The Unfolding FLDS Ordeal

Almost two weeks ago, Texas authorities descended upon the Texas ranch of polygamist followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS are followers of convicted accomplice to rape Warren Jeffs, and are (now) known primarily for their polygamy, including the arrangement of marriages between older men and younger women, some allegedly as young as 15.

Based on an emergency call from an alleged 16 year old member of the sect who, claiming to have been married at the age of 15 to one 49 year old Dale Evans Barlow, alleged some manner of abuse. This prompted the raid on the ranch and the removal of 416 children into temporary custody, along with some number of women choosing to accompany them. State authorities claim that the children had been abused or were at immediate risk of future abuse.

I hope, for the authorities’ sake that they really do have such evidence. Far be it from me to defend some Mormon kooks (personally I find their theology more objectionable than their polygamy), but I think the burden should be high indeed for government bureaucrats to spirit away the children of an entire community– no matter how segregated and odd they be.

Although the abuse at the ranch was supposedly so widespread as to justify removing all the children, as far as I know, no alleged abusers have been arrested. Indeed, the very individual against whom the original complaint was made has talked with authorities and they have not yet opted to take him into custody: Rangers talk with polygamist ranch suspect. There is some question whether he has even stepped foot into Texas in decades. No one seems to know who the original complainant is, or if in fact she’s one of the children taken. If the situation was so dire… if the abuse so rampant… then why has no one been arrested for the abuse?

Now some of the mothers have appealed to Texas governor Rick Perry for help, complaining of the conditions the children are in, and that they have become sick: Mothers from polygamous sect ask Texas for help – CNN.com Whether the sickness predates the children being taken into custody or not is not clear, but it would make sense that children from a secluded community being brought into crowded facilities and no doubt in the company of items and workers exposed to other children would be especially vulnerable to disease. Some children reportedly require medication, perhaps even hospitalization. How bleakly ironic would it be if these children suffer more in the “protective custody” of social services than the allegations that have been made against the FLDS.

Now, the AP is reporting that Texas officials are bringing in mental health professionals and behavioral experts in an effort to ensure a sense of normalcy for the children:

But for all their lives, the boys and girls of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been told the outside world was hostile and immoral. Venturing beyond the brilliant white limestone walls of their compound would consign them to eternal damnation, their church leaders preached.

Now, if the state gets its way, hundreds of children could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling.
Mental health experts enlisted to help with children of sect – CNN.com

So the sect told their children that the outside world was “hostile and immoral” and what does the outside world do? Take them from their homes and families and crowd them into social services facilities, and then threaten to place them with foster families. Say what you will about Joseph Smith and his magic stone goggles, but the sect seems to have nailed at least one prediction.

Of course there is the inevitable line of ex-sect members lining up to talk about how horrid the conditions on the ranch were, and I have no particular reason to disbelieve their claims, but still one must ask if these anecdotal reports justify the scale of the operation.

Now, I don’t know what abuse went on at the FLDS ranch, but if there’s one thing I’m relatively certain of, it’s that nothing can fuck a kid up quite like an army of mental health professionals and behavioral experts on a mission to “deprogram” children.

If one good thing can be said about the whole ordeal, it’s that at least the ranch didn’t go up in smoke Davidian-style. I expect to hear some substantiated evidence in the coming days of real abuse… something people can go to jail for, rather than these uncorroborated rumors we’ve been hearing so far from both the media and from state authorities. If, when all is said and done, there was not sufficient cause to separate these children from their homes and families, I expect to see some state authorities be the ones heading to jail.

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