I waited a week to comment on the Texas case, separating 437 children from their FLDS parents, to see if any substantive evidence of abuse would emerge. It hasn’t. Even if it had, those could have been handled individually. But no, Texas plans instead to make every member of the group pay the supreme price: to strip away their beloved children. This case is about group punishment. In spite of a search warrant tainted by a false witness (the “Sarah” who doesn’t exist), no actual specific evidence of abuse, or any unwilling participants in this polygamous compound, a self-righteous Texas judge had decreed that all 400 + children will not be returned to the custody of their parents. Texas has gone too far to rid itself of this awkward religious sect that built the “Yearning for Zion” (YFZ) ranch in order to evade persecution in Utah and Arizona.
As this tyrannical order clearly meant separating even nursing children from their mothers, a wave of outrage began to sweep the nation. The media-savvy judge immediately changed her order (allowing children under 1 year if age to be nursed) in order to keep the tide of public relations on the side of the authorities. But this should not deter the nation from realizing the danger of the tenuous legal proposition that mere membership in a group (that may have isolated examples of marrying underage girls) makes all unworthy of possessing any children at all–ever. That is wrong, especially when legal remedies exist to prosecute specific wrongdoers.
The local sheriff admitted on television that he had an “informant” on the inside for over 4 years. That was probably a disgruntled member of the group who decided to stay on to build up a case against his fellow church members. If a case can’t be built after four years of informing, and authorities have to rely on a false abuse phone call to justify this invasion, what does that say about the State’s case?
The key testimony the judge relied upon was that of Texas Child Protective Services’ Angie Voss who said that at least “five girls younger than 18 are pregnant or have children.” CPS argued under cross-examination that none of the 400+ children should be allowed to return to the YFZ ranch because 10 or 12 years down the road they may be subject to abuse. Incredible! Defense lawyers correctly noted that the state cannot make such sweeping generalizations about all of these families. Fairness requires a case by case assessment. In the meantime, Children should be free to return home with their parents, who have not been accused of any crime. Criminals get easier release terms and bail than these families.
Unfortunately, even Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader (and a Mormon who probably has polygamous ancestors) has joined in the witch hunt and called for Department of Justice assistance to states in prosecuting polygamists nationwide wherever they may be hiding. I call this a witch hunt because these people are being judged as a group, mostly because they can be easily targeted as a group. There is far more abuse that occurs among the general populace as a whole, but because they are not part of an organized group, they have to be prosecuted individually–as it should be. There is no excuse for engaging in group punishment for the polygamists when their general record of raising fine, well behaved children is superior to the average public educated family. Individual prosecution for underage marriage or cohabitation is not that much more difficult than the typical secretive bigamist–who makes no attempt to take responsibility for any children.
Even the suspected perpetrator of the phony abuse calls (representing herself as “Sarah Barlow”) was treated more leniently by authorities than these Texas families. Rozita Swinton, a 33 year old black woman, with a history of false reports was allowed out on bail ($20,000 put up by someone yet unknown) and promptly disappeared. An arrest warrant was issued for her charging her with false reporting to authorities for an incident in February. Some justice. This makes at least the third time Swinton has been implicated in these kinds of false reports and she has never served jail time. She was not arrested for this incident even though the false call from “Sarah” originated from a phone Swinton has used in the past to falsify abuse reports. Rod Parker, an attorney and spokesman for the FLDS Church said Tuesday that “Sarah Barlow doesn’t exist and Dale Barlow lives in Arizona.” He correctly noted that the phone call tainted the search warrant used at the YFZ Ranch, which will certainly be part of a future legal challenge to the blanket separation of mothers from children.
Authorities in Colorado are keeping everything concerning Swinton sealed in order to avoid embarrassment of Texas authorities who based their search and seizure warrant on this illegal call for help. Their reluctance to prosecute Swinton is suspicious. A tape recording of the call exists. How hard is it to match her distinctive voice to that call?
There is other evidence as well. Texas Rangers admitted privately to Child Protection Project founder Linda Walker who took the call that “she [Swinton] was obsessed with the FLDS.” Rangers confiscated tons of material on the FLDS in the search of Swinton’s home. She had real addresses and real names of FLDS people which is not easy to get a hold of for someone with limited intellect. Swinton also knew that the FLDS had doctrinal beliefs that denied their Priesthood to Blacks and devised racist statements in her call to the Texas abuse hot line so as to further implicate the FLDS as racists. Because of Swinton’s intellectual limitations (friends describe her as a sort of soft spoken simpleton), I would not rule out that Swinton may be under the influence of an agent provocateur working to justify the seizure of children from the YFZ ranch.
The longer this blanket forced separation of family members continues, based solely upon the tenuous doctrine of “potential abuse” for group beliefs, the more dangerous it will become to the rights of all who are or will become potential dissidents to government tyranny–unless it backfires and they go too far. That’s what happened with the state of Utah when they shot a polygamist home schooler named John Singer for refusing to hand over his children to the state who was going to force them into public schools. The nationwide bad press on the killing forced Utah to stop prosecuting homeschoolers and finally allow parents the right to educate their own.
If you think this is only about the evils of polygamy, consider that Texas authorities prepared a “Cultural Competencies” tip sheet for Texas social workers engaged in “de-programming” FLDS children warning them that these cult members would be “fearful and distrustful of government.” Why shouldn’t they be, given what has happened? We should all be deeply concerned.
The Texas ACLU also weighed in on the case: “While we acknowledge that Judge Walther’s task may be unprecedented in Texas judicial history [and totally without legal precedent], we question whether the current proceedings adequately protect the fundamental rights of the mothers and children,’ Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a written statement. “As this situation continues to unfold, we are concerned that the constitutional rights that all Americans rely upon and cherish — that we are secure in our homes, that we may worship as we please and hold our places of worship sacred, and that we may be with our children absent evidence of imminent danger [the current legal standard] — have been threatened,” Burke said.
I’m hoping that good people everywhere will realize how this expansion of child “protective” law threatens every family whose parents subscribe to any belief system “society” considers “abusive” and who are members of an identifiable group of similar believers. “Society” doesn’t exist legally, except in the minds of those who claim (wrongly) that they speak for the majority. This targeting of dissident groups, if allowed to continue, will eventually encircle almost all fundamentalist Christians who believe in any form of strict discipline and spanking, who are home schoolers or who hold to any theory that our government is in some way an enemy of liberty. Indeed, belief in mere physical discipline, or patriarchal authority, is one of the “evils” social workers regularly list as one of the criteria that make for abusive parents, and thus unworthy to keep their children.
That said, I do think there is a problem endemic to polygamous groups relative to the treatment of girls. I’ve had some experience with members of these groups. Almost all are constitutional conservatives and some individual members have attended speeches I have given in the West. We have to be careful not to stereotype all polygamous groups as the press tends to do. They have some common beliefs, but vary greatly in how they are organized and how they function as a group. The ones I have met have actually been very fine conservative people. They all readily admit that some polygamous groups are much more authoritarian than others, and that is why there have been so many splinter groups among them, each trying to find some form of leadership they are comfortable with. Most often the problem with the old line groups like the FLDS is with older leaders who tend to run things with a patriarchal authoritarian mindset. In Biblical terms, the Lord does endorse patriarchal authority, but it must never be exercised with unrighteous dominion.
Notwithstanding problem people or leaders (which isn’t limited to fundamentalists), the FLDS have many admirable qualities. The children follow an excellent health code, eat natural foods, are well behaved, clean and well groomed. They are homeschooled and thus shielded from so many of the evil influences that infect other good Christians who lose many of their children to the world. There parents are clearly not monsters the state of Texas seeks to portray in their aggressive attempt to justify the separation and destruction of these families.
Arranged marriages occur in only a few of these groups. Most of the splinter groups run things by normal persuasion. But, the core problem with any of the groups is that it is a relatively closed circle relative to available future wives. Despite having large families, polygamists tend to intermarry within the group because it’s very difficult to convert outside woman to join the group, and they have significant doctrinal and authoritarian issues with other splinter groups that discourage intermingling. Those that are raised within the group are the ones most willing to continue on in this tradition of multiple wives–though a significant number within the non-authoritarian groups decide not to be polygamous.
But, even these have trouble breaking with the group because of strong family and religious ties. Business ties are also hard to break. Certain polygamist groups are extremely effective at banding together and forming successful businesses that make a lot of money. This makes it difficult to break away because they still have a share in the business ventures, which isn’t easily separable from the group.
What I suspect is happening in this larger FLDS compound is that there are not many available future wives except these teenage girls, who are yet unspoken for. Thus, a competition develops as certain men try to get commitments of marriage out of either the parents or the girl before someone else does. This leads to very unhealthy competition and some incentive to intermarry among relatives or enter into underage marriages. But the solution to this major source of abuse is clear:
Regardless of these people’s commitment to polygamy, they need to follow the law relative to marriage age.
Various FLDS men have said they are more than willing to do that, which could swiftly solve this crisis. However, the government is probably going to use the results of the mandated DNA tests to prosecute those who have married an underage mother, or close relative, rather than simply establish paternity as they claim. The authorities wrongfully induced their “voluntary” participation in the DNA tests by promising this could lead to the restoration of their children. Instead, I believe this will only lead to criminal charges, and the state will already have proof of the illegal relationship. The prosecutions are appropriate where excessive pressure was involved in the marriage. But if authorities are going down this route, they should not simply be targeting polygamists. To be fair, they should be arresting every under-aged pregnant girl in the state and subject all known male contacts to DNA testing. Of course they won’t do that, proving that they are targeting an unpopular religious group, rather than seeking to protect all underage girls equally. Sadly any prosecutions they do will be used to justify condemning the whole group and painting them all with the same broad brush.
William Norman Grigg, an immensely talented but often caustic patriotic writer who used to write for the New American, weighed in on this subject with exceptional force. Here are a few excerpts from his blog first addressing the danger of government’s unfettered claim to gathering personal DNA:
“The Homeland Security Apparatus is now prepared to act on the claim that our very genetic material is the collective property of society, requiring us to surrender DNA samples whenever a pretext can be found. (This opens up all kinds of possible mischief, beginning with the claim, recently upheld in New York, that genetic evidence is sufficient grounds for a criminal indictment.) The same is true of other individual biometric signifiers, such as fingerprints. Commissar for Homeland Security “Mikhail” Chertoff — who received his post at Homeland Security after helping to build the Regime’s torture apparatus [see story below] — insists that fingerprints are not ‘personal data,’ and thus can be collected by the Regime and shared with other national security systems as our rulers see fit.”
This is all leading to the Orwellian “Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007” a proposed piece of dangerous legislation where government plans to mandate newborn testing for DNA anomalies and then consider the collected DNA as government property, free to share with whomever it chooses.
Grigg then turns to the “Texas Child Snatchers” directly. “The Texas Department of Child Abduction, sometimes wittily referred to as the Department of Protective and Family Services, has announced that as soon as it has extracted DNA samples from the FLDS child captives they will be placed in foster care. In many instances this will require tearing newborn or nursing infants out of the arms of their mothers:
“‘Some FLDS mothers with nursing babies and toddlers may be unaware that they will be forced to leave their children behind once Texas officials gather the DNA samples from them..’ As with every other act of government coercion, this unspeakably cruel crime will be accompanied by the threat of lethal violence…. The above-quoted Mrs. Jessop has described an attempt she made yesterday with a group of mothers to visit their children, who are being held prisoner at the San Angelo Coliseum. They were — to use a phrase made offensive by its dishonest delicacy — ‘turned away by law enforcement.’ Which is to say that they were threatened with lethal violence by the State’s rented thugs: ‘They told us if we went on that property again we would be arrested.’
“To get a sense of the pure, unalloyed evil being wrought by ‘law enforcement’ in this matter, we turn to the indispensable blog published by Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake Tribune. ‘We watched as this woman was greeted by younger women, all hugging her, obviously going to her for comfort, crying,’ writes Adams. ‘From afar, we had no idea who they were or what they were doing or what the emotions playing out were.’ The name of the woman being embraced is Janet.
“‘She has five children in state custody, three girls and two boys. The girls are ages 9, 13 and 16. The boys are 11 and 15. This is what she said about that moment: ‘I was in the shelter and had girls in the other one. They told me my two girls were running for me and I went across to hug them. Instantly I had eight police men around me. I was just hugging them.’ These women and children have neither been accused of a crime, nor convicted of one. Yet they are being treated like inmates in one of the nouveau gulags called Supermax Prisons. It occurs to me that this is the kind of situation in which a writ of habeas corpus would be appropriate… if, that is, the habeas corpus guarantee still existed in this once-free country.
“The 437 kidnapped children, and more than 100 detained mothers, are being compelled to undergo DNA testing — despite the fact that not a single one of them has been accused of a crime. Barbara Walther, the same judge who authorized that outrage [and thus has every incentive to see it justified], ruled yesterday that FLDS mothers of nursing children would not be permitted to breastfeed their infants. After all, sniffed the judge with the refined disdain persons so often display when dealing with mere people, ‘every day in this country, we have mothers who go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave.’ [She has since modified this ruling, but her limit of nursing children to less than one year old shows a decided ignorance or disdain for the overall health and birth control benefits of longer periods of nursing.]”
Commenting with acid tongue accuracy Grigg continues: “Lavishing such individualized attention on a youngster is unhealthy, after all. If he’s fed, raised, educated, and cared for by his own parents, he won’t be properly socialized; that is to say, he won’t be taught to think of himself as part of the people. Why, a child in such circumstances tends to think of himself as a person without being given permission to do so.
“Yesterday, in a scene of unfathomable cruelty, about 100 FLDS children were loaded on to buses with tinted windows and taken from their temporary prison… In fact, the kidnappers of those children were beginning the process of redistributing the captives to foster homes scattered across Texas. Imagine, for a second, the clinical indifference to the suffering of children that one must display in order to do such a thing to innocent children kept ignorant of their fate.
“And then ask yourself how, in the name of anything anybody considers holy, can any rational human being — any intelligent person — look upon the government ruling us as anything other than our implacably evil enemy. Bear in mind that we’re talking about a government that — without a legally defensible rationale — had dispatched a heavily-armed party of raiders to surround their property and abduct their children. Why on earth would anybody be ‘distrustful’ toward people who would seize his children at gunpoint? Oh, but I see I’ve got the categories wrong: It was the officially recognized persons who committed those acts, so the people belonging to the FLDS church had no right to complain, and were obligated to display child-like trust and canine submissiveness.”
Commentary And Insights On A Troubled World