Group of polygamists has hidden behind religion too long
Fall into this rabbit hole and the ordinary rules don’t apply.
A cult is called a church, women are chattel, children are denied education, little girls are assigned as second and third “wives” to older men, and teen boys are driven away because they represent competition for girls.
That’s the way things are in the twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
Here, in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a tyrant is called prophet. He runs everybody’s life and owns everything, including the keys to heaven.
In his corner of Earth, he’s the law.
When people first learn that the Arizona-Utah line hosts the nation’s largest polygamous community, they are enraged. Why doesn’t the law sweep in and stop this perversion of faith and family?
The answer is heartbreakingly simple: In this through-the-looking-glass world, a botched effort to do that 50 years ago resulted in such damning publicity that cops have been cowed ever since. The problem was that the victims, who were dragged away from their homes in tears, refused to cooperate with their rescuers.
That reluctance to speak out remains largely true of an isolated population that is denied education and indoctrinated to believe the outside world is a fearsome and dangerous place. Effective prosecutions require witnesses, and the cult of FLDS keeps its secrets well enough to protect the victimizers.
Nevertheless, ongoing criminal investigations by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff into FLDS and its leader, Warren Jeffs, include child abuse, child labor law violations, income tax evasion, welfare fraud and civil rights violations. The attorneys general have been attempting to win confidence in a community that folds in on itself in protective layers.
The determination of these AGs is one hopeful sign that law enforcement will no longer ignore this challenge – no matter how difficult it will be to bring successful prosecutions.
Last week, a civil suit also raised hopes that FLDS’ days are numbered.
A lawsuit was filed accusing Jeffs of repeatedly sodomizing his nephew when the young man was 5 and 6 years old. It also said the cult leader covered up widespread sexual abuse of children by cult leaders. Warren Jeffs has denied the charges.
The allegations of Brent Jeffs are in a civil suit put together by four nationally known attorneys, including Joanne L. Suder, who filed a suit on behalf of students who claimed they were molested in Baltimore Catholic schools. The criminal case prosecutors put together with her help resulted in a life sentence against the accused teacher.
Efforts to prosecute the FLDS are not an assault on religion, because this group’s disregard for civil rights of men, women and children reveal it to be a cult. It is not connected with the Mormon Church, which abandoned polygamy more than a century ago.
Decades of official neglect allowed the FLDS to dig this rabbit hole, where tyranny is disguised by the robes of a “prophet” and individual rights are buried. Now law enforcement is moving against this fundamentalist cult. It’s about time.