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

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Eventually, Stephen was sent back to Washakie and was placed under the supervision of his uncle, one of the family's most feared enforcers. A short, blustery man with a hair-trigger temper, Daniel Kingston had reportedly once kidnapped two boys at gunpoint and led them out to the Great Salt Lake (the charges were later dropped). At Washakie, he forced clan children to decapitate cows with chain saws to toughen them up, and sometimes beat the children for some infraction of the Order's rules like forgetting to face the Home Place three times a day and pray.

One afternoon, as Stephen and his cousin were taking a break from fixing a tractor that had broken down in a hayfield, Daniel Kingston pulled up. When he noticed that the boys had stopped working, he became enraged. He charged across the field and started brutally beating Stephen's cousin. When he had finished, he walked toward Stephen, who was sitting on the tractor. Stephen calmly waited until his uncle got close, and then he reached behind the seat and pulled out a shotgun, leveling it at his uncle. "If you ever do that again," he said, "I'll blow your head off."

It was an astonishing moment in the history of the clan. "It empowered Stephen — before that, no one had ever stood up to Daniel Kingston or any of them," says a former member. "I think it scared them."

It was also around then that Stephen, at the age of 14, began to see the clan for what it really was. On weekends, he was sent out to work at the Order's coal mine with other teenagers. Boys as young as 14 labored in the workshop. Older teenagers were crammed five and six to a room, sleeping on the floors of trailers. According to former Order members, they worked long shifts sorting coal and operating heavy machinery in unsafe conditions. At clan gatherings, girls who were still in their teens danced with men old enough to be their uncles, whom they were sometimes forced to marry.

With the Order's leaders taking so many wives for themselves, the clan's younger men were often unable to find anyone to marry. Stephen's father seemed to marry a new girl every year, each one younger and prettier than the last. He slept with a different one each night, in accordance with their ovulation cycles, and sometimes disappeared during lunch to have sex with a favorite. While the Order preached strict abstinence to its children, forbidding even incidental contact between the sexes, there seemed to be no rules after marriage — especially for the clan's leaders. Incest is endemic in the clan, with uncles marrying much younger female relatives; in 2003, police showed up at an Order barbecue and arrested a clan member for marrying his underage cousin.

According to former members of the Order, decades of inbreeding have resulted in rampant birth defects throughout the family. Some children are born blind, others with missing fingernails or undersize heads. One baby deemed to have too many deformities was allegedly put in a shoe box and left to die. Mark Shurtleff, the Utah attorney general, has spent years investigating the clan, gathering birth certificates and genealogical data, and has come to believe that the cult is guilty of a long list of crimes, including child labor, tax evasion, welfare fraud, polygamy and the sanctioning of underage marriages to blood relatives. So far, however, despite Shurtleff's efforts, the insular and highly secretive nature of the Order has prevented him from finding sufficient evidence to bring a case strong enough to dismantle the clan.

"I strongly believe they are an organized-crime family," Shurtleff says. "When people hear 'organized crime,' they think of mobsters. I don't think they're organized crime in that regard, but the racketeering statute defines it as any conspiracy or pattern of illegal activity done in concert with others. If they are money-laundering or making money in support of polygamy and incest, then they probably meet the statute."

Stephen didn't know what the law said — he only knew that the people he loved were being abused and exploited by his own father. He no longer believed in the Order, but he knew that leaving would mean being shunned by his own family, and because he had been forbidden from making friends outside the clan, there would be few people in the world he could turn to. "It's hard to leave when that's all you've known," says one former member, who was forced to marry her cousin when she was 15. "I was scared to death when I left." From a clan ranch in Nevada, Stephen called his brother Ben, who had left the Order a few years before. While some despised Ben for his apostasy and refused to speak with him, Stephen had remained in touch with his brother.

"Come and get me," Stephen said. "I'm done with this shit."

"What took you so long?" Ben said.

Like other teenagers who leave fundamentalist Mormon communities, Stephen was not prepared to enter the world at large. To cope with the disorientation and loneliness of leaving one world for another, many turn to drugs. Another group of kids called the Lost Boys, who were kicked out of the polygamist cult the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ended up on the streets of Las Vegas and Phoenix, some turning tricks for drugs like meth and heroin.

Stephen moved in with his brother. To deaden his feelings of isolation, he started smoking a lot of pot and sitting around the house all day listening to country music. "All I like to do is work on cars and hang out with friends and ride my ponies," he wrote one night on his MySpace page. "I am in love with old cars and horses. I don't really have too many friends, but the ones I do, I wouldn't trade for anything."

Among Stephen's friends were two of his cousins, Luke and Scott Brown. Short and chubby, the Brown boys looked up to the Knight brothers. Like Stephen, the boys were considered troublemakers by the Order — and like Stephen, they knew a lot about how the clan handled its money. Luke and Scott often visited the home of one of their aunts, Rachel Young. Everyone in the Order knew that she controlled the purse strings for the operation — but few were aware that she was sitting on a hidden stash of silver. "Only the inner circle knew the hoard even existed," says Christian Kingston, a former Order member. "You had to be, like, a son of the prophet to know where it was."

On February 26th, 2009, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office got a call of suspicious activity in the foothills above the city. Two teenage boys had been spotted entering Rachel Young's home. They had sped off in a Honda sedan. When Rachel Young, a stern and humorless woman, got home, she discovered that several crates of silver in her basement had been pried open — whoever had robbed the place had clearly been in a hurry and had left with only a small fraction of her silver. She called her sister-in-law Patty Kingston, who lived across town. "You better check on your gold," Young told her.

As the first of Paul Kingston's many wives, Patty enjoyed a privileged role in the Order — including access to vast wealth. Hanging up the phone, she rushed to her closet. To her horror, all that remained was a ring of dust, marking the place where a chest of gold coins had once stood.

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