Since the arrival late last winter of the "marrying people," as one of Eldorado's more eccentric citizens calls them, there's plenty to talk about in this tiny west Texas town, if not much to see. The polygamous enclave of the YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch is marked by nothing more than a "No Trespassing" sign on a locked gate off a country road. A long lane undulates over rocky rangeland, past stunted mesquite and juniper trees and ubiquitous prickly pear cactus. There may be 50 fundamentalists in there, says the local sheriff; or 200, says the local newspaper editor. They were chosen by the prophet -- Jeffs -- from the enclave on the Arizona-Utah border and likely also from Bountiful, where believers have contributed truckloads of lumber and prefabricated buildings to the cause...Let's hope he's right.
The 1,900 folks of Eldorado are annoyed and offended that this group of polygamists -- the women dressed in pioneer garb, as if they've stepped off a wagon train -- won't make eye contact, let alone acknowledge a "how y'all doin?" They've certainly shown no need of flowers, jewellery or small talk, all available in abundance in Cathy Niblett's shop in the business district. "Texas hospitality is worldwide known," she says. "We're courteous and expect the same."
Texas law enforcement officials are watching, too. There's talk of a kidnapped Canadian woman and her three sons out there, of forced marriages amounting to child rape, of obedience unto death to the prophet. Jeffs is under investigation by the Utah attorney general's office and faces civil suits in the state, including one that alleges he and two brothers repeatedly sodomized a nephew -- allegations Jeffs has denied. Jeffs has avoided being served with a summons by shuttling among his enclaves, says Sam Brower, a private investigator who has tracked Jeffs for months on behalf of the law firm mounting the civil cases.
Brower isn't alone in fearing that attempts to apprehend Jeffs may trigger a dangerous reaction. "Backed into a corner, there is the potential for all kinds of violence on the magnitude of Jonestown," he says, evoking the 1978 mass suicide in Guyana where 900 American cult members died on the orders of leader Jim Jones. Brower spends several days each week in the fundamentalist enclave of Hildale-Colorado City, and has extensively interviewed current and former followers of Jeffs. "I know there's people who will die for him, lie for him, steal for him," he says. "I've heard people say they'd kill their family if Jeffs asked them to, that's how strongly they believe..."
...Folks in Eldorado, fluctuating between bemusement and worry, are prone to black jokes about Waco, Texas, and the disastrous 1993 FBI raid that triggered the blazing end to David Koresh's armed fortress. That's one subject that can turn Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, an amiable man, as prickly as a cactus pear. Ill-advised federal raids are no longer likely, nor is there evidence to warrant police intervention, he says. "The dynamics of this are totally different than Waco..."
Politics · Thu, 12/16/2004 - 19:40 · Importance: 1