Yes, this is a real tour. And besides being perhaps the worst - or best? - honeymoon idea in history, here are just a few reasons it's problematic:
TPE, started by two brothers who were exiled from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, takes place in the non-magic kingdom of "The Creek," the FLDS community on the Utah-Arizona border. One of the brothers, Richard Holm, has said the tours will be "respectful" and will answer FAQs like "Why the prairie dresses and long braids? No makeup? More than one wife?" As the literature states, "A passenger bus seating 29 people will ferry tourists into Arizona, where guides will discuss the origins of fundamentalist Mormonism and will give travellers the opportunity to take in the town's famous sites, and even includes a picnic." The FLDS, according to UPI, is predictably not into being made into attractions - these are folks who prefer to preserve their isolation under normal circumstances, after all, particularly after their head, Warren Jeffs, was charged with about a thousand counts of child-marrying. Said one community leader, "They want to come into the community like it's a spectacle, when for us, it's like the circus is coming to town. We hope people have more of a life than to be suckered into that sort of scam."
One blogger describes former members' leading the tour as "like a former Nazi concentration camp's warden leading a tour in Auschwitz." Which I think is totally unfair: has he not heard of "the lost boys" phenomenon? After all, the tour's founder, Richard Holm, whom Warren Jeffs kicked out, has been a prominent critic of the FLDS since long before it captured the popular imagination. And on the one hand, it's a brilliant idea. Why not take advantage of overweening public interest and morbid curiosity, prompted by lurid news reports of child brides, tell-alls like Carolyn Jessup's Escape or dramatizations like Big Love or the new film version of Jessup's memoir, in which she'll be played by a pompadoured Katherine Heigl? And for those expelled from the community (Holm's two wives and children were "reassigned" to new men; Holm is now anti-polygamy) this is the ultimate revenge. What could be more painful than to expose the secrets of a community that prizes secrecy? To encourgae contact with a world that prefers to stay isolated? And in the process make money - which, if you believe Jessup's memoir, is made hard for anyone who's not in a position of power?
But, at the end of the day, why would we be there? Why do we even know about it? Because of child abuse and sexual abuse charges. Because of crimes against women, children and young men. And there's no getting away from that. And if we're going to condemn human zoos in the rest of the world, how can we encourage something so dehumanizing here? At the end of the the subject is unwilling - therefore, by definition, it's exploitative. Now, you can argue that this is another matter to the Amish, who've done nothing more than tried to live their lives and have to deal with throngs of apple butter-scarfing tourists in bonnets. In the current FLDS, if we're to believe the accounts of Jessup and others, situations like those in Texas, or involving Jeffsm aren't uncommon, but standard - with children being taken to wife against their will and young men literally thrown out on their own for the sin of being under 30, and community-centric law enforcement who are a part of the problem.
But the fact remains: what would we gain by exploiting people further? Yes, knowledge is important. Making things public is crucial. But disseminating half-information in a sense trivializes the real legal issues and serves to dehumanize its victims. Never mind the fact that those who aren't doing anything illegal, and merely pursuing a fundamentalist doctrine, shouldn't be held up as curiosities merely for doing so. In a sense, I don't think the fact that someone has proposed this business is inherently bad: it means people are aware of the FLDS, which means, hopefully, that actual agencies and the government are more aware of potential issues - and that those who wish to leave the life are given options and sanctuary. But at the same time, this shouldn't be reduced to either a harmless tourist attraction or a chamber of horrors: it's people, living their lives. If you want to see it, watch Escape. Chances are you'll see a lot more, anyway - I'm guessing these tour buses won't catch a lot of the lurid polygamist action Big Love fans might be hoping for, at most maybe a woman with a braid getting into a minivan. And frankly, these guys would probably be happier not dwelling in the past. If they want to help the community, there are organizations for Lost Boys and escapees. And given their entrepreneurial spirit, well, there are a lot of opportunities out there. It's a big world - and about one thing that FLDS guy is right; we should have better things to do.
'Polygamist Colony' Is Focus Of New Tour [UPI]
Scarier than "Ghost Town Tours"- "The Polygamy Experience". [Adventures -WA]
FLDS Exile To Offer Tour Of Polygamist Communities [SL Tribune]
From Polygamist Royalty To FLDS Lost Boy [NPR]
Ousted FLDS Dads Stuck With Aching Stigma [ReligionNews]