Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been discussing the CPS raids on the FLDS and the subsequent court battles with various people over the last week and I’ve noticed an interesting trend. There is a near even split. The dividing line is not between liberals and conservatives or big government folks versus libertarians. Rather, it’s men against women. Probably about two thirds of the men I’ve talked to believe that the CPS was way out of line and that this is an egregious example of government over-reach. About the same portion of women take the opposite view. Republican voter or Democrat, it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Men seem to look at the situation abstractly as a legal or philosophical issue. Women seem to look at the situation more personally as young women are stripped of their autonomy to become tools of procreation and the playthings of much (and sometimes much, much) older men.
For my part, from what I know about the case and the laws surrounding it, I think that the judges came to the correct legal conclusion. The CPS did a very poor job of getting its evidenciary ducks in a row. Even setting aside the faulty tip that triggered the raid, it seems likely that they could have done a better job of seeking out the women that escaped and the men that were kicked out of the compound. Or maybe even with all those ducks in a row the situation is cloudy enough that they can’t realistically legally intervene. Not sure. It’s frustrating when the prosecution (or in this case a government agency) botches a case that really could have been worthwhile, but when that happens the system needs to do what the system needs to do in order to prevent those botches from happening in the future.
And so I would agree with the men, for the most part. Except that a lot of them take it a few steps further. In their view, the CPS folks are the bad guys and the FLDS - or at least the majority contingent of the FLDS that is not actively sleeping with minors - their victims. More than one person has suggested that the FLDS is being picked on because it’s different, that the belief that all of these bad things are going on is largely the product of prejudice, and that we’re punishing an entire group for the actions of comparatively few.
That’s where they lose me.
From my perspective, the CPS folks are the inept and overzealous good guys in this case. The FLDS members are the victims only insofar as criminals are sometimes the victim of illegal searches. Well that’s the extent to which they are victims of the state, anyway. A majority of them are victims of the system they grew up in, but then they’re also the perpetrators. The moral perpetrators here are not simply the men that are having sex with people that they shouldn’t be having sex with. The perpetrators are the families giving up their young women to this system and raising their sons to be future perpetrators or else allowing them to be kicked out of the compound. While some people wonder why they don’t just take the men out of the picture and let everyone else be are in my mind insufficiently weighing that by participating in the system, their hands are bloody to. The women are victims, but they’re not just victims.
Don’t get me wrong. They have my sympathy. I don’t pretend that if I were raised in that environment that I wouldn’t believe exactly as they believe and support the system exactly as they support it. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. But while I have sympathy, that doesn’t entitle them to the moral right to perpetuate the system that warped them. Though I don’t have as much of it since they were profiting from the system in a sense, I even have sympathy for the men that are collecting the young brides. As the saying goes, they know not what they do. They believe that they are doing God’s work. That doesn’t mean that letting them do what they were doing is right, either.
I’ve no doubt that the FLDS parents love their children. The problem is that either they love their church more or are stuck so far under the thumb of their church that they are powerless. So in a sense, Warren Jeffs is their parent. Their argument that nothing should be allowed to come between their family loses its resonance when they quite frequently allow their church to do just that:
To reduce competition for wives, the church systematically expels adolescent boys, thus trimming the eligible male population. It’s estimated that the FLDS has thrown out between 400 and 1,400 male members in the last decade.
Church elders excommunicate boys as young as 14 ostensibly for bad behavior—like flirting with girls, watching a movie, listening to rock music, drinking, playing basketball, or wearing short-sleeve shirts. Sometimes called the “Lost Boys,” they’re considered apostates and cut off entirely from their relatives. Parents or siblings who protest are sometimes asked to pack their bags as well. Girls have also been cast out of the church, but this happens much less often. Usually this punishment is reserved for women who don’t wish to be part of a polygamous marriage.
Excommunication doesn’t just mean that they lose Temple privileges or can’t take Holy Communion anymore. The church is the community. They’re not only kicked out of Mass (or whatever the FLDS equivalent is) but kicked out of their homes and their physical communities. Complaints from FLDS members about how wrong it is for them to send these kids into the world at large ring hollow. The church does it and the parents allow it to happen. Either they agree with what’s happening or they’re powerless to do anything about it. The end result is the same either way.
So how well do these young men fare in the world of iniquity that they are thrust into? It’s not a pretty sight:
They aren’t used to remembering when job interviews are or how to pay bills. They don’t know how to mingle with people, and some struggle to talk to girls.
“You’re taught that everyone out here is corrupt and evil,” Steed said. “You have no idea how life works, no idea how to survive in modern society.” They are, after all, only teens, but now they are on their own.
A therapist meets with some boys; some attend self-improvement classes. They are learning to manage money and signing up to take the GED. Fischer evaluates them, asking about future plans and if they want to go to college. He is working to match each boy with a mentor and find them places to live. For now, they live in hotels and in houses that the Fischer brothers own.
Many are highly skilled in construction, a main job in the creek. But all this support from outsiders is confusing. The boys say FLDS members and even their own families often turned on them, so it was easier to distrust everyone.
“In a way, it scares us,” said Raymond Hardy, 19. “I’m not used to it.” Ream wants to know what the catch is. “There’s always a catch. Why are they doing this?”
Of course, one could read this and say that the CPS is just condemning more kids to this fate. This is true, but I am unpersuaded that this is the worst fate. As difficult-going as this was for the Lost Boys, their situation is not unsalvageable. Many of them will grow up and have children and those children will be born free. Their sisters, on the other hand, will have children that will be born into the same machine that they were, believing that free thought and action are stops on the road to Hell. Regarding the kids in Eldorado, as substandard as our Foster Care system is, I’m not convinced that it’s worse than the alternative. I’m further not convinced of the notion that because the FLDS screwed them up so royally that the only responsible thing to do is to return them to that oppressive environment.
The tricky part, though, is the question of “What next?” This is a question where the CPS has fallen woefully short and the question to which I am not sure there is a good answer. Even if they do take the kids and more of them eventually adjust, the women in the compound will simply have more kids. The machine will likely live on. Perhaps the result will be an insurrection among the rank-and-file towards normalizing the church’s relationship with its surroundings. It seems unlikely that such an insurrection can be cultivated where free thought is grounds for explusion and besides, they’ve lost their children before in service of The Cause and no such movement has occurred.
From the CPS’s perspective, this will quite likely result in a retreat from Texas and that may be all the CPS and the State of Texas want. The Creek compounds in Utah and Arizona will continue on, though. Willard has expressed great concern that any attempts to pierce the armor surrounding that will result in rivers of blood. Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. After Waco, it seems unlikely that the federal government is going to take that chance and the governments in Utah and Arizona seem to have moved on from their investigations.
This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all of this. It’s also why I have become so frustrated with those that are celebrating the reunion of parents and child. Even though I believe the courts likely ruled correctly given what they had to work with, I am more inclined to feel sad and angry that moral justice was not done even if legal justice was. This represents not the greatness of our system, but the inherent weakness of it. It is apparent that either our governments are too inept to handle the investigation or otherwise that cults can escape justice so long as their circle their wagons tightly enough. No thorough investigation can occur without ripping the community apart from one end to the other… and we can’t rip the community apart without being able to thoroughly investigate it first.
Further, they’ve managed to win people over people by virtue of the very insularity that keeps them beyond the government’s reach. The fact that they’re so different becomes a reason in itself that they should not be released into the general system. The kids are so brainwashed that they can’t handle the outside world without the guidance of their brainwashed parents. Except that arguments of coercion are shrugged off because you can’t call it coercion when the conditioning begins at birth. The fact that members of the church are so stripped of their autonomy that coercion becomes redundant simply doesn’t make me feel better.