Tuesday, April 22, 2008

FLDS -- A Closer Look

Sara Robinson continues her extended examination of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints communal group(s) now in the news.

My earlier post links to her timely initial comments. Refer to those links for a better understanding of what appears next.

Today's more general description of this very old, widespread cult are a study in adaptive group behavior with toxic results.

...Throughout its 60-year history, the FLDS has dealt with prosecution (or persecution) by seeding itself into new states, laying down roots for new communities that it can migrate to. (Eldorado itself started out as one of these.) New compounds are coming together now in Idaho and South Dakota; and there are rumors of others being staked out in Colorado and Nevada as well. Hildale/Colorado City may have been effectively taken over by the state of Utah, and Eldorado is in crisis; but with somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 adherents, this is a group that's not going to pass from the American scene any time soon.
...the group's women and children get much of their primary care from people who feel no accountability to established medical standards of practice, state record-keeping requirements, or any of the existing mandated reporter laws. (Most people in these communities have no idea these laws even exist.) The spotty record-keeping that results is why the state of Texas has made the wise decision to do DNA testing on all the kids: it cannot be taken for granted that their birth certificates are accurate (or, in some places, exist at all).

The FLDs has also co-opted mental health services into another form of wife abuse. ...the fear of being labeled insane and shut away in an institution is one of the most potent threats the community has used to keep women in their place.

Of course, this misuse of mental health care has turned into one non-obvious but critically important cultural land mine for the Texas authorities who are trying to figure out how to deal with their FLDS wards. Along with everything else, they're trying to work with women who've learned to see mental health evaluations as tantamount to an incarceration threat -- are thus predisposed to regard gentile doctors or social workers as a mortal enemy. It's not making things easier.
Much of the power of the prophets has been drawn from the fact that they historically controlled both the cops and the courts that served the Hildale/Colorado City area. Though these were officially chartered law enforcement agencies and nominally public courts, they weren't concerned with civil law. Instead, their task was to enforce the law according to the FLDS and its Prophet. The people in these communities had no effective recourse to the laws the rest of us live under. They could be arrested, fined, jailed, and have their property seized by nominally "official" cops and courts, acting under full authority of civil government, for violating church laws.

Like African-Americans in the slavery era, women who tried to run were captured by these police and returned to their husbands for punishment -- or taken to the hospital for the dreaded mental health evaluation. The police force's main job is to be the muscle that enforces the Prophet's control of the entire community....
These communities also bury their own dead (and at least one has its own crematorium), which opens the way to record-keeping anomalies with death certificates -- and ensures that no questions will ever be asked, and no autopsies will ever be performed. Given the genetic instability and volatile control issues within this group, it may not be wise for them to have the means to dispose of dead bodies without official oversight. We need to be asking questions about who's in their cemeteries and crematoria, how they got there, and what kinds of records are being kept.

One of the most striking things about the FLDS is that certain surnames -- Jeffs, Blackmore, Fischer, Jessop, Barlow, Steed -- occur over and over again. In a community of over 40,000 people -- many of whom share fathers, grandfathers, or uncles -- the degree of blood relationship between any two people is likely to be very close indeed. In fact, over half the people in Hildale/Colorado City are blood relatives. So it's not surprising that, starting in 1980, the tragic results of three generations of tight inbreeding began to appear.

That was the year the first Colorado City child was diagnosed with fumarase deficiency -- a genetic disease so rare that only a handful of cases had ever been diagnosed worldwide....
There are also signs of widespread hereditary eye problems among the current crop of children, along with evidence that that the community has a higher-than-average infant mortality rate. Arizona coroners recently -- and finally -- got involved in investigating these....

Looks like the tip of a very big iceberg.

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