The fenced compounds occupied by members of a polygamous Mormon sect, including the one near Pringle, were built out of fear of the outside world, but they also serve to keep the occupants inside, according to a former member of the sect.
Isaac Wyler, 41, was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered at the twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
The FLDS members are brainwashed into thinking the government is out to persecute them, he said. There are walled and fenced compounds, complete with watchtowers, in Colorado City-Hildale as well as in FLDS outposts in Canada, Nevada, Texas and southwestern Custer County here in the Black Hills.
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“They’re in there living in fear, thinking the government will push tanks through these big walls,” Wyler said. “Those people are just terrified over that.”
Two Canadian women who recently tried to visit relatives at the Pringle compound were turned away by several men. The men were wearing wigs, but the women recognized several of them anyway, according to Cecelia Blackmore of Lister, British Columbia.
Wyler said the wigs don’t make sense because as far as he knows, none of the men at Pringle is a fugitive.
“It’s almost as if they’re in this fantasy land,” he said. “It’s like they’re running from things. I’m sure they’ve done things they know they should run from. Half of the time, they’re running because they know they’re guilty, not because anybody’s chasing.”
The FLDS is probably the biggest and most well known of various sects that still practice polygamy. The mainline Mormon Church abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890 and disavows the polygamous sects, excommunicating anyone who practices plural marriage.
Wyler said men are taught from boyhood that they must have more than one wife, and girls are taught they must submit to polygamous marriages to get to heaven.
“They get brainwashed to a level that is just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s really hard when you’re raised a certain way your entire life and you truly believe in it. All of a sudden you wake up to reality and realize you’ve been hoodwinked ever since you was born–and brainwashed.”
Wyler and 19 other Colorado City men were kicked out of the FLDS church in 2004 by Warren Jeffs, the prophet and head of the church. Jeffs was convicted last week in Utah of being an accessory to rape, and he’s facing similar charges in Arizona related to his alleged practice of conducting marriages of underage girls to older men.
Critics say Jeffs ex-communicates males periodically to keep a high ratio of women to men. Jeffs himself reportedly has scores of wives, according to Utah authorities and critics of the church. They say FLDS men get around the law by legally marrying only one of their wives.
Wyler said he doesn’t believe the compounds, such as the one at Pringle, pose any real danger to neighbors. “The only thing is you have no control or no idea what’s going on in there.”
Wyler is among former FLDS members who believe the Pringle compound members are practicing polygamy and under-age marriages.
The compound is in remote country about 12 miles southwest of Pringle. “He’s got less people watching up there,” Wyler said. “Up there, there’s going to be no eyes watching them, except those watchtower eyes.”
He also said the watchtowers and fences are as much to keep occupants inside as to keep other people out.
“They think the compounds are to protect them from the outside world, but the fences are there to keep them in,” Wyler said.
Bruce Wisan of Salt Lake City is a court-appointed special fiduciary assigned to manage a financial trust of the FLDS, after authorities suspected Jeffs and others were siphoning off funds.
Wisan believes that more than a fourth of the FLDS members in Colorado City-Hildale are disenchanted with Jeffs but are still afraid.
He said most people there don’t believe Jeffs’ conviction will have much effect on the community.
Authorities in Utah and Arizona are pursuing other cases against Jeffs, according to a copyrighted story published Friday in the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City.
Wisan said the fear and secrecy surrounding the FLDS makes it difficult for him to do his job, to privatize the trust and return homes to former FLDS members who were kicked out of the sect.
It’s complicated and confusing because when Jeffs ex-communicated men, he reassigned their wives to other men. They can lose their wives and homes, Wisan said. “The women are just like sheep and go wherever they’re told to go,” he said.