Family Systems Theory never prepared me for this – Updated 2x

One of my post graduate fields of study was family therapy and I was schooled by a very gifted professor (Dr. Danuta Mostwin) who studied under Dr. Margaret Mead. She was very big on systems theory and it is the basis for the type of family therapy she advocated. I would love to know her feelings about the disturbing story right now playing out in the Texas courts regarding the Fundamentalist LDS Church raid in Eldorado, the latest ruling from the judge detailing the need for the 416 children to remain in state custody while DNA tests are ordered.

The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in a Polygamous Mormon Sect, written by Daphne Bramham, is a book that should be read by all. But, especially, it is one that should have been read by the folks who are covering the big story in Texas, before they began their sadly, typically irresponsible, reporting.

This book details the founding and flourishing of a polygamous, fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C. There, Winston Blackmore of Bountiful, says it’s G-d’s will that he has twenty-two wives and more than one hundred children. Canada’s most outspoken polygamist insists his faith left him no choice but to “marry” and impregnate nearly a dozen teens, and he has publicly admitted to marrying girls as young as fifteen. Polygamy and sex with minors are both illegal in Canada and yet Blackmore and this cult flourish.

This must-read book unravels Blackmore’s story using his own words as well as those of people who have escaped the cult to live in the outside world. It details the intermarriages and intrigues among the patriarchs as they fight for control of minds, money, property and women. And running through the narrative are the most troubling questions of all: Why has nothing been done to stop the illegal practices of this cult? Why haven’t the polygamists, pedophiles and abusers been charged and jailed?

Writer, Sara Robinson, has put together some must-read posts (I’ve included some of her excellent analysis below) about the current situation, also detailing the seminal books in this area. She speaks to the definitive book on fundamentalist Mormonism being Jon Krakauer’s 2003 bestseller, Under the Banner of Heaven, a book that related the murder of a woman, along with her child, who dared to defy her husband’s involvement with that polygamous sect. It also introduced America to Warren Jeffs, long before he became a fugitive and eventually a convicted felon; and put Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT on America’s cultural map. I will certainly be keeping in touch with her comments as this story unravels.

Don’t Mess With Texas
In choosing Eldorado, Jeffs may have, at long last, picked the wrong place to hide. Texas doesn’t harbor the ghosts of Mormon pioneers or FLDS martyrs. Any liberal Texan will tell you that the Lone Star State is not cursed, as BC is, with an overbroad sense of religious freedom. What does lurk in its memetic closet is the memory of Waco — another closed, secretive, sexually abusive cult that was left to fester unattended too long, with horrific consequences. Many of the people who are dealing with the FLDS had enough of an up-close-and-personal view of the 1993 disaster with the Branch Davidians to know what they’re dealing with here.

Are FLDS women brainwashed?
The problem, as it so often is with the mainstream media, is that absolutely everybody involved with reporting or commenting on this story has been airlifted into it in the past few days. (You’d think somebody would have at least taken the time on the plane flight to skim Krakauer’s book and get up to speed. You’d be wrong.) And this is just one example of the ways that ignorance of the backstory cheats the rest of us out of a real understanding of what’s going on here.

Because, by the definition offered by these experts, the FLDS is very coercive indeed.

Almost every feature of these women’s lives is determined by someone else. They do not choose what they wear, whom they live with, when and whom they marry, or when and with whom they have sex. From the day they’re born, they can be reassigned at a moment’s notice to another father or husband, another household, or another community. Most will have no educational choices (FLDS kids are taught in church-run schools, usually only through about tenth grade — by which point they girls are usually married and pregnant). Everything they produce goes into a trust controlled by the patriarch: they do not even own their own labor. If they object to any of this, they’re subject to losing access to the resources they need to raise their kids: they can be moved to a trailer with no heat, and given less food than more compliant wives, until they learn to “keep sweet.”

At the very least, women who do decide to leave the sect leave without money, skills, or a friend in the world. Most of them have no choice but to leave large numbers of children behind — children who are the property of the patriarch, and whom many of them will never see again. If a woman is even suspected of wanting to leave, she’s likely to be sent away from her kids to another compound far yonder as punishment for her rebelliousness. For a woman who’s been taught all her life that motherhood is her only destiny and has no real intimacy with her husband, being separated from her children this way is a sacrifice akin to death.

At the very worst, death is indeed what awaits them. The FLDS preaches “blood atonement” — the right of the patriarchs to kill apostates who dare to defy them, usually by slitting their throats. And they’ve done it: Krakauer hung his entire book on the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her year-old daughter, who were both killed by her husband’s brothers because Brenda rejected (and mocked) her husband’s desire to take plural wives. (Warren Jeffs also liked to rouse people out of their beds in the middle of the night for dramatic mass meetings testing their readiness for the Final Judgment — meetings that had dark shades of Jonestown.) Brenda is the only one known to have been killed, but others who’ve left report being threatened with the same fate.

So ABC’s reporters blather on about how these women aren’t really brainwashed, because that would require coercion and being held physically against their will. One hopes that if they understood that they’re holding forth about a group that routinely controls women by threatening to take away their kids — and tells them that God justifies the slaying of wayward brides and their babies — they’d change their minds and admit that this isn’t just another odd, quaint sect on the American religious scene. Without that information, though, everything else that’s going on in Texas loses much of its context.

April 22nd Update

Well, this posting from Sara made me a little bit sicker today, that’s for sure. Be sure to check out her full posting. It explains far more than you will see on the little news clips being presented.

This is FLDS founding patriarch Rulon Jeffs with his last two wives (he has around 100 I believe). They are sisters, Edna and Mary Fischer, shown on their wedding day. How delightful that he received the pair as a 90th birthday present.

The Fatal Flaw: Inbreeding Takes Its Toll
One of the most striking things about the FLDS is that certain surnames — Jeffs, Blackmore, Fischer, Jessop, Barlow, Steed — occur over and over again. In a community of over 40,000 people — many of whom share fathers, grandfathers, or uncles — the degree of blood relationship between any two people is likely to be very close indeed. In fact, over half the people in Hildale/Colorado City are blood relatives. So it’s not surprising that, starting in 1980, the tragic results of three generations of tight inbreeding began to appear.

That was the year the first Colorado City child was diagnosed with fumarase deficiency — a genetic disease so rare that only a handful of cases had ever been diagnosed worldwide. The disease causes severe mental retardation, seizures, hydroencephaly, growth failure, and physical deformities. Two of the FLDS’s old-line families, the Barlows and the Jessops, both carry the recessive gene — which is now present in several thousand FLDS members who trace their descent to those two founding fathers. By the 1990, Bramham writes, the twin FLDS cities had the highest concentration of children with fumarase deficiency in the world.

There are also signs of widespread hereditary eye problems among the current crop of children, along with evidence that that the community has a higher-than-average infant mortality rate. Arizona coroners recently — and finally — got involved in investigating these. But there’s plenty more here for public health officials to look at; and it’s becoming clear that the custom of close intermarriage needs to end on genetic grounds alone.

April 23rd Update
Just when I thought I could not be more worried, I read more about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Sara Robinson has done an impeccable job detailing the background to these types of churches and their danger to society.

To get folks up to speed, though, I would suggest reading the following documents in the following order.

1. Read Doomsday Religious Movements from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service which summarizes signs they look for to determine who’s gone over the edge and may becoming a security threat.

2. Sara did a comprehensive analysis of this report in 3 parts, which can be read here:
Are They Crazy Dangerous, or Just Plain Crazy?
Part Crazy Dangerous, Part II: Big Flashing Yellow Lights
Crazy Dangerous, The Last: Running Up to the Edge

3. Sara’s latest article compares the 12 main signs of trouble detailed in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service report to the FLDS church’s recent behavior, then scoring the FLDS on a five-point risk scale for each of the signs. Entitled HOW DANGEROUS IS THE FLDS?, this article is a must-read for anyone who wants to really understand the implications of societies such as these.

While we are all preoccupied with terrorism from abroad, sometimes we lose sight of the terrorism brewing in our own neighborhoods. I am a city girl so the chances of me encountering such rural families is slim. However, I have seen the power of the family unit and the destructive forces that are often hidden behind closed doors. Sadly, the intimidation of persons and animals, deemed to be of lesser strength or worth, is a continuing theme of the human condition.