Inside 'The Order,' One Mormon Cult's Secret Empire

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When Stephen was a boy, the clan would gather for the New Year in a warehouse in the city for its annual ritual: the numbering of the men. His father stood on the stage and called out the names of the men who were to receive one of the clan's highest honors. "Brother Ron Tucker," he would intone, "come and get your number." According to the Order's interpretation of the Book of Revelations, only 144,000 numbered men will be allowed to rule in heaven under God. Many of these men are also given "stewardship" of the Order's business holdings — sent out to run the clan's coal mine or ranches, or to oversee one of its many storefronts.

That Stephen's father sat atop a mafialike organization was a secret kept from him for most of his childhood. When he was three, his mother led him into a building controlled by the clan and pointed out an intense man lifting weights in the gym. "That's your Uncle Paul," she said. (Like most kids in the clan, Stephen wasn't told who his father was until he was old enough to be trusted to lie to protect the Order.) Back then, Paul Kingston stood around five feet ten and weighed close to 200 pounds. He had yet to lose his hair, and thanks to his fanatical devotion to healthy food and alternative medicine, he had the ropy build of a well-toned athlete. He also had dozens of children — a brood that would eventually grow to around 300 — and he had a hard time telling them apart.

But it is likely that Kingston could recognize some of himself in Stephen. They both have the same high cheekbones, the same pale skin, the same wide-set eyes. Noticing Stephen, he put the barbells down and came over to the boy. He asked him if he was being obedient, then excused himself to talk to Stephen's mother. "He seemed like the most amazing guy," Stephen recalls.

It would be several more years before Stephen learned that Paul Kingston was his father, and that his mother was just one of his dad's many wives. And it would be several years after that before he stole from his father for the first time.

While his dad was running the order from Salt Lake City, Stephen grew up on a cattle ranch called Washakie, near the Idaho border. Situated at the base of a rugged mountain range, the Order's spread sat in a pristine valley of glistening hayfields and open pasture. The land had once been home to the Washakie Indians, and as children, Stephen and his 15 full brothers and sisters played among the wind-swept ruins of a Native American cemetery. Their father rarely came by, and because the nearest town was 18 miles away, the kids forged a fierce bond among themselves. "We were off on our own out there and really close," Stephen says. "It felt like it was us against the world." His older brother Richard, a burly diesel mechanic, taught him how to fix cars. Another brother, Ben, showed him how to mend fences. In summer, the kids swam in the reservoir as their mother, Richaun, watched, the boys doing back flips off the rope swing into the water; at night, as the sun set behind the mountains, they all sat together to watch the clan's buffalo herd grazing in the pastures. "It was all fun," Stephen recalls. "We'd sleep on the chicken coop in the summer and shoot raccoons. Or we'd set traps and raise them as pets."

In many ways it was an idyllic childhood, except for the fact that the ranch also doubled as a work camp for disobedient clan wives and rebellious kids. The family believed that discipline would rein in the boys and that hard labor would make the girls more supplicant to their husbands back in the city. "It was a wild place," says Scott Cosgrove, a former detective with the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office, who remembers the ranch as a broken-down spread, guarded by a feral pack of boys who patrolled the fence line from the back of a pickup armed with shotguns. "The clan kids from there would come to school not properly dressed for the cold, and they were always getting in fights. You'd show up for a welfare call, or a domestic-abuse call, and it was just real run-down."

For Stephen and the other kids on the ranch, the highlight of each week came on Sundays, when they traveled the hour and a half south to Salt Lake for church. Sometimes his father read the Book of Mormon from the pulpit and talked about things regular Christians would recognize, like tithing or repentance. But mostly he talked about the history of the Order and his ancestors, the men who had started the clan.

The Order was founded by Elden Kingston, Stephen's grand-uncle, at the height of the Great Depression. As lore has it, Elden was the "one mighty and strong" predicted by Scripture, who "holding the scepter of power in his hand" would "set in order the House of God." With thick white hair, a lantern jaw and a commanding presence, he had no problem attracting followers. Like other fundamentalists of that era, he believed the Mormon Church had lost its divine authority when it renounced polygamy in 1890, so he persuaded three other families to join him in establishing their own sect. They threw away their possessions, donned matching blue overalls, and pitched canvas tents on a patch of land north of Salt Lake that would come to be known as the "Home Place."

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