Friday, June 22, 2012

The Warren mission

Salt Lake Tribune: Feds sue Hildale and Colorado City for religious discrimination

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against two towns dominated by a polygamous sect on Thursday, accusing officials of failing to protect nonmembers and enforcing the edicts of leader Warren Jeffs above the law. 

The complaint filed in Arizona’s U.S. District Court accuses the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, of "operating as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," for at least 20 years. It marks a departure for the federal government, which has until now steered clear of filing cases against FLDS members.

Good. If you're uninitiated, the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints) is the orthodox Mormon sect that still practices polygamy and obeys a variety of other edicts that separate them from the mainstream LDS (which they consider as wicked as anyone else, which is everybody). In practice, it's basically a cult run by Warren Jeffs. Since talking the helm of the FLDS, Jeffs has done things like order all the dogs killed and all outside books burned, and even banned the color red. Just recently, he mandated that all members stop having sex, save for a handful of powerful men who can lay claim to any woman or girl they want.

Yes, girl. Did I mention Jeffs is in prison for life? Seems he had a thing for girls as young as 12. He should be in prison for way more than that, but his predilection for prepubescent girls was what did him in. He always claimed God moved him in his decisions. And God just happened to want him to hold absolute power over thousands of people and have sex with anyone he wanted. How humbling that must have been.

It says much about Jeffs and the FLDS that even after going to prison in 2006 — and revealing to his brother in a videotaped phone call that he knew he was not the prophet — his followers still continue to obey and revere him. Not bad for a guy with the most sleep-inducing voice I've ever heard.

You might wonder how something like the FLDS can flourish in 21st century America. Well, you'll notice above that the cult centers mostly around two adjacent border cities — Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. These cities are isolated by geography and culture. Kids are taught from birth that the world beyond their mountain fortress is wicked and everyone wants them to turn evil and/or die. Anytime they do venture out in their FLDS clothing, hecklers often give them a hard time, further reinforcing the illusion. 

That isolation is helped by the FLDS-heavy police force, which enforces a certain divine law on top of civil law. Even the hospitals are said to defer to and/or cover up abuse by FLDS bigwigs. Women in the community often drive cars without license plates as a way to keep them in town — the local cops look away because they get it. All this and much more is chronicled in the excellent book "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop.

I'm happy to see the federal government get involved in this, finally. It's a bigger issue than one lawsuit; no local law enforcement agency should ever feel unchecked. I've been enough places in the United States to understand that local culture can run deep, and can profoundly affect how justice operates. Religion, racism, connections, autocracy — these aspects make some places in our supposedly free country perilous to traverse if you fit certain profiles. Or just if the sheriff needs some revenue or is bored. 

In those cases, I have no problem with federal involvement, provided it too is fair. It's long past time to crack down on local corruption, especially when it has such a huge reach. Arizona is a good start. Say hi to Joe Arpaio while you're there, guys.

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