Average winter temperatures in Colorado City, Ariz., bottom out in the 20s. Still, residents are constructing a massive “tent city” into which, local officials believe, they will soon move en masse rather than comply with a court order requiring them to pay taxes and occupancy fees or face eviction.
The encampment of white tents and trailers, to which utility, water, and sewage lines were reportedly being rerouted, are the latest salvo in a desperate war against the government being waged by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a racist, polygamous cult formed by radicals who split from the Mormon church when it abandoned “plural marriage.”
Together with Hildale, Utah, Colorado City comprises a district called Short Creek that has long been run by FLDS members. Many have left since summer 2012, when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil rights lawsuit against the community, alleging that its municipal leaders operate as an “arm of the FLDS,” but some hardliners remain, determined to face down the government.
Former FLDS president and prophet Warren Jeffs has been confined in a Texas prison since his 2011 conviction for raping his 12-year-old “spiritual bride” and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old member of his cult, but his followers complied with his command to ignore a court order requiring them to pay a $100-per-month occupancy fee or face eviction. Dozens of eviction notices have been served on homes and businesses belonging to the United Effort Plan (UEP), a multimillion-dollar FLDS trust that was taken over by the state of Utah in 2005 because it was being mismanaged by Jeffs and his allies.
In addition to homes, eviction notices have been served on the town’s fire department, which was ordered to vacate its auxiliary building, a storehouse that distributes food to FLDS loyalists (the town has no grocery store), and several FLDS-owned businesses. UEP’s court-appointed fiduciary plans to sell the properties to private owners to shore up the trust.
Cult members, meanwhile, apparently have continued their usual bad behavior. On Sept. 4, the same day an Arizona judge issued an order forbidding the local marshal’s office to discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion or retaliate again plaintiffs in a civil rights suit against the town, someone fired a gun into the office of the Mohave County victim’s advocate in Colorado City. That same day, a former FLDS follower-turned-whistleblower lost his job with the marshal’s office. Later that month, authorities investigated claims by a non-FLDS family in Colorado City who say that FLDS members blew up their pickup truck.
On Sept. 30, an Idaho man who oversaw a home where FLDS boys accused of disobedience were sent on “repentance missions” was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a year’s probation after pleading guilty to 3 counts of misdemeanor injury to a child. Among other things, Nathan C. Jessop, of Pocatello, Idaho, was accused of locking one teenager in a furnace room for two days; of physically disciplining the boys, aged 12 to 17; and of locking the pantry between meals. Two of the boys were put into foster care; the rest returned to their families in Short Creek.