What is the LDS lifestyle like

Insight FLDS
(Radical Mormons)

The strange world of the polygamous Mormon sect
Text: Gunther Müller / Profile
The men have several wives at the same time; their families live isolated in a US desert city and glorify a criminal as a prophet: a trip to HIldale / Colorado City, the center of American polygamy.
They call themselves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) and live in a remote village on the edge of illegality. They were expelled from the main Mormon church over 100 years ago, have almost 10,000 followers nationwide and thus form the largest polygamous congregation in the western world.
If you want to visit the fundamentalist Mormon sect FLDS, you have to go to the deserted Arizona Strip, a stretch of land that lies on the border between the states of Arizona and Utah and is still one of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States. To the south, the Grand Canyon separates northwest Arizona from the rest of the state, and to the north are Utah's Canaan Mountains. In between lies the wasteland in which the pious polygamists built the twin settlement Colorado City / Hildale at the beginning of the 20th century.

It takes just under six hours by car from Utah's capital, Salt Lake City, all the way down to the border area with Arizona. The strangely empty twin town has a total of around 7,000 inhabitants. Only children can be seen playing on the spacious, dusty streets. In the US census for 2010, Colorado City was identified as the “youngest city” in the US - with a mean age of 12.6 years (the American average is 36.9 years). Most of the properties are screened off by two meter high fences.
The few men you see in public wear white shirts underneath wide, black suits, the women long, pastel-colored cotton dresses, their hair pinned up to the top. The residents of Colorado City / Hildale look like they are from another time, as if they have just come off the set of the TV series “Our Little Farm”. But at the FLDS, the appearance does not follow curious fashion trends, but strict regulations.

Nobody wants to answer questions about their lifestyle. The men are silent, the women turn and run away in fear. For good reason: Anyone who speaks to strangers faces sanctions, in the worst case even excommunication.
“You have always told us that outsiders are sent by the devil. Everyone is monitored and pressured, ”says Lydia, 23 years old, a member of the FLDS Church on the Arizona Strip until a few months ago. Lydia temporarily lives in Utah's capital, Salt Lake City, but soon wants to move to a state on the east coast and try to start a new life there.

Like all fundamentalist Mormons, Lydia grew up under the church's strict codes of conduct and belief. Her father, an electrical engineer, had two other wives in addition to Lydia's mother. “I had to share my room with four sisters and six brothers and was never allowed to ask questions about my 'sister mums',” she says. “From childhood everything revolves around belief. As a woman, you only have to submit to yourself. "
The local FLDS school was almost entirely about reading the Book of Mormon and preparing for later life as devout mothers and wives. Meeting friends or men was strictly forbidden. At the FLDS, all attention is paid to the family: every woman looks after her children. In addition, depending on their preferences and abilities, the women choose an area in which they are in charge. “One cooks, the other takes care of home schooling, the third takes care of gardening. That should avoid jealousy among the wives, ”says Lydia.
“I only knew my husband very briefly and had to marry him because the prophet wanted it that way,” says Lydia. “Besides me, my husband had two other wives who I often had to massage in the evening.” Polygamy is officially forbidden, but in the small, isolated community, the FLDS were allowed to live at their own discretion for decades. Unspoken condition: you had to keep to yourself. Only once, in 1953, did the police take action against the polygamists. At that time 122 of them were arrested and 263 children were placed with foster families. But the images of screaming children being dragged out of their mothers' arms by police officers unexpectedly sparked a wave of sympathy for the FLDS - the authorities came under pressure. In the end, all the children were returned to their families and the convicts released.
The public sympathy was over in 2002 when Warren Jeffs rose to be the new prophet of the FLDS. Jeffs took over the leadership of the FLDS from his late father Rulon and established a regime that dropouts are said to have used "Gestapo" and "Taliban" methods. Doris Hanson from “Shield and Refuge Ministry”, an NGO that supports FLDS dropouts, says: “Hildale / Colorado City is like a small fascist state. Not only the population, also the local police belong to the FLDS and are subordinate to the prophet Warren Jeffs ”
Like the main LDS church, fundamentalist Mormons always have a living prophet. It could hardly have been worse for the FLDS members - men and women - than with Warren Jeffs. Shortly after he came to power, the 55-year-old banned newspapers, CDs, films, books and private telephone lines. He burned books, shot pets, and sent his private troops unannounced into believers' homes to check that his commandments were being kept. “Colorado City / Hildale works like a small fascist state. Not only the population, but also the local police belong to the FLDS and are subject to the strict command of the prophet Warren Jeffs, ”says Doris Hanson from“ Shield and Refuge Ministry ”, an NGO that supports those who have dropped out of the FLDS. The radicalization of the sect under the leadership of Jeffs finally allowed the Utah authorities to take action. At first they froze the Prophet's finances: his company, the United Efforts Plan, on which all of the FLDS's real estate and finances ran, was confiscated by the public prosecutor's office. But Jeffs knew how to defend himself: in 2003 he established a second FLDS congregation in a small Texan town called Eldorado and had 500 of his followers relocate there.
However, Jeffs only came into the focus of a broader public through the weddings he had arranged: Only the prophet should be allowed to determine which parishioners were to be married to whom. “I myself only knew my husband very briefly and had to marry him because the prophet wanted it that way,” says Lydia. “Besides me, my husband had two other wives who I often had to massage in the evening.” Lydia was 20 years old at the time of their marriage. Other FLDS members - there are dozens of testimonies and tape evidence for this - are, however, often still minors when they are forcibly married to older men. “If the prophet orders, one can take away the wives of young men and give them to older members,” Lydia says indignantly. "The women at the FLDS are just goods." Hundreds of FLDS members who opposed the practice were excommunicated and Jeffs forbade them to have any contact with their families. As "lost boys" - this is how excommunicated FLDS men are called - some turned to the media and the police. In 2006, Warren Jeffs was named the FBI's Most Wanted Criminal List and arrested a few months later during a routine traffic stop. He was eventually extradited to Texas, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2011 for sexually abusing two minors.
The regime of terror does not seem to have ended yet: There are some indications that he will continue to exercise his rule from prison over his brother Lyle Jeffs, local newspapers from Arizona report, citing former FLDS members. And the dropout Lydia is also convinced: "People have fallen for him and still see Warren Jeffs as their prophet - that will only change when he is dead."

Only a few months after her marriage to a man 16 years older than her who was constantly threatening her, Lydia packed her things and left the community. She is currently only in contact with her parents and siblings by phone; she plans to wait some time before visiting them. “I am so glad I took this step. If life outside of the church is going to be hell, as I've been taught, then I want to stay in hell forever. I just wish my whole family would free themselves from the clutches of the FLDS. "
It is understandable that the main church LDS, based in Salt Lake City, tries to distance itself from its fundamentalist splinter group. In the city center is the four-hectare temple complex, right next to it is the Joseph Smith Museum, where volunteers are happy to provide information about the life of the founder of the religion. Brother Westoven, a friendly retired aerospace engineer, is reluctant to talk about the polygamous past of his church and the Prophet Smith himself. “You need to know, in the time of Joseph Smith, polygamy was essential to the survival of the church,” he explains. “We left that behind us a long time ago. Believe me: polygamy is just perverse and repulsive, the polygamous Mormons of today are not really Mormons at all. ”That is only partly true, of course. Fundamentalist Mormons were banned from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when the devout settlers of Utah agreed to abandon polygamy in 1890 under pressure from the US government. However, there were purely pragmatic and by no means moral reasons.
In return for abandoning polygamy, the Washington government incorporated Utah as a state. Mormons were henceforth admitted to the US Senate. An Orthodox section of the Church could not accept the departure from the teaching of Joseph Smith. In their eyes, the Mormons had betrayed one of the most crucial theological foundations of Mormon doctrine - a doctrine that Smith extolled as "heavenly" - out of political calculation. Incidentally, Smith led by example to his followers and had over 30 wives. Brigham Young, the second Mormon prophet after Smith's death, had 56 wives. Warren Jeffs, the convicted FLDS chief, sticks to tradition. He is said to be married to over 40 women and fathered 60 children with them. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney describes the Mormon tradition of polygamy as “abhorrent”. In his family history, however, she is closer to him than he can imagine. His great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, a close follower of Joseph Smith, who planted a church in Mexico on his behalf, was still an ardent polygamist. After all, he married five women and had 30 children, as Michael Kranish and Scott Helman researched for their Mitt Romney biography "The Real Romney". Even the father of Obama's challenger, George Romney, was born in a polygamist commune. Mitt Romney has many relatives in Mexico because of his great-grandfather's sexual activity. But although the family is one of the undisputed values ​​of American society, the presidential candidate prefers not to visit his clan. The family tree definitely has a few too many branches.
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