Review: Answer Them Nothing

Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren JeffsAnswer Them Nothing
by Debra Weyermann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Answer Them Nothing / 9781569765319

So you've read "Escape" and "Stolen Innocence". You've read "Under the Banner of Heaven" and "When Men Become Gods". And you came away from those books with a warm sense of relief: Warren Jeffs had been arrested and convicted, and the Short Creek area was being gently and carefully restored to a place of law, order, and peace.

But then, if you watched the news, you may have felt more than a little confused. The FLDS polygamists running the Short Creek police -- men who were terrorizing non- and ex-FLDS residents and physically barring young girls from escaping the community -- were not removed from their public jobs. Certain public officials seemed to withdraw their support for the non- and ex-FLDS Short Creek residents, even as they were being denied hospital access, public utilities, and being arrested for "trespassing" in their own backyards.

A federal judge attempted to wrest management of the financial trust trying to restore property rights to individual families (regardless of their "good standing" in the religion) and hand control of that trust to the FLDS leadership, despite the fact that numerous non- and ex-FLDS members would be evicted from their homes by the decision. The Utah Supreme Court reversed Warren Jeffs' rape conviction based on a bizarre technicality, apparently saying that the jury should have determined if the groom in an underage marriage was also in the "position of trust" that the Prophet was determined to hold.

The news was confusing and surprising to people who had come away from previous polygamist memoirs and historical analyses with a sense of hope. Now "Answer Them Nothing" cuts through the confusion to bring an book that is part history, part biography, and part current events (up to late 2010 in my edition), and all meticulously researched and laid out in searingly intense prose.

As much as I can enjoy a book like this, I enjoyed "Answer Them Nothing". There are very few happy endings in sight at the end of this book, nothing like the hopefulness that permeates the earlier FLDS books in my collection, but the fault is not with the author but with the world she documents. (Just to demonstrate how bizarre this universe is, Texas Governor Rick Perry is a rare good guy in this political and judicial saga because he ... bravely decided to prosecute a man who made a sex tape of him raping a 12 year-old-girl. That's a pretty low decency bar to hold our justice system to.)

This book isn't for everyone. As far as I can tell, the author seems not to draw a line between harmful religious polygamy and harmless consenting polyamory, but given the context of the book it's not always clear that denouncements of the one aren't intended as denouncements of the other. I didn't find the book problematic, but others might. The author also has a frustrating habit of occasionally using the words "crazy" or "schizophrenic" to describe things that are not; I would prefer more precise, less medically loaded terms like "unfathomable" or "inconsistent".

If you want a book that carefully wraps up the history of the FLDS, the biographies of some of its lesser known escapees, and the court battles that have continued well into 2010, I recommend this book. But be warned: if you care at all about welfare fraud, police brutality, child abuse, legal harassment, and the unwillingness of elected American officials to address these terrible injustices in our nation, then this book will leave you both sad and seething.

~ Ana Mardoll


EdinburghEye said...

I may have to read this.

As you may be aware, in the UK, there is currently a consultation process going on with regard to lifting the ban on same-sex marriage. Very predictably, a bunch of antis are crawling out of the woodwork and claiming Christianity as their justification for opposing gay marriage.

No one is quite sure where they're getting their funding from, but their scripts against same-sex marriage all have an American flavour to them, especially when they start going on about "If we legalise homosexual 'marriage' POLYGAMY MIGHT HAPPEN". This is absurd, because polygamy is not a major issue in the UK - not to say that there is no problem with husbands claiming more than one wife, but the seriously nasty and entrenched communities of men who marry each other's daughters and expel most of their sons do not exist.

I was aware that polygamy is a real issue in the US. But it would make the spectre of polygamy as used by the Christian Right against gay marriage, a piece of hypocrisy equal to the pro-life movement if conservatives are not even taking steps against polygamists who have actually committed crimes.

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