Blasphemous Backlash

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

Last week, the anti-polygamy activists' longtime simmering debate on how to handle underage minors leaving the polygamous society erupted into a nasty dispute played out over e-mail and in the press.

Two 16-year-old girls fled Colorado City with the help of some former FLDS members who had quit the church and moved to nearby towns. The girls were in a safe house and were in no immediate danger of being returned to their parents.

Flora Jessop learned that the girls had escaped to a location in southern Utah and set off to find them with two Phoenix television news stations in tow. Jessop persuaded the girls to return with her to Phoenix, where she appeared with them during several television interviews. She also appeared in a recent front-page photograph with the girls in the East Valley Tribune and was quoted in both Tribune and Arizona Republic stories in January.

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.

The Arizona AG's Office soon intervened and placed the children in a foster home pending the outcome of juvenile court hearings.

Prunty criticizes Jessop for using the girls as photo-ops and for transporting them to a location more than 400 miles from their homes.

"We do not advocate exploiting minors," Prunty said.

Curran said he is outraged that Jessop would move the girls when they were already in a safe place.

"I had called Flora and told her the girls were safe, but she came up here anyway," Curran said.

Curran said he's afraid Flora Jessop's action could result in kidnapping charges and place Help the Child Brides -- a nonprofit organization he founded and directed until he was kicked out by Jessop and two other board members recently -- in further jeopardy. He's contesting his removal and hopes to reopen the facility.

Jessop's actions have also drawn criticism from Utah AG Shurtleff, who said, "We don't want to encourage vigilantism, we don't want to encourage kidnappings."

Ironically, the bitter infighting among the anti-polygamy stalwarts comes at a time when state officials in Arizona and Utah and the national press are listening to them.

Jessop's action has "undermined the work that we are doing," said Prunty, who fled a polygamous marriage. "It uses the same [exploitation] tactics as our [FLDS] violators" and could hugely set back efforts to assist those wanting to escape polygamy.

E-mail john.dougherty@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8445.

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