|Man to fight expulsion|
Chatwin calls FLDS prophet 'Hitler-like dictator'
By Patrice St. Germain|
COLORADO CITY -- Nine months ago, Ross Chatwin, then a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was told to repent.
On Jan. 14, James Zitting, a member within the church, was sent to deliver a message to Chatwin telling him to leave his home immediately.
But Chatwin, 35, has no plans of leaving his home, his wife and six children. On Friday, Chatwin spoke to a group of media gathered on the front lawn of his modest home about standing up to Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the church and the United Effort Plan, which owns the land on which his home is built.
Not only was there plenty of media to document the event, but also numerous sheriff's deputies from the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. They formed a ring around the property. Several remained on the lawn while others were strategically placed on the road in front of Chatwin's home and on the slope behind his home.
In a prepared speech, Chatwin asked for help in stopping Jeffs, a man he calls a Hitler-like dictator.
"We need your help to stop Warren S. Jeffs from destroying families, kicking us out of our homes and marrying our children into some kind of political-dollar, brownie-point system," Chatwin said. "This Hitler-like dictator has got to be stopped before he ruins us all and this beautiful town."
In a country where the freedom of speech is a right, what Chatwin did by publicly speaking against the FLDS Church may not appear to be a major event. But in the closed society of the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City, speaking out against the church can prompt retaliation.
Still preaching polygamy as a central tenet, the FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since 1890, the LDS church has officially abolished plural marriage and members practicing polygamy have been excommunicated and barred from LDS Temples.
Ben Bistline, an FLDS apostate who lived in Colorado City until last March, said Chatwin was brave to speak out.
"You never know what might happen after this," Bistline said.
Another apostate, Pam Black of Hildale, also came to listen to Chatwin speak and lend support.
"It's scary the first time when you come out," Black said. "You don't do something like this on UEP property."
During his speech, Chatwin was not alone. Standing behind him were his wife Lori and the couple's six children. Chatwin said he was pleased to report that his wife has committed to stay by his side, regardless of Jeffs' orders to leave him.
"It was ultimately her choice to preserve our family," he said. "It is difficult for me to find the words that can express to her how much I appreciate her."
Ousted from the church several times over the last nine months, the strain on the family is taking an emotional and financial toll.
Lori Chatwin said she lost very good friends that no longer invite her to their homes. People who do associate with the family have to be careful, fearful of retaliation against them. Her children were kicked out of a private school in town.
The Chatwin's oldest daughter, Vera, said she likes the public school she attends now.
"It's better at this school. I have an appreciation for books now," she said.
But Ross, who made a living buying large lots of goods and reselling the merchandise to members of the two communities, no longer has any business.
"I have no more business here and I have no other place to go," Ross Chatwin said. "We still have friends here who want to come forward soon but right now. There is too much at stake."
Chatwin said his father has been helping the family with expenses.
Others in the community that may speak out may not be as fortunate.
Chatwin said members of the FLDS church are required to provide huge amounts of money to Jeffs. Last week, on Jan. 17 in the Saturday work meeting, Chatwin said elders were instructed to come up with another $1,000 each to give Jeffs. The demand came with a threat of being left behind if they failed to come up with the money.
"His (Jeffs) need for cash has severely taxed the people of the FLDS church," he said. "Overall, Jeffs' leadership has been reckless at best. It's shocking to realize that the owner of a $100 million asset could ask so carelessly."
Chatwin said in sticking up for his rights, he does fear that some overly-zealous person from within the church may take it upon himself or herself to do something rash.
Lori Chatwin said she is concerned for her family's safety.
"After this (the press conference), we will have to see," she said.
During the conference, the street remained quiet with the exception of one car that went by honking its horn.
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said his department would be maintaining a presence in Hildale for the next few weeks.
"We will be out there to make sure there are no problems of any kind, and if anyone desires to leave, we will be out there to assist in any way and be on the alert," Smith said.
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan was unavailable for comment Friday, but if the number of deputies from that department at the meeting Friday afternoon is any indications, Sheahan will maintain a presence in the community.
After reading from a six-page prepared speech, both Lori and Ross Chatwin answered questions from the media.
Although Lori is Chatwin's only wife, he said he still believes in the principal of polygamy and his wife isn't opposed to Chatwin taking another wife.
Because of church beliefs, Lori Chatwin was asked if she felt the family's salvation is at risk because her husband has not repented. She replied, "no."
"Warren is not the prophet," she said.
Ross Chatwin was asked about Fred Jessop, who at the Jan. 3 meeting in which Jeffs ousted at least 20 members of the church including former Colorado City mayor Dan Barlow, was removed as bishop. Chatwin replied that since the incident, no one to his knowledge has seen or heard from Jessop but said he believed he was in Mexico.
Friday's meeting was orchestrated by Jay Beswick, an activist and advisor for those who wish to leave or speak out about abuses within the FLDS church. Beswick said Chatwin contacted him on Tuesday about publicly speaking out, and Beswick said he sees Ross as a victim.
Chatwin ended his interview by saying he hoped his publicly speaking out against Jeffs makes an impact and offers support to those who may also may want to oppose him.
"I would like to extend an offer of friendship to anyone who needs help," Chatwin said. "I feel in my heart, this needs to happen."
Originally published Saturday, January 24, 2004
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