|Gathering puts focus on polygamy's 'lost boys'|
By Joseph A. Reaves|
The Arizona Republic
SALT LAKE CITY-Dozens of young males, many of them timid teenagers, gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol on Saturday in an unprecedented effort to tell the world the horrors they suffered growing up in the nation's largest polygamous community.
The young men and boys were raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has its headquarters in the twin cloistered communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, along the remote Arizona Strip 120 miles northwest of the Grand Canyon.
All said they either were excommunicated from the church or pressured into leaving by Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet and unchallenged ruler of the FLDS.
They stressed they were but a fraction of more than 400 males ages 13 and older who have been banished from the communities since Jeffs gained supreme power. All have little education and no preparation to survive in the outside world.
"We just want everyone to become aware this is really happening in the United States," Richard Gilbert, 19, said.
"I was excommunicated by the prophet Warren Jeffs at the age of 16 because I decided I wanted to go to public school."
In July 2000, while controlling the church for his dying father, Jeffs ordered all FLDS disciples to pull their children out of the Colorado City Unified District schools and educate them at home.
Gilbert's desire to attend public school was sin enough to get him kicked out of church and community. But it could have been a million other things: from playing games to watching TV or ogling girls.
"I was excommunicated by the prophet Warren S. Jeffs approximately two years ago (for) associating with non-members of the church and watching three different movies," Tommy Steed, 19, said.
The worst sin, though - the one for which most are banned - is simply becoming a mature young man in a society where older married men are seeking younger brides.
"People from outside this region are amazed that this has gone on for so long," said Jonathan Krakauer, author of Under the Banner of Heaven, a book that brought national attention to the FLDS lifestyle.
"This is a pocket of an absolute tyrant who rules the lives of 10,000 people and seems to take pleasure in destroying families."
Not only are families ripped apart by the shock expulsions, but the young men and boys have little chance of ever getting their lives back on track.
Hardly anyone in Colorado City-Hildale, male or female, has more than eighth-grade education. Everyone is taught from early childhood that the outside world is evil, the prophet is God's representative on Earth, and his decisions and decrees are beyond reproach.
Anyone who leaves the church is damned not only in the afterlife but will be ground to dust in this life.
The combination of isolation, indoctrination and little education leaves young men and boys virtually incapable of surviving in the outside world.
Several have committed suicide. Scores turned to drugs and alcohol, and many are homeless, they said.
"When I was excommunicated, my hope for salvation vanished," said Steed, who still has the shy, high-pitched voice of a much younger boy.
"It took me a year to get over contemplating suicide."
Former polygamist Dan Fischer, founder of the tooth-bleaching product Ultradent, organized the rally on the Capitol steps to highlight the boys' plight and urge men to step forward as mentors. He urged interested volunteers to call 1-877-Get-A-Dad.
Fischer, who was excommunicated from the FLDS 12 years ago, announced that two mentors had signed up: Krakauer and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"It breaks my heart and keeps me awake at night knowing that there are hundreds of boys like this," Shurtleff said.
Saturday's gathering in 99-degree heat on a dazzling summer afternoon was rife with symbolism and emotion.
The "lost boys" told their stories from atop the highest hill in Salt Lake City, overlooking stately Temple Square, spiritual heart of the mainstream Mormon religion, from which the FLDS broke more than a century ago.
Behind the boys and young men as they spoke, 28 towering stone columns provided a backdrop strikingly like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, where civil rights advocates gathered four decades ago demanding justice and change.
In many ways, the dramatic coming-out was equivalent to the March on Washington for these young men and boys who grew up being taught to loathe the outside world in general and government in particular.
"I want to tell these young boys that I am proud of them for being here. I know it's hard," Shurtleff said.
"But look, we are standing right now in the shadow of the flag of the United States of America that all of us time and again have pledged allegiance to the concept ultimately of justice for all.
"I want to tell these boys, I don't care what you have been taught. That flag flies for you. You are entitled to justice in America and you have been denied it."
Seated behind Shurtleff applauding those words was the boy the attorney general agreed to mentor, Richard Gilbert, the one banished for wanting to go to public school.
He is free now to go as far in school as his talents take him. His life is changed. So someone asked the obvious question: If you had one wish in life, one desire, what would it be?
"Mine would probably be to have been able grow up and play Little League baseball," he said. "We couldn't. It was frowned upon."
Originally published August 1, 2004
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