- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas — A burgeoning, secretive sect of polygamists in a small, western Texas rural community has state legislators considering new bills to combat what many consider the group’s unacceptable lifestyle.

State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Republican, is pushing several changes to state law, particularly those concerning child-protective services, home schooling and marriage between stepchildren and stepparents.

At issue is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a rogue flank of the Mormon denomination that secretly purchased a 1,691-acre ranch outside Eldorado 14 months ago and moved several dozen followers from Utah to begin building a religious center. Warren Jeffs is the self-named prophet of the sect.

Several specialists on polygamy testified last week before the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, including Utah’s attorney general and a well-known author who has written extensively about fundamentalist sects.

“I’m embarrassed,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the legislators, “that for years Utah did nothing. I feel bad that we have basically exported our problem to Texas.”

Jon Krakauer, author of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” who has spent years investigating the sect, predicted that the group would head south to Texas and thinks there will be a bloody outcome if authorities try to arrest its leader.

“I personally think the possibility of another Waco or Jonestown is huge,” Mr. Krakauer said, referring to the deadly standoff in Texas and mass suicide in Guyana. “If [Mr. Jeffs] feels cornered and threatened, he’s not going to go out alone. He’s not going to allow himself to be arrested.”

The group had been under increasing pressure from Utah and various civil lawsuits to criminally prosecute several of the sect’s hierarchy who have conceived children with underage girls. Some say that is why the group ventured to the remote Texas site. Mormons officially outlawed polygamy more than a century ago.

Mr. Hilderbran said Saturday that several suggestions had come as a result of last Wednesday’s hearing — some fine-tuning that would be in the final bill. He said he would have the legislation ready to introduce later this week.

“It’s just too hot a subject to be ignored,” he said.

“It’s been reported,” Mr. Hilderbran said, “that this self-proclaimed prophet encourages his followers to take dozens of wives, many of whom are underage and forced into marriage. I’ve heard that he encourages them to ‘bleed the beast’ by cheating the government and draining the welfare system of funds that should be used for hard-working families. The people of Schneider County and Eldorado don’t want this type of activity going on in their own back yards and neither do I.”

Mr. Shurtleff, in his second term as Utah attorney general, praised Texas authorities for dealing with what he termed “a growing problem.”

“He told us we’d better not wait as long as Utah did in dealing with it because it could get a lot more difficult later on,” Mr. Hilderbran said.

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