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June 13, 2005
Polygamist Cult Abandons Young Boys To Eliminate Competition (Updated)

The Guardian reports on a strange story coming out of the American Southwest that has not received much coverage in the US. (Update: Here's the Los Angeles Times link to tomorrow's story.) A cult of polygamists have apparently started to abandon their teenage sons on highways in Arizona and Utah, perhaps as many as 1,000 of them. The reason? To create an artificial shortage of mates for the teenage girls that the older men resolve through multiple marriages:

Many of these "Lost Boys", some as young as 13, have simply been dumped on the side of the road in Arizona and Utah, by the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), and told they will never see their families again or go to heaven.

The 10,000-strong FLDS, which broke away from the Mormon church in 1890 when the mainstream faith disavowed polygamy, believes a man must marry at least three women to go to heaven. The sect appeared to be in turmoil yesterday, after its assets were frozen last week and a warrant was issued in Arizona on Friday for the arrest of its autocratic leader, Warren Jeffs, for arranging a wedding between an underage girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married.

Mr Jeffs is also being sued by lawyers for six of the Lost Boys for conspiracy to purge surplus males from the community, and by his nephew, Brent Jeffs, who accuses him of sexual abuse.

Warren Jeffs' whereabouts yesterday were uncertain, but Utah officials said they believed he may be hiding in an FLDS compound near Eldorado, Texas, and they have contacted the Texan authorities.

Some have voiced concern that an attempt to corner the sect leader could provoke a tragedy like the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas.

Mainstream Mormons dread these stories, because although they long ago disavowed polygamy and excommunicated those who practice it, the cults that have formed in the century since then continue to claim membership in their church. As with any other group of people who have been cast out from their communities, they go underground to an extent and develop a sense of paranoia and of martyrdom that can easily create a volatile and violent situation. In the past, a few of these extended family groups have refused to go quietly when confronted by the law, and Jeffs apparently fits that mold.

Even though polygamy has been widely considered a fringe behavior, at least until lately, prosecutors and law enforcement have found it difficult to proceed against its practitioners. Some of the cults stockpile weapons, preparing for inevitable showdowns with police. In practice, polygamist communes and/or cults almost always involve some degree of coercion with progressively younger and interrelated girls, some as young as thirteen or fourteen who might wind up married to an uncle or cousin two or three times their age.

Now, of course, some have taken up their caue on a paleo-libertarian notion of free association. A&E ran a series of documentaries on the subject a few years ago, and noted that more people had asked whether government should involve itself in the living and sexual arrangements of consenting adults. The documentarians also showed that many of the girls who grow up in these polygamist communities get groomed for a life of sexual servitude starting at a very early age by fathers and uncles in order to make that consent much more forthcoming when the question arises.

Jeffs has run this particular FLDS sect, with chapters in Arizona, Utah, Texas, and even Canada for three years, since his father Rulon died and left him in charge. Jeffs rules by example; the 49-year-old leader has 56 known children by 40 wives. He has gone underground, last seen in Texas in January at his reclusive ranch. If he has holed himself up there, it might take a Waco-like siege to bring him out. Most of these leaders have an intense Messianic complex, very similar to David Koresh.

In this case, at least 400 and possibly 1,000 of the children and teens have been freed, although very traumatically. They wonder what they did to cause their community to shun them and keep them from heaven. They may find out soon that they have instead escaped from hell.

UPDATE: The LAT reports more from the point of view of the lost boys:

Abandoned by his family, faith and community, Gideon Barlow arrived here an orphan from another world. At first, he played the tough guy, aloof and hard. But when no one was watching, he would cry.

The freckle-faced 17-year-old said he was left to fend for himself last year after being forced out of Colorado City, Ariz., a town about 40 miles east of here, just over the state line.

"I couldn't see how my mom would let them do what they did to me," he said.

When he tried to visit her on Mother's Day, he said, she told him to stay away. When he begged to give her a present, she said she wanted nothing.

"I am dead to her now," he said. ...

His stated offenses: wearing short-sleeved shirts, listening to CDs and having a girlfriend. Other boys say they were booted out for going to movies, watching television and staying out past curfew. Some say they were sometimes given as little as two hours' notice before being driven to St. George or nearby Hurricane, Utah, and left like unwanted pets along the road.

Absolutely heartbreaking. Gideon has found a home with a generous mainstream Mormon couple who have opened their home to him, as have others, but the trauma continues nonetheless.

UPDATE II: David Tufte at Voluntary Xchange has been closely monitoring the FLDS and other polygamist cults for over a year. Check out his archives for much more detail on the phenomenon.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 13, 2005 10:08 PM

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