Aug 17, 2016

List of polygamous followers offers clues for sect's exiles

NATE CARLISLE | The Salt Lake Tribune

Aug 16 2016

Family ties » Former members check the roster posted on Facebook, looking for any information on their relatives.

Two hours after the roster was published on Facebook, Jennifer Darger told everyone whom she found.

"Aunt Sylvia & Nada are on this list," Barlow typed.

Ezra Draper, 44, tagged his sister Helen in his Facebook comment and asked her, " you suppose 'Sarah Barlow 44' is our sister?"

Thomas Barlow offered a joke. Only people who know the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would understand the humor.

"My sister is on the list of recommendation, woot woot go my team," Barlow wrote.

The commenters were seeking clues about what has happened to their loved ones who remain loyal FLDS members and who won't talk to kin who have left the church.

On Friday, private detective Sam Brower posted on his Facebook page a roster of FLDS followers. The list was attached to a letter fugitive Lyle Jeffs mailed his older brother, Warren Jeffs, in prison. The letter and enclosed roster were dated July 16. The correspondence was intercepted by law enforcement and published in a court filing last week.

Although the list omitted perhaps thousands of names, for former FLDS followers who have gone years without hearing from many of the remaining faithful, the list was the first suggestion in a long time about where their family members are living, how well they are doing and what might be coming next for them.

The comments on Brower's Facebook page offered a real-time view of people searching for family members who have been lost.

Brenda Nicholson, 43, found nieces and nephews on the list, but not the person she most wanted to find: her mother. When Nicholson last saw her mother about four years ago, the FLDS had stopped purchasing the medications she took following recovery from breast cancer about 20 years earlier.

"It's a feeling of almost desperation," Nicholson said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune as she described the questions she has about her mother. "You don't know if they're OK. You don't know if they're being taken care of."

On Facebook, Nicholson and other commenters quickly zeroed in on how the roster was organized.

Lyle Jeffs appears to have listed the FLDS members living in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek, and the territory where Lyle Jeffs served as bishop until recently.

Lyle Jeffs then separated the list into people "Recommended" for the United Order and people "Not Recommended."

The United Order is FLDS leader Warren Jeffs' elite subset. Group members are assured a spot in heaven in return for loyalty, faithfulness and obedience to restrictions on diet, mainstream media and other lifestyle choices. As bishop, Lyle Jeffs conducted frequent interviews with FLDS members in Short Creek to determine who was worthy of the United Order.

Ages were published beside the names on the list, and then Lyle Jeffs typed the name of each person's biological father. Nicholson said that stunned her.

The FLDS tend to guard fathers' identities for fear of being prosecuted for bigamy or, in cases in which the mother was under the age of consent, sex abuse.

The Jeffs family has reassigned many wives and children to other men, leading to surname changes. Nicholson assumes Lyle Jeffs published the biological fathers' name as reference points — the way other Americans might use Social Security numbers to further identify themselves.

Finding a familiar name on the list brought the commenters a mix of relief and sadness. Anyone whose name was on the list is still loyal to Warren Jeffs. The FLDS also force United Order members and nonmembers to worship, eat and often live separately from one another, creating divisions even within households.

"I know if they're on a list like that where they're judged, they're going to be separated," Jennifer Darger, 37, said in an interview Tuesday.

Alyssa Bistline, a 22-year-old junior at Boise State University, read the list looking for a girl cousin. Bistline didn't find her, but found an aunt and a boy cousin on the list of those "Not Recommended."

That means the aunt is "not going to be with her daughter," Bistline explained in an interview. "It worries me. [The girl cousin] is just going to be off with some other family."

The roster also was a sign to Bistline that the FLDS have not changed their ways, even after Lyle Jeffs and 10 others were indicted earlier this year on conspiracy charges related to what prosecutors describe as a scheme to defraud the federal food-stamp program. Lyle Jeffs absconded a month before the date on his letter and list. He remains at large.

"It's crazy that he's still trying to split up families even when the FBI's after him," Bistline said.

Draper on Tuesday, wondered whether Lyle Jeffs mailed the letter to Warren Jeffs — who is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years at a Texas prison for taking underage girls as brides — knowing it would be intercepted and published.

Draper, who after consulting with other commenters on Facebook doesn't think the name he found is his sister, said former FLDS will try to contact those who are still in the group. The followers will have to choose between Warren Jeffs and their family.

"It's a way to thin more people out," Draper said.

Thomas Barlow, who said he is the son of Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow and the first of his two wives, Layle Dutson Barlow, remarked that he read the list "mostly for amusement."

He said he left the FLDS in 2012 at age 22. The Jeffs brothers appear to categorize people on a whim, he said, and some of the people on the "Not Recommended" list are probably wondering what they have done wrong.

Thomas Barlow finds that perversely humorous.

"You can't make this sh-- up," he said. "You can't."


No comments: