Polygamous Kingston community dubbed a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Polygamist John Daniel Kingston, left, in attendance at a memorial for the 13 (and 1 still missing) victims of a September 14th flash flood. The memorial was held in Maxwell Park in Hildale, Saturday September 26, 2015.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks organizations expounding discriminatory and bigoted views, on Thursday called a Utah-based polygamous sect a hate group. 

It’s the first such designation for the Kingston Group, also known as the Davis County Cooperative Society and the Latter Day Church of Christ. The Law Center made its announcement in an article on its website.

The Law Center cited “available evidence, including the accounts of numerous former [Kingston] members,” some of whom are quoted in the article.

Kent Johnson, a spokesman for the Davis County Cooperative Society, on Thursday denied there are discriminatory teachings within the Kingston community. 

“The organization I represent believes in freedoms and not discriminating against” minorities, Johnson told The Salt Lake Tribune.  

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune John Daniel Kingston and Heide Mattingly Foster leave the Matheson Courthouse with their three-month-old baby following a hearing where Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez removed their 8 other children from Heidi Mattingly Foster's home Oct, 19, 2004.

When asked whether a black family could join the Davis County Cooperative Society, Johnson replied: “I don’t see any reason why not. I believe, with our teachings, and the teachings of the Golden Rule, I don’t believe there would be anything wrong with that.” 

“The Kingstons” is a shorthand name for a community, founded by the late Elden Kingston, of people who associate with two fundamentalist Mormon organizations. The Davis County Cooperative Society is the organization through which members consecrate their businesses, homes and personal possessions — down to the shirts on their back — to God. All those assets may legally belong to individual members, but they are managed through the cooperative. 

The Latter Day Church of Christ is the church through which members worship and learn early Mormon teachings. Polygamy is among the religious tenets. 

The Law Center article includes a description from Jessica Christensen, a former member of the Kingstons and one of the stars of the reality television show ”Escaping Polygamy.” She recalled a Sunday school lesson where a teacher arrived with a bucket of water and a vial of black food coloring. 

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Luanne Cooper, left, a former member of the Polygamist Kingston clan and Jessica Christensen of the show "Escaping Polygamy" attend a hearing for HB99, a bill amending Utah's bigamy statute as it goes back to the House Judiciary Committee for another hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.

According to the account in the article, the teacher dropped some dye into the water; it spread and the teacher told the children that the ensuing blackness could not be removed. 

“She talked about how you can’t associate with black people or anybody of a different race,” Christensen is quoted as saying. 

Stephen Lemons, who wrote the article for the Law Center, said in an interview Thursday that his organization wanted to “shine a light” on a community that has racist teachings.

“Does that mean like everybody in the cult is a racist? That would be tough to say,” Lemons asked, “but the church’s teachings certainly indicate they believe in some teachings that are no longer part of the mainstream LDS Church.”

Johnson said he has never heard of a lesson like Christensen described. 

There are many families within his community, Johnson said, and it’s possible a few hold discriminatory beliefs. 

“Although we also believe in free agency, and every family can make those decisions for themselves, those beliefs are not condoned, at all,” Johnson said. 

The Law Center called another Utah-based polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a hate group in 2005.