Compound Fracture

I had sympathy for the Eldorado polygamists when their claims of religious persecution by the state seemed plausible. But the disturbing allegations of sexual abuse of underage girls changed my mind completely.

I felt bad, at first, for the polygamists when the gun-toting state troopers and other law enforcement personnel busted into their Yearning for Zion compound, outside Eldorado, in early April. I felt bad when the officers tried using a “jaws of life” tool to wrench open the door of the sacred temple, and I felt especially bad when they carried away the children, some of whom were infants holding bottles. I kept asking myself, “Is any of this legal?” Removing all 463 children because of phone calls from someone claiming to be a pregnant sixteen-year-old named Sarah who was living at the compound and was being beaten and sexually abused by a middle-aged man? Shouldn’t there at least have been a court hearing where lawyers could raise the issue of due process?

For days, I watched television reports showing the Yearning for Zion children gathered in the yard at San Angelo’s Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. None of them looked malnourished or bruised or beaten. I watched some of their parents on television news shows: the men in their blue jeans and button-down shirts, their faces earnest and sunburned, the women looking like extras from Little House on the Prairie in their collared dresses buttoned to the top and their voluminous hair poufed around their faces. In heartbroken voices, they called themselves honorable parents who would never abuse their children. In fact, they said, they had come to this 1,691-acre former hunting preserve in West Texas so that they could create a place to protect them from the ills of modern civilization. They wanted only to be left alone so that they could pray, sing hymns, study Scripture, and come together as a community to worship God in their temple.

It was, I must say, an impressive performance. Obviously there was some sort of plural marriage being practiced at the compound by many of the men—they shared their homes with “spiritual” wives—but I was having trouble convincing myself that what they were doing was a crime. If a small number of

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