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Polygamy Thrives!

Texans wary as polygamous sect moves in

By Howard Witt Tribune senior correspondent

The population of this drowsy West Texas town hasn't done much but dwindle in recent years, so its residents grew pretty curious in March when a pilot shot some aerial photos showing construction of several huge dormitory-style buildings on a sprawling ranch just outside town.

The curiosity soon changed to concern when anti-polygamy activists from Utah showed up for a news conference to reveal the identity of the group that had bought the 1,600-acre ranch: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, a secretive Mormon sect that practices polygamy and marriages involving underage teenage girls.

Now, with construction on the buildings nearly complete and the first of an expected 200 church members about to take up residence, the 1,951 residents of Eldorado are trying to make their peace with new neighbors many regard as followers of a strange cult.

"Our biggest concern was that we wouldn't be dealing with another Waco problem here," said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, referring to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco in 1993. "We have talked to them about polygamous marriages and underage brides and made them very aware of Texas laws governing sex with a minor. They told us they didn't plan on practicing that in this community."

But the practices of the church have drawn increasing interest from law-enforcement officials in Utah and Arizona, where an estimated 10,000 church members live in two small towns that straddle the state line. A local police officer who is a member of the sect was convicted last year of bigamy and unlawful sex with a minor for taking a 16-year-old as his third wife.

Ron Barton, a special polygamy investigator for the Utah attorney general's office, confirmed that the leader of the church, Warren Jeffs, 47, is under investigation for allegedly fathering children with two 17-year-old girls.

Meanwhile, some former church members expelled from the group by Jeffs are accusing him of running a mind-control cult, while anti-polygamy activists charge that young women are being held against their will and forced into polygamous marriages.

All of that pressure has driven the church to seek a new outpost in Eldorado, according to Rodney Parker, the group's attorney and de facto spokesman. Church officials will not speak with reporters.

Spokesman explains move

"The state of Utah has a polygamy czar who's down there looking in people's windows and camps out in front of the leadership's homes sometimes. That's part of it," said Parker, referring to Barton. "There has been a stepped-up effort to try to create laws that would ensnare these people. So part of the reason for the move is to establish a new foothold somewhere else."

Utah officials estimate that up to 60,000 residents practice polygamy in defiance of rulings by the Mormon church and state laws that forbid it but are rarely enforced. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemned polygamy as a condition of statehood for Utah in 1896.

The FLDS church, founded in the 1930s, is believed to be the largest polygamous sect, and for years it has prospered as a closed society whose members are forbidden to watch television, read newspapers or use the Internet (news - web sites) to maintain contact with the outside world.

But that secrecy began to crumble earlier this year, when Jeffs, regarded by his followers as a prophet and infallible leader, expelled 20 church members for failing to follow his dictates and evicted them from their church-owned homes.

Former members portray an authoritarian world in which Jeffs demands tributes of $1,000 per month from each male church member and decides where each man may work.

The leader also decides whom each woman will marry and how many wives each man will take based on divine revelations only he can receive. Girls as young as 15 have been married to men in their 30s, 40s or older on Jeffs' command, former church members say. Families are expected to have many children and to take advantage of state and federal welfare programs to support them.

Any member who resists Jeffs' rulings risks expulsion from the church, shunning by other family members and, followers are repeatedly warned, eternal damnation.

"They say, `If you don't marry this 80-year-old man, you are going to hell,' so a 15- or 16-year-old girl is told it's time to get married and an hour later she's married," said Ross Chatwin, 35, one of those expelled by Jeffs in January. "The fathers agree because they feel they are ensuring their own salvation, getting brownie points for themselves. It shows the submission [Jeffs] is looking for."

Chatwin said he was expelled because he could no longer make the $1,000 monthly payments and because he wanted to take a 17-year-old as a second wife without Jeffs' approval.

Ex-member does `rescues'

Flora Jessop, 34, another former church member who now devotes herself to what she calls "rescues" of young women seeking to leave, said followers are effectively brainwashed and unable to free themselves.

"When you're born into this stuff and it's the only thing you know, and you're taught that if you don't abide by this law, you damn yourself to hell, it's not a matter of submitting themselves voluntarily," said Jessop, who has been trying to free her 18-year-old sister from the group.

Parker, the church attorney, denied that any members are being forced to do anything against their will.

"There are marriages that occur out there under the age of 18," Parker said. "But to say that anyone's being forced, that something is happening that is not consensual, is just not true. Legally in Utah, a young woman is considered old enough to make her own decisions regarding marriage at the age of 16, as long as she has her parents' consent."

Jeffs is "under investigation" for having allegedly conceived children with two 17-year-olds, said Barton, but investigators have not been able to serve him with subpoenas or other legal papers.

Leader virtually invisible

"Warren Jeffs is so insulated that I have never seen him," said Barton, the Utah investigator. "His house has 8-foot solid masonry walls around it. He can come and go in vehicles with tinted windows."

The group, Barton said, "has created sort of a prison situation for themselves in Utah, a self-imposed prison. I suspect the Texas facility is a place for them to go where they perceive they will have more freedom."

At first, church officials claimed that the Eldorado ranch would be used as a "hunting retreat," but later they conceded to local officials that the compound will house the most elite members of the church.

The distaste of some lifelong residents here for their new neighbors is palpable.

"I feel like some UFOs landed here and now people are saying, `OK, they're here, there's nothing we can do, let's welcome them,'" said Thelma Bosmans, 51, a teacher's aide at the Eldorado Middle School. "But how can we welcome someone with so many people under his control? How can you condone teenage girls being married to 60-year-old men?"
What? 27.Jun.2004 21:44


What happened to freedom of religion? So what if they want to marry multiple people? Isn't that their right? One of the fundamental rights in this great country is freedom of religion. I'm appalled at the government's attempts to stamp out what these people are guaranteed under the constitution. So what if you don't agree? I don't agree with any Native American Religion but do I go around trying to stamp out their traditions? NO!!!

Pervs 27.Jun.2004 22:10


What a bunch of pervs to have men in their 40's marry 15 year old girls! Ok, maybe if it was like consensual, but they are totally forcing these poor girls into marrying people they might not even know without any notice! I mean, imagine you are sittin at school in freshman year, you get home, say hi to your mom and she tells you "We've got some great news! You are going to marry Jerry! And he is a doctor! You are so lucky! A 50 year old doctor an my daughter! Oh I'm so happy!"

*you stare dumfounded*

Oh Jerry, he's the older of the family doctors at the medical office"

"The one with the ear hair?"

*Mother looks slightly miffed*
"Well No one is perfect honey. Now go up stairs and take a shower, you two are getting married tonight at 7:00"


*Mother looks pleased*
"I know! Isn't it great?! Now get a move on, you're gonna want to look pretty for your new husband!"

Freedom of religion...as long as you don't trample 27.Jun.2004 22:18


Freedom of religion is extremely important, and I support the right of consenting adults to participate in polygamous relationship; however the keywords there are "conseting" and "adults". I just moved here from Phoenix and there's a little town called Colorado City on the Utah border that is basically run by FLDS. The stories coming out of there are _not_ nice. Basically women have no real rights and are taken from their families at a young age to marry and have sexual relationships with older men. Families that have resisted have had the city government come down hard on them. The state government has sort of turned a blind eye to the issue in fear of having a Waco, TX type incident on their hand. I think saying "One of the fundamental rights in this great country is freedom of religion" so we should let the FLDS continue their behaviour is an easy way out of a problem that is far more complicated. You can't use the constitution to protect yourself when you are abusing your rights in the name of opressing others. This would be akin to me to owning slaves and arguing that it is part of my religion.

Owning slaves? 27.Jun.2004 22:28


Owning slaves is a far cry from getting married before 18. If the girls have the option to leave, and choose instead to stay and be told whom to marry isn't that their choice (assuming the girls are over 18). The only thing I have a problem with is girls under the legal age geting married. Like I was saying, if a woman is of legal age to be married, and chooses to participate in a religion that chooses her husband for her, what's the big deal? Its no more different than arranged marriages of the Hindu or Muslim world (is it both, or oen of them, please excuse my ignorance on those religions).

Basically, the only problem I see is the wedding of girls under the age of 18.

My cousins are morman, not FLDS just the mainstream LDS, and they love it.

But it isn't consensual 28.Jun.2004 00:19


Polygamous marriages are okay with me if they are consensual, but they are obviously not in this case. Technically, yes, it is consensual, but girls who are raised under the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) church are taught from the start obedience and subservience to the church and to men in general. So although they do comply, it is hard to say if it is of their own free will, since it seems that they are taught to have no free will.
Don't confuse LDS and FLDS churches. They are very different, and the LDS church is far less controlling.

"the LDS church is far less controlling" 28.Jun.2004 11:42

former mormon

The LDS makes every effort to control nearly every aspect of your life. It is not all bad, but control it is from how you spend your income (so-called tithing) to how you spend almost every non-work hour every day of the week. It is a cult in more ways than not. Besides that, who cares about polygamy. I mean, who really needs to give a shit? It is no one's business at all. It is a totally irrelavant to anything issue. I do have a problem with adults having sex with minors, Neil Goldschmidt, or Michael Jackson, or Brigham Young. They should all have the wankers yanked out by the roots.

weirdness about consent 28.Jun.2004 11:43


Kelso, do you also think that if a woman abused by her husband doesn't leave her home and file for divorce that there really is no abuse going on? There are millions of victims of domestic violence who are trapped without a reasonable means to escape their abusers that to imply "Adult women can just leave their abusers if they want to" is very ignorant and dangerous.

Me 28.Jun.2004 14:44


There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of shelters for the women to run to for saftey. So is it their fault for being abused? No, that's the ass-hole husbands fault. But is it her fault for being there? Yes. People may FEEL imprisoned and unable to leave, but the fact is, they aren't. And its not too difficult to walk out the front door when your husband isn't home and go to the closest police station and find a shelter to go to.

Now back to this issue. The kids, in the same way, must consent to be married. If they don't they can go to the local police station, or hop a bus and tell someone they are being forced to get married. Hell, tell a TV station, they'd make it a media frenzy.

The fact is, it isn't their fault that it happens, but it is their fault for not leaving. If I knew someone was going to shoot me, I wouldn't just stand their, I'd step aside.

LDS 28.Jun.2004 14:54


There are a lot a lot of mormans at my school. They are tight-nit and all of that, which is fine, it just kinda weirds me out how they are all quiet and shy people. None of them are outgoing at all. And they are all so secretive when I ask what goes on at their church (I dont have a church...yet) none of them ever give specifics...

More like 28.Jun.2004 21:38


Kelso wrote: >There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of shelters for the women to run to for saftey<

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Part of the milestone legislation of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides callers with information from a database of more than 4,000 shelters and service providers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since its inception, the hotline has answered "more than 650,000 phone calls from victims of domestic violence, family members and friends from all over the world. Currently, more than 13,000 callers reach out to the Hotline every month for crisis intervention, referrals and general information about domestic violence." To reach the hotline dial 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD).

Kelso just one more manarchist 29.Jun.2004 08:41


"but it is their fault for not leaving"

No it is not. I'm sure you don't know that 75% of women killed by their male partners are killed in the act of trying to leave. There are threats and there's coercion and there's brainwashing like in the recent Belgium child rape case where one girl he kidnapped and locked in a cell to be repeatedly raped for 80 days actually kissed and thanked her rapist when police finally freed her. Torture does strange things to humans. (You can find that story covered in detail on BBC News).

Your post shows no understanding of how domestic violence is a system of breaking down a person's defenses until they are too afraid to even think of leaving their abuser. Threats to children and pets are not unheard of and constant batterings and rapes break natural defenses down just like POWs have their defenses broken down by torture.

75% of women are killed by their male partners when they make clear their intention to leave, the most common cause of death for American working women is men who murder them while on the job, and every single day four American men murder their wives in the USA while you, Kelso, think smugly to yourself, "Why doesn't she just leave the man beating the crap out of her like I would?"


Thanks 29.Jun.2004 21:28


Thanks for the education

media coverage of polygamists onesided 04.Aug.2005 20:05

akslim wedontwanttobebothered.com

I am amazed at how many enlightened well meaning people are quick to condem polygamy.they tend to base all of their info on one sided arguments and ex-members who are only going to give unfavourable reviews of what goes on there. remember, usually with the media, only bad news sells. so before you make an ersatz comment about the subject, please check out both sides. i'm not saying you should agree, but if some of these articles and books would have been written about blacks or jews there would be outrage that they were even printed. yes, i am a polygamist, and am often dismayed at the level of hate that is portrayed in the "anti" sources. why have certain organizations only giving negative info on polygamists? see how many of them take"donations" to help women and girls leave the faith. you can only get the good money if you have a good enough scapegoat it would seem.