Sect leader under fire as outside pressures build
COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — Richard Holm‘s life — the one he knew here and the one he hoped for in the hereafter — came to a bitter end Nov. 11, 2003, when his church leader ordered him into repentance and out of his home.
Warren Jeffs, the reclusive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, told Holm through an intermediary that not only did he no longer hold the priesthood in the polygamous church, his wives, now entitled to a “noble release,” could ask for a different husband and his home would be reoccupied by a worthy member.
“We had a heaven in our home up until last November,” Holm said last week, adding that such an announcement by the man FLDS members revere as their prophet is tantamount to a public execution. “We were a happy family. Those were wonderful times.”
With his priesthood stripped, any chance of getting to the highest degree of heaven is gone, according to FLDS doctrine. His access to his children now is also in doubt.
Holm, 51, is the latest among a growing list of men recently excommunicated by Jeffs, who is accused by some of being a dictator unnecessarily disrupting families and putting a community of about 6,000 that shuns attention into the public spotlight.
Evictions usually follow excommunications, but former members are starting to fight back in court.
Those who remain faithful FLDS say they just want to be left alone to live a religion they believe was ordained by God. Those on the outside charge the religion is simply used as an excuse to commit crimes.
Some of the disciplined men, such as former Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, his elder brother, Louis, and another brother, former Hildale City Councilman Joseph Barlow Jr., left town quietly and live together in nearby St. George.
The men, all older than 70, have described their experience as “a difficult test” they hope to master. Friends and family say the men are doing well.
Others, however, such as Holm and Ross Chatwin, plan to fight Jeffs and the FLDS Church in court.
It was during his first and only legal marriage that Holm said he committed the sin that Jeffs is using against him today, a transgression of 30 years ago he thought had been already divulged and forgiven.
Holm, a current but lately absent member of the Colorado City Council, said he had just participated in a group purchase and donation of 550 acres of land worth $1 million to the property arm of the church.
“Warren could have done what he did to me anytime,” Holm said. “Warren’s treatment of me came at a time when I was of little or no economic value to him. Maybe I should issue some evictions of my own,” said Holm, who still owns a motel in Hildale.
The excommunications are signs of internal pressures being manifested by external forces such as law enforcement, legislators and anti-polygamy groups that are bringing worldwide media attention.
Arizona legislators are considering a child bigamy law similar of Utah’s statute. Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan has stepped up patrols in the remote community over the objections of Colorado City Marshal Sam Roundy, whose officers continue their normal duties and provide backup to any agency requesting help.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard recently emphasized his commitment to protect children and women in plural cultures after state legislators challenged him in public, saying he wasn’t doing enough.
Mohave County plans to spend $200,000 on a building in Colorado City that would house a sheriff’s substation, child protection services, and other state agencies. Residents of the two towns doubt anyone will use the service or a statewide domestic violence hotline announced last week by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Even anti-polygamy activists are split on how best to help teenager runaways, with “Help the Child Brides” promoting safe houses unaffiliated with local governments. Infighting among some of the activists led to the resignation of former board member Bob Curran, who now is vilified on the organization’s Web site, www.helpthechildbrides.com.
Former plural wives who belong to “Tapestry Against Polygamy” (www.polygamy.org (http://www.polygamy.org)) believe polygamy perpetuates abuse against women and children, a view held in direct contrast with the plural wives of “Principal Voices for Polygamy” who embrace and promote the lifestyle.
Chatwin is hoping to invoke a 1998 ruling in 5th District Court that said the FLDS Church must allow dissidents to remain in homes they built on church land or pay the men for any improvements they made to the land. That decision has been appealed.
Most of the land in Hildale and Colorado City belongs to the FLDS Church through its communal United Effort Plan.
Faithful FLDS men are assigned a plot on which to build a home or are assigned to live in homes already built on “United Effort Plan” (UEP) property. Members also donate their time, money and other resources that are then used to cover church-related debt, such as property taxes.
According to an “Amended and Restated Declaration of Trust of the United Effort Plan Trust,” filed Nov. 16, 1998, in Mohave County and posted in FLDS buildings, the UEP is a religious and spiritual trust.
The UEP exists, the documents state, to preserve and advance the religious doctrines of the FLDS Church, which include plural marriage, strict moral codes of conduct and dress, payment of tithing, and any other charitable goals determined by FLDS leaders.
Titles to the land remain with the UEP, and church members are considered tenants at will who must follow church standards in order to enjoy church benefits.
Chatwin, who attracted dozens of reporters to Colorado City on Jan. 23 for a press conference to denounce Jeffs as a “Hitler-like dictator,” did not build the house he currently lives in, although he said that shouldn’t matter because he did build a smaller house on nearby UEP land.
A March 2 hearing in Mohave County Superior Court is scheduled to address Chatwin’s claim that he has no contract with the UEP and shouldn’t be evicted.
Most recently, FLDS apostates Milton and Lenore Holm won a similar court battle in Mohave County and have remained in their Colorado City home.
Lenore Holm, a former plural wife who spent much of the past year appearing in television and print interviews, is now a fugitive. A warrant for her arrest was issued in January by a 5th District Court judge after she failed to appear on third-degree felony charges of theft and evading a police officer.
Richard Holm, who had 20 children with two wives, now describes the doctrine of plural marriage as “organized adultery” after being ousted by current FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
“Warren gave my family to my younger brother, Ed. I think that’s disgusting,” he said. “Warren is ripping families apart to punish and hurt the men. In a way, husbands are becoming a dime a dozen around here. The wives belong to Warren.”
Jeffs released Lorena Holm from her spiritual marriage of 18 years and gave her the choice of marrying her brother-in-law, Ed Holm, which she did. She said the decision to leave her husband and marry another man was a choice she made, not Jeffs.
“Richard is quite a controlling person,” Lorena Holm said in a telephone interview. “I chose to take the steps that I did because I believe they were in the best interest of me and my children. I wasn’t forced into anything. I’m very much happy with my choice.”
In making that choice, Lorena Holm was simply exercising her right to be placed with a faithful man according to FLDS doctrine. A third wife, Alice, who was married to Holm in 1996, chose the same path as well.
Meanwhile, most of the people living in Colorado City and Hildale are avoiding the press and becoming a lot more wary of invading outside influences. They, too, wonder what will happen next but are trying to live life as usual.
“We believe in what we’re doing,” said one woman, who like most did not want her name made public. “We don’t expect anyone else to do it, but we want to be here. What’s wrong with wanting to have a better world? That’s what we have here.”