OPINION – You can check out, but can you ever really leave?
If you’re talking about the Eagles’ Hotel California, a stint in rehab might work, but if you are talking about the polygamist cult community along the Utah-Arizona state line, the odds are against you, even on those rare occasions when the cops get involved.
A recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune by polygamy beat reporter Nate Carlisle about a man who tried to rescue his underage daughter from the clutches of this group explains just how complicated it is to leave the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
A sinner, it seems, would have better odds of escaping from one of Dante’s nine circles of hell.
Carlisle’s in-depth reporting goes into great detail about how Ron Rohbock tried to rescue his daughter, who he was separated from 11 years ago when he was kicked out of the fundamentalist Mormon church and was recently reunited with, only to have her snatched back by the group in what he describes as a brazen daylight kidnapping from a parking lot in Mesquite.
It’s a story with no end, however.
We don’t know who is caring for the child, and, remember, at 17, she is still a child. We don’t know where she is staying. Is she hidden in some remote corner of the desert near Short Creek or has she been taken away to one of the FLDS compounds in Pringle, S.D., Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada, one of the outposts in rural Colorado, or even Mexico, where the FLDS has established several communities? We don’t know if she has been placed in marriage with an older man, like many girls her age and younger in the FLDS culture.
We also don’t know why the State of Utah, when its officers found the girl reportedly living in a travel trailer in Short Creek and surviving, according to the story, on a box of food delivered to her by a priesthood caretaker once a week, didn’t do more to protect her.
As a minor, there is plenty the state could have done, beginning with placing her into the care of child welfare workers while custody was determined. They could have pursued charges against whoever took her from that parking lot because she is, after all, a minor and she was transported across state lines.
But, this is what happens when you live in a theocracy where state officials seem to have difficulty in unraveling themselves from the roots of the predominant religion.
Utah endured two attorneys general who made public policy of refusing to prosecute the state’s bigamy/polygamy statutes. How those guys continued to be elected baffles me. Of course now we know that those two men, Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, are facing multiple criminal charges in unrelated matters.
We hear a lot of lip-service from well-meaning progressives these days who labor under the misguided idea that whatever happens between two consenting adults is nobody’s business. I would wholeheartedly agree, except the thing is, this is clearly not consenting adults. The girl is 17 and was younger when this all began to unravel. The so-called progressives have no concept of the context of polygamy as practiced by these fundamentalists, which extends far beyond closed bedroom doors.
We also hear a lot of lip-service from the people of this state who claim that children are their first priority, yet do nothing to ensure the safety of the little girls trapped in this culture, who are the unwilling, duped pawns in a game of sexual perversion and fraud.
We also learned last week from the Eldorado Success, the newspaper from the town where the FLDS built its Yearning for Zion Ranch, that the Texas State Board of Pardons and Paroles has approved Frederick Merril Jessop, a 79-year-old former FLDS bishop, for parole.
Jessop was convicted by a Coke County, Texas jury in November of 2011 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for performing an unlawful wedding ceremony when a jury found that he presided over the 2006 wedding of his own 12-year-old daughter to FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who was later found guilty of sexual assault against the 12-year-old and a 15-year-old girl whom he also took as one of his scores of spiritual wives.
Part of the evidence against Jeffs was a horrific audio tape of the young girl weeping as he ordered her to take off her clothes, then proceeded to sexually assault her.
Our friend, private investigator Sam Brower, who has chased the FLDS for decades, was distraught over the news.
“Merril Jessop is without a doubt one of the most despicable, vile human beings to grace the earth,” he said in a Facebook post after the news of Jessop’s early pardon was announced. “Despite his early parole, Frederick Merril Jessop, has repeatedly committed the most inconceivable crime a parent could commit against his own child – knowingly turn them over to the perverse whims of a serial pedophile. I have counted at least 11 of Merril Jessop’s daughters being turned over to Warren Jeffs, many of whom were underage and at least two not even teenagers yet.”
We agree with Sam and we are disappointed because we thought Texas would do a better job of administering justice.
Our only hope is that the board does a better job when Jeffs comes up for parole on July 22, 2038.
The board will hopefully rule that Jeffs should never take another free breath again, that he remains firmly ensconced in the Texas prison system, a victim of his own device, never to check out, never to leave.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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