Friday, June 06, 2008

Beating the FDLS

Shiksa Girlfriend and I were talking about the news that the Yearning for Zion children were being reunited with their families in Texas.

We were both frustrated at hearing about how the Texan and federal authorities screwed up the case, but we had some very different perspectives on how people should react after the fact.

First, I have to say that I was struck by some of the similarities between the YFZ ranch and Hasidic communities like Kiryas Joel and New Square. The interesting thing is that while both Haredim and FLDS have separatist worldviews, there seems to be less of a detachment from the real world among the Hasidim. Though the communities may be insular, they are closely hooked in to the outside world through two main mechanisms: economics, and politics. Whether through business or government assistance, the Hasidim cannot afford (literally) to have zero interaction with outsiders, and this also gives politicians and law enforcement some degree of leverage over the communities, if need be. Even though Kiryas Joel and New Square may not be totally open books to the police and government, there does not seem to be as much of a culture built up around keeping things from the authorities- as reflected in some past scandals ending in jail time for the accused. The Hasidim also are very motivated to grow their communities, which requires money and political favors, which makes it advantageous for them to be prominent in the political scene.

In contrast to this, the FLDS, in part due to their history vis-a-vis polygamy, are used to operating under the radar. Not only are they a separatist group, I would argue they are also partially Messianic or apocalyptic- not necessarily that they're going to specifically DO something, a-la Heaven's Gate or Branch Davidians, but rather that their conception of reality is focused far more on "the next step," which not only helps reinforce the cultural isolation of the group, it also makes it very hard to get reliable information about them.

I know that some people are taking this as an opportunity to take us all to task about being too quick to judge weird religions.

In America, we punish conduct, not belief systems. This is the simple fact forgotten by the judge who blessed the initial raids and who took custody of 463 children from their parents. There may well be criminals and child abusers in this community, but the state has to prove it, one by one.

There may be some legitimacy to this. I've certainly been troubled by seeing how quickly people started jumping on the bandwagon of "get the polygamists," especially when I started hearing conservatives using them as a starting point for bigger and better things.

While I agree with all of that--that the behavior and conduct is wrong, you could say the exact same thing about another compound dominated by an extremist religion whose middle-aged men have multiple wives, have sex and kids with underaged women, and are "programmed" to be abused. The compound is called "Dearbornistan" and the religion is Islam.
The only difference: While the behavior of the Jeffs'-associated polygamists is abhorrent, 19 of their fellow co-religionists didn't slaughter 3,000 Americans, and thousands more haven't tried and/or succeeded at other attacks. And millions of their fellow co-religionists haven't professed their love of those who vow destruction of America.
So, tell me, where should the FBI and the federal government be focusing its attention . . . Islamic America or the far minor and less threatening Warren Jeffs' America? They haven't even found the alleged 16-year-old who tipped off law enforcement and made the alleged complaint.
When Muslim women in Dearbornistan, some aged 12 and younger, have kids with 50-year-olds with several wives, authorities look the other way and say "it's okay because they're married 'in the eyes of the mosque,' and this is how it's done in their religion." There was once a statutory rape case involving an underaged Muslim girl who gave birth in Dearborn to the child of a Muslim man decades her senior. But that was the result--the case was dropped because "the mosque says it's okay." And there have been no other cases like it prosecuted in Dearborn.
Two very similar religions . . . two very different treatments by legions of federal agents and the law enforcement policy-makers from above.
I know who needs to be de-programmed and reprogrammed. And it's not just women in bonnets, gingham dresses, and braided, long hair in Texas.


Anyway, SG and I were saying that the real issue now is that the FLDS is likely going to go further underground, and, assuming that there actually was something really wrong going on there (which I highly suspect), it's going to be a lot harder to prove now.

SG's view of things was largely political and social; of having politicians and government officials at all levels basically start making it a lot harder for the group to exist off the radar- start passing and enforcing laws that force them to use doctors or funereal services off the ranch, for instance, so you can start keeping better track of who's who and where. I asked her if she didn't think it ironic she was advocating the same questionable tactics the pro-lifers use on Planned Parenthood. She said that as far as she was concerned the seriousness of the crimes justified making things "a little tougher" for them, if nothing else.

I take a different approach. I see this as a law enforcement issue. Assuming that even a fraction of what the police, etc., thought was going on there was true, they need to start looking at the FLDS, particularly the YFZ group, as an organized crime organization. This doesn't mean you start kicking in doors a-la Elian Gonzales. In fact, the exact opposite. The whole reason this thing blew up was because of a dearth of intelligence. They need to monitor the group, they need to infiltrate it, they need to know who's who and what's happening in there. They should be consulting with mainstream Mormons who might have a reason to help the authorities. They should be looking at the fact that the FLDS is an organization that spans several states, making it even harder to track. They should have files on dissidents, informants, etc. Among other things, this would give a sense of purpose and identity to the many "Lost Boys" that are gradually growing into a sizeable sub-group of the FLDS. Eventually, they might even be able to split the organization by turning them on each other.

The law underestimated the FLDS last month. They can't afford to do so again. History has given us the tools and understanding to know how to combat large, spread-out criminal organizations. The FLDS may be harder to understand than the Mafia. But the same logic applies: until you know more about them, you won't be able to know how to beat them.


Anonymous said...

I think that the appropriate action for the state would have been to get warrants to seize FLDS church marriage records and to go through, family by family, to find

1. Underage women who were in spiritual marriage with older men and had children with them.

2. Women who were now of age but had had children with older men while in a spiritual marriage.

Then prosecute those cases and remove children/assist the women in leaving. There should be enough evidence to do this.

Then the state needs to set up structures for boys who get kicked out and girls who choose to flee so that they have somewhere safe that won't be too culture shocking to go to.

On a case-by-case basis, the state should have been able to prove that many of the underage girls were facing spiritual marriages and that many of the underage boys were facing expulsion. That would have given the state cause to remove those children.

If the state did this systematically for long enough, keeping at the sect for months, even years and investigating family-by-family, it would have forced the sect to clean up their behavior and more people would have been helped in the long run, imo. Of course, it's not as dramatic as busting in with a swat team.

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