There’s a new tv series on the risibly-named “Learning Channel”: Escaping the Prophet. It’s surprisingly grim and real for TLC – home of the endless Duggar show, in which the role of fundamentalist hyper-patriarchal religion is drastically downplayed while a woman’s persistence in attempting life-threatening pregnancies is presented as heroic, and of a show about a Mormon guy with four wives, presented as a kind of cuddly soap opera.
Escaping the Prophet is what it sounds like – it’s about escaping that horrible little town on the Arizona-Utah border which is a miniature theocracy which people are not allowed to leave. Jon Krakauer wrote a brilliant book on Colorado City and the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, Under the Banner of Heaven. Its “prophet” – the one who needs to be escaped – is Warren Jeffs, who is in prison doing time for raping two underage girls.
It’s creepy and stressful to watch, so much so that I decided to stop and watch the rest later. It’s creepy and stressful because these people are being held captive and I don’t see why it can be on tv instead of dealt with by the cops.
Part of the reason is that Colorado City is physically very isolated. Part of it is probably the fact that things went so badly when the authorities intervened at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. But still – it’s quite blood-chilling to see this unfolding as just another bit of reality tv when it’s such a stark case of unlawful confinement.
Escaping the Prophet follows Flora Jessop on her mission to take down one of the most reportedly dangerous polygamist cults in America. Flora, a social activist, an advocate for abused children, and the author of the 2009 book Church of Lies, endured extreme physical, mental, and sexual abuse during her life in the church, until she escaped at the age of 16. Now, she works closely with law enforcement, the Attorney General of Arizona, and a network of inside informants to help rescue runaways and extract victims within the community, as well as to help empower families who chose to stay and fight. Using her difficult memories and her passion to help others, she works to deliver justice to the very people that she feels wronged her.
The FLDS religion remains one of the most secretive communities in America, a world of unquestioned authority, arranged marriage, and little contact to the outside world. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints continues to be led by its president – and self-described prophet – Warren Jeffs, despite his 2011 conviction on two felony counts of child sexual assault.
In each episode, Flora, along with partner Brandon (a former member of the FLDS and one of Warren Jeffs’ nephews) offers aid and attempts to extract a number of families from the FLDS community.
I don’t get it. I don’t get why it’s a matter of attempting. I don’t get why a bunch of cops don’t go with them.