[Paleopsych] NYT: Polygamous Community Defies State Crackdown

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Thu Oct 27 02:10:05 UTC 2005

Polygamous Community Defies State Crackdown


    COLORADO CITY, Ariz., Oct. 19 - One year ago, Arizona authorities set
    up shop in a double-wide trailer here at the edge of the nation's
    largest polygamous community, trying to bring at least a semblance of
    secular law to an American small town like no other.

    Theirs was the first independent government presence in half a century
    at this settlement straddling the Arizona-Utah border, a place frozen
    in a 19th-century frontier theocracy inspired by the early Mormon

    But the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah,
    continue to defy the law, the authorities and dissidents say: under
    the direction of leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ
    of Latter Day Saints, women are still being removed from their
    husbands and assigned to other men, and girls under 18 are ordered to
    become brides of older men on a day's notice, all despite the presence
    of full-time outside law enforcement.

    DeLoy Bateman, a high school science teacher here who left the church
    several years ago, says his daughter's marriage was recently broken up
    by church leaders. She was ordered to become the bride of her
    father-in-law, a man twice her age, Mr. Bateman says.

    "This just makes me want to cry," said Mr. Bateman, a lifelong
    resident of Colorado City. "They tore up this marriage and ordered her
    to have sex with this older man. I've lost my daughter and her
    children to this church. I have to stand outside on the sidewalk and
    beg if I want to see my grandchildren."

    Other residents and investigators tell similar stories about the
    church, which continues operating under the direction of its absolute
    leader, Warren Jeffs, in spite of his being one of the country's
    most-wanted fugitives, indicted on sexual abuse charges along with
    eight of his chief followers.

    "It's just like the mob," said Gary Engels, a former police detective
    who has been retained by county officials to investigate child abuse
    accusations here. "The church is able to keep iron-fisted control even
    though the top leaders are fugitives."

    Church leaders - and officials of the mayor's office, the Police
    Department and the school board, all of whom are followers - declined
    to be interviewed. The police, as well as church body guards in white
    pickup trucks, followed a visiting reporter and a photographer around
    town for several days.

    Members of the sect say they are the true followers of Joseph Smith,
    who founded Mormonism 175 years ago. About a third of the residents
    are on food stamps, and the welfare rate is one of the highest in the
    West. The followers, who account for most of the twin towns' 8,000
    people, justify taking public money with a term used by Smith's own
    followers: "bleeding the beast" - that is, taking from a government
    under which the early Mormons were often persecuted.

    Until a few months ago, the church leaders also controlled this
    community's biggest asset: a trust owning all the land in the two
    towns and the surrounding area, worth upward of $150 million. But in
    response to a state lawsuit, a court froze the trust in June, and all
    trustees linked to Mr. Jeffs were removed. The court has yet to decide
    who will control the trust.

    Mr. Jeffs, whose whereabouts is unknown, no longer defends himself in
    any legal proceeding and has ordered his followers to do the same,
    state officials say. The sexual abuse charges on which he was indicted
    in June maintain that he forced a 16-year-old girl to marry a
    28-year-old married man.

    Mr. Jeffs, age 45, has as many as 70 wives, people who have left the
    church say. He teaches that a man cannot get to heaven unless he has
    at least three wives. And because there are not enough women to meet
    the demands of men who want eternal life, brides are constantly being

    "Just yesterday I got word of one of my students who had stopped
    attending classes: she has been pulled away from her husband and
    assigned to another man," said Carolyn Hamblin, a counselor and
    assistant dean at the Colorado City branch of Mohave Community

    "It just breaks my heart," said Ms. Hamblin, a follower of the
    mainstream Mormon faith, which renounced polygamy in 1890 as a
    condition of Utah's statehood.

    The community that Mr. Jeffs continues to rule though absent lies in
    one of the country's most remote areas, about 100 miles north of the
    Grand Canyon. The settlement has become more desolate-looking in
    recent years. Most of the handful of church-run businesses have
    closed, the residents seeking work elsewhere. Some houses are boarded
    up. The streets are deep in red mud. As many as 500 people have left
    the community, townspeople say, to live at a new church compound in
    the town of Eldorado in West Texas. Like so many other decisions, the
    selection of those who can join that compound is up to Mr. Jeffs.

    "He has a cellphone, he has a couple of key cronies, and he uses all
    the government positions in town to enforce his will," said Ross
    Chatwin, who sued the church after it tried to reassign his wife and
    children and ordered him to leave town.

    Although the church still owns all the towns' property, Mr. Chatwin
    won the right to stay in the house where he and his family lived. He
    and his wife, Lori, are among a small group of active dissidents who
    remain here, and want to see the community stay together in some form.

    The Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard, whose own office is
    already active here, has asked the Justice Department to investigate
    the local police, saying they "seem to be aiding and abetting"
    criminal behavior by discouraging witnesses in sexual abuse cases from
    testifying; a third of the force has been decertified by Utah and
    Arizona for criminal conduct.

    In a recent letter to the United States attorney general, Alberto R.
    Gonzales, Mr. Goddard wrote, "I believe that the officers of the
    Colorado City Police Department have engaged in a pattern of conduct
    that deprives individuals of their constitutional and civil rights."

    The Justice Department has not decided whether to intervene.

    Mr. Goddard has also moved to put the school district in receivership.
    Five years ago, church leaders ordered all families to withdraw their
    children from the one big public school here, kindergarten through
    high school, in favor of home schooling or church schools. The public
    school instantly lost about 1,000 students, more than two-thirds of
    enrollment. Yet the church, whose followers account for a majority of
    the voters, continues to control the school board and - until recent
    legal action by Mr. Goddard - the school purse strings, which are now

    Mr. Goddard said that while teachers had gone weeks without pay,
    church officials in control of the district had used public education
    money to buy a $200,000 airplane and had funneled school funds and
    property to the church. They also have an administrative staff of 23
    people, compared with 6 at other school districts of the same size, he
    wrote in a report to the Arizona Education Department.

    Mr. Jeffs continues to raise money for his church by ordering his
    leading followers to donate $1,000 a month and everyone else to give
    10 percent of income, Mr. Chatwin said. Some of the sect's top leaders
    have gone to the Texas compound, where a huge stone temple is under
    construction and new homes are being built, even as this community
    appears to be withering away.

    "If you can visualize a 90-year-old frail woman who has given
    everything she owns to the cause and has been left penniless - that is
    the condition of the town right now," said Jim Hill, an investigator
    with the office of the Utah attorney general. "It's been sucked dry by
    these people."

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