Just returned from San Angelo, Texas where reporter Carol McKinley and our crew worked on a story for HDNet’s World Report about the FLDS and how the polygamous fundamentalist Mormon sect is integrating into the local economy. If you recall, members of the FLDS picked up in 2004 and left their homes in Utah to relocate to Eldorado, Texas. They built a huge compound and the population has been steadily growing. In 2008, there was a highly publicized raid where their children were removed because of allegations of child sexual abuse. Some “Saints” are in jail and Warren Jeffs, their prophet and leader, has been extradited to Texas to face charges of aggravated sexual assault. His trial is now scheduled to begin in July.
All that is the back story. The report we are doing is about how, despite the myriad of setbacks for the group, they are thriving in their new home, much to the frustration of many in the community. A huge conflict is emerging in the construction industry. Men in the FLDS are highly skilled in the construction trades and are getting a foothold in the workplace. They are hired on residential and commercial projects. They also work as subcontractors on city, state and federal construction jobs. People in the community say FLDS men work for less because they aren’t paid comparably for labor, and there is no longer a level playing field in the trades. In addition, they are outraged that people in the community would hire men who allegedly sexually abuse young girls. Everyone in this small town has an opinion on this.
With that in mind we set out to tell the story and encountered a climate of fear from almost everyone we met. Members of the San Angelo construction community who have spoken out against the FLDS told us about being intimidated. Folks used the words “Mafia” and “extortion” when describing FLDS tactics. Almost everyone was afraid to go on camera because they worried they would be sued by FLDS lawyers. They believed they would also be threatened or lose their customers and livelihood. Big burly construction workers would fill our ear with their stories off camera, but few would go on the record. It took alot of calls to finally convince a couple people to speak out. They did so with great trepidation.
On the other hand, the FLDS would scatter almost every time we showed up to videotape. It was like playing hide and seek. One builder who has a great relationship with FLDS workers and sings their praises spoke to us, but when we went to find his men on the job that day they were gone. He was stunned that they would flee. The only explanation, an email saying that we had been poking around Eldorado and he should not talk to the media, that no good could possibly come of that. Over the course of our trip we repeatedly tried to catch his FLDS subcontractors at work to get video, but almost every time they heard we were in the area they took off. It seemed they had a sophisticated communication network which tracked our movements and knew when we would be where. Three young men spoke to us when we caught them by surprise, but you could feel their palpable anxiety. We believe a couple even gave us fake names. They could not have been more kind and polite and you wonder why members are so secretive rather than speaking and helping to foster communication and understanding.
Despite the difficulties in San Angelo, we have a very strong story about the fundamentalist Mormon culture and how they are moving forward in the economy. Many who have spent their lives in West Texas worry aloud that the FLDS will take over. It’s a culture clash of the first order. Carol and the crew also visited Short Creek, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settlement on the border between Utah and Arizona, that was settled almost a century ago. Much to her surprise the FLDS is building a mansion for prophet Warren Jeffs in anticipation of his triumphant return when his Texas troubles are over. Watch for more on HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, February 8th.
For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.