The hard truth about the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup is that despite all the tough, hang-em high rhetoric and demagoguing by state and local officials, the massive police action probably made it harder, not easier to identify or prevent abuse within the group. It caused Eldorado polygamists to circle the wagons to protect their innocent brethren, and made kids more fearful of the state than of their religious leaders, which means they'll be less likely to speak out when bad things happen.
Part of the problem with the state of Texas' approach to the raid was that officials took the wrong example as their model. They thought they were dealing with another David Koresh like in Waco, but really the better comparison was the Short Creek Raid in 1953 on the Utah-Arizona border. The Arizona Republic on Saturday offered an excellent analysis comparing the Texas raid with its historical antecedent out west, reaching these conclusions:
It's hard to see your way in polygamist country, and the most dangerous pathway through this, says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, is the one that came before.In other words Texas blew it, however this handful of prosecutions turns out. Just like in the aftermath to the Short Creek debacle, if there are actual abused kids among the FLDS, Texas ' actions made it more difficult, not easier, for them to get help - and not just in Texas but in other locales.
Arizona and Utah officials have carefully worked to carve exit routes from Colorado City for those who want to leave. They established the Safety Net Committee to help domestic-violence victims, and on the road into Colorado City, a large billboard now advertises a "safe talk" hotline.
But "if they fear us more than they do their abusers, they're never going to seek help," Shurtleff says. "It's this fear of government they've been taught from the cradle - 'See what happened in '53? If you seek help, they'll come and take everybody.' We keep telling them, 'No, no, no. If someone needs help, we'll handle that one case. There won't be a raid.'
"And now the polygamists are saying, 'See, we told you, we told you it would happen again,' " Shurtleff says.
There's another force at work here, too, a kind of unlikely glory that comes each time the police knock on the polygamists' doors.
Nothing makes a religion like a martyr. The Bible leans on the stories of those who put faith first, who sacrificed their freedom and their families, who laid down their lives for the Lord. Through all their persecution, the polygamists talk of nothing but strength.
"The outside pressure from the government only reinforces their convictions," says [FLDS researcher Ken] Driggs, "reinforces the belief that 'We are God's chosen people, and we are going to be persecuted for living God's laws.' "
In the polygamists' darkest hours, they say, the light shines more brightly on the pathway to God.
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