Bountiful a 'cult,' says polygamous leader's brother

CTV News, Canada/January 18, 2011

The isolated polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C., is a "cult" where religion is used to control residents and take away their rights, says the brother of one the community's leaders.

Truman Oler, whose brother James leads one of two divided factions within Bountiful, left the fundamentalist Mormon community in southeastern B.C. several years ago and has rarely seen his family since.

Oler, now 29, testified Tuesday at a B.C. court case examining Canada's anti-polygamy law, describing a community where children are taught from an early age that anything less than complete obedience -- including entering into polygamous marriages-- would mean an eternity in hell.

"My thinking about Bountiful and the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has evolved the longer I have been away from the community," Truman said in a written affidavit filed in advance of his testimony.

"I now think that the FLDS is like a cult and that it is damaging for children to grow up in that environment. The FLDS does not permit anyone free choice. You are told what to do."

Residents of Bountiful follow a fundamentalist version of Mormonism that has long been rejected by the mainstream church, practising polygamy as a tenet of the faith.

Oler grew up outside Bountiful in nearby Canyon, living in a large house with his father, his father's many wives and dozens of brothers and sisters. His father, Dalmon Oler, eventually had six wives and 47 children.

While his home was outside Bountiful, Oler's life was steeped in the community and its religion.

His uncle is Winston Blackmore, who was the local bishop until James Oler took over in 2002. He attended the FLDS church and was educated in an FLDS school, where he was taught religion for up to two hours a day.

And whether in church or school, he said there was one constant theme.

"I recall it was said we have two choices: the first choice is we could live this way and have eternal life and get to the highest level of heaven, and if we don't live this way, we're going to be damned and go to hell forever," he said in the witness stand.

"As a small child, I don't think that second choice is a choice at all."

Religion controlled every aspect of life, said Oler, and children were told to be prepared for whatever the church leadership asked of them.

Marriages were arranged. Children and young adults were moved to and from the U.S. to work or marry. Boys, including him, dropped out of school to work in the community's timber and logging businesses.

He said boys were taught to treat girls as "dangerous snakes" whose role was to become wives and produce babies.

Oler said he began to have doubts about the religion as he approached adulthood, and those feelings were solidified after the community bitterly divided in 2002 between followers of Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

Families were broken apart, relatives were forbidden to speak to each other. Oler concluded it wasn't "Christ-like," and he left.

Oler now lives in Marysville, a small community about a two-hour drive north of Bountiful, where he said he recently completed a heavy-duty mechanic course and plans to obtain his high-school equivalency soon.

Speaking in a slow, soft voice, often pausing for nervous breaths between sentences, Oler teared up when discussing the family he left behind. He said he hadn't seen most of them in years.

He now has a wife and two young children, and it is the contrast between them that appears to have affected him most.

"It (having children) has changed me so much now that I look back, the way the kids were ... they (men) don't spend any time with their families," said Oler, struggling to finish his sentences during his emotional testimony.

"I can't think of anything more important, spending the time I do have with my children."

The constitutional case was prompted by the failed prosecution of Blackmore and James Oler in 2009. They were each charged with practising polygamy, but the case against them was thrown out for technical legal reasons.

Next week, the case hears from women currently living in Bountiful, who will be allowed to testify anonymously.

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