30 Apr 2008

FLDS polygamy sect gets a closer look - and it's chilling

Chicago Tribune - April 28, 2008

by Maureen Ryan

With their long braids and old-fashioned dresses, the women of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound in Texas project an image of clean-scrubbed, prairie wholesomeness.

Given that these women and their children look like they’ve stepped out of etchings from “Little House on the Prairie," you have to wonder, could what went on at the FLDS’ Yearning for Zion compound really have been that bad?

The answer is yes, if several former FLDS women interviewed for a Tuesday documentary on WE are to be believed.

This week’s episode of the WE documentary series “The Secret Lives of Women,” which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the cable channel, examines the world of the breakaway polygamist cult. And this documentary does make the case that the FLDS group is a cult, complete with a prophet who has made doom-laden pronouncements about the necessity of “blood sacrifice” by his followers.

The chaos created by Texas authorities, who recently stepped in and removed hundreds of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch after an abuse complaint was called in to the state’s child protective services hotline, is unfortunate, but the documentary also makes the case that the children of this secretive, controlling sect especially the young girls, are and were at risk for many different kinds of abuse.

The hourlong film features in-depth interviews with Flora Jessop, who ran away from an FLDS settlement at age 16 and for decades has been an activist helping women and children leave the group. Her relative, Carolyn Jessop, is also interviewed; Carolyn is the author of the current bestseller “Escape,” which tells the story of how she just barely managed to leave a violent, loveless FLDS marriage with her eight children in tow.

This workmanlike documentary is marred by a terribly tinny, cheesy soundtrack and some sloppy, choppy editing (though what I viewed was an rough cut of the episode, so perhaps that’s been remedied). Still, what the Jessop women have to say is fascinating – and frightening.

Flora, Carolyn and others with knowledge of the group say that backbreaking labor is the norm at FLDS compounds (even for children), and physical violence is apparently routine. Carolyn says that her “sister-wives” frequently punished her for her transgressions by beating her children. Her husband, FLDS leader Merril Jessop, made her his fourth wife when she was 18, and throughout her eight pregnancies, she was denounced by other women when she experienced severe nausea and vomiting (this was a sign of her lack of faith, she was told).

Carolyn was blamed as a “sinful mother” when she gave birth to a baby with disabilities (she was encouraged to let the child die). Flora talks about her sister, who was brutally raped and then spirited away to a FLDS compound in Canada. Seven years later, the activist is still trying to find and save her sister.

Perhaps the saddest revelation is that mothers are encouraged to keep their many children at arms’ length – hugging and kissing and other signs of affection are strongly discouraged. No one can show more love for a family member than they can for the FLDS’ self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, who was convicted in 2007 of being an accomplice to rape. As for the many “excess” boys that the compound produces, according to this film and other news reports, they are routinely cast out so that a few male leaders can keep absolute control of the FLDS flock, which is permitted almost no contact with the outside world.

All in all, this is one case in which the facts may be even scarier and more dramatic than what’s been conveyed in the mainstream media coverage of the FLDS affair.

UPDATE: For those who did not get a chance to see this episode on the FLDS sect, additional air times are listed here.

This article was found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment