Blasphemous Backlash

Ross Chatwin said no way to polygamy's holy man before the national press. Will others join him now?

While these statements may not sound radical, they are high treason among the FLDS faithful.

FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs has long taught that women must be totally obedient to men and that men must always obey the prophet, even if that means violating state and federal laws.

According to Jeffs' sermons and public statements, God cursed women to have painful childbirths in retaliation for Eve's persuading Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. And men, the proclamations by Jeffs convey, are forever cursed with having to work for food because Adam succumbed to Eve's demand and ate the apple.

Ross Chatwin compares sect leader  
Warren Jeffs to Adolf Hitler during his historic news conference in Colorado City.
John Dougherty
Ross Chatwin compares sect leader Warren Jeffs to Adolf Hitler during his historic news conference in Colorado City.
A Colorado City police officer (top left) watches the press conference from  
Chatwin's front yard, while fellow officers (top right) observe the event from a hillside behind the house. More than two dozen reporters from across the country (above)  
hear Chatwin defy church orders to abandon his home and leave town.
photos by John Dougherty
A Colorado City police officer (top left) watches the press conference from Chatwin's front yard, while fellow officers (top right) observe the event from a hillside behind the house. More than two dozen reporters from across the country (above) hear Chatwin defy church orders to abandon his home and leave town.

Jeffs also preaches that the Lord gave women a "blessing."

"The blessing on woman was -- and the only way she could ever be happy was -- that she would let her husband, a faithful man, rule over her. That was the only way back to Heavenly Father for the woman," Jeffs stated in a 1995 lecture prepared for sixth- to eighth-grade students.

It's obvious that such religious propaganda is the cornerstone of education in the isolated towns of Colorado City and Hildale. Since community members are taught as young children that polygamy is the only way to heavenly bliss, few people break free from the church and its prophet -- no matter how painful religious subjugation turns out to be.

Ross Chatwin is slowly prying himself from FLDS theology. During the January 23 press conference, he stated that the problem wasn't polygamy but the harsh rule of Warren Jeffs. Curiously, Chatwin said he wasn't sure why he was kicked out of the church he was born into.

Reporters later learned from FLDS attorney Rodney Parker that Chatwin and his wife were soliciting the two underage sisters to join their family. Since only the prophet can arrange such marriages, Chatwin had committed a serious transgression that led to Jeffs stripping Ross of his coveted "priesthood" status in the FLDS.

A day after the press conference, Ross Chatwin told New Times that he and his wife are no longer interested in pursuing polygamy. Abandoning the concept was not easy, he said.

"I've gotten some real eye-openers making me really wake up and think," he said.

Chatwin's decision to abandon polygamy has brought about a sense of relief and disappointment. "It was part of a culture that I have known all my life."

He said he expects the FLDS, which owns practically every piece of property in the fundamentalist Mormon enclave, to initiate formal eviction proceedings against him. He said he can't afford an attorney and that his prospects for earning money (he operates a car-repair business in the community) will be severely hampered because of his open defiance of Jeffs.

Chatwin said he is cooperating with investigators who are building the criminal case against Jeffs. He declined to elaborate on what information he is providing.

While he urged other men to follow his lead and speak out against FLDS abuses, he cautioned them to make sure their wives (many of whom are so indoctrinated into the fundamentalist mindset that they would never offend the prophet) support them.

"If you are scared, just stand up," he urged. "But make sure your family is standing with you."


Prosecutors in Arizona and Utah are hoping that recently excommunicated men will contact them with evidence that would make the filing of criminal charges against Jeffs and other FLDS leaders easier.

So far, investigators say, most of the fearful excommunicated men have refused to assist authorities.

Utah investigators have held discussions with Canadian polygamist Winston Blackmore, who leads a fundamentalist Mormon sect that was once closely aligned with the FLDS in Colorado City and Hildale. Over the last year, several polygamists in the Arizona-Utah community have left to join Blackmore's group in Creston, British Columbia.

Blackmore is so reviled by Warren Jeffs that, during a recent visit to Colorado City to attend a funeral, he received law enforcement protection from agents of the Arizona AG, the Utah AG and the Utah Bureau of Homeland Security.

Blackmore denied reports that he has been offered immunity by Utah authorities in exchange for his testimony concerning FLDS operations in Colorado City and Hildale.

"I have made no deals, but I don't have anything to hide from them," Blackmore told New Times.

Blackmore, who offers fundamental Mormon polygamists a far more liberal climate in which to practice their religion, said he doesn't consider himself a rival to Jeffs.

"I simply have no interest in him," Blackmore said. "I have no ax to grind with him, nor am I interested in being a challenge to him."

At the same time, Blackmore hinted that he won't protect Jeffs in future discussions with authorities.

"If I was asked about an issue, I would certainly tell the truth about it as I knew it," he stressed.

Meanwhile, the Arizona investigation into the operations of the Colorado City school district continues as financial problems at the district's K-12 school grow increasingly more dire every day.

The Arizona probe of the office was triggered by a New Times article that uncovered a number of financial abuses, including the misuse of district credit cards by Superintendent Alvin Barlow and other administrators.

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