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FLDS: Stealing the Schools' Money, Changing Texas' Laws

Sarah's picture

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.

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

great find
don't have the words

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Lots of outrage, condemnation and consternation going around about the FLDS these days, all justified to be sure. How could such behavior happen in this day and age, in this fine country? What is wrong with these people? How dare they?

Well, it’s worse that that. Worse than can be imagined for those who are living in it. Worse that any of us wants to admit in that none of this behavior is really new, and for a hundred years nothing substantive has been done to stop it. Taxpayer money has funded and supported FLDS abuses, as well as those of other polygamy cults. Law enforcement, judges, legislatures and “decent” citizens have, until very recently, turned a blind eye to the systematic degradation of human beings in what is nothing less than an American version of the Taliban.

Life in the FLDS is tightly controlled, and always has been. Anything that might facilitate contact with the outside world is forbidden. No television, radio, newspapers or magazines are allowed. Reading matter is restricted to the Bible, the Book of Mormon and a couple of other Mormon religious manuals and FLDS tracts. No movies are allowed, no secular music, and the internet is restricted to a chosen few.

Also banned is having a dog, swimming, celebrating worldly holidays, wearing short-sleeved shirts or blouses, women wearing pants or skirts above the ankle, talking with people outside the FLDS faith, being outside after dark, and any romantic contact between boys and girls; no flirting, no hanging out, no holding hands and no kissing.

The list of banned items and activities goes on and on, is subject to change at any time; interpretation is at the discretion of the Prophet and not subject to appeal. All members watch each other at all times, are expected to report any infraction, and punishment is meted out again at the Prophet’s whim.

Education for most members is highly restricted, and everything taught is through a religious filter. For many years the towns had a public school system, but eventually the states began investigation into why education money was supporting a staff of over 300 for schools with only 1,000 students – all 300 were FLDS, of course. In response Prophet Jeffs ordered all FLDS to be homeschooled, following a church-approved curriculum with no history or biology, teaching that the moon landing was faked and the creationist version of science; schooling ends for most with the eighth grade.

While girls are expected to learn and practice only homemaking skills, boys begin working in construction or the fields at age 8 and by 14 are operating heavy equipment. All wages, if they are paid at all, go to the communal United Effort Plan that owns the whole town and all FLDS businesses. The boys get nothing for their labor but room and board. There have been multiple incidents of child laborers being seriously injured, but no state complaints have ever been filed.

All children are taught to fear outsiders, especially blacks who are portrayed as tools of Satan bearing the Mark of Cain, cursed by god and planning on torturing and killing any white children they can capture. Along with the usual Mormon doctrine of male domination, FLDS children are taught that if they leave the faith or are expelled they will forever lose their soul and dwell in eternal darkness. Once outside the faith, all contact is forbidden; the most ever allowed is an occasional phone call to their mothers, but most families shun the boys totally for fear of contaminating their own souls.

The level of physical abuse is utterly appalling. Babies as soon as they begin to crawl are routinely brutalized by beatings and having their faces held under open taps or forced into sinks full of water until they are no longer able to struggle, and this is repeated at random intervals throughout early childhood with no warning and for no stated reason. It isn’t punishment, but domination; the process is called “Breaking” and is meant to instill unreasoning, unquestioning fear and obedience.

Women are taught that they must please their 'husband" in all ways, a behavior pattern called “Keeping Sweet.” Women who displease are beaten at will, or banished to unheated trailers in winter or summer; a few days with small children locked in a freezing or broiling tin can and they are more than ready to beg for forgiveness and promise to do whatever is required.

Emotional punishment is no less brutal. Women and children are routinely “reassigned” from one man to another, to intimidate and keep in line both the men and the women. Once placed with a new man, the children are required to view him as their real father and shun the father they have always known. Women who persist or repeat their defiance can have their children taken away and given to other women; the children are taught that their original mother is evil, and that the new woman is their real mother. This can happen again and again during a child’s life; no wonder that the children in Texas could not identify their true parents. Women who persisted further have been diagnosed by the FLDS-owned local doctor as insane and committed to mental institutions by the local FLDS Justice of the Peace.

As boys approach 18, they are continually assessed for their “faithfulness.” Those who are subservient are kept, but most are driven out of the community and banished forever; the so-called “Lost Boys.” No one knows how many there are, but a single private outreach program in Salt Lake City has attracted 400 of them by word of mouth. Conservative estimates are 1400 – 1500, but the true total is IMHO much higher.

They are put out with no money, no education, little in the way of marketable skills and the message that they are forever condemned; there is nothing they can do to redeem themselves with either their family or their god, and it is all their fault because they are evil and unworthy. With no social skills, the maturity level of small children and wracked by fear and guilt, most turn to drugs, alcohol, prostitution and crime; suicides are common, and many simply disappear.

Those boys deemed most faithful, like Warren Jeffs, are groomed as replacement followers to carry on the cult’s traditions. Brutalized into sociopathy and twisted by their internalized rage and fears, all they know how to do is what was done to them – passing on the cruelty from one generation to the next.

None of this is news in the Mountain West. Everybody out there knows what happens with polygs, but very little gets done about it. Easier to turn away and pretend; not my problem. The legal record is miserable, and until recently nothing but an amalgam of heavy-handed slapstick, studied ignorance and calculated complicity.

In a 1935 raid on the Arizona side, Mohave County sheriffs arrested six men. Five were charged and another 15 indictments were handed up but all the cases were dismissed when the local JP – an FLDS member – threw out the evidence. The cases were re-filed in Kingman, the county seat, where two convictions were obtained with 16 month sentences. The men were released in under a year and returned to Short Creek as martyred heroes.

In 1944 after a long investigation that documented the trading of child brides across state borders, Federal agents raided polygamist towns in Utah, Arizona and Idaho. Fifteen men were convicted of violating the Mann Act, receiving 3 – to - 5 year sentences. Nine were almost immediately released when they signed a pledge to renounce polygamy, which they promptly ignored. The rest were released on parole well before their sentences were up, again resuming their former lives as though nothing had happened. For many years thereafter, no notice was paid to the polygs beyond an article by the anti-communist writer Drew Pearson, who complained about their financial communalism.

In 1953 however, the new Arizona Governor Howard Pyle acted. After the FBI and the US Attorney’s office both refused to cooperate, he conducted a state-run infiltration and surveillance program intended to once and for all close the FLDS down. Over 100 officers swept into town at 4 AM, arresting 33 men and taking 50 women and 253 children into protective custody. The full resources of the state were employed including welfare officials and specially hired counselors, physicians and nurses, juvenile psychologists, forensic accountants and multiple prosecutors. Governor Pyle addressed the state by radio, laying out the evidence amassed over 26 months of investigation:

“Here is a community - many of the women, sadly, right along with the men - unalterably dedicated to the wicked theory that every maturing girl child should be forced into the bondage of multiple wifehood with men of all ages for the sole purpose of producing more children to be reared to become more chattels of this totally lawless enterprise.

“Highly competent investigators have been unable to find a single instance in the last decade of a girl child reaching the age of 15 without having been forced into a shameful mockery of marriage.

“All doubt is erased when it is realized that in the evidence the state has accumulated there are multiple instances of statutory rape, adultery, bigamy, open and notorious cohabitation, contributing to the delinquency of minors, marrying the spouse of another, and an all-embracing conspiracy to commit all of these crimes, along with various instances of income tax evasion, failure to comply with Arizona's corporation laws, misappropriation of school funds, improper use of school facilities and falsification of public records.”

Persistent confusion over which children and which wives were associated with which men, a refusal of cooperation and deliberate deception from the women as witnesses and conflicting testimony between the state’s investigators and the FLDS membership turned the trials into farce. After all was done, 23 men received one-year suspended sentences and went home on unsupervised parole.

Worse, the national media portrayed the polygamists as a quaint religious order who were being wrongly prosecuted for their beliefs. A two-page spread in Life Magazine portrayed a rugged, independent life style of happiness and self reliance being smashed under the heavy boot-heels of the police state. The infamy spread far and wide, and to this day any mention of “Short Creek” in the mountain West and everyone recognizes the reference to that raid.

Politically, the raid was a disaster. Pyle was relentlessly portrayed as heavy-handed and heartless, and lost his re-election bid. Criticizing polygamy became a forbidden subject for politicians and bureaucrats, and the cult’s political power grew along with their population and prosperity. Fife Symington, in his 1991 election campaign for Arizona governor, wrote and published an “Open Letter” to Arizona polygamists praising their "family-oriented lifestyles" and vowed to never to do anything to "upset or question" their religion.

Current Utah Senator Orin Hatch (R), an LDS Mormon required by his own church to have nothing to do with polygamists, visited the Hildale FLDS and played a church organ while wooing the voters. When questioned about it, he defended the group: "All I can say is I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me the evidence of children being abused there, and I'll get involved. Bring the evidence to me."

The attitude quickly spread down through the states' bureaucrats. Although underage boys are routinely used in polyg work gangs, cheaper to hire in Utah than illegal aliens, no one pays any notice. The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division rarely fines FLDS companies for employing children; division compliance manager Tori Burns conceded to reporters that the enforcement effort is trivial: "It's probably just a drop in the bucket." In Arizona, Labor Commission Director Orlando Macias, responsible for monitoring worksites throughout the state, admitted that his agency had never been to Colorado City and when asked could not locate it on a map.

Reports of child abuse and rape were never investigated by police or District Attorneys but instead referred to the FLDS authorities; girls who escaped were turned over to the church, like runaway slaves. The best advice that Richard Anderson, head of Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services, could offer for an abused girl was "to find someone she can trust," an impossible hope in a closed community where everyone is a spy for the Prophet.

The dominant moral authority in Utah, the LDS Church, has kept a studious distance. While weighing in on a wide range of subjects including the Equal Rights Amendment (against), gay marriage (against), the flat tax concept (for) and even the television series Big Love (against), it has little to say about institutionalized child slavery and rape. When asked if the church could do more, spokesman Michael Otterson made this statement:

"The church cannot assume the role of government or law enforcement. It is not charged with doing the job of elected officials. We would not expect such an action from any other church in American society. The church can only raise its voice and explain its concerns, which it has done."

While the LDS church sends its missionaries to the four corners of the earth, it does not proselyze in Hildale, Colorado City or other polygamist strongholds due to “security concerns.” Since missionaries are required to report suspected polygamy to their superiors, roaming the streets of Short Creek would generate a lot of paperwork and no small amount of enmity.

They are right to be fearful. Over the years at least 25 murders are known to have been committed by polygamist leaders and their followers, under the principle of “Blood Atonement” – the article of faith that any sin against the various Prophets, any defiance of his authority, is punishable by death. There have been many unsolved murders and disappearances in the Four Corners region; people down there don’t discuss the polygs, much less criticize them.

And the nation as a whole cannot claim ignorance. A 1981 made-for-TV film Child Bride of Short Creek starring Helen Hunt, Dee Wallace and Diane Lane exposed the tyranny and exploitation to wide notice, an uproar that just as quickly faded.

Not for 50 years, and only then as a result of self-organizing and lobbying by escaped wives and Lost Boys, was the battle against human slavery in America taken up again. In 2003 a member of the FLDS church, Rodney Holm, was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and bigamy; the first prosecution and conviction since the Short Creek Raid in 1953. That same year, the FLDS purchased land in El Dorado, Texas, to establish a new colony. Apparently they were unfamiliar with the adage “Don’t Mess With Texas.”

Maybe this time the process will be effective; with the law still uncertain and the complexity of prosecutions undiminished, there is still a long road ahead. Mormon faith polygamy is more widespread than many realize, with participants and protectors spread throughout the Mountain West and beyond. They look out for and cover up after each other, amassing collective fortunes; the Kingman clan has holdings of at least $150 million with 1,500 members – most of them children. As Governor Pyle discovered 55 years ago, breaking the pattern with these people will not be easy.

And what does Senator Hatch have to say these days about his good polygamist friends? All a matter for law enforcement says his office, and any comment would be inappropriate while the investigation is ongoing. About that involvement he promised when evidence of wrongdoing was provided? Not likely to happen is my guess.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Really, BIO, what could the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2003 and 2005 do about all of this illegal activity? I mean other than his job, of course. Because no Republican Senator has done his job during this century.

jeqal's picture
Submitted by jeqal on

His comment is not unique. It is essentially the same thing that both women and men say about women who wear hajib's and burqa's who send their daughters to the middle east at 8 to be trained to be obedient, modest and a good arab female.
These types of comments are frequent and dismissive towards woman's rights. The way that Hillary has been treated by the media and the way men talk about her around women, is to say the least indicative of how far women have to go to attain freedom.

Women for fear of being shunned, and men to be one of the guys, readily fall into their culturated roles. Not natural roles, but learned ones.

Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other,they'd be Republicans -- Will Rogers