[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/CRIME/04/05/texas.ranch/art.compound.housing.cnn.jpg caption="An aerial view from last year shows some living quarters at polygamist leader Warren Jeffs' Texas ranch."]
Gary Tuchman | BIO
I know a lot of polygamists. Covering fundamentalist sects that have broken away from the Mormon Church will do that for you.
Most of the women I talk to who share their husband with other women laugh at me when I suggest they are being used and abused. They tend to tell me they can't imagine a life without their "sister wives" and their husband all together.
Meanwhile, men who are married to many wives tend to tell me they have plenty of love to give to all of them; and they often add, ‘why is what they do worse than a single man who has relationships with lots of women, or a husband who cheats on his wife?’
One thing they all tell me is that they believe polygamous marriages are holy in the eyes of the Lord. Their beliefs are strong; but they almost always prefer to stay very low profile because polygamy is illegal and they fear prosecution.
Polygamy is almost never prosecuted. You probably know that polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is in jail. But his convictions as well as other charges against him involve the marriage and resulting sexual abuse of girls under the age of 18, not the fact that he's believed to be married to scores of women.
So that's why what happened in Canada this week is remarkable. One of Warren Jeff's archrivals, Winston Blackmore, who heads one of the biggest polygamist communities in North America, was arrested in British Columbia and charged with the crime of polygamy.
I first met Blackmore in 2006. He used to be part of the group run by Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS - whose Texas ranch of a few thousand members was raided by authorities last year amid allegations abuse of underage girls. FLDS members have pleaded not guilty to charges, and the case is still under investigation by Texas authorities.
Blackmore and Jeffs had a falling out several years ago, and Jeffs kicked Blackmore out of the sect. But most members of the Canada compound remained loyal to Blackmore, who has continued to lead the compound with nearly 1000 members in Western Canada. Jeffs is a very strange bird - self-righteous, distant and narcissistic.
In contrast, Blackmore comes off as a pretty normal, friendly even jovial guy. But then you find out about his life and you see he's not like most of us. He told me he had more than a dozen wives, and at least 100 children. He also acknowledged at the time that some of his wives were under 18 when he married them. And notably, he predicted Canadian authorities would arrest him someday. Well, he was right.
Blackmore has been charged with polygamy; making him the highest-profile person in North America to be arrested for that crime in many years. His defense will almost certainly involve claims that this is a violation of his religious freedoms. Canadian authorities will almost certainly dispute that.
Either way, it means that fear of government authorities and other outsiders - already quite prevalent among polygamists - will become more acute. I called a woman I know who has a husband and one other sister wife. She has been quite friendly in the past. When I asked her if she had a reaction to the Winston Blackmore arrest, she hung up on me.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with