January 2005

Possibility of polygamist sect near Mancos raises questions

By Suzanne Strazza

Most people have an idea of what polygamy (or plural marriage) is. Some even know the history of the Mormon Church and this lifestyle. What many do not understand are the implications for a small-town community into which a group of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who practice polygamy have moved.

The people of Montezuma County — Mancos in particular — soon may find out.

David Allred, an agent for the FLDS church out of Hildale, Utah, and its neighboring town Colorado City, Ariz., has purchased two parcels of land in the Summit Lake area, outside of Mancos.

The property, according to Allred, is to be used as a “hunting retreat.” According to the Cortez Journal, Allred purchased a 60-acre parcel of land at 15252 County Road 39 near Mancos last year. In October 2004, he purchased a nearby tract at 15976 CR 39 as president of the Sherwood Management Group, Inc.

Both properties sold for considerably high than market value, according to the Journal. Allred paid a reported $669,000 for the first Mancos parcel on County Road 39, which adjoins public land, is zoned for agricultural use, and is valued at an estimated $400,000. He paid $725,000 for the second tract, which has an estimated market value of $200,000.

The two parcels both have some existing buildings, one of which has been remodeled into a four-bedroom home.

About a year ago, Allred similarly purchased another parcel of land (much larger, at 1700 acres) in Eldorado, Texas, ostensibly also for a hunting retreat. Shortly thereafter, as the compound grew to include more than 10 buildings, church leaders admitted that it was actually going to be a retreat for church leaders who want to escape the watchful eye of the law.

Will the same thing happen in Mancos? So far, church officials, including Allred, have been unreachable. But should persons practicing plural marriage actually move onto the land near Mancos, it’s unclear what can and will be done about it.

Although bigamy and polygamy are illegal in the United States, law officers have often found it difficult to enforce the law in cases where violations are widespread.

According to Montezuma County Sheriff Joey Chavez, “Polygamy falls under bigamy. It is a Class 6 felony for any married person, male or female, to marry another or cohabitate with another.”

The Mormon Church outlawed polygamy more than 100 years ago as a compromise with the United States government when Utah sought statehood. But some members of the church defected and became “fundamentalists,” claiming that they are being true to the teachings of their prophet, Joseph Smith.

Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was a receiver of revelations from God. It was with his first such revelation that he was instructed to found the church.

On Nov. 27, 1832, Smith allegedly was told, “And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God.” Smith claimed that he was the one “mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand.”

Throughout of his time as leader of the church, Smith received more revelations, which his followers believed to be straight from the mouth of God. One revelation was Section 132 of the Doctrines and Covenants, pro-claiming the idea of multiple “wives and concubines.” Skeptics believe this was Smith’s way of justifying his sexual promiscuity, although true believers disagree.

According to Section 132, “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins – from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph – which were to continue as long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.”

In other words, procreate, procreate, and procreate. In addition to taking many wives in order to have many children here on earth, members of the FLDS faith believe that being sealed in marriage on earth is to be sealed in marriage for eternity, thereby granting the ability and the opportunity to procreate forever.

The mainstream Mormon Church excommunicates any members who engage in polygamy. Yet there are literally tens of thousands who still believe in “The Principle” (as it is called) and practice it. It is estimated that 10,000 of these fundamentalists live in Hildale and Colorado City.

Soon, some may be in Mancos. One reason many find polygamy offensive is that the marriages among the FLDS church are alleged to often involve forcing young girls to marry much older men, sometimes their blood relatives. Critics of the church say women are not given a choice in their future.

Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS Church, has been named in three different lawsuits, one alleging that he sexually molested a boy, another involving his firing of a church member, the third claiming that he arbitrarily excommunicated young men because they would compete for wives with the older men of the church. Jeffs is also alleged to have exiled men who disputed his leadership and divided their wives and children up among his supporters.

During a recent appearance on MSNBC with Deborah Norville, two women who escaped polygamy in Colorado City-Hildale charged that children there are brainwashed, all dissension is squelched, and church teachings are blatantly racist. They further said that practitioners of plural marriage defraud the government by having men’s multiple wives file for welfare and food stamps, claiming to be single mothers.

The FLDS has a history of sporadic violence. In January 1988, the 14-mem-ber polygamist Singer-Swapp family, including eight children, holed up in a small ranch house in Marion, Utah. The standoff with federal agents ended in deadly gunfire that killed an officer. Thirteen days earlier, members of the family had bombed a nearby empty Mormon stake center. They left a note at the site declaring their sovereignty and independence from the United States and calling for a holy war against the state and federal government for its persecution of their family.

In another violent event, a woman named Brenda Lafferty and her daughter Erica, were killed by Brenda’s two brothers-in-law, Dan and Ron. Brenda was opposed to her husband Allen and his brothers’ adoption of fundamentalist beliefs. As Ron Lafferty became more deeply involved in the FLDS, he began having revelations, one of which allegedly said, in part, “…It is my will and commandment that ye remove the following individuals in order that My work might go for-ward. For they have become obstacles in my path…First, thy brother’s wife Brenda and her baby…” Shortly there-after, the Lafferty brothers carried out these directions.

But cracking down on polygamist groups has proven difficult. Fifty years ago, Arizona made a dramatic move to break up a sect on July 26, 1953, when Gov. Howard Pyle ordered a raid on Colorado City by several hundred peace officers.

After newspapers published photos of crying children being torn from their mother’s arms, however, there was a backlash against the raid. Eventually, most of the men who were arrested were returned to their homes and life went on as before.

In the past few years, publicity about abuses within the FLDS has prompted more law-enforcement attention, and some men have been arrested for welfare fraud or sexual abuse of child brides. But enforcing laws against bigamy remains a challenge.

Chavez said, “I have done everything that I can, including speaking to the sheriff in Texas, and we are staying on top of this group. Although we don’t want to cross the line to harassment if there is nothing illegal going on.”

So what will become of the “retreat” in Mancos? Will it, like the parcel in Texas, change purpose?

“There have been rumors about what may or may not be happening up there,” Chavez said, “but so far, we have no hard facts supporting any of these rumors. We have looked into and visited the complex near Mancos and so far there has been nothing to indicate illegal activity.”

Chavez said if anything suspicious occurs, his office is prepared to deal with it. “I can guarantee,” he stated, “if we suspect any criminal activity, we will pursue it.”

Much of this information came from Jon Krakauer’s book “Under the Banner of Heaven,” and from articles in the Salt Lake Tribune.