage or the marriage of one man to more than one woman, and preaching to others that it was God’s commandment. As a result, he was excommunicated in 1929. Two weeks later, he dreamed that he was visited by Jesus Christ, whom he said made it known to him that he did the right thing.

Charles along with his followers settled in Bountiful, Utah, with plans to live under a communal program called the United Order, which aimed to promote income equality and group self-sufficiency. Their Church had long abandoned such a practice, and it was Elden Kingston, Charles’ son, who successfully revived it. In failing to convince the Council to live according to the Law of Consecration in which a person would voluntarily ‘consecrate’ all their time and belongings from which members could draw upon when in need, Elden took it upon himself to create a condition or community in which others could join and live the principles of not just Consecration but also the United Order and Plural Marriage. He used an old granary building situated behind his house in Bountiful, a city in Davis County, as the first storehouse of their co-operative.

Elden received a new covenant on top of the highest mountain, east of Bountiful, and he became the first prophet of the Kingston Group, the official name of which was the Davis County Co-operative Society Inc. (DCCS). It began in 1935, but became incorporated in the State of Utah in 1941. It had a governing board consisting of seven men. Over the years, their membership had grown and their business expanded as it became a financial success.

Ortell Kingston became Elden’s successor when the latter died in 1948 o penile cancer. He had 13 wives, and his seven sons from his second wife, LaDonna Peterson, and were the men who run the Kingston group today. It was believed that these brothers had 90 wives, who were mostly their half-sisters and nieces; they had more than 850 children. Ortell desired to perfect or purify his ‘superior bloodline’ by implementing marriages of close relatives. This practice was kept secret from the public. Their religious organization, the Latter Day Church of Christ, was legally recognized in 1977. Ortell died in 1987, but polygamy continued among his progeny.

Paul Kingston, the current leader of the Kingston Clan

Paul, the son of Ortell and nephew of Elden, was an accountant and a lawyer by trade. Reportedly, his followers believed, as taught by Paul himself, that the Kingstons were the descendants of Jesus and that those in The Order were tasked to build a master race. They arranged marriages within the original four families that founded the religious cult. He preached about the White Horse Prophecy said to be from the Book of Mormon, which predicted that ‘the “black race” would rise up and attempt to destroy the white man’ and would be rescued by Native Americans. The Order then would rise up and take over the world. The DCCS, however, had officially not taken a position with regard to this prophecy.

From the footage that was secreted from the Order, Paul was seen speaking in front of his followers during one of their church meetings. He said, ‘Each one of us is going to be given the opportunity to gain our eternal life and our salvation in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom.’ It was followed by testimonies from children of how the Order was the right place to be, and that this was the work of the Lord. Leaving the clan was tantamount to spiritual death. They would no longer have the Lord’s protection and would live a life of misery. Paul was regarded as ‘the man on the watchtower,’ who protected and kept them safe.

The leader didn’t look like he could command absolute loyalty from thousands of followers or that his wealth had grown exponentially. He wore secondhand suits and worked in an office that looked a bit rundown with the roof sagging and the carpet worn out. So far, he had around 30 wives and over 300 children.

Polygamous and incestuous marriages in the Kingston Clan

The official stance of the DCCS on marriage was that the personal relationships between consenting individuals of legal age should not be regulated by the government. They were aware that they had members who chose to embrace polygamy but said that it was a matter of personal choice so long as they were not coerced and not under 18 years of age. However, those who left the Order claimed that the women were not given a choice as to who they wanted to marry and when. Paul Kingston talked about the feminist movement, of how women didn’t have to follow or fit in with their husband. He said that it was a ‘misguided, foolish, and self-destructive idea.’ Obedience to the husband would guarantee a woman a spot on the highest level of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom.

In polygamy, only the first wife was legally married to her husband; the rest were considered spiritual marriages with no legal ties. In the Order, men could have their pick of wives, who were related to them by blood; it could be a niece or a half-sister. Men in the Order could get away with marrying girls in their teens because the marriage was done with parental consent. The young girls were highly encouraged to have a child every single year. This, some said, made it harder for them to leave even if at some point in their lives they wanted to. It was reportedly a common practice not to list the names of the biological fathers on birth certificates to avoid persecution for fathering kids with underage girls.

Kingston Clan, the largest organized crime in Utah

Their operation, through the Davis County Co-operative Society Inc., appeared legitimate on the surface, and the fortune it amassed was estimated to be around $300 million. The clan controlled over 100 businesses including a casino in California, an insurance company, a pawnshop, and a tactical company. They did not trust banks, so much of their wealth, in gold and silver, was hidden in the houses of selected members or those from the inner circle. When asked if they had an internal banking system, they said that their members who were business owners could extend credit to others and they kept a record of such transactions; it was said to be different from any banking function.

Many who left the Order gave accounts of how the members, even minors, were exploited and used as a labor force in their businesses, for example, the girls bagged groceries at the supermarket and the boys worked at the coal mine. Reportedly, they were not paid in cash but in ‘slips’ or ‘credits’ that could be redeemed at company stores. The DCCS, however, said that their employees were paid in checks, direct deposits, or other means that were requested by them but still within the law.

Back in the 1980s, the Order had to pay $250,000 to the government as a settlement for a scheme called ‘bleeding the beast’ involving women who claimed that they had no idea who the father of their kids was or the father left them destitute so they could collect welfare checks. In 2018, Jacob Kingston and his brother Isaiah were charged with fraud, for scamming the U.S. of $500,000 in biodiesel credits. For years, the government had been investigating their company, Washakie Renewable Energy LLC, which generated biodiesel. They profited immensely from this, mainly from the $1-per-gallon tax credit; it was reported that they falsified papers to make it appear that the company was producing a pure variety of biodiesel.

Why some members had poor living conditions?

With a successful business empire, many wondered why there were families living in what seemed like abject poverty. Former members revealed that since a man had several wives, the majority of them were neglected and deprived of their basic needs including food, especially if they were not favored or they displeased their husband in some way. The DCCS claimed that the state of an individual’s finances would depend upon one’s skill sets and frugality, but that no one was homeless. However, the houses were owned by the Order, and they controlled where the members or families lived.

That said, they also had a work camp called Washakie, a cattle ranch at the base of a mountain range near the Idaho border. It was where the rebellious kids would be disciplined, and the disobedient wives would become more supplicant to their husbands through hard labor.

The term, ‘the Order,’ was used by the members as a term of endearment referring to ‘a belief in the Co-operative idea of a United Order.’ They followed the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ The Kingstons took exception to being called “The Kingston Cult” or “The Kingston Clan,” as they found them to be derogatory and were aware that these were brought on by the negative acts of some people that were projected to the entire DCCS community. They claimed that most of their members were well-rounded and highly educated individuals. The use of ‘cult’ or ‘clan’ to refer to them only served to isolate them further from society. However, they couldn’t dispute the fact that members who got out gave accounts of abuse, rape, and slave labor in their community.

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