In Arizona town, polygamous Mormon sect tightens its borders

Los Angeles Times/February 1, 2004
By David Kelly

Colorado City, Ariz. -- Beneath red rock cliffs and soaring mountains, this remote desert community is a land of secrets, a closed society where outsiders are shunned and where the faith calls for multiple wives and total obedience to the will of the "prophet."

Along the dusty streets, drivers grind to a halt to gawk at strangers. Women, in long skirts and smocks buttoned to their chins, and children, scatter when approached.

The residents don't like the outside world knowing their business, but a peculiar turn of events has made that impossible now. Last month, the "prophet," Warren Jeffs, said God had ordered him to expel the mayor and 20 others. He then gave their wives and children to other men.

Jeffs canceled all church services, sacraments, and new marriages, and retreated behind the walls surrounding his compound.

Those expelled have left the polygamous community, which straddles Arizona and Utah.

Law enforcement officials say they may return, and may be looking for vengeance. Sheriff's deputies traditionally let the local police handle crime in the area. Now, the deputies are patrolling the community.

"We don't like to come out here, and we are not wanted here," said Sheriff's Deputy Laura Stokes of Washington County, Utah. "But we're here in case things get out of control."

Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah, are strongholds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a splinter group of the Mormon faith. The two towns of roughly 7,500 residents are essentially one community, the largest polygamous enclave in the nation, where almost every man has more than one wife.

"I think they are imploding," said Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, whose district includes Colorado City. "This is a sham government when a prophet can tell the mayor to get out."

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff of Utah called Jeffs a tyrant, and said that those who had been expelled were providing crucial evidence that child abuse, incest, sexual assault, racketeering, and welfare fraud were widespread within the community.

"I think there are some good people there," he said, "but their leaders are bad, and they are encouraging the commission of crimes and the violation of civil rights."

The Arizona attorney general's office did not return calls for comment.

One of those recently excommunicated was Ross Chatwin, who in a recent news conference, compared Jeffs to Adolf Hitler, and the two towns to concentration camps.

The prophet's lawyer, Raymond Scott Berry of Salt Lake City, called the allegations ridiculous.

"I don't know what exactly caused the expulsions," Berry said. "These guys have a very strict spiritual and moral code, and my assumption is these men violated it. I think the church is being unfairly represented here."

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