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

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As time passed, his dogma became even stranger. He went days at a time without eating, convinced it helped provoke visions, and believed that by "the laying on of hands" he could heal his followers from sickness and disease. He became obsessed with homeopathic treatments and herbal remedies, teaching followers that through proper diet they could "live to the age of a tree." When lightning struck a tree at the Home Place, he taught his followers that the tree had divine powers and was a gateway to heaven. His followers erected a crude stone cross nearby in his honor, covered with inscriptions of the letter "K" (for Kingdom or Kingston). His most bizarre beliefs, though, concerned the occult. When one of his favorite wives died, he missed her so much that he dug her up from her grave. He then severed her index finger, cleaned off the three bones, and carried them with him the rest of his life, believing that the totem kept her spirit with him.

When Elden died in 1948, leadership of the Order fell to Stephen's grandfather, J.O., a short, miserly man with bony shoulders and thinning hair. J.O. was just as frugal as his brother — he lived in a dilapidated shack with planks missing from the porch — but he had a better head for business. He trained the women how to rip off the government, a scheme the Order called Bleeding the Beast. They would trek into state welfare offices, their kids in tow, claiming that they had no idea who the father of their children was, or that he was a truck driver who had left them destitute. The grift was exposed decades later, in the 1980s, when the clan paid a $350,000 settlement for swindling the government through welfare fraud. Later the Order reportedly bought slot machines from mob-controlled companies. To hide the scope of his organization, J.O. took great pains to never show his wealth and taught his followers to do the same. He bragged that he had worn the same black shirt every day for a year. He also shared his brother's fascination with herbs and natural medicine. He became particularly obsessed with a plant called comfrey, which he believed would protect his clan from the nuclear war that would usher in the apocalypse. He mandated that children should drink tea brewed from the herb every morning, and that Order members should feed it to their cows.

J.O. had some 80 children by 13 wives, but his favorite was Paul, an excellent student who made friends easily. As a favored son of the prophet, Paul had the freedom to disregard the strict discipline his father imposed on other members of the Order. One day, for laughs, he and his half brother Ron Tucker stole some napalm from an Order army-supply store, drew lines of it in the street and lit it on fire as cars drove by. The boys also bought cigarettes wholesale through a small clan-owned market run by their older brother and sold them at school. "It was all just innocent teenage stuff," recalls Ron, who has since left the clan. "But within the Order, where drinking soda pop was against the rules, it was a pretty big deal."

When Paul turned 21, he married Richaun Dye. Unlike other girls in the Order, Richaun was refined — she didn't wear hand-me-downs, and at clan dances, a long line of boys waited to dance with her. "She was definitely the pick of the litter, and that's why Paul got her," Ron recalls. Paul already had two wives, but he and Richaun were married in a secret ceremony at her parents' house. J.O. presided, while Richaun's father officiated the wedding, promising the bride that if she obeyed her husband, she would be guaranteed a spot in the Celestial Kingdom, the highest level of heaven. After the wedding, Richaun chose the name Knight randomly — a practice designed to prevent prosecutors from proving that men in the Order have multiple wives.

"They seemed happy," Ron says. "I could tell she loved him, and it seemed like he loved her too." Within a year, Paul Kingston would take a fourth wife. By the time he was 30, he would have more than 10.

As he grew older, Stephen turned out to be as rebellious as his own father had been as a boy. The Knight brothers weren't afraid to fight, or to stand up to authority. "They were the type of kids you didn't mess with," says Robert Owen, a former member of the clan. "If you messed with one of them, you were messing with them all."

When Stephen was nine, an accident at Washakie set in motion a chain of events that would eventually prompt him to leave the cult. It was Mother's Day in 2000, and Stephen and two of his brothers were speeding up a dirt road for dinner at an aunt's house. Suddenly, Stephen's brother David lost control of the truck and it rolled over, killing David instantly. "His face was crushed," Stephen says now, matter-of-factly, his eyes going blank for a moment. "I felt for his pulse, but he was already gone."

That night, Paul Kingston arrived at the ranch. The family gathered in the living room. Still stunned at the sudden loss of their brother, Stephen and his siblings were numb with grief. Then their father said something they never expected. "This is your fault," he thundered, glaring at them. "If you were more obedient, this wouldn't have happened."

"After that, everything changed," Stephen says. "My mom was never the same. She didn't want to be in that house anymore; it reminded her of my brother." To test her devotion, Stephen's father began calling her in the middle of the night and telling her to move the family to a new location. Over the next several years, Stephen bounced from the suburbs of Salt Lake to the clan's ranch in Nevada. Consumed with guilt over his brother's death, Stephen lashed out. He picked fights at school, shot a teacher in the face with a water gun and refused to do homework or answer questions. "He was angry and confused," says a former member of the cult. "He didn't have anyone to help him process what had just happened."

Taking advantage of his status as a son of the prophet, Stephen began bending the rules even further. Because of the clan's distrust of banks, the Order had cash hidden all over the place, a poorly kept secret within the family. "They'd keep it in basements, in filing cabinets, in a big safe in one of Paul's offices," says Levi Kingston, a former clan member. "If you knew where to look — and the Knight boys did — it was easy to find." In his teens, Stephen and five of his half brothers stole $4,000 from their father. "We figured it was ours anyway," says Stephen, explaining that the clan hadn't paid the boys for bagging coal. "But we paid it all back."

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