Thursday, July 21, 2011
And, "Wel-come-to-the- great- state- of -Tex-as! If you didn't grow up going to the State Fair of Texas at Fair Park in Dallas, to stand at the feet of Big Tex every year, to be fair, you may not get that one.
I had an interesting meeting with a writer from Austin yesterday, who has written a book on religious maltreatment. We do not agree on all of her hypothesis, which I found broad. What we have in common are some core understandings of what constitutes an abuse of religious authority in a child's life. Or even the abuse of adults, spiritually.
Texas, although many people will never even know it, is full of heroes. The local abuse hotline staff, Schleicher County Sheriff's Office, Texas Rangers, and Child Protective Services, right down to ordinary citizens, including churches, on the ground made heroic efforts to save 400 children from the abuse, which was occurring on the grounds of the YFZ Ranch, in Schleicher County, Texas, in April of 2008.
Although those of us in the media have come to call this 'a raid,' the truth is, it was a rescue mission. Right up until someone in Austin decided to throw their hands in the air and say 'We give up! Take them all back.'
Since the trial for Warren Jeffs begins on Monday, I thought we could perhaps review some of the heroes of this story that will probably never get the attention and admiration they really deserve.
The FLDS had been in these good Texas people's backyard in tiny Eldorado, Texas for around five years when the call came into the hotline. There had been plenty of time, and plenty of warning given to the citizens of the area regarding the ritual sex practices of the FLDS, which include incest, regular child marriage and regular child rape. Little girls are born only to become future concubines for powerful men.
These men have money and plenty of it. They own and operate businesses from Utah to Texas, and Mexico. They even have lucrative government contracts, at both the federal and local levels, as well as multiple businesses devoted to the construction industry. Within years of locating their giant houses designed for communal living, instituting massive infrastructure improvements including a sewage treatment plant, a cement plant, a brand new religious temple along with manned and armed guard towers overlooking Schleicher County, one of their concrete companies had the contract to lay the pad for every new wind turbine in West Texas.
This FLDS is the same one Flora Jessop remembers as a child in Colorado City, Arizona, when Senator Orin Hatch used to come and play the organ in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints services. Senator Hatch, typical for a Utah politician, is for ignoring the felony crime of polygamy, and he personally knows "many fine polygamist people."
Needless to say, these are the kinds of forces our heroes knew nothing about. The heroes simply set out to do a job, and that was to be prepared. So they were very prepared for the abuse they saw. Nothing, however, could have ever prepared them to understand or account for the inexplicable actions of top ranking state employees, who shut them down after they had done nothing but their job, and document it.
Top ranking heads rolled in Austin for taking the position that someone like Warren Jeffs, and other parents on that ranch, had no business having any legal parental rights to any child in the state of Texas. The position from the top was clear, 'It doesn't matter how much abuse you have documented, we're giving them all back.'
The heroes of our story kept working. They did things like push children across the floor as they cried and begged not to be made to go back to their abusers. They handed over a toddler with bone scans showing multiple fractures through his tiny body. They gave girls back to mothers, who they knew had willingly turned their child over for sex, with a man on the YFZ Ranch. They handed a young girl back that spent 3 days in labor on the ranch, without any pain medication or a doctor.
They hugged them. They told them they could always call, no matter what.
But the real story of our unsung Texas heroes is even deeper. These social workers had something happen to them when they started working with the FLDS children. The children were racists. They were raised that way. In the early days of the rescue many of the children, who had most likely never even laid their eyes on anyone who was not also Caucasian, hurled racial insults at some of the social workers.
I think, because of that, I was unsure what the emotional reaction of the minority social workers might have been. That was all put to rest when me and Flora took to the road in the summer of 2009 and we met them, these heroes. They didn't just come to buy Flora's book, they needed to meet her, viscerally.
I could give multiple accounts of meeting social workers across the state who expressed the same feelings, but I never saw anything like I saw when we got to San Antonio. That was special. Flora's appearance, signing, speaking and question and answer periods were clear and concise. The event was at the San Antonio Public Library, where there was a crowd.
At some point, while answering a question about the abuses common in the group that Flora grew up in, a woman from the back of the room spoke out and challenged Flora, and told her she was exaggerating the abuse found on the YFZ Ranch. She then actually said there was no abuse found on the ranch, and that she was an attorney who represented one of the FLDS women in the case.
Incensed, I grabbed my satchel and whipped out the final CPS report. I shook it at her and said, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I have the final report here and it identifies victims, lots of them. Don't you dare come in here to Texas and think you can sell anyone on the idea that it's okay to rape little Texas girls, just as long as you call it your religion."
It's one of those moments in life, where things could take any old turn, and for a moment you wait to see if a crowd turns on you or stands with you. Two women jumped up from the crowd, like lions and started blurting out that they were CPS caseworkers, and had worked with the FLDS children. Before we knew it, the room went rather wild with people turning on the woman identifying herself to be an FLDS woman's attorney in the case. It was a CPS room, and they had all worked with FLDS children taken in the 2008 Texas rescue mission at the YFZ.
They started shouting out about their cases, especially the idea that the FLDS women on the YFZ were in some significant part just as legally guilty as the men. The caseworkers understood the children's abuse, much of it ritual, racist and full of hate, had to have required the enthusiastic participation of the children's mothers as the girls were traded, inside the fences of the YFZ Ranch, across the country to Mohave County, Arizona, up to Bountiful B.C., and down to old Mexico. Nobody's little girl just leaves for Canada one day and never comes home again, right?
No one could possibly be a capable and responsible parent if when you wake up, and you're told by your husband or maybe even one of his other concubines, that your 13-year-old-daughter has gone to live in another country, you don't demand her return, and then immediately notify the law.
If you don't pick up the phone and call the police to report your 13-year-old is missing, aren't you a criminal participating in the disappearance and sex trafficking of your baby?
Imagine, if you will, you are the young idealistic graduate who decided to go into social work, because you deeply cared about people and truly wanted to help protect them. Imagine you carry within you, this noble desire to protect the innocent from harm and to provide hope to the hopeless, so with your life, you serve. It's not hard to imagine what must be in the hearts of lots of people who go into social work or law enforcement.
Now imagine having all of this in your heart and then being a minority faced with pure racism, up close and personal, so blatant that it takes your breath away?
What I discovered is that these ordinary Texas folks were so taken back with the evil of it, that the only weapon with any chance of working was love. So they did that.
They grabbed these kids by the scruff and loved on them. With a white-hot-fierce sort of love they overcame their own distaste and repulsion, and just loved them. They prayed for them. They rocked some of them. They hugged some of them. And when they had to give them back, to whatever force that had shoved so much hatred and evil at those little souls to begin with, they cried, like babies.
After the FLDS attorney had been put in her place, it was like Oprah entered the room. Suddenly, it was alive with people talking to each other, sharing their grief at what happened to the FLDS children, how they were terrified Texas was making a mistake in giving them back to an institutionalized abusive society, run by sex predators, and using fundamentalist Mormon religion to protect themselves from prosecution of their crimes.
The trouble is, our constitution does not allow religious individuals or organizations to commit crimes and then declare immunity from prosecution, just for being who they are, that is to say: religious.
"Before the Supreme Court, Reynolds argued that his conviction for bigamy should be overturned on four issues. These included that his grand jury had not been legal; that challenges of certain jurors were improperly overruled; that testimony by Amelia Jane Schofield was not permissible as it was under another indictment; and, most importantly, that it was his religious duty to marry multiple times."
Among other findings one from the court wrote, ""to permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."
These Texas heroes loved the hate right out of those kids, and in return they got kicked in the teeth. My new friend, the writer from Austin, has a chance soon to speak to a lot of these heroes. I hope she tells them what I think of them, and that someone out there still knows.
In my mind's eye I see every one of these Texans wearing a white hat. In case, in this strange world we live in these days, you don't know what that means; in Texas it just means they are the 'good guys.'
The CPS workers who jumped out of those chairs, like lions, reminded me of the goddess of Liberty on the San Jacinto Battle Flag. These weren't women or government workers who didn't give a damn about what was happening, these were heroes. These people had been wounded in the heart by the hate and abuse they saw perpetrated against the FLDS children.
I hope someday, some of them will feel safe to come forward and share their stories. That is my brightest hope. I'd like all Texans to know about these real life Texas, good guy, heroes.
Have you ever held anger, racism and hate to your breast and rocked it to sleep with a sweet song, praying that while you did it the hate was being rubbed right off and away? That's a true Texas kind of love.
I know heroes who have.
I know lions of love.
I know the kind of people Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed about.
I have a good life.
G-d Bless Texas