Editors Note: This is part two of a two-part series on polygamy in the Southwestern U.S.
A man excommunicated by the “prophet” of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in the Arizona desert was ordered to surrender his home, his wives, and his children. He refused and, for the first time, a member of the community is speaking out about his life and their practices.
“We need your help to stop Warren Jeffs from destroying our families … kicking us out of our homes … marrying our children into some brownie point system,” said Chatwin.
“My family and I have no intent to leave anytime soon.”
For years authorities have investigated the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but with the family “reassignments” sparking concerns of forced marriage of underage girls, their case is growing stronger.
Investigators believe the church has coerced dozens of teenage girls into polygamy over the last decade and their key target is self-styled “prophet” Warren Jeffs, who is believed to have as many as 30 wives, at least two of whom are underage.
“He decides who you marry, when you marry, which wives go with which, how many wives every one gets,” said Angie Parkinson, an editor at the Spectrum newspaper covering the case.
In an apparent move to solidify his control, Jeffs on Jan. 14 ordered 20 men to leave the area, but without their wives, children and personal property. Jeffs said a vision from God told him to force the men out. He later purged more men from the community, including Chatwin.
A power struggle among the tight-knit congregation of 6,000 has everyone on edge and outside authorities watching closely.
“To have families torn apart — wives from husbands, children from mothers — that’s the worst kind of violence,” said Ron Barton, an investigator with the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
But prosecutions are rare because most “wives” won’t testify against husbands and while a first marriage is recorded in civil court, second and third marriages occur only within the church.
Jeffs, 47, took over the church after the 2002 death of his father, Rulon, despite support for two more popular church elders in the community. Both men, who are in their 90s, were excommunicated in the Jan. 14 purge.
Fox News’ William La Jeunesse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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