April 17th, 2008
06:21 PM ET

The Innocent Children of the FLDS

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/17/art.polygamy3.jpg%5D
Gary Tuchman
AC 360° Correspondent

Let me tell you about the children of Warren Jeffs polygamist sect. But first, some brief history.
We've been going back and forth to the epicenter of the FLDS polygamy world for about two years now. Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah sit across the state line from each other. Most of the sect's ten thousand followers still live here. 

Unlike the compound in El Dorado, Texas, anyone can enter this neighborhood, but the likelihood is you wouldn't want to. In addition to being ignored, you are also the subject of intimidation tactics by people in vehicles with tinted windows who follow you, and police who are members of the church who stop you for no good reason.

With all the allegations against the FLDS, it's our journalistic obligation to try to get the other side of the story. But under the threat of damnation, followers are told not to talk to outsiders. 

When we walk up to women, almost all of them look at us like we are dangerous criminals and scurry away. The men are usually not so frightened, but treat us like we're invisible.

We never try to interview children, but sometimes they see us, and see our camera and their eyes light up. Some wave, some smile, some are happy to just go on playing even though "gentiles," as all outsiders are called, are standing nearby.

It dawns on you as you look at these innocent children that unlike their parents,  they are too young to be untrusting of people they don't know. Occasionally, when our cameras are pointing towards a family walking together, the mother will run with her children as rapidly as she can to get her away from us.

What must these children be thinking? Probably the same things their mothers thought when they were children, and now those mothers are frightened silly. Watching the FLDS women talking in Texas now is very historic. They haven't ever done something like this with journalists before.   But it is almost certainly not their decision to do it.

The men make all the decisions, particularly the big man, Warren Jeffs. Their prophet is behind prison bars, but it's believed he's still running the church. Just take a look at our CNN video of the mother giving us her tour of her living quarters and notice all the Warren Jeffs pictures still hanging on the wall if you doubt their continuing allegiance to him...

Hearing them talk was interesting, but their cadence and phraseology is similiar to how American hostages talk when their captors force them to make propoganda videotapes. Don't get me wrong; these women love their children. But when you live in a country with 300 million people, is raising them to be scared of everybody except for about ten thousand people the best way to bring up a child?

Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Polygamy
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Abe

    The group needs to be terminated once and for all, from being raised in the cult, The Children of God, I was raised to think I wasn't brainwashed when I truly was. Society needs to see how terrible this cult is and the devestating effects it has on it's children, unwanted boys as young as 15 are tossed out of the cult, and many end up in the criminal justice system in Arizona and Utah all while their young sisters get married to older men! Imagine the psychological abuse it's leaders put on their children and wives, it must be stopped, The Federal government should take care of the mothers and let them be together to avoid traumantizing them further and all the men can either go to jail or go into rehab. This should not be a case of religious rights but of child protection.

    April 18, 2008 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Khary Sudan

    Those making such damning statements about the FLDS should remember this is still America. You are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of your peers. The Texas CPS as proven none of the allegations being made of child abuse. Where is the alleged victim? Where is the telephone? where are the cell phone records as to who owns the phone.? Also let us not forget the Duke Lacrosse team which was accused of drugging and raping two Black women. These young men were tried and villified in the media just as the "so-called" Christians are doing with their hateful comments on this AC-360 blog. It turns out they were innocent and the D.A. was guilty and subsequently disbarred! I suspect there are more pregnant high school girls in Texas than in the whole of FLDS. Shame on Texas! Shame on effete Anderson Cooper picking on frightened women.

    April 18, 2008 at 6:37 am |
  3. Anna

    Hi (I am a Progressive Mormon in the mainstream LDS church)

    I appreciate the media coverage of this abuse but there is one point that continues to be missed.

    Why is the media ignoring the religious indoctrination aspect to this? Does it really matter if a girl is 18 or 17 ½ ?

    Is it really consenting adults if the person has been raised to believe they will be in hell for rejecting the faith of their fathers? If you know that leaving the religion will result in losing your family it makes the choice almost forced. We can’t ignore the religious indoctriation driving this practice. Yes, the abuse of children trumps all but we have to look at the roots of the problem to stop the cycle from continuing. Polygamy IS the issue here. It is inherently abusive and degrading to women but more importantly destructive to society and the minds of children.

    Even if the children are married at a LEGAL age, they have already been abused. First their minds have been raped with the abusive religious dogma written by Joseph Smith in the LDS scriptures- i.e. Doctrine and Covenants section 132. These children are all being taught that polygamy is REQUIRED/COMMANDED for salvation. So in some ways the underage marriage (while wrong) is not the point. The religious indoctrination of these children is the foundation for the abuse. Little boys are also abused in being taught that God requires them to abuse women in this manner. I am astounded that not one person in the media ever brings up Joseph Smith who started all of this mess with his revelation still contained in the Mormon scriptures TODAY!

    The culture of polygamy creates a community in which “leaving” is betraying your family. In the LDS church it is similar but on a much more dilluted level. i.e. a believing spouse will often divorce the apostate, fear of becoming an outcast, community believes Satan has led you out of the fold, etc.

    The mainstream LDS church has put earthly polygamy “on hold” due to government pressure but our church still practices spiritual polygamy. Men are sealed to multiple wives in the temple today, fully intending to live polygamy in heaven. Living women are only allowed to have one husband in eternity. There is a Patriarchal order that women enter into after being endowed in the temple. I am LDS and hope to see the church remove this degrading doctrine from our canon and temple ritual.

    The Mormon church has tried to distance itself from polygamy but it remains a doctrine in our scriptures.

    Until they remove section 132 from the Doctrine and Covenants, cease the temple sealings of men to multiple wives (Apostle Russel Nelson is a spritual polygamist), and condemn the polygamy practiced by Joseph Smith and other LDS Prophets, church leaders and spokesmen are disingenous to state that our church has nothing to do with polygamy. Many LDS Prophets taught that polygamy will return to earth at Jesus’ second coming and it is still a requirement for the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. Don’t let the PR spin fool you that the church puts out there.

    April 18, 2008 at 4:49 am |
  4. mitchell martin

    when are they going to remove all the catholic children,from their homes,communities and churches,after decades of abuse,at the hands of their church leaders?judge not,lest ye be judged...

    April 18, 2008 at 12:38 am |
  5. Glenn Christianson & Darlene Cherry

    My husband & I are wondering how George Bush could have missed this from his back porch in Crawford. It is obviouis it was going on while he was Govenor of Tx. And the second part of this question why hasn't anyone brought up this question to the media, or maybe they have and it is being burried.

    April 17, 2008 at 11:35 pm |
  6. jes

    As I watch Larry King my heart hurts! If the state releases those poor children back into that sick society, to those pathetic female robots they will be as guilty as the men that prey on these poor souls.

    April 17, 2008 at 9:56 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    In the tour of their house last night I was struck by the spartan like atmosphere. No toys, no pictures except for Mr.Jeffs on the wall (like all the Nazi families displayed a picture of Hitler in their house). It looked more like an institution than a home. No wonder the mothers act like they are devoid of a personality – they have never had anything to encourage the formation of one and their children were being brought up the same way. Even in what they wear – the pastel dresses – do not allow for individual expression – all the women just sort of blend together into a faceless mass where they all share the same script.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 17, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  8. Boise Leon

    You would think that if these ladies were picking up welfare checks and food stamps that someone in town would notice this and notice the stamps being used in the store.
    Do you think that might be a lie? Do you believe everything the media tells you?
    Could it be that this group were chosen to clean up the FLDS act?
    Could it be that the 16 year old victim is a fraud?
    Could it be that this is an election year and someone is trying very hard to handicap the smartest candidate that was running for president?
    Who has the answers?

    April 17, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  9. Slater

    I wonder what this would be like if it were the Amish we were dealing with. They have the same ways of isolating themselves, to the point of not using ANY technology. They have much of the same beliefs about "us" out here.

    I just feel we need to leave them alone and let the courts sort it out. Right or wrong, it is all alleged and we are working our culture into a frenzy over what if, what may be, imagine that......It is ridiculous.

    Anyone hear about how the dollar shrunk to yet another low? More soldiers were killed in Iraq, I mean, seriously, we have bigger issues to mull over that are reality, NOW, not alleged.

    April 17, 2008 at 9:11 pm |
  10. Janna

    Thank you Gary for continuing to cover this....I swear, you seem to get all the gigs where people do NOT want to answer you!

    The part of this that is most unnerving to me is the fact that the abuse is so normal to them. They don't even think that the children are being abused! I'm praying that the state has a good case with real evidence.

    April 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  11. Sherri

    It seemed to me last night watching the women speaking and giving a tour of their living quarters that it was totally by rote. Very well coached, well rehearsed. It struck me that for a group that espouses the 'evil' of the non FLDS world- nice lap tops, cell phones and other 21st century electronic was in evidence. I've no doubt the women love their children. I find it appalling that a woman could love her child and not feel the need to protect them from abuse. What one adult does freely with another behind closed doors- their business. It is glaring from what we were shown that there is no free will in this group. If it is true that the sect garners huge sums of taxpayer monies in welfare benefits- the hypocrisy deepens. They wish to be left alone, allowed to practice their beliefs- but have the rest of us pay for it and afford them protection from punishment for breaking the laws of the land that allows them to exist. I sincerely hope the children will not be returned to the ranch to perpetuate future generations of abuse and abandonment. Hopefully some of them will come to understand that there is 'life out there'.

    April 17, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  12. Debbie, Texas

    I was fondle by a family member for years and I am 52 and still lives with the nightmare. I can't imagine the horror these children are going to face as adults. The anger I feel can not be described.

    April 17, 2008 at 8:24 pm |
  13. Adina

    Thanks for all your hard work getting the story the past few years, Gary. You certainly have tenacity! I can't even imagine what those woman and children go through. It's hard to believe in America this can go.

    April 17, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  14. Jo Ann


    Your diligent reporting on Jeffs and the FLDS for the past couple of years has been excellent!

    In my opinion, any religion that uses Machiavellian type tactics to control their members is nothing more than a cult. It is a shame that so many innocent children are being raised in an atmosphere of fear and intolerance of anyone outside of their “community.” As an outsider it must have been difficult for you to watch these still joyful children knowing that soon the teachings of the FLDS will cause them to live their lives in fear and skepticism of the “outside” world.

    I expected that the FLDS would march the mothers of these children before the cameras and into the courtroom in an effort to try and elicit sympathy from the viewers and the court. Who will they award these children to, the mothers or the fathers? Do these children even know who their birth mothers are? It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

    The Stepford Wives personas of these women are quite frightening; they seem void of any individual personality whatsoever. No matter what they say, everything about them seems controlled, from the lack of cadence in their voices right down to the clothing that they wear. For all intense and purposes they look like willing hostages.

    Having said that, I think your interview brought out a side of these women few are privileged to see. I am not surprised. You have a talent for being able to get people to open up and talk about themselves and their situations.

    I look forward to your next report.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    April 17, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  15. Sarah

    Gary..... I saw Jeff's picture hanging on the wall last night and it is shocking.

    Stay safe.

    April 17, 2008 at 7:34 pm |
  16. jes from Canada

    I hope if CPS returns the children they force the sect to open the gates & take down the walls agreeing to allowing CPS unannounced & complete access to the compound 24-7. Every resident male or female young or old should have picture ID & birth certicates within easy reach along with the numer of residents..

    April 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  17. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Hello Gary,

    My goodness, you surely are brave and many of us have been quite concerned for you, so I appreciate the update. Glad to hear that you and the crew are faring well.

    This is horribly sad. I feel for those poor children and cannot imagine what their lives have been like. There is nothing worse than being raised in fear. What bothers me is that religion should teach love and acceptance, and clearly this situation teaches everything but. That is most heartbreaking.

    These women are rather frightening, and clearly victims of the men, Warren Jeffs included. Apparently the men also follow his lead. I have to admit that I do feel badly for these women. The entire situation is so wrong on so many levels. Frankly I believe that they act the way they do, and speak as they do out of fear.

    No matter what the outcome of all of this is, it seems like there will be many innocent victims. Personally I am praying that the children may be afforded the opportunity to grow up in a more normal environment, however, I doubt that is possible at this point. Very sad. Innocence lost.

    Thank you Gary. Please stay safe.

    April 17, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  18. Judi Smith

    Do you feel as I do that the real reason that the "LOST BOYS" of the compound that were kicked out just because they were old enough to start looking at the young girls their own age? I believe that they counld not have been that badly behaved to be disowned according to the strick way that they were raised in the compound. I do think that they were evicted because the old men did not want the young dudes around. Sincerely, Judi Smith – Warren, Michigan

    April 17, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  19. Patrice

    Very well put and I couldn't agree with you more! Thank you for letting us know that it was Warren Jeff's picture hanging all over, sometimes a couple of times in each room. That alone is creepy.

    This may sound trivial, but I am curious about the reasons for the specific style of dress and hair styles the women wear. They apparently don't wear makeup yet it appears that some heavily tease and spray their hair so it is very high in front. That seemed odd to me and out of step. I know I am not the only one wondering. Maybe a short piece on these aspects of their uniforms and the psychological reasons for "uniformity'???

    Thank you,

    Appleton WI

    April 17, 2008 at 6:44 pm |