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Saints Under Siege

Saints Under Siege: The Texas State Raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints

Stuart A. Wright
James T. Richardson
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 281
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  • Book Info
    Saints Under Siege
    Book Description:

    In April 2008, state police and child protection authorities raided Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, a community of 800 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist branch of the Mormons. State officials claimed that the raid, which was triggered by anonymous phone calls from an underage girl to a domestic violence hotline, was based on evidence of widespread child sexual abuse. In a high-risk paramilitary operation, 439 children were removed from the custody of their parents and held until the Third Court of Appeals found that the state had overreached. Not only did the state fail to corroborate the authenticity of the hoax calls, but evidence reveals that Texas officials had targeted the FLDS from the outset, planning and preparing for a confrontation.Saints under Siege provides a thorough, theoretically grounded critical examination of the Texas state raid on the FLDS while situating this event in a broader sociological context. The volume considers the raid as an exemplar case of a larger pattern of state actions against minority religions, offering comparative analyses to other government raids both historically and across cultures. In its look beyond the Texas raid, it provides compelling evidence of social intolerance and state repression of unpopular minority faiths in general, and the FLDS in particular.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9530-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    On April 3, 2008, Texas state police and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, a community of eight hundred members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a Mormon sect that continues to practice polygamy. State officials claimed they had evidence of a “widespread pattern and practice” of child sexual abuse and underage marriage. The massive state raid was triggered by phone calls to the Newbridge Family Shelter hotline in San Angelo, Texas, from March 29 to April 3, from an alleged sixteen-year-old girl...


    • 1 The Past as Prologue: A Comparison of the Short Creek and Eldorado Polygamy Raids
      (pp. 25-50)

      When the story of the raid on the community of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) at the Eldorado, Texas, Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch rolled out, the past was prologue. The similarities between the Short Creek raid of 1953 and the Eldorado raid of 2008 are striking, resonating in scope, design, and impact. As historians, we teach our students that we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not learn the lessons history has to teach us. This most recent episode reminds us of the profound importance of this...

    • 2 Rescuing Children? Government Raids and Child Abuse Allegations in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective
      (pp. 51-79)

      The Texas raid on the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) community, now generally considered an egregious and expensive miscalculation, was not the first time that secular authorities have attempted to rescue children from an unconventional communitarian society. In the four cases described below, the authorities were quick to assume that an alternative religious social environment was unwholesome for children.

      These four other cases include the Doukhobors, the Apostles of Infinite Love, the Children of God/Family International, and Ogyen Kunzang Choling. Two factors appear to have influenced the local authorities and made them take complaints about the group seriously. First, the groups’...

    • 3 The Struggle for Legitimacy: Tensions between the LDS and FLDS
      (pp. 80-104)

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has spent a considerable amount of time, money, and effort to distance itself from polygamy and those who continued the practice since it stopped performing plural marriages in the early 1900s (Cragun and Nielsen 2009). Those efforts were redoubled as a result of the Texas state raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in April 2008. Herein we describe the efforts, measures, and strategies employed by the LDS to marginalize the fundamentalist Mormons following this incident.

      The reason why the LDS has spent so much time and capital to distance...


    • 4 Reader Responses to the Yearning for Zion Ranch Raid and Its Aftermath on the Websites of the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News
      (pp. 107-123)

      While national media provide broad-based and politically astute perspectives for readers and audiences, they sometimes fail to fully understand local or regional cultural nuances that affect a story. The 2008 Texas state raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is a case in point. There is a long-standing and deep-seated ambivalence among residents of Utah about the issue of polygamy and the fundamentalist Mormons who continue to practice “the Principle.” One can find this ambivalence embedded in the regional media coverage of, and reader responses to, the FLDS raid. In the following pages reader...

    • 5 Deconstructing Official Rationales for the Texas State Raid on the FLDS
      (pp. 124-149)

      The massive state raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (FLDS) near Eldorado, Texas, in 2008 was predicated on hoax phone calls to a domestic violence shelter hotline from an alleged sixteen-year-old girl inside the FLDS community who said she was raped and beaten by her polygamous husband. As we now know, the calls were made by an emotionally unstable, thirty-three-year-old woman in Colorado Springs. Curiously, as we have seen elsewhere in this volume, officials at the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and state police, before launching this massive enforcement action, made little effort...

    • 6 Texas Redux: A Comparative Analysis of the FLDS and Branch Davidian Raids
      (pp. 150-177)

      In the initial days after the Texas state raid, in 2008, on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in Eldorado, some observers invoked a comparison with the disastrous federal raid on the Branch Davidians outside Waco fifteen years earlier. Although the raids had some ostensible similarities, the differences were obvious, primarily the absence of a shootout, standoff, or any violent confrontation between sect and state in the FLDS raid. The comparison with the 1993 Waco raid quickly faded as news stories focused on the fate of more than four hundred FLDS children taken into custody...

    • 7 Large-Scale FLDS Raids: The Dangers and Appeal of Crime Control Theater
      (pp. 178-198)

      The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) has been portrayed by the media, politicians, and law enforcement officials as a sect that engages in and encourages illegal and immoral behavior. The negative portrayal of this religious group has resulted in two arguably ill–conceived and dangerous large-scale raids on FLDS communities; in 1953 a settlement in Short Creek, Arizona, was raided to save women from the alleged oppression of polygamous marriages, and in 2008 a settlement near Eldorado, Texas, was raided to rescue one alleged victim of sexual and physical abuse. These very public raids and...


    • 8 Strategic Dissolution and the Politics of Opposition: Parallels in the State Raids on the Twelve Tribes and the FLDS
      (pp. 201-220)

      On June 22, 1984, the State of Vermont illegally seized 112 children from the Twelve Tribes Community in Island Pond, Vermont, following allegations of child abuse (Swantko 1998a; Palmer 1998). After individual hearings District Court Judge Frank Mahady ordered the children returned to their parents and issued five separate opinions based on the finding that the police raid on the small religious group was a “grossly unlawful scheme” (In re Certain Children1984, p.6). Research eventually revealed that the attorney general’s staff and state child protection workers in Vermont had collaborated with anticult movement (ACM) leaders in carrying out a...

    • 9 Political and Legislative Context of the FLDS Raid in Texas
      (pp. 221-241)

      When new religious movements (NRMs) first appeared in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s they were greeted favorably, as many in society, including some parents, were pleased to see young people choosing religion over the radical political activism of that chaotic time. The circumstances changed markedly, however, once it became obvious that some of the NRMs were quite serious about commitment and lifestyle changes that included dropping out of college, perhaps going on mission activities in exotic lands, or raising money for their new allegiances by distributing literature or selling trinkets on the streets of American cities. What...

    • 10 Pyrrhic Victory? An Analysis of the Appeal Court Opinions Concerning the FLDS Children
      (pp. 242-264)

      The 2008 Texas raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) at the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch that resulted in more than four hundred children being taken into custody by the state was not an anomalous event, as the chapters in this volume make clear. New religious movements (NRMs) and other minority faiths often find themselves subject to efforts of social control by authorities of the dominant society, and sometimes those efforts are couched in terms of concern about children (Homer 1999; Palmer, this volume; Palmer and Hardeman 1999; Richardson 1999; Swantko 2004). New...

  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 265-266)
  10. Index
    (pp. 267-270)