When I wrote my entry yesterday about the raid on the FLDS compound in Texas, I didn’t think much of it. But it got picked up by cnn.com and I’ve gotten over 400 views in the last 24 hours. Crazy!
Let me explain how I became aware of these groups and why I follow the happenings even 4 years after I moved away.
Back in the summer of 2004, I got a job as a seasonal park ranger on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had fallen in love with the desert a few years earlier and basically put everything else in my life on hold, moved away from Seattle, and spent 14 months in an odyssey of contradiction: new community and at the same time – solitude. This all came together in a big helping of self-discovery. The land out there is wild. It’s harsh, rugged, beautiful and doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. I spent a long time reading books by Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner, and probably most importantly, Mary Sojourner. These authors helped me appreciate the land and seek out Her secrets and I’d like to think I became a better person for it.
Ok, so that’s my story. Here’s the reality…that land out there is a great place to be anonymous. I used to drive four hours to go grocery shopping. It’s isolated, hot, and dusty. And it is perfect for people who want to be left alone.
I lived about 2 and a half hours south of Colorado City, AZ which is the town that housed the same group that was raided in Texas (they moved under pressure). You could drive through their town. They had chicken coops and most of the dairy products in the region were supplied by them. What struck me most is seeing swing set after swing set after swing set. When I drove through there (in a white van with tinted windows and federal plates), the town looked empty and men on horses followed behind us.
Everyone knew what was going on there. You had THREE federal agencies operating land in that area (National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service) and although EVERYONE knew that there were egregious humans rights abuses happening right next door..nothing was done. This is when I realized that there’s plenty of work to do at home and you don’t have to travel to a developing country to see deadly silence. I wanted to see an ‘Amnesty National’ organization get together.
If you want a truly horrifying account of the politics behind religious cults such as the polygamist sects in the SW, you should read ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ by John Krakauer. It will enrage you.
And right as I finished that book, two school buses pulled up to the entrance gate and presented me with a family pass. When I asked if they’d perhaps gotten confused and suggested filling out a form for a school field trip permit, the driver of the first bus (a man) looked me square in the eye and said “No, this IS my family”. I let them through and looked as two school buses full of older women (in the front bus) and younger women and children (in the second bus) drove past.
I can only speak from my own experience but they were not nice people. They were confrontational, vandalized the campgrounds, completely disregarded requests from other campers to turn off generators and be quieter at night, and it eventually got a point where we had to have an armed park ranger with us unarmed rangers while on duty for fear that they would get violent (it had happened in years prior).
We were glad when they left.
So, that’s my experience with them. I sincerely hope that the victims are being taken care of. It’s too easy to say ‘the children’ but really, when you have 15 year old mothers…who’s the child? And the boys? They’ve been groomed into that lifestyle so are they victims or perpetrators? It’s so complicated.
I’ll leave you with pictures I took while living down there. There was something magical about drinking my morning coffee with legs swinging over the Grand Canyon. Best year ever.