28 May 2008

The dramatic raid on a Texas polygamist compound just slammed up against the reality of how hard it is to deal with this cult.

The Arizona Republic - May 28, 2008

Slow and deliberate

The dramatic raid on a Texas polygamist compound just slammed up against the reality of how hard it is to deal with this cult.

A Texas state appeals court says the state lacked authority to take all the children from the cult compound. The result will likely be the slow and steady crumbling of efforts to prosecute crimes that are a part of the dogma of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

This is a lesson Arizona learned five decades ago when our state raided the polygamous cult that straddles the Arizona-Utah line.

It is a lesson that has informed our state's more recent approach to cult leader Warren Jeffs' nightmare community. Arizona understands the importance of building a case before going in like gangbusters. Attorney General Terry Goddard and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, together with Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, took a slow and deliberate path.

It led to the conviction of Warren Jeffs as an accomplice to child rape in Utah and his upcoming trial in Arizona. It took a toll on his financial support in Arizona. It resulted in changes in the law enforcement in Colorado City, Ariz., where calling the cops used to mean getting an officer who was loyal to the cult first and law enforcement second.

The quest goes on here to build cases. But Arizona understands that rushing in doesn't work unless the victims are willing to testify. In a cult, brainwashed victims don't even understand that being "given" as a child in "spiritual marriage" to a man with multiple wives is a crime.

Arizona's efforts to build bridges into the polygamous community represent a much less viscerally satisfying approach than what Texas did. Who wouldn't want to ride to the rescue of those caught in a surreal world where child abuse is considered a sacrament? Yet Arizona's approach has resulted in victims who will testify.

As Texas is finding out, dealing with a mind-controlling cult takes more than just a desire for dramatic action.

Texas took more than 460 children of about 200 parents into custody in April. Thursday's Texas Court of Appeals' ruling applied to children of fewer than 50 mothers who were represented by the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide. The court said the state lacked sufficient grounds for removing all children from the compound. Other parents are expected to use the ruling.

Texas may not salvage much from a raid that looked like such decisive action only a few weeks ago.

But we hope Texas takes another lesson from Arizona: After Arizona raided the polygamist community 50 years ago, the failure to make charges stick left law enforcement reluctant to try anything else until just the past few years.

That community grew strong during those years as all of Arizona looked the other way. Now that Texas authorities have been burned, we sincerely hope they continue with more measured efforts against the cult. There are crimes going on there. It is the duty of law enforcement to build its cases and go after those crimes.

Just like Arizona and Utah are doing.

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