Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Warren Jeffs, Orrin Hatch, Pedophilia and Fundamentalism: An 50 year old evil is confronted

Today the BBC reported the arrest of Warren Jeffs, a Mormon fundamentalist and alleged pedophile. That led me to dredge up some old memories.

First, an August 2003 posting on Jon Krakauer's excellent book on American religious Fundamentalism (Mormon Fundamentalism in particular, my post also links to a very good Atlantic article on how religions developer from cultic roots)

Secondly, I'll finish a draft blog post from a 2006 LA Times article, probably inspired by Krakauer's book, on the sexual abuse of children by these American Fundamentalists. Note the mention of Jeffs (emphases mine):
Blind Eye to Culture of Abuse - Los Angeles Times

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — For half a century, while polygamous members of this remote enclave engaged in widespread sexual abuse and child exploitation, government authorities on all levels did little to intervene or protect generations of victims.

Here in the sparsely populated canyon lands straddling Arizona and Utah, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS — an offshoot of Mormonism — live by their own rules.

The religious sect of about 10,000 portrays itself as an industrious commune of the faithful, choosing to live apart from a hostile world. But their simple lifestyle and self-imposed isolation have concealed troubling secrets that are only beginning to emerge.

Court records, undisclosed investigative reports and interviews by The Times over the last year show that church authorities flout state and federal laws and systematically deny rights and freedoms, especially to women and children.

"The fact that this has been going on all these years, and the fact that justice has not been there to protect women and children … from amazing civil rights violations — it is an embarrassment," said Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff.

"I don't want to indict the states of Utah and Arizona, but mea culpa — we are responsible."

Among sect members, girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage, sexual abuse is rampant, rape is covered up and child molesters are shielded by religious authorities and law enforcement.

Boys are thrown out of town, abandoned like unwanted pets by the side of the road and forcibly ostracized from their families to reduce competition among the men for multiple wives.

Children routinely leave school at age 11 or 12 to work at hazardous construction jobs. Boys can be seen piloting dump trucks, backhoes, forklifts and other heavy equipment.

Girls work at home, trying to keep order in enormous families with multiple mothers and dozens of children who often eat in shifts around picnic tables.

Wives are threatened with mental institutions if they fail to "keep sweet," or obedient, for their husbands.

Warren Jeffs, a wiry third-generation church member, is the sect leader — a post that carries the title "prophet" and gives him virtually absolute control over the most intimate conduct.

Jeffs orders marriages, splits up families, evicts residents and exiles whomever he wants with no regard for legal processes. He even tells couples when they can and can't have sex.

But Jeffs is now a fugitive, listed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and accused by state and federal authorities of rape, sexual conduct with a minor, conspiracy and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Former members say he continues to exert influence nonetheless...

... Despite years of such stories and allegations, public agencies on both sides of the state line have failed to act or been slow to intervene.

The sect's questionable ways were no secret in Utah or Arizona. Law enforcement, social agencies and politicians long knew that polygamy was practiced and that underage girls were married off to middle-aged and older men.

Employees and eyewitnesses say many underage marriages were performed in Room 15 of the Caliente Hot Springs Motel in Caliente, Nev., a few miles from the Utah border. The motel was once owned by FLDS leader Merril Jessop.

"We've heard about it, and were never able to substantiate it," said Lincoln County, Nev., Sheriff Dahl Bradfield. "But we didn't look very hard."

Officials also knew local laws in Colorado City and adjacent Hildale, Utah, were enforced by polygamous police officers and administered by a polygamous judge — and that police routinely referred alleged sex crimes to church leaders.

In 1953, acting on similar reports, Arizona Gov. J. Howard Pyle launched a massive raid, with about 120 police officers, on the FLDS. It backfired badly, however, and was regarded as a political disaster for Pyle, who lost his bid for reelection.

The political debacle, coupled with a fear of violating the sect's religious freedom, ushered in 50 years of official passivity and government inaction, even in the face of continuing reports of illegal conduct in the FLDS enclave.

The abusive conduct went on for so long, said Buster Johnson, a Mohave County, Ariz., supervisor, "because those with the power to do something about it turned a blind eye. I don't know how they sleep at night."

Recent disclosures have prompted a belated round of state and federal action, including stepped-up efforts by the FBI to arrest Jeffs.

The attorneys general in Arizona and Utah have launched separate legal actions, and a Mohave County criminal investigator operating out of a trailer in Colorado City has provided evidence resulting in a series of grand jury indictments against eight FLDS members...

... Charged with protecting and serving their community, Colorado City police have long had a reputation for protecting and serving church interests instead.

The force, which covers Hildale as well, is reportedly handpicked by FLDS leaders. Call 911 here, say state investigators, and it is the same as calling the FLDS.

Former police employees and state investigators say officers either ignore molestation allegations or send them to the church rather than to outside prosecutors...

... Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) once visited the FLDS church in Hildale and played the organ. He later defended the group when asked about its alleged abuses.

"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," he told local reporters. "Bring the evidence to me."

... In his successful 1991 bid for Arizona governor, Fife Symington wrote an open letter to the residents of Colorado City concerning their "family-oriented lifestyles," vowing never to do anything to "upset or question" their religion.

"Our policy was one of noninterference," he said recently. "The advice I got when running was this was an issue I wanted to stay away from."

The Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice it, has been quiet in the face of reported abuses, giving little support to groups trying to help victims of the FLDS.

... On the dusty edge of Colorado City sits a triple-wide trailer grandly named the Arizona-Mohave County Justice Center. The metal building is Arizona's first official presence in this town.

Inside, the handful of state employees includes social workers, a victim's advocate and a gap-toothed ex-cop named Gary Engels.

Engels, an investigator for the Mohave County attorney's office, may be the most effective lawman in the state. He has done in a year what the combined forces of Utah and Arizona did not do during the previous 50 years.

Through quiet detective work, he pieced together enough information for eight indictments of FLDS men who allegedly married underage women.

"He's produced impressive results even given the fact that he has an almost impossible assignment," Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said.

Nonetheless, Engels said he saw only slow progress. Child abuse continues, he said, as do underage marriages and exiles of boys — though not so openly since he and the triple-wide came to town.

"I'm just getting started," Engels said.
Thirdly, see my recent comments on the cursed gender.

Men. Fundamentalism. Pedophilia and child abuse. The slow awakening of outrage and response.

Krakauer should get a Pulitzer. Engels may deserve some kind of medal of honor. Senator Orrin Hatch deserves a prize spot in Hell, next door to Jeffs.

No comments: