YFZ raid is topic at conference on cults
The raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church’s YFZ Ranch will be a hot topic at a conference under way in Philadelphia on cults.
“The conference was planned before the events that occurred in April,” said Mike Kropveld, director of Montreal-based InfoSecte, a cult-monitoring group. “It has become an issue of concern with people coming out of the different fundamentalist Mormon groups.”
Former members of polygamous groups and government representatives will give presentations, with the raid on the YFZ Ranch in the front of everyone’s minds.
“We’re going to be talking about the approach Utah and Arizona have taken in trying to solve problems and to create a safe environment for people in polygamous communities,” said Paul Murphy, the coordinator of the Utah Attorney General’s Safety Net Committee, a group of polygamists, government workers and social-service agencies working together to deal with abuse and neglect in closed societies.
Murphy said the states’ approach has been to reach out to people with care, fostering involvement.
“People need to know that you care about them whether they are in polygamy or not,” he said.
“It was interesting the way Texas handled the whole situation,” said Andrea Moore-Emmett, an anti-polygamy activist and the author of the book “God’s Brothel.” She also is speaking at the conference.
“I was glad to see them doing something, in contrast to what we see with Utah and Arizona,” she said.
Kropveld is hesitant to take a position on the raid, saying he wants to wait and see what develops. He noted that there have been numerous complaints leveled against the FLDS for abuse, but he worried about the long-term effects of Texas’ actions causing the group to become more isolated.
“Are we using a hammer to kill a mosquito? That’s a concern No. 1 when the state gets involved,” Kropveld said.
Kropveld declines to apply the term “cult” to a lot of groups, saying it is too simple of a term to use and often depends on the individual experience. “Cult” also carries a negative connotation.
“You can have a good experience in a bad group or a bad experience in a good group,” he said.
There are destructive groups where everyone is abused, Kropveld said, recalling California’s Heaven’s Gate cult that led to a mass suicide amongst its members in 1997.
Moore-Emmett was more direct.
“Absolutely it’s a cult,” she said. “It has all the hallmarks of a cult. Every one of these polygamous groups are cults. The dynamics are the same.”
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Abutting events on the lessons learned from the mass suicide at Jonestown and recovering from membership in a cult, Paul Murphy of the Utah Attorney General’s Office and his counterpart in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Jane Irvine, gave what could be considered a primer on polygamous groups in the Southwest and detailed actions taken against those who allegedly have abused children, encouraged young brides and ousted teenage boys.
Murphy and Irvine took pains to not to label polygamous groups in their states or others as cults, but discussed the efforts both states have made to crack down on abusive situations inside the scattered, and in many ways, closed-off groups. Many in the audience, filled with social workers, former cult members and sociologist and scholars, wondered why the states weren’t doing more to protect the children and women in the communities.
In the aftermath of the raid by Texas authorities into the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints‘ Yearning for Zion ranch, polygamous sects are an issue of discussion at the International Cultic Studies Association meeting this weekend at the University of Pennsylvania.
For some attendees, there was no question the FLDS sect and polygamy should be included in the conference discussions.
“It’s definitely cultic,” said Beth Davies, who left a cult some 19 years ago. “There’s a point when you have to call an ace an ace.”
Janja Lalich, a professor of sociology at California State University-Chico, didn’t go as far, but said the group has “hallmarks of a cult.” She added, though, that the media has a political over-correctness complex about using the word cult, and she got laughs from the crowd when she said that the FLDS has now pledged not to perform any underage marriages.
Later, Murphy and Irvine took turns explaining polygamous groups, but many in the audience wanted to know why more wasn’t being done.
“In any other universe, I think child protective services will step in,” one questioner declared when the discussion turned to the so-called Lost Boys ousted from the communities and left to fend for themselves.
Murphy stressed the work his agency and others have done in previous years and now to investigate crimes and open up the dialogue with polygamists.