Polygamous Sect Turns to Selling Clothes
It was a mixed summer for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). In April, state officials raided the racist cult's Texas compound and took the children living there into state custody because of concerns about sexual abuse. Then, in late May, FLDS mothers rejoiced after an appeals court ruled that the state had failed to provide adequate justification for removing their children. But it wasn't a complete victory: The child welfare investigation has continued, and FLDS members could still face criminal charges.
While the legal issues connected with the Texas raid have yet to be resolved, the Intelligence Report has learned that FLDS appears to be establishing a new outpost in Colorado, where a top aide to the cult's imprisoned leader has bought $2 million worth in property. Men, women and children belonging to FLDS have settled on at least three of five properties that Lee Steed purchased southwest of Denver. The appearance of the FLDS members has concerned neighbors and public officials, who are unsure how to react to the sect known to coerce underage girls into plural marriages. Together, Steed's Colorado purchases eclipse the 1,691 acres that make up the sect's Eldorado, Texas, compound, and represent the biggest cluster of FLDS land holdings outside the cult's original headquarters of Colorado City, Ariz., and neighboring Hildale, Utah.
Three of Steed's properties are located within a few miles of Westcliffe, Colo. In November 2006, Steed purchased a 6,000 square-foot log home with nine bedrooms and six baths. Steed bought the house and 35 acres, which were in foreclosure, for $350,000 cash, according to Custer County records. Neighbors say a large group of men and women soon moved into the two-story structure and began working around the clock.
Kathleen Kerr, who owns a house next door, said activity on the Steed property has ruined the community's rural flavor with bright lights on all night, constant construction, and noise generated by ATVs patrolling the property, along with occasional gunfire. "It's just not quiet and peaceful there anymore," Kerr said, adding that she has put her own three-bedroom cabin up for sale.
In late May, after Texas officials' raid on the YFZ ranch in Eldorado, the Third Court of Appeals ordered more than 400 children to be returned to their parents. Nonetheless, a criminal investigation remains ongoing and includes sifting through evidence seized during the April raid. The attorney general's office also collected DNA from FLDS leader Warren Jeffs as part of an investigation into whether he had sexual relationships with four girls under 16. Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin, and is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges.
Although news reports have focused on the cult's polygamy more than 100 years after the practice was banned by the Mormon Church, FLDS also encourages hatred of blacks and gays. Jeffs preaches that the devil uses black people to perpetrate evil and that a sexual relationship between men is tantamount to murder.
Yet the FLDS saga has an unexpected lighter side. In the wake of massive national publicity about the Texas raid, FLDS launched its own line of clothing, taking advantage of ubiquitous news photos of the cult's women in their "prairie dresses." The brand, sold at fldsdress.com, also offers up a baby dress with bloomers, a teen princess dress and boy's denim trousers. "Each piece," the FLDS website promises potential buyers, "is made with joy and care."