The “prophet” of Colorado City, Ariz., says God hates the sound of babies crying.
You’d think that kind of dogma would be laughed off the face of the Earth. Instead, it prospered in the clear air on the Arizona-Utah line.
Laurene Jessop, who grew up in the polygamous cult of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, says one of the ways to get an infant to stop crying is to tightly hold its nose and mouth. Another cult method is to put a crying baby’s face under running water.
The lesson is that “you have no voice,” says Flora Jessop, who also grew up in the polygamous cult that rules Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.
She found her voice and became a passionate advocate for those who remain under the thumb of a cult that has grown to about 10,000 people.
You’ll be hearing more from her soon. She is scheduled to be on NBC’s Dr. Phil Show this Wednesday.
Flora and Laurene recently spoke to a student group at the University of Arizona College of Law. The audience listened with horrified expressions to stories that didn’t seem possible in modern America.
As a child begins to learn the concepts of self, the audience was told, everything related to individuality is taken away. Words like “I,” “me” and “mine” are forbidden. So is laughter.
“You break their spirit,” says Flora, who grew up with 28 siblings. Her father married her mother’s younger sister after the first 10 were born. “I listened to my mother cry herself to sleep every night after that,” she says.
This isn’t Ozzie and the Three Harriets.
Soon after puberty, girls are assigned by the “prophet” to a husband, usually an older man. Men need at least three wives to get into the “celestial kingdom.” A woman can only be “celestialized” if she pleases her husband.
Laurene, who has 56 siblings, was assigned in marriage as a teen. She says she “was guilty” of using cult-accepted methods of child breaking on her five children. But she rebelled.
Now, she, too, is finding her voice.
Someone in the UA audience asked why law enforcement can’t use DNA evidence to prosecute old men who father babies by underage girls. The audience applauded. I predict Dr. Phil’s audience will take the same bait.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says, “If we could do it, we would have.”
Lack of grounds
Cult birth certificates don’t usually list the fathers. Without a complaining witness, there are no grounds to demand a DNA sample.
Especially not if the mother refuses to testify, lies under oath or swears she impregnated herself with a turkey baster. All those arguments have been used to protect the patriarchs of Colorado City.
Goddard and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff have been working to build a presence and trust in Colorado City and Hildale. A hotline has been established, a victim’s advocacy center is open in Colorado City, Arizona is moving to decertify two polygamous Colorado City law officers, and investigations into welfare fraud and other shady activities are ongoing. County attorneys in Arizona and Utah are trying to win the trust and cooperation of witnesses who will testify against the cult.
Those aren’t the kinds of things that will play well on national TV. Not when Flora Jessop lets loose her message that not enough is being done.
Goddard declined to appear on Dr. Phil because “pop psychology and I don’t mix.” Shurtleff was interviewed.
In my heart, I agree with Flora Jessop. I want to see the cult broken now. I want those babies to learn to laugh – and cry.
But in my head, I know it’s not that easy. It has to be done meticulously and with the kind of respect for the law and human dignity that won’t soon be laughed off the face of the Earth.
May 1, 2005