A fugitive sect of Mormon polygamists is building a home and an end-time temple in the West Texas town of Eldorado
The town of Eldorado, Texas, seat of Schleicher County, flanks State Highway 277, approximately 45 miles south of San Angelo, and is surrounded by a vast landscape of mesquite and cedar trees, native grasses, cacti, and lizards. In all, it is a fairly typical West Texas town of about 2,000, mostly oil industry workers, goat ranchers, and their herds. At least it was typical until November 2003, when a man from Utah named David Steed Allred came to town to purchase 1,691 acres of ranchland four miles north of Eldorado’s sleepy downtown. Allred was in the construction business, he told several residents, and was going to transform the land into a corporate hunting retreat where he could entertain clients from Las Vegas which might work out fine, if Allred’s clients were going to be interested in traveling that far just to bag a few white-tailed deer.
It was an odd explanation, perhaps, but in a town of independent West Texans, not so odd as to spark more than a general curiosity about the new neighbor. “I knew when [the land] was sold that someone from Utah bought it and I figured they were probably Mormon,” says Randy Mankin, the 49-year-old editor and publisher of The Eldorado Success, the town’s weekly newspaper. There were already a couple of other Mormon families living in town, Mankin said, so even that wasn’t so unusual or so he thought. But that was before the construction began.
Two months later, Mankin was in the Success office on South Main Street when a local pilot walked in and dropped a computer disk on his desk. The disk, the pilot said, contained digital photos of construction in progress on the property that he’d snapped while flying over the spread; Mankin popped the disk in his computer and scrolled through the photos. What he saw was both stunning and confusing: a fledgling network of roads, a grouping of trailer homes, and three dormitory-sized, log-home-style buildings. It was, to say the least, intriguing: What in the hell was Allred building? With a combination of old-fashioned reporting and a dose of kismet in the form of a telephone call from an anti-polygamist activist from Phoenix, Ariz., named Flora Jessop it wasn’t long before Mankin and his wife, Kathy, figured it out. On March 25, 2004, the Success broke the first in an ongoing string of stories that not only confirmed the construction was unusual, and not at all what Allred had claimed, but was also major news not just in Eldorado, but across the country and around the world.
As it turned out, Allred’s story about his buying the land for a hunting retreat was just that, a story. Instead, the real purchaser was an insular breakaway Mormon sect, headquartered in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) of which Allred is a member; the real purpose for the purchase was to secure a site for the newest, and potentially most significant, FLDS community. In and of itself, that might not have been such a big deal after all, Eldorado (locally pronounced El-doh-RAY-doh) boasts 13 churches for an official population of just 1,951. But, the FLDS isn’t an average church indeed, it isn’t even a faith that its predecessor denomination, the Mormon church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS) recognizes. That is because the FLDS adheres to the very early, “fundamentalist” teachings of Mormonism, long since abandoned or limited by the LDS. Most specifically, the FLDS faith is built upon the practice of polygamy, the taking of so-called “celestial wives” or, in the jargon of the FLDS, living “the Principle.” FLDS adherents believe that in order to achieve the “fullest exaltation” of heaven, every man must have at least three wives.
The revelation that the newest neighbors were polygamists stunned Eldorado. Some residents were literally frightened, Mankin says, worried that the Mormon men might try to steal their daughters. Others cracked jokes, mostly along the lines of wondering why any man would choose to live with more than one woman. And still others were nonchalant; live and let live, they said. “There are those that say, ‘Let’s go knock down their door, run them out,'” says Mankin. “[And] there are those that say, ‘Different strokes for different folks.’ It runs the whole gamut.”
But it isn’t simply that the new neighbors are polygamists that most disturbs the residents of Eldorado. What has the town worried is the litany of allegations of criminal wrongdoing by high-ranking members of the church. Tales of forced marriage, child brides, sexual assault, virulent racism, brainwashing, blood atonement, money laundering, and welfare fraud, among others, have trailed the FLDS for years, intensifying since 2002, when 49-year-old Warren Jeffs assumed his authority as the sect’s newest “prophet.” Although he’s barely known outside his secretive following, in published reports Jeffs is generally described as a reclusive, obsessive, and extraordinarily paranoid man who believes his authority over the flock is equal to that of God, and who rules the FLDS membership (estimated at a minimum of 10,000 followers in the U.S. alone) through fear and threats of retribution against those who are insufficiently obedient. According to Flora Jessop, a former FLDS member who fled the group 19 years ago, Jeffs “control[s] the entire population on fear fear of eternal damnation, fear of the outside world.”
During the last 18 months, coinciding roughly with the period since Allred first came to Eldorado, the FLDS has been under the increasing scrutiny of law enforcement in both Utah and Arizona a situation that is now threatening to escalate. On June 9, Mohave Co., Ariz., issued a warrant for Jeffs’ arrest on two counts of sexual conduct with a child and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, stemming from his alleged role in arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old married man. The charge is only a sixth-degree felony in Arizona, carrying a maximum punishment of two years in jail; nonetheless, it is the first time in the more than 100-year history of the FLDS that one of its prophets has been sought for criminal prosecution. However, despite the warrant, no one outside his inner circle currently knows where Jeffs is. He has not been seen by anyone outside the sect since January, when he was spotted on the Eldorado property, consecrating the site where the church’s first and only temple a massive structure dominating the church encampment now stands. Jeffs’ elusiveness has prompted the feds to join the hunt; late last month, an Arizona-based FBI agent told The Salt Lake Tribune, a federal magistrate had added one federal count unlawful flight to the state charges pending against Jeffs. “He used to come to Utah every week,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Chronicle last month. “He doesn’t do that anymore. The noose is too tight.”
But even if police are successful in tracking down the shadowy prophet, many observers believe it is unlikely that he’ll surrender quietly. FLDS faithful believe they are bound only by the laws of God, as revealed by their prophet Jeffs, and therefore have little or no regard for any secular law. The case presents a potent combination of rigid doctrine, generations of tradition, and volatile law-enforcement circumstances, tempting many FLDS watchers into evoking the twin evils of Waco (where a religious standoff in 1993 ended in an FBI assault and finally a disastrous conflagration) and Jonestown (the Guyana location of 1978 mass religious murder and suicide). “The possibility of another Waco or, actually [more] like a Jonestown is huge,” witness Jon Krakauer told members of the Texas House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues in April. Krakauer is the author of a book on Mormon extremism, and he has done extensive research on the FLDS. “If [Jeffs] feels cornered and threatened, he will not go out alone; he has made that clear. He will not allow himself to be arrested. And [if the situation comes to a head] it is likely to happen in Texas. Schleicher County, Texas, is [now] the world headquarters for his church.”
The historical roots of the modern-day FLDS begin with the 1830 founding of the Mormon religion by the church’s first leader and prophet, Joseph Smith. Among the earliest Mormon teachings Smith espoused was the principle of “celestial marriage,” which became part of Mormon doctrine in 1843. Smith considered polygamy a righteous cure for the societal ills supposedly caused by monogamy like adultery and domestic abuse as well as a means to ensure that women remained “properly subservient” to their husbands, “as God intended,” Krakauer wrote in his 2003 book on the rise of Mormon fundamentalism, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.
From the beginning, the Mormon embrace of polygamy was problematic, especially in their dealings with the federal government, which had outlawed the practice and was generally skeptical of the fledgling faith. The continuing friction eventually led Mormon leaders to renounce polygamy (at least officially) in 1890 a move motivated almost exclusively by their desire to secure statehood for Utah. (In 1904, the church strengthened its position by pledging to excommunicate any remaining practitioners.) However, Mormons still living “the Principle” viewed its renunciation as an example of the extreme measures church leaders were willing to take in order to be accepted by mainstream America, a goal many considered blasphemous in itself. Indeed, Krakauer wrote, Smith had long vowed that elected government would eventually be replaced by a “government of God” a government that would, of course, be administered by the Lord’s “favored children,” the Mormons. Ultimately, the decision to disavow polygamy fractured the Mormon faith and led to the creation of several fundamentalist sects, the largest of which is now known as the FLDS.
Secrets of Short Creek
Today, the FLDS reportedly counts more than 30,000 polygamous members in communities scattered across North America, the largest of which is located in the twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, which straddle the state line at the base of Utah’s Canaan Mountain along a slice of land known as the Arizona Strip, roughly 60 miles north of the Grand Canyon. The church has essentially been headquartered in the twin-city area known as Short Creek since 1928. While Short Creek is, ostensibly, an open community, it is nonetheless a city populated almost exclusively by members of the church, whose lives are controlled by their prophet.
Short Creek’s local businesses, the city council, the police force every institution is run according to the teachings of the FLDS. The police force, for example, is disinclined to acknowledge laws that ban plural marriage, define the age of consent, or criminalize domestic abuse the enforcement of such marital and family laws contradicts church teachings. Indeed, the FLDS dominion over Short Creek (originally settled by a nonpolygamist Mormon), which includes every elected government position from mayor to school board was itself realized through church teaching that require followers to vote as a bloc.
“Imagine a community run as a theocracy,” Shurtleff, the Utah attorney general, said at the Capitol in April, in testimony encouraging lawmakers to strengthen Texas’ polygamy law (making it a felony offense) and to raise the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 16. (Gov. Rick Perry duly signed the measures into law last month, as amendments to SB 6.) In Short Creek, women are considered the exclusive “property” of the male “priesthood,” Shurtleff explained, and are not allowed to attend school beyond the sixth grade. Women are expected to remain entirely subservient to men (or face retribution), and plural marriages are considered necessary to facilitate male salvation indeed, Jeffs reportedly has at least 40 wives and 56 children. (On average, Krakauer told Texas lawmakers, FLDS women have between eight and 15 children each. And celestial wives, whose marriages are not recognized by law, are encouraged to “bleed the beast” by applying for food stamps and other welfare subsidies.) “This is the kind of stuff that, as the chief law enforcement officer in the state of Utah, keeps me up at night,” Shurtleff said.
Of course, church control extends far beyond the bedroom and the schoolyard. The church that is, Jeffs (joined in name only by several handpicked trustees) also controls the collective wealth of its followers through the church’s 65-year-old United Effort Plan trust, which reportedly includes 30 businesses, 700 homes, and all other property of Short Creek’s residents, as part of an estimated $100 million in assets. Nor are FLDS men immune from Jeffs’ control especially those whom Jeffs deems not sufficiently obedient.
Jeffs alone decides who will marry whom, and holds the power to “reassign” wives and children among his male followers a fate reserved for the families of men that Jeffs considers to be so sinful that they must be stripped of everything, excommunicated from the church, and banished from the community. It is a practice Jeffs has exercised with increasing frequency; in January 2004 alone, Jeffs’ condemned 21 FLDS men in Short Creek to this fate, a move that attracted widespread media attention. Among the banished was Ross Chatwin, who said Jeffs sent a messenger to tell him he had to leave. “One of his cronies came to tell me that I’d sinned,” he recalled recently. He was told only “that I had wronged somebody and that I was full of pride and that I needed to correct these things so that I could come back.”
Although banishment might sound like a welcome reprieve from the repressive control that Jeffs wields over his flock, for members of the FLDS obeying the prophet is the only way to ensure salvation and it is a way of life they consider far less frightening than the prospect of joining the outside world, says Jessop. Indeed, the FLDS is an entirely insular community bound by fear not only of the domineering prophet, but also of the world beyond him. Adherents are raised “from the cradle,” says Jessop, to believe that the world beyond the FLDS enclave is the exclusive domain of devilish heathens. And in a community expanded by birthrate and not by proselytizing it is a fear easily disseminated through descending generations. Every communication with the non-FLDS population, believers are told including a gesture as minor as a smile from a passing stranger is considered merely an attempt to “entice you to Satan,” Jessop said. “You have no identity outside the group. In order to be blessed, you must suffer abuse in silence.”
Jessop says she suffered in silence for years before mustering enough courage to flee the church in 1986. Jessop grew up in Short Creek during the reign of prophet LeRoy Johnson and then under the tutelage of Warren’s father, the prophet Rulon Jeffs. She was part of a family with two wives and 27 siblings, and she says her father sexually abused her on a regular basis. She tried to flee several times, but each time, she says, she was pursued and, ultimately, returned to Short Creek. Finally, Jessop’s father gave her a choice: marry or be sent to a mental hospital. She married, waited 10 days and then ran away for the last time. She was 16. “They don’t let the girls leave,” she said. “Females are their top commodity,” and the only conduit to ensure continuation of the faith.
Jessop was unprepared for life on the outside, she said. “It is like stepping into a black hole,” she recalls. Like many adolescents who flee the FLDS, Jessop was ill-equipped to face the outside world and was plagued by the thought that her departure would result in “eternal damnation.” She says she developed a drug habit and lived on the edge, moving from town to town. “I believed that I was damned for all eternity,” she said. “There is nothing worse that you can do you’ve … done the worst by leaving.” Jessop now spends her time working to expose the practices of the FLDS through the nonprofit Hope for the Child Brides, a group she founded that provides aid to FLDS refugees.
Blood Oaths and Child Army
Although the abuse Jessop claims she suffered growing up in the FLDS church was considerable, she says it pales in comparison to the damage done by the newest prophet, Rulon’s son Warren Jeffs, who took control of the flock after the 92-year-old’s death in 2002. The youth fleeing the FLDS now, many of them 16 and 17 years old, are only testing “academically, at a second-grade level,” she says, and many are completely incapable of taking care of themselves, even on the most basic level. “We have to teach them how to bathe,” she said. “They are taught that their bodies are disgusting, and that they are not to touch or to look at each other” or at themselves. “I was teaching how to put lotion on,” she said, “and [these kids] said, ‘We have to touch ourselves?'”
Increasing levels of control and paranoia appear to define Jeffs’ leadership style. Shortly after taking the reins of the FLDS, Mankin reports, Jeffs ordered that all animals other than livestock were to be killed including all pets and a zebra at the city zoo. He’s forbidden his followers to watch television or movies or to listen to music (rock music, he has preached, such as that of the “pingy-pangy” Beatles, is an enticement to sin originating from dark-skinned devils). Jeffs banned swimming and other water sports; supposedly, he even outlawed laughing.
Even more disturbing, says Jessop, is Jeffs’ revival of so-called “blood atonement,” an early Mormon doctrine establishing eye-for-an-eye vengeance against anyone who wrongs God’s chosen people. As Krakauer wrote in 2003, Mormon founder Smith and his immediate successor Brigham Young preached that “certain grievous acts committed against Mormons … could be rectified only if the ‘sinners have their blood spilt upon the ground.'” In the modern era of the Jeffs-controlled FLDS, that doctrine has morphed into a “blood oath” the promise that Jeffs’ followers are willing to kill for him. “[Jeffs] asked them would they die for him,” excommunicated FLDS elder Richard Holm told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine earlier this year. “Well, that’s a veiled question. ‘Would you kill for me?’ is the subtle question within that question.”
In fact, says Jessop, her sources inside the FLDS (apparently including members inside the Eldorado compound) report that Jeffs has created his own paramilitary youth group, known as the Sons of Helaman after a warrior whose conquests are detailed in sacred Mormon text. The group is reportedly comprised entirely of FLDS boys, ages 12 and up, and boasts a contingent at least 1,000 strong. “This is God’s army,” Jessop believes. “These are the ones that are supposed to go out and cleanse the North American continent in order for Jesus to come back” or, at least, in order to protect Jeffs. “They are required … to take an oath,” Jessop says she’s been told, “that they will kill every member of their family on the order of the prophet.”
FLDS officials in Eldorado did not return phone calls from the Chronicle seeking comment for this story, and thus far, the FLDS church has chosen not to appoint a spokesman for the group. On occasion, an FLDS-hired lawyer in Salt Lake City, Utah, Rodney Parker, has spoken out on behalf of the group, saying that the FLDS only wants to be left alone, and denying the various accusations leveled at Jeffs and other members of the FLDS elite. Last summer Parker told The Salt Lake Tribune that the lengthy list of accusations is nothing more than “part of a continuing effort by enemies of the church to defame it and its institutions. President Jeffs is confident that ultimately these allegations will be shown to be total fabrications.”
The allegation that Jeffs is building his own holy army may sound far-fetched, but considering his reported obsessions, it is at least plausible. According to FLDS watchers, Jeffs increasingly harps on the “wickedness” of government and of “Gentiles” everyone outside the FLDS faith. Krakauer, Jessop, and others say that in recent years Jeffs has pointed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as evidence of the country’s wickedness and of the nearness of the Second Coming, when FLDS members will be exalted into heaven. At least, that is the promise for the most devout of members, who hope to be lifted from the FLDS Zion. “The teaching has always been that when the [FLDS] temple is built,” said Jessop, “the Second Coming is coming.”
If those beliefs persist, the FLDS Zion, ground zero for the return of Jesus to Earth, may in fact be located in the heart of Schleicher County.
Yearning for Zion
When he saw the first pictures of the construction on the Allred property, Randy Mankin dispatched his wife Kathy to the courthouse to search the property records. She found that Allred had purchased the land through a private, Utah-based, Texas-registered company called YFZ Land, LLC. That was all Mankin knew until the evening of March 15, 2004, when Jessop called him at home. “She’d been on Primetime Live and someone [in Eldorado] had seen it,” he said, and referred Jessop to Mankin. The program recounted Jessop’s successful rescue of two teenage girls from Short Creek. Jessop told Mankin that if he would give her the name of the person who’d bought the Eldorado acreage, she would be able to tell him whether there was any connection to the FLDS. When Jessop heard the name Allred, she said, “‘Oh my God, it’s them!'” Mankin recalled. At first, he didn’t believe her. “It was the most absurd story I’d ever heard,” he said. “I thought one of my friends was playing a joke on me.”
Jessop’s story about the polygamous FLDS was no joke. It wasn’t long before Mankin learned that the “YFZ” in the purchasing company’s name was actually an acronym for the phrase, “Yearning for Zion” a reference to the FLDS desire to be raised into heaven by Jesus. In April of 2004, in the wake of the first rumors, Schleicher Co. Sheriff David Doran and Justice of the Peace James C. Doyle called a meeting with Allred and several other FLDS members living on the YFZ land in an attempt to “address the storm of controversy” surrounding the land purchase, the Success reported. Allred told Doran that the land had always been intended as a community for at least 200 members of the FLDS and that he’d concocted the story about the hunting ranch in order to “help fend off the media frenzy that ultimately followed the FLDS to Eldorado,” Mankin reported. “They said they want to be left alone to live as they choose, without interference from the government,” Doran told Mankin. A modest goal, perhaps, but not a likely one for the FLDS.
Tightening the Noose
Since their new pioneers first landed in Eldorado, the lives of the FLDS faithful have come under increasing official scrutiny, there and elsewhere. Among those applying the pressure is Gary Engels, an investigator with the Mohave Co., Ariz., attorney’s office. Although the FLDS has been in Short Creek for “years and years,” Engels said, there has never been a coordinated effort to determine the truth of the “information [that has] come out about the place the [allegations] of underage marriage, abuses, everything,” he said. That’s the way it was, at least, until nine months ago, when Mohave Co. attorney Matthew Smith tapped Engels to head up a new outpost office in Colorado City. Since then, Engels, a retired police officer, has been working out of a small, metal trailer on the outskirts of Colorado City, sharing an office with a Mohave Co. victims services advocate and, occasionally, with a visiting Child Protective Services caseworker. The work has been “extremely challenging,” he says, because the FLDS community is so distrustful of outsiders “even those who [have been] kicked out [by Jeffs] don’t trust outsiders,” he said and has made it clear that he is not welcome in Short Creek. “I am constantly followed and harassed, even by police officers driving their city vehicles,” he said. “I get a lot of dirty stares, even more so now.” Undeterred, Engels has continued his investigation: “I develop sources and do follow-ups. I talk with people,” he said. “I go where they’re comfortable, day or night.”
It was Engels’ dogged investigative work that led to the June 9 indictment of Warren Jeffs on two counts of sexual conduct with a child and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a child, for his role in arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and an older, married man, as well as to the subsequent criminal indictments of eight other FLDS men on similar charges. (One man, Randy Barlow, has also been indicted on one count of sexual assault, a second-degree felony.)
Meanwhile, in May, Utah Attorney General Shurtleff won a temporary restraining order against the UEP, which was necessary, he said, to prevent Jeffs from funneling trust assets to private accounts. Jeffs and his cronies have been removed as trustees, he said, and for the time being until other trustees can be named a certified accountant is overseeing the account, and trying to figure out what assets remain. “[Jeffs] is very careful about how he does things, where the books are kept,” Shurtleff said. “He keeps people very nervous. He’s not dumb; he’s an evil genius.”
The Second Coming
Genius or not, Warren Jeffs was smart enough to decide in late 2003 that it was time to abandon Short Creek, which remains in the crosshairs of various state law-enforcement agencies. He is also smart enough to realize that it is much easier to keep prying eyes off his flock if it is secluded in a place that is not as publicly accessible as Short Creek someplace, say, like the Eldorado YFZ compound, where the group can live as self-sufficiently as possible. Since arriving, the church has erected its own concrete batch plant and opened a rock quarry, and has sought permission to drill for water and to build its own wastewater treatment plant among other facilities. (For example, photos taken by various pilots show a massive commissary building stocked with various supplies including numerous bolts of pastel-colored fabrics used to fashion the typical pioneer-style dresses worn by the FLDS’ female adherents.)
Outsiders are not welcome on the YFZ land, nor are they able to get into the encampment. So far, the only outsiders who have been allowed inside the compound are Sheriff Doran, representatives of the Schleicher Co. tax appraisal office, and investigators with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has since initiated several environmental enforcement actions including actions related to illegal trash burning and the illegal operation of the concrete batch plant, among other violations. None of the few visitors has been allowed anywhere near the compound’s most impressive and mysterious building, the four-story, turreted temple, which rises high above anything else on the surrounding scrub-brush landscape. (In fact, says Mankin, when the tax appraiser visited he was kept away from the temple by men in SUVs keeping watch near rock walls that had been erected to block access to the massive structure.)
No one outside knows exactly how large the temple is, but Mankin using objects of known size near the temple that can be seen in photos, like ladders and 4-by-8 sheets of plywood has estimated that it rises at least 90 feet high and has at least 60,000 square feet of interior floor space. Construction began on the temple on January 1 and, with round-the-clock construction, was nearly complete a month later. There is no doubt that construction of the temple is significant to the church it is the first and only temple the group has ever erected during its 100-plus years’ history. Beyond that, its significance has been the subject of considerable debate. “Rumors go around,” says one journalist that works the FLDS beat, “[like] that it means the end of the world is coming.” Indeed, speculation about the temple has led to any number of rumors including one that flared up briefly in February about supposed plans for a mass suicide.
The speculation also led droves of reporters to invade Eldorado in April, there to report on FLDS activities on April 6, the day that the FLDS believe Jesus was born and the day that the religion teaches will be the date of the Second Coming. Although the day came and went without incident, the rapid, seemingly urgent pace of development at the YFZ compound in combination with Jeffs’ mounting legal problems leads many to believe that whatever happens next is likely to go down in Eldorado. “It’s not a matter of if something will happen, it is a matter of when,” says Jessop. “I’m not so much worried about a Waco, but Warren Jeffs is going to start [something] because he believes that it is his right. It is only a matter of when and of how he’ll do it.”
Thus far, Texas authorities are keeping a low profile and remaining quiet about any contingency plans. Sheriff Doran is keeping the lines of communication open with FLDS members inside the compound, he told the Success, but has declined to elaborate. “The last thing I’m going to do is tell a bunch of reporters what my plans are. That would be crazy,” he said last month. The Texas Department of Public Safety is also playing it cool. “We are working with [Doran], who has contact with folks out there at the ranch,” said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange. “Obviously, there is an indictment and if we’re contacted by law enforcement to assist, we will. [But at] this time we have no plans to go in there [looking for Jeffs].” For the time being, it seems that everyone in Eldorado is simply watching and waiting.
On a recent sweltering West Texas afternoon, Randy Mankin drove down the cracked caliche road that cuts through the vast ranchlands just north of town, and turned his dusty white pickup truck onto Rudd Road, toward the locked gates on the edge of the FLDS’ Eldorado property. He pulled over onto the side of the road, and looked left, toward a long, narrow, and dusty drive that extends up a slight hill beyond a set of locked green gates. Without entering private property, this is the closest an outsider can get to the FLDS property. “They know we’re here already,” he says, pointing past the gates and up the road about a quarter mile, to a small building that serves as a guard shack. Guards are posted there and at other lookout spots scattered throughout the property, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At night, he says, the guards use night-vision goggles to watch for potential intruders. Mankin recalls one evening that he was out in front of the compound with an investigator from Utah who’d brought his own night-vision glasses to check out the guards. When Mankin peered through the lenses, he said, he could “see [the guards] with their night vision, looking back at me,” he says. “It was creepy.”
Mankin recalled the sequence of events that led him and his family, his newspaper, and the rest of the town into the middle of the still-unfolding FLDS drama. It is still hard for Mankin to comprehend everything that has happened in Eldorado since November 2003, when David Allred first came to town and like everyone else, he is worried that the hunt for Jeffs may end in tragedy. “Jeffs is creepy, and some of his younger followers they’ve been so brainwashed that you just don’t know what they’re capable of,” he said. For the time being, Mankin is more immediately concerned about other, more mundane, but equally important matters like whether the FLDS will pay its property tax bills and, if not, what impact that will have on the county budget. “This is a great story, but I would gladly go back to the way it was” before the FLDS came to town, he says. “This is my hometown, and I don’t think things are going to end well for Eldorado.”
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