[Paleopsych] NYT: Polygamous Community Defies State Crackdown
checker at panix.com
Thu Oct 27 02:10:05 UTC 2005
Polygamous Community Defies State Crackdown
By TIMOTHY EGAN
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
More information about the paleopsych