FLDS: Stealing the Schools' Money, Changing Texas' Laws
According to a 2003 article, the FLDS' "Bleeding the Beast" strategy extends to keeping school-district posts, with the attendant salaries and control of the schools' budgets, at least in Arizona, even after the FLDS withdrew its own children from the "apostate" schools. In a session of the Texas legislature about that same time, at least one Eldorado lawmaker was paying attention:
Rep. Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, alarmed by reports from Eldorado, the Utah attorney general and sect members who had fled the group, helped push new legislation into law in 2005 that raised the legal age of consent to marry in Texas from 14 to 16, that made it illegal for stepparents to marry their children and made officiates liable for performing illegal wedding ceremonies.
"We didn't want to facilitate the things we knew they had been involved in before, including child abuse, sexual abuse, forced marriages, that were clearly detrimental to the safety and welfare of children," Hilderbran tells NEWSWEEK.
"It's not in the best interest of a 14-year-old girl to be forced to marry her uncle or stepfather or any other man in this cult, because the men are being rewarded for their obedience with these child brides."
That, right there, is the key to it all --
"The men are being rewarded with these child brides."
One FLDS member admits freely to Newsweek:
"This is déjà vu for us," says Benjamin Bistline, 73, a former member who wrote a history of the FLDS in Colorado City and who was 18 at the time of the raid. His wife, Annie, then 15, was forced to resettle in Phoenix with her mother.
Bistline, who left the group in the 1980s, recalls that in the 1940s girls as young as 12 were married off to older men.
The girls are married off young, Bistline believes, because they are more malleable. "When they are in their early teens, they are a lot easier to persuade to marry a man 30 or 40 years older," he says. "By the time they are 18, they have their own ideas." The early marriages are also a means of control. In some cases, girls who show independence and a precocious interest in boys become young brides in the group's belief that the new husband will exert a strong guiding hand.
That [Short Creek] raid 55 years ago and its aftermath cast a long shadow, making the fundamentalist Mormon leadership even more secretive and reclusive. Voter backlash in Arizona against the images of children ripped from their parents' arms cost the governor his job and convinced officials in Utah and Arizona to leave the polygamists alone. Only in the 1990s when the forced marriages of young girls, child abuse and alleged welfare fraud came to light did law-enforcement and child-welfare officials begin to pay attention.
Polygamy has always been the keystone of the FLDS church, and underage marriages are nothing new, according to former members.
The whole sect is being rewarded with an inordinate share of taxpayer-funded goodies, from the defense contracts that enrich the church's common fund to the AFDC money collected by underage mothers, "spiritually married" to the men who raped them and made them pregnant but legally single -- and, legally or not, indigent.
Jerry Swift, a retired county agent turned sheep and goat rancher, said he knows the authorities' hands were tied until they could gather the evidence. Still, he says, "It should have been stopped before it started."
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram carries a letter in which US Rep. Kay Granger writes:
In a letter to the House Armed Services Committee, Granger, R-Fort Worth, said more should be known about NewEra Manufacturing. The business, owned and operated by leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has received more than $1.2 million in military contracts.
"As a member of Congress, I am concerned that federal tax dollars may have been misused to fund this sect's illegal activities," Granger wrote in the letter.
The Defense Department, Granger said in the letter, "should explain the vetting process used to examine prospective contract recipients in general, and the NewEra Manufacturing contract in particular."
A woman who answered the phone at NewEra said the company had no comment.