The Long Search for the Missing Child Brides of a Mormon Polygamist Sect

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Brandon S Blackmore listened carefully. He had to hear past the hissing sound in the recording, and the panting. One voice on the recording was unmistakable, though—the soft, monotone tenor of Warren Jeffs, the deranged leader of North America's largest polygamist sect.

Just a year earlier, Brandon had been a member of Jeffs's flock, a Mormon splinter group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs—whose followers believe he is a prophet and the voice of God—even officiated Brandon's 2004 wedding, near the FLDS headquarters in Colorado City, Arizona. As Brandon would later learn, just a few minutes before that ceremony, the FLDS leader had also been married, taking Brandon's 13-year-old half-sister, Millie Blackmore, as one of his plural wives. Jeffs was 48 years old at the time.

Now it was August 2013. Jeffs was in prison, serving a life sentence on multiple counts of child rape, and two investigators from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had asked Brandon to listen to a recording of the FLDS leader having sex. They wanted to know if he heard Millie on the tape. Though her name was never said aloud, Brandon could tell by the voice that the woman Jeffs was having sex with was his half-sister. Yes, he told the investigators. It was Millie.

"He was asking her how it felt and a bunch of weird things," Brandon told VICE in a recent interview. He said the investigators told him the tape was made sometime around 2004 or 2005 at a motel in New Mexico. Brandon declined to elaborate further on what else he heard on the recording, the existence of which has not been previously reported.

The RCMP wanted confirmation of Millie's voice as part of a case they were building against Millie's parents, Brandon J Blackmore and his wife, Emily Gail Crossfield Blackmore, whom Canadian authorities claim took their pre-teen daughter across the border to marry Jeffs in Colorado City in 2004. In 2014—the year after the Mounties asked Brandon to listen to the recording— the couple was charged with one count each of removing a child from Canada for the purposes of sex.

The prosecutions are believed to be the first time parents have been held criminally responsible for the 1,100-mile child-bride pipeline that FLDS members ran for decades between the Canadian polygamist enclave in Bountiful, British Columbia, and the sect's headquarters in the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek.

According to a 2011 count from Stop Polygamy in Canada, an anti-polygamy nonprofit based in Alberta, Canada, at least 50 Canadian girls between the ages of 12 to 17 were married to FLDS men in the United States between 1990 and 2006, when Jeffs was arrested in the US on sex-crimes charges.

Young girls in the polygamous enclave of Bountiful, British Columbia. All photos by Jackie Dives unless otherwise noted

In 2014, at the same time charges were filed against Millie's parents, Canadian authorities also charged two former FLDS bishops from British Columbia, Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler, with polygamy. The cases against the four Canadian FLDS members are still pending.

Since his arrest, Jeffs has halted all marriages among the FLDS, and it is not clear if his followers have continued the cross-border transport of child brides. But recent interviews conducted by VICE revealed that Canadian law enforcement have continued to question FLDS defectors in the US and Canada in an attempt to learn more about how the sect's bride pipeline worked and whether there is evidence to charge anyone else with a crime.

As recently as last fall, investigators with the RCMP had traveled to the US to speak with relatives and former associates of Jeffs. And law enforcement in both the US and Canada are monitoring the border for signs of human trafficking or other crimes committed by members of the sect, according to interviews and documents obtained by VICE.

In an interview, RCMP sergeant Terry Jacklin, a Mountie in southeastern British Columbia who has been on the trail of the Canadian FLDS polygamists since 2011, confirmed that his agency continues to investigate the sect's marriages, and that more criminal charges may be filed against FLDS members in Canada. Although he would not provide details about the investigation, Jacklin told VICE that the RCMP is working with law enforcement in the US, and that he and his partner may travel to Utah again "within the next couple of months."

The Mounties are also trying to find Millie and two other Canadian women, Alyshia Rae Blackmore and Nolita Colleen Blackmore, both of whom were married to Jeffs at the age of 12. The three brides, all of whom would now be in their early to mid 20s, are thought to still be loyal to Jeffs. They're presumed to be living on one of the FLDS compounds in the American West, or at secret locations known among members as "Houses of Hiding," where FLDS followers have been hiding out, waiting for God to free Jeffs from his prison cell in Texas.

***

Though the current charges against the Canadian polygamists weren't filed until 2014, the case actually begins more than a decade earlier, in Short Creek. By that point, Jeffs—who took control of the FLDS church after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002—was already accumulating wives, including one of Millie's sisters, Annie Mae Blackmore.

In 2004, Jeffs sent word to the girl's father, Brandon J Blackmore, that he wanted to marry Millie as well, and asked that the teenager be brought to Colorado City from her home in Bountiful, BC. A journal entry dated March 1, 2004, dictated by Jeffs to one of his wives and later seized by US authorities in Texas, describes what happened next:

"I sat down with Brandon Blackmore and his wife and his daughter, gave a training on the redemption of Zion in brief, in summary, and this girl was called on a mission, and they received it joyfully," the entry reads. "And there Mildred Marlene Blackmore, age 13, was sealed to Warren Steed Jeffs for time and all eternity." The entry also notes that Brandon J Blackmore witnessed the wedding.

Millie Blackmore. Photo courtesy of Brandon S Blackmore

It wasn't the only marriage ceremony that took place in Short Creek that day. Brandon S Blackmore, Millie's half-brother, had also been called to make the 16-hour drive from Bountiful, though he traveled separately from his father and half-sister. When he arrived, he met the woman he was assigned to marry, and Jeffs performed their wedding ceremony, shortly after his own marriage to Millie.

The younger Brandon Blackmore claims he didn't know that Millie also got married that same day, or even that she was in Colorado City at the time. But shortly after his wedding, he told VICE, he went years without seeing Millie around Bountiful; members of the community were told she was on a mission for the church, he said. In reality, Millie was traveling with the Jeffs family, including his estimated 81 plural wives, moving among secret FLDS locations across the western US, as authorities began their hunt for the polygamist prophet, who was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in 2006.

In an interview, Rachel Jeffs, Warren's 32-year-old daughter from his second marriage, confirmed that during the early 2000s, a series of teenage girls—including Millie— arrived in the Jeffs household without any explanation. When she asked, Rachel told VICE, she was told that the girl was her father's new wife. Rachel, who left the FLDS in January 2015, said she was angry, but never confronted her father about marrying girls so young.

"If you do, then you lose your place in the church," she explained. "I wasn't so worried about losing my place in the church. I just would never get to see my family again."

Rachel said she remembers Millie crying a lot, and that things got worse for the young girl after Warren married the two Canadian 12-year-olds, Alyshia Rae Blackmore and Nolita Colleen Blackmore, in December 2005, at the Yearning for Zion ranch, an FLDS compound near Eldorado, Texas. "I saw her struggle emotionally a lot," Rachel said of Millie. "She wasn't really stable."

After Jeffs's arrest, FLDS leaders frequently moved his wives and closest children to keep them away from authorities. Sometimes the family members would be stashed in one of the FLDS communities; other times they would be separated and put up in one of the sect's Houses of Hiding. Often, Rachel said, members of the family didn't even know where they were. She recalled that she and Alyshia were once taken in the middle of the night to a House of Hiding in Idaho—she doesn't know where exactly, since the women weren't allowed to go outside for more than a few minutes at a time.

Alyshia Rae Blackmore. Photo courtesy of Brandon S Blackmore

Then in 2008, local, state, and federal law enforcement in Texas raided the FLDS compound near Eldorado, responding to what turned out to be a bogus tip about a girl being held against her will. Inside, they found pregnant teens and teens with babies, as well as the temple where Jeffs reportedly engaged in orgies with the girls.

Texas rangers also found hundreds of thousands of documents, including ledgers, Warren's journals, family rosters, and family photos, which revealed the names of the sect's underage sexual abuse victims and their perpetrators, as well as dates and other details about the abuse. The raid, and the trove of evidence it uncovered, changed the way law enforcement across North America investigated the FLDS, turning what had been a relatively unknown group of polygamists into a household name.

Brandon S Blackmore says he saw his half-sister Millie again near the end of 2009, when she returned to Bountiful in the wake of the Texas raid. The following summer, Brandon said, as they sat on a rocking bench in the yard of Brandon's home near Bountiful, the conversation turned to his wedding day, and Millie told him she had watched the ceremony from an adjoining room through a double-sided mirror. Then she revealed that she too had gotten married that day, to Jeffs.

Her half-brother was stunned: After the Texas raid, FLDS leaders in Bountiful had told followers that authorities were lying about the evidence they'd uncovered. Casting the incident as yet another example of their religious persecution, they defended Jeffs and insisted that the church had not been marrying off underage girls.

As he listened to Millie's account, Brandon realized all this had been a bald-faced lie.

FLDS women burn something in the front yard of a house in Bountiful, British Columbia.

In an interview with VICE, Brandon said that though he and Millie didn't discuss her marriage or relationship with Jeffs much, it was clear that his half-sister remained loyal to the FLDS leader, who by that time had already been incarcerated for four years.

Millie vanished again later that summer. Two years later, Brandon left the FLDS sect, divorcing his wife who remains loyal to Jeffs, and with whom he shares custody of their four children. In August 2013, he went to the RCMP to offer his help in their investigation into the FLDS. It was then that the authorities played him the audio recording of Millie and Jeffs, which had apparently been uncovered during the US government's investigations of the sect.

"I don't want my dad going to jail if I can help that, but it has got to stop," Brandon said. "This marriage of underage girls has got to stop."

Brandon J Blackmore, the father of Millie Blackmore, has been charged with child trafficking for allegedly taking his underage daughter across the border to marry Warren Jeffs.

While he said he believes the case against his father and stepmother should move forward, he also expressed some sympathy. At the time of Millie's marriage, he explained, the couple faced tremendous pressure from inside the FLDS. Had they refused to marry their daughter to Jeffs, Brandon added, they would have been excommunicated—a fate that would have meant separation from their families and denial of the faith that they continued to believe in.

In the end, Brandon's father was excommunicated anyway, after FLDS leaders got wind of the RCMP investigation into Millie's marriage. The younger Brandon Blackmore assumes that the church was trying to avoid paying his father's legal fees.

"They're not going to gain anything by prosecuting him," he said of the Canadian investigation into his father. "It's not going to stop the FLDS."

The father and son now live two blocks from each other in a hamlet about 30 minutes east of Bountiful. The elder, Brandon J Blackmore, who once had five wives and has 40 children, now lives alone. When I visited his residence on a recent trip to Bountiful, he would not talk about the charge against him, saying repeatedly, "I don't know anything."

Brandon S Blackmore explained that while he doesn't believe his father condones Jeffs's crimes, he also doesn't talk about it much.

"He would have to confront that he made a big mistake," he said.

***

To understand these conflicting allegiances, it helps to understand the community of Bountiful, nestled in the Creston Valley, at the southern reaches of the Columbia Mountains just north of the Idaho border in British Columbia. Since the 1940s, the settlement has been an outpost for breakaway Mormon polygamists. Most of its 600 or so inhabitants are descended from just a handful of men, creating a community with so few surnames that it tends to be easier to refer to people by only their first names.

For years, Bountiful aligned itself with the FLDS, existing as a sleepy northern outpost of the sect led by Jeffs's father, Rulon. But in 2002, in an event known locally as the "Split," The Jeffs'excommunicated the top FLDS leader in Bountiful, Winston Blackmore. The reasons behind the excommunication are not known, but it was one of hundreds of culls Warren Jeffs initiated to neutralize rivals within the sect and scare members into remaining obedient.

The excommunication divided the local polygamist community in Bountiful, which numbered as many as 1,000 at the time of the Split. On one side, there are the Warrenites, who remained loyal to Jeffs; on the other are the Winstonites, who broke away from the main FLDS sect to follow Winston Blackmore, who built his own meetinghouse and chapel in Bountiful. Both Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler, the leader of the Warrenites in Bountiful, are named in the 2014 polygamy indictment. (Oler was also charged with removing a child from Canada for the purposes of sex.)

A new chapel built by Canadian polygamist leader Winston Blackmore in Bountiful, British Columbia

The groups are friendly with each other. Virtually everyone in Bountiful has relatives in both camps, and members of both groups—as well as polygamous residents who remain neutral in the schism—are beneficiaries of the Utah-based land trust that holds Bountiful's 300 acres and the 55 homes on it. Winstonites, who dress in secular, if modest clothing, and those unaffiliated with either group serve on civic boards together, and many of their children go to the same schools. The Warrenites, in their mono-colored, Little House on the Prairie outfits, don't mix much, but are nevertheless a visible, and mostly neighborly, presence in the town.

It's a marked contrast to the atmosphere in Short Creek, where those deemed disloyal to Jeffs are banished and bullied, and divisions between FLDS followers and apostates have pushed the community to the brink of civil war. From the Texas prison where he is currently serving a life sentence, Jeffs continues to exert control over his flock, demanding the near-total isolation of the sect, and imposing a series of bizarre restrictions, including banning dietary staples, like dairy and oatmeal, forbidding sex between spouses, and demanding that followers only turn on bathroom faucets with their right hands.

The Canadian polygamists have also had far fewer legal problems than their American counterparts. Since the 2008 raid on the FLDS compound in Texas, the US branch of the FLDS has faced intense government scrutiny, including charges of money laundering and food stamp fraud, and fines for child labor violations; earlier this year, a jury in Arizona found that the towns of Hildale and Colorado City had violated the civil rights of nonbelievers living there.

But apart from the 2014 charges, the FLDS followers in Bountiful have largely avoided prosecution, despite allegations of domestic violence and sexual abuse against many of the sect's leaders there.


A "Zion" plaque hangs above a door in Bountiful, British Columbia, to signal that the owners remain loyal to imprisoned FLDS "prophet" Warren Jeffs.

In Bountiful, interviews with former Warrenites indicate that the branch's numbers have declined since Jeffs's conviction in 2011. Former Jeffs followers in the community, like Twyla Quinton, are dismayed at the direction the FLDS has taken. Once a true believer, Quinton was married at age 16 in a mass wedding ceremony officiated by Jeffs's father, Rulon.

"We were sort of given a choice," Quinton told VICE. "It was definitely encouraged to get married. All of my friends were getting married. I had finished all the school available to me. It was the next step in life. So I approached Winston, I did, and I told him I wanted to get married.

"I was happy to be getting married," she said, adding, "I know that's not the same for all the girls."

Quinton, who is now unaffiliated with either of the sects in Bountiful, credits her husband Ron—who is also married to her younger sister—with getting their family out of the church. The FLDS members in Bountiful are "awesome people," Quinton said, but she wishes the Warrenites would "behave like normal Canadians" and stop allowing Jeffs to dictate their lives.

***

People in Bountiful see the RCMP's child-bride investigation as part of the Canadian government's broader pursuit of Winston Blackmore, who at last count had 27 wives and 145 children, the youngest of whom was born this past April, according to Blackmore and several of his relatives. In 2014, six months before his indictment in Canada, Winston testified in a deposition for a civil case in Utah that at least a few of his wives were 15 or 16 when he married them, though those weddings apparently occurred before Canada set 16 as a minimum age for marriage in 2008.

"He is the king stud of Canada," said Nancy Mereska, founder of Stop Polygamy in Canada, which has been openly critical of the Canadian government's failure to crack down on the polygamists in Bountiful. "They were putting people in prison , and we were just wanting things to go ahead in Canada."

Three of Winston Blackmore's daughters. Two of the girls wear hats with their father's initials on the front, and their number in the birth order of his children on the back.

Canada's efforts to nail Winston date back several decades, and the FLDS leader said in an affidavit submitted to a British Columbia court that he first became aware that the RCMP was investigating him for polygamy in 1990. That first investigation did not result in charges. But according to Zelpha Chatwin, who says she is Winston's eighth wife, an RCMP investigator visited Bountiful as far back as 2005, asking general questions about polygamy and the community there.

Chatwin told VICE that about a year after that first visit, another group of Mounties came to Bountiful and began questioning women in the community. According to her and other women VICE spoke to in Bountiful, the law enforcement officials wanted DNA samples from them and their children, and asked women a range of personal questions, including the names of their husbands, their children, and when their marriages were consummated.

But it wasn't until 2009 that Canadian authorities finally charged Winston and Jim Oler with polygamy. That case was stayed over questions about the British Columbia attorney general's selection of a special prosecutor. Charges were filed again in 2014, at the same time that Brandon J Blackmore and Emily Gail Crossfield Blackmore were charged in the case related to their daughter, Millie. The couple's trial is scheduled to begin November 14 in Cranbrook, British Columbia, according to a spokesman for the province's Ministry of Justice. Trial dates have not been set for either Winston or Oler.

Young men work on a fence in Bountiful. At least one is a son of Winston Blackmore, the leader of one of the town's two polygamous sects.

In the meantime, the Canadian government has pursued Winston in other ways. In 2013, a federal judge there ruled that the polygamist leader had underreported income from his logging and trucking businesses by about $1.8 million (Canadian) over a six-year span, and ordered Winston to undergo a reassessment and pay $150,000 in penalties. A Canadian appeals court affirmed the decision in 2014.

Neither Winston nor his attorney responded to VICE's requests for an interview. However, at the Sunstone Salt Lake Symposium, a gathering of followers from both mainstream and fundamentalist Mormonism held in Utah this July, Winston complained about the government's continued efforts to prosecute him.

"Those suckers are after me by day and by night," Winston told the audience. "I've got to go another round with them."

***

In the years after his meeting with the RCMP—and after hearing the tape of his half-sister having sex with Jeffs—Brandon S Blackmore tried to look for Millie himself, traveling to places where the FLDS have enclaves or compounds. In Short Creek, as well as in Pringle, South Dakota, and Mancos, Colorado, he would sit outside the sect's properties, hoping to catch a glimpse of his missing sibling.

"More than anything, I wanted to see how she was," he said, "if she's still alive."

Brandon S Blackmore in his home near Bountiful, British Columbia

The Mounties have taken a more systematic approach to finding Millie and the other two Canadian brides. In the fall of 2015, Jacklin and Constable Shelley Livingstone, the RCMP investigators, visited Rachel Jeffs in Montana. They also visited Salt Lake City, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. In an interview room at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, the Mounties met with another one of Warren's daughters who lived with the Canadian brides and asked her to identify photographs of the girls and to help them interpret some of her father's journals. Roy Allred, one of Jeffs's former drivers and family caretakers, has also said that RCMP investigators requested to meet him, near his home in Elko, Nevada, but did not return messages from VICE to confirm that the meeting had occurred.

Canadian authorities are also monitoring the border to see which members of the sect are traveling between Bountiful and FLDS enclaves in Idaho and other Western states. Willie Jessop, a former Jeffs bodyguard and FLDS spokesman who has since become a witness in multiple legal proceedings against the sect, acknowledged in an interview with VICE that the RCMP occasionally calls him to ask about people crossing the US-Canadian border. Jessop said they have also asked if specific crossers are still loyal to Jeffs and, if so, what role those individuals have in the church.

A Warrenite woman in Bountiful crosses the road to avoid the camera.

Neither Jacklin nor Livingstone would confirm whom they have spoken with in Utah. In his recent interview with VICE, Jacklin did say that the RCMP is working with US authorities on its investigations, though he declined to specify which agencies are collaborating. "We are still building, we are still gathering evidence," he said, "and we are still in the process of providing more information to our prosecutor in respect to additional charges against additional people."

According to Jacklin, the RCMP first obtained the Texas evidence in 2011 and began its investigation into the child brides that year. Asked why the process has taken so long, Jacklin cited the tremendous amount of evidence investigators have had to sort through; the evidence acquired from the Texas raid alone amounts to six terabytes of data.

Jacklin also acknowledged another, more complex obstacle—one that additional manpower or overtime hours won't be able to solve. "Some of these girls don't see themselves as victims," he said. Jacklin didn't say how many former child brides the RCMP has approached, or whether the investigation includes additional women besides Millie, Alyshia, and Nolita.

***

In Bountiful, the RCMP's investigation into underage marriages has raised uncomfortable questions for people like Twyla Quinton, who continues to live in the community despite no longer aligning herself with either Jeffs or Winston Blackmore.

Determined to share her frustration with what's happened to the FLDS, Quinton and her 16-year-old daughter, Bianca, hiked into the mountainside above Bountiful last summer, where someone has sprayed "KEEP SWEET" on a boulder along the trail. It's a shortened version of a popular message in Bountiful, "Keep Sweet No Matter What," which FLDS leaders attempt to ingrain in their followers. The subtext, Quinton said, is that people—particularly women and children—should do what they're told and shut up about it.

Children play outside in the secluded polygamist community of Bountiful, British Columbia.

Armed with spray paint cans, Quinton and Bianca covered the slogan in white paint. Then, in red, they wrote their own message: "BE AWESOME." It was a striking act of defiance in a community where such acts are exceedingly rare. But while Quinton told VICE that she doesn't support teenage marriages—although hers has been a good one—she also questioned the Canadian government's determination to punish someone for the practice.

"A little girl getting married is not OK, but whose fault is that?" she told VICE. "If you're going to save a child bride, do it when she's still a child."

Nate Carlisle reports on polygamy for the Salt Lake Tribune. Follow him on Twitter.

No One Can Ever Replace Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder, the acting legend most famous for his 1971 role as the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has died due to complications from Alzheimer's disease at 83, his family confirmed on Monday. Wilder wasn't a prolific actor, appearing in only about "15 or 18 films" by his own reckoning—and dropping out of the movie business almost entirely for the past two decades.

But when he was at the height of his powers from the late 60s through the early 80s, he collaborated with equally brilliant directors and co-stars to create one weirdo masterpiece after another. The performance at the center of one of Wilder's films feels like lightning in a bottle that could never possibly be captured again. You could lift, say, Cary Grant out of a role and simply replace him with his modern equivalent, George Clooney, but I doubt anyone could possibly be a "modern Gene Wilder."

Wilder's acting range may seem limited: he could be a nervous college professor-type, or crank up the volume all the way to mad scientist, and that's pretty much it. But instead of working within the honorable tradition of the one-note character actor, Wilder painted with varying shades of optimism and warmth—always hidden under a veneer of derangement—and the combination somehow made him into an unlikely movie star.

His big break in movies was just four years before he played Willy Wonka, when he was plucked from a stint on Broadway to play a kidnapped mortician in 1967's Bonnie and Clyde. Director Arthur Penn told him at the time his performance in the tiny role was surprising. "I asked him what he meant, and he said he never imagined its being funny," Wilder wrote in his 2006 memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger.


Wilder was sort of an overnight success at 34 years old, managing to get a role the following year in the first of Mel Brooks' many comedy films, The Producers. Wilder's work with Brooks included two other undisputed classics: Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, both of which further solidified his reputation as a comedian, a label Wilder himself found puzzling. He told interviewer Robert Osborne in 2013, "I don't think I'm that funny," and said, "I'll make my wife laugh once or twice in the house, but nothing special."

Despite not finding himself funny, Wilder continued to appear in comedies with varying degrees of success. He and Richard Pryor teamed up for a successful run of three films in the 70s and 80s. He also appeared in a light comedy in 1982 called Hanky Panky, which wasn't very popular, but did introduce him to his third wife, the late comedy god, and original SNL cast member, Gilda Radner.

Outside of the comedy world, Wilder seemed most at home in family movies—specifically, strange and unsettling family movies. He somehow combined warmth with mania and darkness to bring us characters like Willy Wonka. Early on in Chocolate Factory, Wilder's Wonka seems like some kind of emotionally distant sadist with maybe a hint of a soul. Later when he reveals that torturing children was a ploy, and that his real agenda was to hand over the keys to his candy empire to Charlie, the audience feels a sudden swell of elation that wouldn't be nearly as sweet if Wilder hadn't taken the character to such terrifying depths.

Maybe that's why no one has ever attempted to play the role of Willy Wonka ever again, and you can't convince me otherwise.

Wilder was the most emotionally satisfying part of a very you-have-to-be-stoned-to-get-it 1974 musical adaptation of The Little Prince. He played the character of the Fox as just a guy in a brown suit, if that helps give you a sense of what kind of movie this was. But Wilder's heartbreaking departure from the Prince's life makes the film worth watching.

As time went on, Wilder became disillusioned by movies in general. He complained to Osborne that there was too much "swearing," and "bombing," in Hollywood. "If something comes along that's really good, and I think I'd be good for it, I'd be happy to do it. But not too many came along," he said.

Wilder's movie career slowed to a stop in the 1990s, but he popped up in a handful of made-for-TV movies before seemingly calling it quits. In 1999 when NBC decided to make a two-and-a-half hour Alice in Wonderland adaptation for some weird reason, Wilder was kind enough to accept the role of the Mock Turtle. In one scene, Wilder stands there in a turtle shell with his pal the Gryphon green-screened in behind him, and sings a drawn-out version of the Lewis Caroll poem "Beautiful Soup."

It's absolutely bananas. In the hands of any other actor who has ever lived, the scene would be pure so-bad-it's-good endurance comedy. Wilder's performance on the other hand is funny, but it also manages to make you feel something. Just like always, Wilder must have looked on the page at an insane character with an equally insane preoccupation, and somehow resisted the temptation to wink, or break the fourth wall, or phone it in.

Instead, Wilder managed to love the character and song, and—even trickier—he made us love them too. At this moment I don't see how any actor could ever pull off a trick like that again.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election: Bernie Sanders and the Battle for Universal Healthcare in Colorado

Bernie Sanders during this year's Democratic National Convention. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

In his June non-concession concession speech, before grimacing in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention, Bernie Sanders called on his followers to take their "political revolution" to state and local races. "I hope very much that many of you listening tonight are prepared to engage at that level," he said. It wasn't clear what form the continuing revolution would take—amid allegations of dysfunction around Our Revolution, his new organization—but last week Sanders indicated at least one measure he was backing: a little-noticed ballot initiative to bring universal health care to Colorado.

In November, Colorado's voters will be asked whether the state should increase taxes by $25 billion a year—nearly doubling the entire state budget—for a program that would provide every resident with health insurance. The proposal, which would become Amendment 69 in the Colorado constitution, would direct the state to begin creating an entity called ColoradoCare. This organization, with its own elected board, independent of the legislature, would then implement the first statewide universal health-care regime in the country. Colorado would opt out of Obamacare—using a provision for state innovation in Obamacare itself—and those receiving care through Medicare or the Veterans Administration would keep the coverage they had. In exchange, Coloradans would be hit with a steep income tax hike—10 percent divided between employees and employers. But in the end, in theory, most people would end up paying less for better coverage than they get now, and every state resident would be covered.

It's not surprising that Sanders would support this measure—he mentioned it during his primary campaign, which made universal medical coverage a signature issue, and he won Colorado. But ColoradoCare also brings him into conflict, once again, with the Democratic powers that be.

Amendment 69 earned its place on the ballot thanks to a grassroots campaign that, among other tactics, collected petition signatures at Sanders rallies. It's no surprise that Republicans oppose this new government program funded with a new tax, but many of Colorado's top Democratic politicians are also against it. The opposition group, Coloradans for Coloradans, is co-chaired by a former Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, and has raised more than $3.5 million, much of it from the medical industry, compared to a few hundred thousand for the yes campaign. (This is despite the ColoradoCare endorsement in this year's state Democratic Party platform.) Those opponents who aren't worried about the business models of the health care establishment, or allergic to tax hikes, shudder at the consequences of searing the whole 11-page proposed amendment into the state constitution.

With the forces against them mounting, ColoradoCare advocates are looking to Sanders as a chance to turn their fortunes. They began calling on Sanders, once the primary was over, to turn his attention to their cause. "As his presidential campaign comes to an end, his campaign for a decent health care system can continue," T.R. Reid, chairman of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care, told VICE at the time. Reid and his team appear to have succeeded.

"It is absurd, it is beyond belief, that here in America we remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people," Sanders said during his rally in Vermont last Wednesday announcing Our Revolution. "If that proposal can win in Colorado, I believe that idea will spread around the country." The Our Revolution website includes ColoradoCare among "our ballot initiatives," alongside state measures limiting the rights of corporations and abolishing the death penalty.

ColoradoCare is not the single-payer solution that many healthcare reformers long for, since it keeps existing public insurance programs in place and allows those who so choose to buy their own insurance if they want, instead or in addition—though they still pay the hefty income tax. (That's the stated reason that kept Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein from endorsing Amendment 69 until she changed her mind over the weekend.) It's like public schools for medicine; part of the deal is that some people will have to pay for services they don't use so all their neighbors get covered. Its appeal for progressives is far than certain, however, because the program may be unable to provide coverage for most abortions, thanks to an amendment to the Colorado constitution that voters approved in 1984 banning state-funds for such procedures. Whether the ban would apply to ColoradoCare's para-governmental entity remains unclear; it would need to be decided in court.

"Because Amendment 69 can't provide guarantees to affordable abortion access, it isn't truly universal health care," NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado's director, Karen Middleton, told the Colorado Independent in June.

The very ballot-proposal process that makes Amendment 69 possible may be its undoing. ColoradoCare's inventive structure itself is an attempt to work around conservative-backed constitutional amendment that voters passed in 1992 restricting the state legislature's ability to increase taxes. Such past amendments are cautionary tales. If voters approve Amendment 69, that's language nobody—not the legislature, not the program's elected board, not even voters—will have an easy time changing. These kinds of voter-suggested-and-approved amendments can do brave things that legislators facing re-election might be too careful to try, like the one in 2012 that legalized marijuana. But they can also have unexpected consequences.

Then again, Americans are unusually prone to trepidation when it comes to giving up a broken medical system. As Sanders has often pointed out, universal healthcare is something just about every wealthy country in the world got it long ago, and few of those countries' citizens are complaining. But now what hangs in the balance with Amendment 69 has to do with more than taxes and healthcare. It's a test of Sanders and his allies' ability to fight—and win—the local battles that they deem so important.

Nathan Schneider is the author of God in Proof and Thank You, Anarchy. His website is TheRowBoat.com, and he tweets here.

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