Tonight I’m watching Nancy Grace, absorbing the latest development in the FLDS Eldorado, Texas raid: a newborn baby has been taken from its teen mother and placed in the custody of the state. Everyone on the show justifies this action; after all, the baby may grow to be an adolescent, sexually assaulted by a dirty old man who will also provide food, clothing, shelter and some measure of affection. Meanwhile, another announcement rolls across the screen: it seems that many of the Texas homes where FLDS children have been placed violate the foster care codes. My head aches a little as I attempt to reconcile this cognitive dissonance. It’s ok to take a baby from its mother because it might someday be abused, and it’s also ok to put children in the homes of strangers who don’t keep the state’s basic codes.
Now Nancy Grace is calling for other states to follow Texas’s suit—round up those plygie kids, take them away from their brainwashing mothers and their perverted fathers and allow the state to cradle them in its safe and maternal bosom. “Where will the next polygamous raid be?” the footer asks. Shades of my childhood in polygamy. The witch-hunt mentality of the McCarthy era returns.
My telephone rings. A woman I met some years ago expresses her fear that this media frenzy will stir Utah Attorney Mark Shurtleff to act against his own conscience and contradict what he’s learned about working with fundamentalists to call perpetrators to justice. (Realize that Warren Jeffs is behind bars because of Utah men and women with a discerning touch and a desire to learn.) The woman—I’ll call her Nellie--could speak eloquently about the differences between the FLDS community and her life in the fundamentalist AUB group, where marriages are chosen rather than arranged, where girls don’t marry until they graduate from high school or even college, where the wives and husband take a round table approach to decision-making. But she’s afraid. Her children tremble as I did back in the days of the 1953 raids, terrified that the ripples will become waves to engulf them. So she won’t talk to the press, for fear she’ll be identified and her children will suffer.
The open forum created by Mark Shurtleff and his Arizona counterpart, Terry Goddard folds like a Barnum and Bailey three-ring circus pulling up stakes. The fundamentalists who stood with their hands outstretched feel the chill in the air and withdraw. The season of peace and understanding comes to an end. In the ensuing isolation and secrecy, only a few fragile possibilities will survive. In the basements of our democratic psyches, spiders and rodents will run amok as they always do in dark places. As do the likes of Warren Jeffs.