April 10th, 2008
11:53 AM ET

Anxiety at the polygamist sect - and loyalty, too

Gary Tuchman reports

Polygamist families from a town raided in 1953 react to this week's Texas raid. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports from Arizona.

There is anxiety in the air in the towns where most of the FLDS members live:  Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah.

The members of Warren Jeffs' polygamist church are not supposed to watch TV or read newspapers. But alas, the ones who have talked to my producer Amanda Townsend and me are aware of the raid that has taken place at their sect's ranch 800 miles away in Texas. Authorities removed 416 children citing a danger of abuse arising from the marriage of gown men to girls as young as 13.

This community has been raided before, but it was a long time ago.  People over 60 still remember and talk about the raid of 1953 where about 260 children were taken from their families. They teach their children and grandchildren it could happen again.

Well, now it has happened again–in even larger numbers–and this will only increase the feelings among church members of victimization and fear of outsiders.   People here say they believe another raid could now happen here at any time.

Invariably, you ask hard core followers here about why they're not offended about children marrying adults, and they tell you if God wants that to happen, that takes precedence over man's laws. 

What saddens us greatly is how frightened the women are of outsiders. When we come up to women on the streets of this communty, most of them either run away or walk as quickly as they can from us without even saying a word.  Some of them look like they want to talk, but then think better of it.

We wonder: do they want help and are just too scared of their men and losing their children to ask for it? That is certainly what former female members tell us they were going through when they were part of this sect.

We stay away from children. We don't want to frighten them, but when we see them happily playing in their yards here, we can't help but think what was in store for them (particularly the girls) in just a few short years.

Yesterday, I did have the rare experience of a woman follower talk to me. When I asked her about the children separated from their families in Texas, she said those children should "stay sweet." In this sect, "stay sweet" is a euphenism for staying obedient. But who are they really being obedient for: The Lord, or for domineering and vile grown men?

– Gary Tuchman, 360° Correspondent

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?


Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Polygamy
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. M.Marie

    I believe these sects inflict fear into the women by taking away their children or threatening to do so. It's the worst thing you can do to a women of any age. The greatest pain that can ever be inflicted. The pain is equally great for the children and the fear works in both directions to ensure obedience.

    On another note, the women are brainwashed into believing that the greatest achievement in life is to please their husband, therefore they please God. Even if this means sacrificing their child's happiness and God-given freedom.

    How can the mothers be cited for fault when this ideology is the only one they know and it isn't even their own? It's the warped and twisted vision of a selfish leader who never should have been put into a position of authority in the first place. The book he's following is as flawed as he is.

    I believe Warren Jeff's imprisonment is proof that God truly does "Bless America".

    April 15, 2008 at 1:20 am |
  2. Anna

    Thanks for the great coverage and your interviews. Excellent work.

    April 12, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
  3. Nicole

    (continued from previous post) HOWEVER In modern times, the concept of "blood atonement" has been used by a number of fundamentalist splinter groups (SUCH AS FDLS!!!) as an EXCUSE to JUSTIFY murdering those who disagree with their leaders(Warren Jeffs) or those who attempt to leave their church. Warren Jeffs has allegedly indicated his desire to implement the doctrine of blood atonement in his church. According to another source, former FLDS member Robert Richter reported to the Phoenix New Times that Jeffs repeatedly alluded in his sermons to blood atonement for serious sins such as murder and adultery. Richter also claims that he was asked to design a thermostat for a high temperature furnace that would be capable of destroying DNA evidence if such "atonements" were to take place. Has anyone else heard of this? I am suprised the media has not reported anything about this. So on top of the suspected child abuse, stagutory rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse and no doubt, psychological abuse, now this, the murdering too? This has got to stop, I commend the state of Texas for going through with this very delicate, yet very serious investigation. I am so troubled by this.

    April 12, 2008 at 4:38 am |
  4. Nicole

    My feelings about this whole situation can easily be compared to that of a severe car crash in that, you don't want to look but at the same time you can't look away. Despite the creepy, perverse and nauseating details that have been conveyed thus far, I find myself very curious about the FDLS lifestyle. After some light research I came accross a concept that is suposedly practiced by Warren Jeffs and the FDLS cult called "Blood Atonement." I'm suprised that I haven't seen any reports on this in the media.
    From my understandting, blood atonement was used prior to the mormon reformation as a way of saving sinners. As christians are taught, Jesus died for our sins and thus humans (who are natural born sinners) were granted forgivness and eternal life. Early Mormoms, too believed that Jesus died for our sins, but that some sins were not "covered" under jesus' death, so to speak. Blood atonement was thus used for those "unforgivable sins" such as murder and adultry. In a word, blood atonement basically refered to being killed, not as a means for punishment but as a way or chance to be forgiven and be granted eternal life by giving the lord your ultimate sacrifice, yourself.

    April 12, 2008 at 4:23 am |
  5. Tanya

    On marriage to underage women I find it extremely pathetic that hardcore followers of this sect state that 'if God wants that to happen (underage marriage), that takes precedence over man’s laws' – when all the world can see that this 'law of God' mirrors a twisted perverted breakdown of males – it is so obviously a law made by men – not by God at all- if God himself demanded these sorts of things of us – what hope do we have in mere humanity?

    April 12, 2008 at 3:37 am |
  6. Rachelle

    What I find most disturbing is that is seems children and women have a difficult time seeking help. The compound which seems fenced in makes it harder for the women and children to ask questions and get help if they need it. It is troubling to think that there are many women and children who are happy and are being put through this traumatic experience. One solution would be to have checks by women in family services coming in to speak with the women and children individually on a regular basis. It would make it easier for the victims to get the help they need. It does not seem fair that the only check that has been in place over the last 4 years in this compound has been one or two police officials going inside and speaking with 4 appointed FLS men. There should be a way to make communication more available to the women and children if they want it.

    April 11, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  7. linda

    I am a new resident in Utah and am not LDS. I see the FLDS in town and it is disturbing to see them in the community. I have done some extensive reading in an attempt to understand the way they live. One fact that isn't being reported much is the disease that the younger children are getting from the gene passed by inbreeding. I don't care what the belief in religion is we as tax payers have to take a stand. This is not religious persecution, they are endangering they children.
    They use our system to collect welfare, they don't pay taxes on their homes, they use the system to obtain health benefits sometimes in both Utah and Arizona. How anyone can say we are being unfair needs to check into this cult further. They have been inbreeding for many many years. It is time to put a stop to it.

    April 11, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  8. Susan

    I want to hear more about the "Lost Boys" and want to know what happens to the older women, after they cease having children? They would normally outlive their "husbands" if the husbands were 20+ years older than them. Who takes care of them? Are they banished? Murdered? You would think we would see more photos with older women in them, if this were a normal society...

    April 11, 2008 at 10:02 am |
  9. Annie Kate

    Hi Gary

    I am glad some people are actually starting to talk to you; I remember last year when you were there and no one would talk to you slamming doors in your face or running away.

    I'm sure the other FLDS communities are nervous and wondering when it will happen to them. I hope the authorities in the other areas where these communities are take Texas's lead and save the children at the very least from this cult. I have daughters and it makes me sick to think of girls just like my daughters having to endure this sort of life.

    Thanks for your work.
    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 10, 2008 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Nancy, Wisconsin

    Anderson and Gary, Thank you for keeping all of us informed on what is going on with this cult. It is a tragedy what is happening with these young girls. People have made comments about the law not prosecuting some of these men, but someone needs to come forward and testify about their abuses. I hope someone is brave enough to do that. I just saw Randi Kaye's story on how the multiple wives collect Welfare. Why doesn't the government pursue it from that angle? Start cutting the welfare support that they get.

    April 10, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  11. RAB, PA

    Tragic situation, but simple solution – castrate all the men, then put them to work on infrastructure rebuilding projects (chain gangs) so they can help pay the food, clothing, shelter and education costs of their wives and children.

    April 10, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  12. Brenda, Indianapolis, IN

    I have to agree with Carol B. of Virginia in her comments concerning their empires being built by our tax dollars. These very same groups all preach 'separation of church and state,' but have no qualms about accepting government money to support the "wives" to whom they are not legally married.

    As far as 14 year old girls being forced into marriage with 50+ year old men, in our society that is a crime. It is child abuse, pedophilia at its worse. And, the sickest part of it all is that they are doing it in the name of God, they say. I think they will be most surprised when they stand before God and have to explain their actions.

    April 10, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  13. Sally

    Does Texas take away the childern from every community / suburb when someone calls the family violence hotline?

    Remember many religions repress women & children – Look no further than the Catholic Church – Why can't women be priests? How many priests have been charged as pedophiles?

    Finally, who are we to tell someone else how to live their life & interpret faith? It would be nice if we all could focus on better-ing ourselves rather than others. Once you have reached a state of perfection, then feel free to tell me what I am doing wrong?

    April 10, 2008 at 7:39 pm |
  14. Scott

    Children need to be protected from predators and abusers. Period. End of story.

    Fyi for the apparently ethically and morally challenged among us:

    there is INDEED "right" and "wrong" with regard to kids, and it is WRONG to abuse children regardless of the reason.

    If He were alive today, does anbody really think Jesus would figure such abuse of children was ok?

    The only ones I feel sorry for are the kids: they don't know any better... and the adults sure as hell should.

    In this supposedly civilized 21st century, there is simply NO excuse. Period.

    April 10, 2008 at 6:54 pm |
  15. Peg

    The question that is not being asked is "What about the lost boys?" The research done by Jon Krakauer for his book, Under the Banner of Heaven, the Story of a Violent Faith, should be read by anyone interested in learning more about the FLDS. In a community where older men have 6-7 wives, there are not enough young women to provide a wife for all the young men. What happens to these lost boys? Several years ago, the Seattle Times or Post Intelligencer, had a series of articles about the young men who are 'kicked out the community" due to minor infractions of the community rules. In essence, the community does not have enough marriageable young women, so the community must intentionally reduce the number of young men. There is a group in Salt Lake City, who works to help these "lost boys."

    Is it possible, that the FLDS, though not part of the Latter Day Saints, or regular "Mormons" have still been tolerated, not investigated because of bringing up possible questions about the early history of Morman religion? I know that the last time 2 Morman missionaries came to my door, they did not stay long when I asked about the FLDS and Jon Krakauer's research.

    April 10, 2008 at 6:52 pm |
  16. Metal

    I'd like to know what the punishment will be for the men that have practiced polygamy...last i checked, that was against the law, and when you break the law, you can't expect to get off free because your "religion" says it's ok.

    April 10, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  17. Dana L., New Jersey

    The view through my eyes: FLDS members are perfectly entitled to believe in and pray to the God of their choice, so long as they respect the laws of the state. If they'd been practicing polygamous spiritual marriage among consenting adults, with only one legal marriage on the books for each, fine. The issue here is pervasive violation of statutory rape laws, with an awful lot of visible evidence in the form of pregnant 14-year-olds.

    If the state of Texas had received a call report from a domestic violence hotline, detailing and alleging this, and had failed to investigate, that would've been absolutely unacceptable from a Division of Child Services perspective.

    Texas is doing the right thing, and showing their characteristic backbone in doing it. At the end of the day, this is a simple story only made opaque by "weird religion." When that fog clears, it's easy to see: if it'd been a 50 year old lech raping a 14 year old cousin in a typical Christian's suburban basement, we'd be calling out to send in the SWAT team, lock the guy up and throw away the key.

    April 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm |
  18. Donna Lee Lakly

    All these compounds of polygamists are for is for old men to fornicate with little girls. if anyone things this is religion, they are crazy. They are pedophiles and sick sick sick

    April 10, 2008 at 5:45 pm |
  19. Elissa

    Child Abuse is Child Abuse no matter what name it hides behind.

    April 10, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  20. David Alford

    Above article is interesting in bringing the views of the "faithful" to notice. However I believe when one grows up in a tight knit community and cut off I would make allowance for the strength of a life time of propaganda bending their view point.

    ** The story to date concentrates on the abuse and exploitation of girls. Here in BC Canada their is the Mormon community of Bountiful and the finding of "lost boys" some years ago. What would be interesting to investigate is given polygamy, obviously some male offspring are going to go without. What is the gender demographic in a Mormon community and how does it compare with non-Mormon communities.

    ** Second point how do the Mormon faithful remember "Mountain Medows" ??

    April 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  21. Carol B., Virginia

    Certainly this is a tragic situation, particularly for the children. Anyone is cut-off from family if they leave the sect. Their "religion" is rampant with abuse, hedonism and misogyny. However, why SHOULD any tax dollars be allowed to these welfare cheats? Wouldn't it be harder to build up their cult empire if they didn't have the resources? It's interesting that they've fenced in the danger instead of keeping it out.

    April 10, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  22. Monica

    It is so easy to ask why it took 34 years to rescue these women and children. But we have to remember that with all the freedoms and rights enjoyed by the people residing in this country, it is very difficult for the Government to intervene. They have to build a strong case, which will hold up in Court and bring punishment on these men, and for that, it is all about time. Have to be patient and collect information and evidence and build information network.

    April 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm |
  23. Christianna

    This whole story has been particularly disturbing, especially since I found out the girl who finally called the police, Sarah, is the same age as some of my friends.
    I'll never completely understand cults... The FLDS are cheating their kids out of a real life and a good education and from what you've said, Gary, are making their female followers second-class citizens–child brides who turn into babymaking machines and victims of sexual abuse.
    That's all so entirely unfair.
    –Chrissy, NYC

    April 10, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  24. Diane

    I bet the other members are very nervous that what is happening in Texas can easily happen to them. They wouldn't admit it to an outsider though.

    And it stands to reason that they think what they are doing is OK. I mean they have been brainwashed since birth.

    Diane, Ga.

    April 10, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  25. Jo Ann

    Dear Gary,

    Thanks for another great report on the FLDS.

    I am not surprised that these individuals are afraid of outsiders. Based on what I know the members have always been taught to fear outsiders, that, as well as keeping the girls uneducated, seems to be part of the control the church has over them.

    From what I understand, not only do some of these children not know who their parents are, they don’t even know how old they are. The girls forced into these “marriages” could be much younger than first thought.

    You said that the members say God wants children to marry adults. I might be naïve about the FLDS church, but where is that written? Is it part of the church doctrine?

    Something tells me that this is merely a cult that is more about “creating” more members than about anything else. I think those children are forced to stay “sweet” in order to serve, as you suggested, “domineering and vile grown men.”

    Any religion can seem like a cult to those who don’t believe in it, but in my opinion, any religion that feels it must isolate their followers from any influence from the outside world is doing so only to hold their members hostage.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    April 10, 2008 at 2:09 pm |
  26. Rahni, Connecticut

    This is a very sad situation regarding people who are brain washed. Plural marriage is not good for any society and that include the United States.

    Rahni, Connecticut

    April 10, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  27. Judy Stage Brooklyn MI

    Gary, I for one will be forever grateful to CNN, you, And Anderson Cooper for the work you have done to blow the whistle on the men of the FLDS and their abuse of women and children.
    I praise the Texas authorities for doing what the gutless authorities of Utah and Arizona did not do. Men sworn to uphold the law were well aware of these abuses and did nothing. It is a complex situation but sexual abuse of women and children is against the law in this country and should have been prosecuted as such.
    It saddens me that so many women have been brain-washed to believe the words of vile and greedy men.
    The question now is how do we help these women and children understand that their lives matter outside the context of these vile men?

    April 10, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  28. Taj

    FLDS people specially women are thoroughly brain washed. They are basically weak minded good women who do not know any better. Look, nobody really knows God exists. We have about 6 Billion people in this world, has anybody seen God? Don't you see the Sunday sermons on TV by Pastors talking about God. They want your money. People pour money for mental peace & they don't know any better way to find peace. Does't our slogan say "In God we trust" on the coin, collect taxes & squander it? One way or the other the Govt, Churches, FLDS & People collect money. This is a crazy world.

    April 10, 2008 at 1:23 pm |
  29. Pancho/Pristina

    This whole issue is very disturbing; especially when underage youths are involved.

    But through the 360 Podcast I realized that a raid similar to this one for the same reasons occurred 34 years ago, and I can't help but ask myself a question: what have the authorities in Texas been doing these past 34 years?

    Considering this background, I would want to guess that the authorities kept on eye on this community during these past 34 years; or was this community forgotten in the books...?

    How could a community with that sort of document case be left alone, to continue allegedly abusing children for so many years.? Where there no suspicions all these years that what was happening back in 1953 could continue happening today?

    April 10, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
  30. marcy

    After the raide and all the children "removed" from the compound i can understand why they woudl be afriad of outsiders. The way this thing has been handled will need to be severly looked at when all is said and done. Don't get me wrong I realize there is a lot of bad out there but again as i've said before with the FLDS, you can't argue with someone's beliefs and the farther back those beliefs go the harder it is. This whole thing is upsetting from all angles, there's no good, no bad....no right .... no wrong just ... sadness all around it, for the kids taken away who are scared and have no idea what's going on, to the kids who will come later who will have an even tighter grip on what they can and can't do.

    I am dying to know what Jeff's thinks of all this...watching all this that he worked for (yes worked) being stripped down and taken away step by step.

    Gary you and your crew be careful...be safe....good luck
    Marcy, Mobile, AL

    April 10, 2008 at 12:37 pm |