ST. GEORGE — The organizer of a public campaign to assist the so-called “lost boys” of polygamy offered alcohol, cash and other freebies to help lure them to the July news conference announcing the effort.
Dan Fischer, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, hosted a party at his house where minors were allowed to drink beer and wine. Many were offered cash at the party and asked to be on hand for a news conference the following week.
“I feel bad that that happened,” said Fischer, who left the FLDS Church about 12 years ago. “I feel tragic about it. It was a private gathering at my house. I didn’t know the kids or their ages. It was a chance for me to meet some of the kids. We provided wine and beer for the adults. I did learn some of these kids got some beer. After that, I made sure there was no alcohol available at any other gathering with the kids.”
Fischer said 18 teenagers and a dozen adults were at the party. Several teens said they had been told it was a simple get-together for kids who had left or had been ousted from the communities. But they said they felt used when they realized the main reason behind it was to help generate interest in Fischer’s nonprofit group, Diversity, and its campaign to help an estimated 400 boys.
Many of them are said to have a skid-row existence — living hand-to-mouth, sleeping in their cars, hiding out behind commercial trash bins or living in groups of 10 or 12 in low-rent apartments. Others claim that a number of them aren’t being shunned but in fact have run away or are drug and alcohol abusers.
Under Utah law, Fischer could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and furnishing alcohol to minors, both class B misdemeanors.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who participated in Fischer’s July 31 news conference and volunteered to be a mentor to one of the teenage boys, said he talked to Fischer on Monday after learning what happened at his house.
“I told him I took a public position to support what he’s doing, but it has to be legal, above board,” Shurtleff said. “He can’t do anything illegal, he can’t harbor runaways or things like that. But the bottom line is that these are kids who need help, and the guy’s trying to help. He’s trying to help these kids get an education.”
But two of the teenagers who attended Fischer’s party said they felt manipulated by the adults and Fischer.
“They got a lot of those kids drunk,” said a 16-year-old girl who did not want to be identified. She grew up in Hildale, a polygamous community sharing the Utah/Arizona border with its more populous twin, Colorado City. “Every last child there was under age. Alcohol was given to any child who wanted it.”
She said an attorney talked to each teen, apparently attempting to determine who would be willing to speak out about why they had been made outcasts from the communities.
“I told my mom about it as soon as we got back,” she said. “It was crazy. Most of the things the kids said up there, they were drunk and they lied,” said the girl, who now lives in St. George where she works and attends high school. “It was just sad. Those kids were all saying their parents kicked them out. But they weren’t; they had a choice.”
Another 17-year-old boy who attended the party said, “It was pretty weird. They (the adults) just said ‘sure’ when kids asked about beer and would point them toward it in the kitchen.
“They told us they wouldn’t hurt our families or the Crick (a slang name for Colorado City),” the boy said. “I think they just wanted to get to Warren Jeffs.”
The FLDS leader has reportedly begun a campaign of his own the past two years — to rid the church and the towns of Colorado City and Hildale of members who aren’t strictly abiding by FLDS church standards.
People have reportedly been banished from the towns for sins such as wanting to attend a public school or for associating with non-FLDS members. Others say that good men are being excommunicated for sins they thought were already forgiven by a previous FLDS prophet.
While dozens of teenagers who grew up in the twin communities accepted Fischer’s offer of free transportation, hotel rooms, meals, Lagoon passes and up to $500 cash to spend the weekend in Salt Lake along with attending the press conference, there were others who turned the offer down.
“One of his guys called me and asked if I wanted to start some stuff against Warren Jeffs,” said George Barlow, 20, who is married and working full time. “He said they were willing to pay me $500 for the trip up, to take me to a game, put me up in top-of-the-line hotels in Salt Lake City. I told him I didn’t care for it.”
Dan Timpson, 19, said he turned down a similar offer.
“I didn’t have to run away from home. My dad helped me; he let me do that and let me make my own choice,” said Timpson, who said he was 17 when he left his home in Colorado City and now works with his father in a tile-setting business. “I have no problem with the folks out there. I left the place with a good feeling. They’re good people, and I personally think people should live the way they want.”
Fischer has said the major issue being addressed by Diversity is the treatment of children in the polygamous families, claiming that church leaders hide behind freedom of religion protection in the Constitution while it systematically destroys families.
“We tried to get as many to come forward as possible, but many are so recently expelled or left on their own, they’re afraid,” Fischer said. “We just want to let all of them know we want to help them. I hope some good can come from what we are doing. We just feel if nobody does anything, no good will ever happen.”
Fischer said many of the teenage boys kicked out of their homes have little more than an eighth-grade education.
“Our whole purpose is to try and get them educated,” he said. “We’ve got to be serious about this. So much of what our drive is here is to stimulate the intellect.”