Ignore the Spin: State Raid on Polygamists the Right Thing to Do

The Dallas Morning News

December 30, 2008

The state's raid on the West Texas polygamist compound has become a sacred touchstone, and not just for the peculiar sect that lived there.

It has mushroomed into a celebrated cause for those who mistrust "the government" in general and the state's child-welfare system in particular.

State-sponsored child snatchers seized shrieking babies from their desperate mothers' arms, they furiously recount in endless retellings via the Internet.

Families were torn apart by scheming, doctrinaire bureaucrats. Traumatized children remain unable to forget the nightmare of being "kidnapped" and bused away from home. And so on.

Well, people will believe what they want, often without regard to what facts and good sense should tell them. No amount of remedial analysis, at this late date, will remove the April 3 raid at the Yearning For Zion Ranch from the sacramental calendar of government-martyr holy days.

We can live with it. We can live with the implied insistence that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints were somehow victims of state-sponsored persecution; that subsequent court rulings that Child Protective Services exceeded legal guidelines somehow vindicate the cultlike sect.

They do not, because the ugly-but-essential truth remains: Underage girls were routinely being "married" and sexually violated by middle-aged men, and nobody was doing a darn thing to stop it until the state of Texas showed up.

No angry anecdotes about CPS witch hunts can change that reality. No amount of black-helicopter paranoia alters that bald truth.

Still, critics are already dismissing a CPS report, issued last week, as a fabrication, a frame-up job. That report detailed the findings of the months-long investigation, including "spiritual" marriages between a dozen underage girls and adult men. It also cited the harm done by the constant exposure of young children to these "marriages."

I can only wonder at sect members, irate at state welfare workers for "traumatizing" children, who don't seem to think it's "traumatic" for a child to see his or her 13-year-old sister bundled off into sexual servitude to a man four times her age.

Those who complain over being "uprooted" from the Eldorado compound do not mention any discontent at being uprooted earlier, when loony FLDS "prophet" Warren Jeffs "invited" them to abandon their own old lives to colonize paradise-in-West Texas.

Those who weep angry tears over families torn apart might consider opening their homes to the so-called "lost boys," teenagers who have been forcibly cast out of FLDS communities to maintain a favorable ratio of adult men to potential plural wives.

The fact is that it was virtually impossible to carry out a surgical removal of only the most-victimized kids from the FLDS compound.

Given the sect's reclusive nature and the extraordinary indoctrination of its members from infancy onward, the state had two choices: Remove all the kids up front and sort it out later, or do nothing.

The state took the former route, which has cost it no end of hindsight harping over "Gestapo tactics" and extralegal "barbarianism."

The latter choice, the road that would have avoided all these public-relations problems, would have been to do nothing.

That would have been easy. No legal backlash, no religious-rights hysteria, no fresh round of fury against Texas' overloaded and often inefficient child-welfare system.

It would have been easy, but it would have been morally reprehensible.

That, we could not have lived with.


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