(CNN) — An elder of a polygamist sect has sent a letter to the White House decrying what he calls “terrorist acts” that have separated the sect’s children from their parents.
The Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Texas, was raided last month by authorities acting on tips alleging physical and sexual abuse. The ranch is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.
Child welfare officials took more than 460 children and teens into state custody, where they remain.
Members of the sect deny allegations of abuse and say the raid was based on a hoax.
The letter to President Bush is signed by Willie Jessop, an FLDS elder.
“Mr. President, it does not require a foreign country to commit terrorist acts on American soil,” the letter says. “Terrorist acts can be committed by federal, local, and private entities that are operating under the guise of ‘protecting the public.’ ”
The letter says the April 3 raid on the compound was an “intrusive invasion” by “a heavily armed militant force.”
“We are talking about homes being broken into without search warrants, unarmed fathers being forced to the ground with M16 rifles pointed at their heads, screaming children being torn from the arms of their grief-stricken mothers — all upon American soil and within your own home state of Texas,” the letter states.
The letter, dated May 10, says YFZ residents “submitted peacefully” when the April raid began. But the raid “quickly escalated into a systematic terrorization of every man, woman, and child, seemingly designed to provoke a confrontation justifying deadly force, as was used in Waco, Texas.”
This is a reference a 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. Four federal agents and six members died in a shootout during that raid. After a 51-day standoff, sect leader David Koresh and about 80 followers died when fire swept through the compound.
Jessop’s letter to the White House calls the state’s April raid “a result of a hoax perpetrated by anti-FLDS crusaders, alleging heinous abuse within the community had been committed” against a member named Sarah Jessop Barlow.
Authorities were informed before the raid that no person named Sarah Jessop Barlow resided at the ranch, the letter states. Despite that, it adds, officials carried out “this massive militant act.”
Jessop’s letter also condemns investigators’ actions after the raid.
“The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services interrogated young ladies, using techniques that showed an appalling disregard for human rights as the young ladies were mocked, vulgarly cursed, and threatened.
“Some were repeatedly and unmercifully interrogated the entire night about issues, subjects, and persons of which they had no knowledge.”
When mothers were ordered separated from their children, the letter adds, it represented “the ultimate deception.”
“That vast Sports Arena burst into cries and wails of heartsick mothers and screams of terrified children as a vast cortege of attendants swarmed the arena, tearing screaming children from their weeping mothers and physically carrying them away,” the letter states.
“All that was missing in this ‘Colosseum’ was the lions.”
Texas authorities said they have a responsibility to protect the interests of the sect’s children, and allegations of abuse must be investigated.
The sect has been accused of encouraging underage girls to marry much older men.
Authorities have said they separated the children from their mothers so youngsters could freely discuss what goes on at the compound.
Jessop’s letter says many of the children have had no attorneys.
“Some of these children, who remain in state custody to this day, still have no legal representation. The legal professionals that were appointed to assist stood in shock and amazement at the gross violation of constitutional rights and due process.
“This is the most unprecedented ‘kangaroo court’ custody case in United States history, and judicial responsibility has been fumbled in a most outrageous way.”
No criminal charges have been filed in the case. The next court hearing regarding custody of the sect children is scheduled for later this month.