Monday, January 17, 2011

Mormon Polygamy on Trial : January 17 courtroom notes

Please note: this is not an official transcript. There are likely many errors in the transcription, in spite of my best efforts and limited typing skills....

Brenda Lynn Jenson

Previously provided a video testimony and has come to court to provide information about living in a polygamous community. Brenda is the daughter of Harold Blackmore from his second wife. Her mother was 32 when she married Harold. Originally just considered themselves “religious polygamists” now are FLDS. Sees the FLDS as a segregation of the polygamists. She was born in Cranbrook and grew up in Lister on a 80 acre farm. Now renamed to Bountiful by Winston. Her father was a staunch Mormon who filled a mission, etc. As he studied the scriptures, he came to believe that the anti-polygamy manifesto was a political act and not a revelation. Came to understand that living polygamy was a necessary requirement to become a “good mormon”. When he and his brother read and prayed about the doctrine of polygamy, eventually his first wife gave him permission to take a second wife but the only person she would consider was her sister. Her sister originally refused, she already had filled a LDS mission, had a teaching career and was successful on her own. Eventually, Harold and Gwen convinced her to go along.

Harold and Gwen were originally living in Rosemary Alberta. Lister was selected because of its remote location and the proximity to the US border. In the course of their studies, they found the polygamist community in Colorado city and became connected with them. Joseph Musser was the prophet at the time.

All together, Harold had 15 children as a result of two marriages. Brenda lived in Lister until she was 14. Growing up, it was cold, lonely, isolated and hopeless. People were not nurturing. Being too close to your children would make it too difficult for parents to give up their children when the priesthood requested them. The children were to be empty vessels. The priesthood would get a revelation from god to assign the girls to specific men who would lead them to salvation. Brenda had no right to make a choice of her own or any preferences of who she would like to be with. She was not to have any preference or thoughts about a career or any decision in life. The priesthood men, or the prophets were to make all the decisions. For her growing up years, LeRoy Johnson was the main prophet. The priesthood leaders wanted the children to have no contact with people from the outside community. They were taught that people on the outside did not understand that the polygamists were called of god and that they would do anything possible to stop them from following god’s commands. They were taught that outsiders would attack them, kill them in their sleep, rape the women, etc. This is why it was so important to keep everything secret.

Growing up, she was familiar with the Eldon Palmer, Ray Blackmore, Dalmon Oler and the harold blackmore families. During her growing up years, she was in awe of colorado city because this is where the prophet and the priesthood leaders lived. She was also aware of polygamous families who lived in and near salt lake city. Many of the priesthood leaders had big homes there - partly because young men would travel to salt lake on work missions. People in bountiful payed big tithings to leaders in colorado city. Young men were taken to the USA for work missions and young women were taken to the states for marriages. People were assigned to whichever roles or tasks that the priesthood leaders determined would be the best for the overall community. When Harold’s family moved to colorado city, it was very significant because that meant there were 15 children who could be married into that community as a new bloodline.

Leroy johnson had several counselors who also had authority to make assignments, etc. Priesthood leaders came at least once per month. Priesthood meetings were held and the men of the community were instructed on what they should do and then the fathers would come home and teach their families. Usually 4 priesthood leaders would come at one time. Ray Blackmore became the first leader for the bountiful community, reporting directly to the priesthood leaders and the prophet. Violence was common in Bountiful because obedience was very important. Children as young as 2 years old were expect to obey immediately so they would not be a burden on the community. Physical violence was common with the children, smothering down (holding the had over the mouths of crying children), spanking, isolation, etc.

THe united order was implemented supposedly for the benefit of everyone. It was meant to be the “equalizer”. People would pay everything in and their needs were to be cared for. For brenda, it was like the book animal farm. Some pigs were worthier than others. Some people are blessed far more than others in the polygamous society. There is a pecking order - some families are treated better than others. If you belong to one family, it didn't matter what you did if you belonged to the right or the wrong family. When she was growing up in lister, she was lost in the crowd of many children. She did not have the experience of being important or sought out. She was one of many. There was mass discipline, mass conformity, etc. THere was no desire for a single person to become an individual.

The church owned the children. as a parent, you were to prepare to give the children over. When she was growing up, when a girl turned 16, the parents were to take the girl to the priesthood leaders and turn her over to them. THere was to be no more parental influence. In more modern times, the parents are told that the children are always considered to belong to the priesthood and god rather than the parents.

Girls were turned over at 16 in order to provide the maximum number of child bearing years. Women were given no choice about when or if they could have children. if a woman did not have children, she was not worthy.

different levels of priesthood were present. when she was growing up, a male had to have the priesthood before he could get married. priesthood meetings were a very important time for men to get council from the prophet about how to raise their children, treat their wives and what they should do. Harold frequently attended priesthood meetings in co city and on many occasions, the leaders were drunk and spoke with no respect about which girls were coming up, who would get who, etc. This was very difficult for harold because he was a very devout man.

Obedience was the most important thing that they could do to prove how devout they were in their support of the priesthood. you had to be obedient all the time, no matter what it cost you. not matter what happened to you, it was the will of god. if you were obedient, the priesthood would welcome you into heaven. It also meant extra wives and this is important because you needed 3 wives to gt to the highest level of heaven.

the lessons began at birth and were reinforced every day. obedience was required to prevent the child from exploring anything on their own. you had to follow rules about your education, what you wore, who you spoke to, etc. Growing up, they were taught over the pulpit and this was reinforced by their parents on a daily basis. Every sunday, the priesthood leaders would teach the community from the pulpit. school was another place to reinforce obedience. repercussions were severe in school if you asserted any rights of your own. it was usually physical violence or isolation. sometimes you were sequestered away with a worthy adult until they submitted. you had to be obedient without any hesitation.

if you did not obey, you would be excommunicated or you would be placed with someone who would teach you the right ways. Beatings were common with younger children. young women who didn’t show enough obedience were assigned with a partner who had proven themselves capable in controlling their wives and children.

Brenda experienced physical abuse and terrible emotional abuse. She never felt like she was good enough. She felt like she did not have a parent accessible to her. she had no one to do to. when things happened to her that she did not understand or explain, she was told that she deserved whatever happened. it was her fault because she had not done what was right. there was terrible hopelessness because there was nothing that you could do, there was no place to go and no one who would help you.

brenda was home-schooled. her mothers had both been home-schooled. her father had won a case that because both mothers were teachers and they should be able to do this. The children were taught that this was for their benefit because they would not be mocked and ridiculed by other children in the public schools.

For a period of time, the palmers lived in creston and their children went to public schools. Shortly, a school was opened in lister so all the children would go to school together. this was the children would nt be exposed to any outside influences that would confuse them.

The community used an old “rum-running” trail to go back and forth from the states. Harold was assigned eventually to go to short creek to help “build up the kingdom”. harold was in construction and the people in colorado city were living in poor housing. harold and gwen went first and started work. When the family went to the states, they used the back trail in the middle of the night to avoid crossing the border. Brenda was 14 when she went to colorado city. During her time in lister, she had more freedom - she could wear jeans and shirts. as soon as she arrived in co city, she had to start wearing the traditional dress of the flds women. she felt terrible - she did not like the restrictions that she had to conform to. In canada, she enjoyed riding horses but in co city, women were not allowed to ride horseback, go swimming or anything. She was allowed to read books in her family but not outside the home. she once took a book to school and it was ripped up.

school in short creek was almost like going to church on a weekday. there was a tremendous amount to correction and critiquing. the curriculum was totally administered from someone in the community. teachers were frequently recent high school graduates -mostly men -who were just recycled back.

when she approached marriageable age, she was terrified. if she did one little thing wrong, she knew that she would be assigned to the worst possible man. When she approached 15 or 16, she would have to go past the priesthood leaders to shake hands at the end of the meetings. She was aware that the priesthood leaders would ask young men and women to stand aside after shaking hands - with no prior warning - and you could be asked to stand aside to be married within the hour.

Her brother had been on a work mission in the hammond home. a sister had been the 11th wife of hammond. her brother came home from a work mission and told brenda that she would be the 13th wife. The sister had terrible difficulties trying to adjust to marion hammond. hammond was a very cruel man and would frequently lash out. Eventually, her father told her that she would not have to marry hammond - however, the sister decided that if she did not marry him, she would lose her salvation - so she married hammond. When brenda was told to marry hammond, she told her father that she did not want to marry him, and her father backed her. This was the happiest day of her life that her father would back her.

It was a very difficult decision because she felt like she was going against everything that she knew. it was like going against God and everything that she knew. It was not usual for parents to back their children in decisions like this. the blackmores had already began to question what the priesthood leaders were saying. their words were good but their actions were terrible. The priesthood leaders had ultimate power. people could be expelled from their homes, losing their families and everything that they had.

Her family eventually left the short creek community. harold was terribly disillusioned with the priesthood leadership. he was very sincere in his beliefs and very devout and he recognized how the leaders frequently destroyed people’s lives without any thought or feeling. eventually harold got a bleeding ulcer and needed medical care. he was taken by station wagon to the hospital - however, he had to have an escort by a priesthood leader to defer questions. the nurse told the driver to speed up because they were losing harold and the priesthood leader told them to slow down. this forced him to face the reality because he was not obedient enough - he questioned too much - and he would be allowed to die. this eliminated any traces of hope that anything good would come from the community. he realized he made a terrible mistake and he decided to leave. they wanted to move far away, but several children were already married into the community. they finally decided to move somewhere in utah that was about 30 miles from co city. this was in the spring of 1968. they slept on the ground for the summer until they could afford some properties, raw materials and build a small shelter. She went to her senior high school year in hurricane utah. eventually almost all the brothers and sisters came out from colorado city and left the group.

Harold was also a teacher in co city. he tried to open a gas station to help the family. they were desperately poor. the priesthood would not allow this because he was not obedient enough. anyone who tried to do something independent was punished in this way. Bountiful was their family farm but when the family moved to colorado city, the farm was transferred to the united effort plan. you had to turn over everything you had to the priesthood. the only right that they were taught about was the right to freedom of religion. this allowed them to live polygamy. as part of the obedience, they were told to keep sweet. never point out a harm that was done to you, never ruffle the peace. put it on the shelf meant to put away anything that was done to you and not let it bother you or anyone else. anything that was done to you were to be put on the shelf to fester rather than seek resolution.

All of the marriages that brenda was aware of were all placement marriages. no one that she remembers had had a choice in who they would marry. IN the early teachings, in her household, women had a say over whether another wife was added to the family. In other families, this was not the case. anything that they were told was the will of god and could not be questioned.

Brenda eventually chose to marry and she had a very happy marriage. She had 3 daughters and this was her choice. she had seen the emotional and financial desolation that results from very big families. she wanted her children to know that she would always be there for them and that she would always back them. she wanted them to know that they were always loved.

growing up, she was taught that her role in life was to please her husband and have as many children as possible. if they did this, they would please the priesthood and this would please god. if they were to study, it was to be the scriptures. any interest or talent that was used outside the community was flaunting yourself and not being true to god.

with her own children, she taught them that dreams were important and that there was no such thing as failure. failure was only a learning step. she taught her children that no one owned them.. her role, along with her husband were to help them accomplish everything that they possibly could.

in the flds community, some people were sent outside the community to get education for teaching certification, or other education, so that they would give credibility for the community. sometimes it was a punishment for a woman to be send to school because they would be told that they would not have any other children.

By the time harold left the flds, he continued to live polygamy with gwen and her sister. THey had grown to love and support each other through everything and they continued to be a loving supporting family for their children.

Growing up, brenda was sexually abused as a child. she had been told that it was her fault, it was not reported and nothing was done about it. As an adult, she did report this because it needed to be resolved as part of the healing process.

If one of her daughters chose to join the flds and enter into polygamy, brenda would warn her that she was giving up her freedom, entering slavery, entering harms way, etc. she would want her to do her research and find out what it is all about. however, after all of this, she would still love her daughter and she values freedom of choice.

Brenda believed that polygamy is harmful on every level. you are not supported emotionally or in any way. you are not good enough. men and women are segregated and men rule because they have the priesthood and women do not.

Cross-ex by Mr. Wickett:

Brenda left lister in 1968 when she was 14 yrs old. Her entire family left the flds when she was 17. Brenda is a member of the HOPE foundation. however, she does not consider herself to be an activist against polygamy.

In 2009, she gave an interview - handing over into evidence and to brenda asking if this is her - do you recall being interviewed by a reporter from christian week?


do you know that oler and blackmore were charged with the crime of polygamy in 2009?


reading this interview, do you remember saying “Brenda Jenson would welcome the legalization of polygamy”?

does not remember stating exactly this - however, she agrees with the context that if polygamy is legalized, then women would have a legal outlet from these relationships. If it was legalized, and women were going to leave these relationships, they would have more rights and would get out of the relationship what they put into it.

You said that the religion you grew up in was polygamy. were you not fundamentalist mormon?

when we were growing up, we were taught that we were following the original teachings of joseph smith. they were the chosen people who lived the original teachings. however we did not see themselves as mormons. We were not mormons.

Other than the flds, are you aware that there are other fundamentalist mormons - both organizations and individuals who practice polygamy?


do you have any estimate of how many other people fundamentalist mormon families are in north america?


did you father remain a believer in the prophet joseph smith?

no - he did not. he believed that the ideas were utopian and did not work in the real world. He remained a believer in polygamy if everyone was like minded. he continued to be a polygamist. her father continued to love both of his wives and he learned to love his children after they left the cult. he cared enough about brenda to tell her that she did not have to get married and he loved her sister enough to tell her the same.

would you not allow that your father loved you that much and that other parents in the flds love their children in the same way?

I would allow that - however the strict teachings of the flds do not allow a healthy or normal family life. it is not possible in a polygamous society.

Are you speaking this from your perspective in the flds society? Is it possible that polygamy can work in other circumstances?

I can only speak to what i know

Cross-ex ended at 12:05 - court adjourned for the remainder of the day.

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