Double Exposure

Arizona's finally followed Utah's lead and launched serious action to stop abuses by polygamists

"Our major focus at this time is to pursue child-molestation and child-abuse cases," Goddard tells New Times.

Utah officials, led by Attorney General Shurtleff, say they are confident that they will eventually obtain enough evidence to arrest Jeffs.

"When we get a good, solid case, we will go after him," Shurtleff says. "But we are not there yet."

Left: Prophet Jeffs with his late father, Rulon. Right: Jeffs when he was a high school principal.
Left: Prophet Jeffs with his late father, Rulon. Right: Jeffs when he was a high school principal.
In a happier moment, Tamara Phelps, who lost her three children to polygamists.
Bob Curran
In a happier moment, Tamara Phelps, who lost her three children to polygamists.

When that time comes, taking Jeffs into custody might be a formidable task. There is serious concern among investigators on both sides of the state line that Jeffs' supporters will put up strong resistance to any move to arrest the religious leader.

Utah authorities confirm that Jeffs' followers are armed with concealed weapons and say his bodyguards -- known as the "God Squad" -- have assembled an arsenal of weapons cached somewhere in the Colorado City-Hildale area.

Storming Jeffs' compound in Hildale, where many women and children are living, raises the specter of a Waco-like encounter. In April 1993, federal agents and devout members of the Branch Davidians engaged in a violent confrontation that left more than 80 men, women and children dead. It was a botched attempt to arrest another entrancing religious leader, David Koresh, who engaged in sexual relations with teenage girls as a part of his religion.

There are also increasing concerns among former FLDS members that Jeffs may order his flock to commit a Jonestown-style mass suicide.

"A lot of people are worried that Warren will tell [his followers] to drink the Kool-Aid," says a woman whose sister is still a member of the FLDS.

Longtime FLDS observers, including Colorado City historian Ben Bistline, believe that a significant percentage of FLDS members would follow any order by Jeffs -- whether it were to violently resist the prophet's arrest or to take their own lives in protest of what they see as religious persecution.

Bistline is among a cadre of church expatriates who compare the fanaticism of FLDS followers to that of the stalwarts who drank cyanide-laced punch at Jim Jones' behest.

If any of this seems far-fetched, consider that FLDS leadership has repeatedly warned followers that the end of the world is near. On several occasions, FLDS faithful were gathered in a field for a mass ascension into the sky. Elders stated that the faithful would be swept up as Armageddon engulfed the planet. When what was known in the community as the "liftoff" didn't occur, the elders told the flock that they weren't yet pure enough to enter heaven and that the end of the world had been delayed.

Attorney General Shurtleff declined to discuss the logistics of arresting Jeffs, other than to affirm that the procedure is "probably going to be difficult."

Paramount in any operation, Shurtleff says, will be protecting lives. "Officer safety is going to be key."

Not only did Jeffs fail to return phone calls seeking comment, so did Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, who serves as spokesman for the fundamentalist Mormon society.

In addition to the criminal investigation of Jeffs, authorities are taking the following specific steps toward addressing the ongoing sexual and governmental abuses in the Colorado City-Hildale area:

• In an unprecedented action, Arizona and Mohave County education officials are seeking ways to remove polygamists from control of the Colorado City Unified School District, which is on the brink of bankruptcy. The district is the largest single employer in the community and is heavily relied upon to provide jobs. The move to dislodge the school board comes at the same time the state Auditor General's Office has expanded its probe into the school district's gross misspending of public money that was triggered directly by a New Times report ("Profits of Polygamy," July 10).

• Utah AG Shurtleff is pushing to have members of the Colorado City Police Department -- which has jurisdiction in Colorado City and Hildale -- stripped of police certification for marrying underage girls and failing to perform police duties. New evidence reveals that a second Colorado City policeman, Winford Johnson Barlow, has taken an underage girl as a second church-sanctioned wife. Last August, former police officer Rodney Holm was convicted of felony bigamy and sexual-misconduct charges in Utah stemming from his spiritual marriage to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs ("Utah Targets Polyg Prophet," August 21).

• Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and AG Goddard have pledged to staff an office in Colorado City that would provide services to women and children seeking to leave or avoid polygamous marriages and to monitor millions of dollars in welfare payments pouring into the community. The office, which will also include a Mohave County sheriff's substation, will be the first government facility opened in the area outside the direct control of fundamental Mormon polygamists. An AG's investigator will be assigned to the facility to help develop cases against sex-abusers.

• Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jake Flake recently informed New Times they support changing Arizona's bigamy statute to make it easier to prosecute polygamists who enter into spiritual marriages. Pressure by these two officials -- both members of the Salt Lake City-based mainstream Mormon church (which has disavowed the fundamentalist sect) -- could close a glaring loophole: The Arizona Constitution bans polygamy, but the Legislature has never passed a corresponding criminal statute addressing the issue of religious marriages. The omission allows polygamists to hold elected office and public-service jobs despite being in violation of their oath to uphold the state Constitution ("Bound by Fear," March 13). "There is a real opportunity in this next legislative session [beginning in January] to tighten the state's laws on bigamy and polygamy," Goddard says.

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