FLDS seek to allay Texas town’s fears

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It is still under construction, but a rural west Texas refuge for a reclusive polygamist sect has already been visited by its most revered member: prophet Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs was at the ranch in Eldorado, Texas, as of Tuesday, according to an attorney for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Days earlier, he ordered four other church leaders to make an unprecedented visit to Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran.

In the 2 1/2-hour meeting on April 28, the men apologized for initially describing their project as a “hunting retreat,” saying they had done so to avoid negative news media and to not overburden local officials.

“They know the community is upset and they are trying to fix things,” Doran said. “Of course, the deception is already here, and it is going to take time to mend any damages.”

But the meeting was a start, he said.

“That was a big deal,” said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith in Utah, who, after 22 years in law enforcement, has yet to meet an FLDS church leader. “They really had to get out of their comfort zone to come out and meet with him.”

The representatives were: Alan Steed, patriarch; Roy Steed, high counselor; Ernie Jessop, construction foreman and presiding elder; and David Allred, owner of YFZ Land, which bought the ranch. The men gave Doran a Book of Mormon and other scriptures and a copy of The Sermons of Rulon Jeffs to help him learn about their beliefs.

Allred told Doran the FLDS church had come to Texas to get a “fresh start;” FLDS church attorney Rod Parker added that leaders wanted a refuge away from excessive pressure on the church and community from attorneys general in Utah and Arizona.

That apparently includes Jeffs, who Parker said happens to be “down there, but I wouldn’t say he’s relocated there.”

The new FLDS outpost will be home to 200 of Jeffs’ most ardent followers and is being paid for with church funds, they said. The compound will consist initially of five buildings.

The men told Doran the FLDS church picked the Texas 1,300-acre property because the price was right and the location appealing, though the fact Texas has no building or zoning laws probably was also a factor.

However, the group failed to get storm water and septic system permits, and that has drawn attention from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Inspectors have visited the ranch twice and an investigation is ongoing, said commission spokesman Glen Greenwood.

Eldorado residents learned in late March that members of the fundamentalist group, based in two cities at the Utah-Arizona border and in Creston, British Columbia, had bought the ranch.

Alarm quickly spread through Schleicher County’s only town, fueled by fears about the polygamous group and the secretive manner in which it moved onto the land. Two buildings constructed in Creston were trucked to the property, seeming to go up overnight; until the visit with Doran, no one had contacted any city officials or been seen in town.

Doran said the men assured him the group won’t turn to welfare, overwhelm the local health system, or get involved in local politics. Children at the ranch, they said, will be home schooled, just as they are in the Arizona Strip.

The sheriff said he informed the FLDS leaders about Texas laws that might apply to the group’s practice of plural marriage. The state has no law banning polygamy, but consummating a spiritual marriage to a girl 16 or younger would be considered a felony, he said.

“They said that will not be the policy to practice that out here, though it may have been practiced in the past,” said the sheriff, who will visit Smith in mid-May to learn more about the FLDS community.

Smith, as it turned out, was in Eldorado on April 28 to visit with Doran and residents, but did not participate in the meeting with FLDS leaders. He did meet with 22 residents to share his experiences with the polygamous community in Utah and try to relieve concerns.

For now, according to Randy Mankin, editor of the Eldorado Success and a city councilman, the community is in a wait-and-see mode. “Every week we find out something new, or where the group has misled someone. They are a little frustrated by that. For the most part, the sheriff has convinced most of them to wait and see and let him handle things.”

One farmer whose land abuts the FLDS church ranch told Smith he had been working on a fence when a couple of children on an ATV whizzed by without waving or stopping to say hello — an affront in this west Texas town with a strong sense of open hospitality.

“They are going to have to change, or they are not going to fit in out there,” Smith said. “Maybe there will be some openness that will make this group realize they can be in the world but not of the world.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Salt Lake Tribune
May 8, 2004
www.sltrib.com

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016