Mother fears sect's hold over daughter
from Bountiful, B.C., is building an isolated compound in Texas
By JANE ARMSTRONG
Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page A3
-- Susie Johnson
had been missing more than a month when the young woman called home to Canada
to talk with her worried mother, Jane
was all right and God was blessing her, Ms. Johnson said, and she was begging
to stop tracking her down.
could hear the strain in her daughter's voice. Finally, the young woman said:
"Mother, my time is up. I have to go now." Her husband, Ben Johnson,
got on the line and warned his mother-in-law that God did not want her to find
Ms. Johnson and their three young sons.
It wasn't the first time Ms. Johnson, 23, had
been spirited away in the name of God. Born into the Fundamentalist Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS, a breakaway Mormon offshoot in
Bountiful, B.C., Susie was taken by her father at age 17 to Salt Lake City,
Utah, to marry Mr. Johnson, a man she was introduced to just five minutes
before the ceremony. Her hometown community in the B.C. Interior, where
and girls are married off as
young as 15, is now the focus of a provincial investigation probing allegations
that girls are trafficked across the border to U.S. communes in Utah and
Arizona. The B.C. probe is also looking at complaints that racism is taught at
the provincially funded schools and plural wives claim to be single mothers to
Now there are fears that the sect, under the
leadership of Warren
, considered a prophet by
some, has embarked on a more secretive -- and potentially dangerous -- path. Ms.
believes her daughter and her three young
boys have been moved to a walled commune under construction in rural Texas. The
fortress compound near
has prompted alarm
among local authorities who say the group bears troubling similarities to the
sect of David
, whose compound near Waco, Tex., was the scene of a
horrific standoff that killed 84 people.
"Everyone who goes to these compounds is
completely cut off from everybody that they've known their whole lives,"
said. "They're not allowed to
communicate with anyone. No phone calls, no letters, no nothing. Completely cut
off. Complete isolation."
It's believed that a rift in the church,
combined with a raft of state investigations into the church's activities,
prompted the sect to build the Texas refuge for its leader and a select group
of followers. Mr. Johnson, 28, Susie's husband, is among the group of devoted
has told followers that the
compound is a place for followers to be "lifted up." Ms.
said the words have the ring of an
Armageddon-style event, such as a mass suicide.
have the same fears. They're alarmed at the rapid construction of the secretive
compound, where women and girls wear ankle-length Colonial-style dresses and
-tall fence is topped with barbed wire.
About 30 people live in the commune and up to 200 are expected.
In a telephone interview, Sheriff David Doran
said the new landowners at first told authorities they were building a
corporate hunting ranch. They later confessed it was a church retreat when
confronted with aerial photos that revealed a town-like grid with up to 10
buildings under construction.
"You bet there's a concern," Mr.
Doran said when asked about comparisons to Waco. But he stressed that the group
has a constitutional right to
and live where it chooses.
In the meantime, the sheriff said his plans
to keep tabs on the sect's activities by talking often with the group and paying
Rodney Parker, a lawyer based in Salt Lake
City who has represented the group, said accusations on both sides of the
border are unfounded. He said church members who move to the Texas retreat are
free to come and go as they please.
"People go there because they choose
to," Mr. Parker said. "It's really easy to leave."
Back in B.C., Ms.
disagreed. She said leaving a church like the FLDS is a complicated, wrenching
process that can mean cutting ties with family members for good.
the first and only legal wife to Winston
who was bishop of Bountiful until he lost a bitter power struggle with Mr.
went on to
father 80 children with 25 so-called celestial wives.
eventually divorced Mr.
, but five of her
seven children still live in the valley community, located about 100
west of the Alberta boundary near the U.S.
lives in nearby
and works as a midwife for
the women of Bountiful. Because of her ties to the community, she is reluctant
to criticize it. When asked her opinion of polygamy, she replied: "If I
agreed with it, I wouldn't have left it."
saw her daughter in the summer of 2003 when she
to Colorado City, Ariz., a cloistered town that is headquarters of the FLDS and
where Ms. Johnson and her family settled.
During the visit, Ms. Johnson who was six
months pregnant, cried frequently, but said nothing disloyal about the church.
she has notified police in Canada and the United States, but there is little
authorities can do because Ms. Johnson isn't a minor.
her daughter can be easily manipulated.
"I've been involved in this way of life
for a long time," she said with a sigh. "The courage has been taken
out of people. It's because they've been taught all their lives, and they do
believe, that if they disagree or disassociate themselves with what is
considered the norm, that they will go to hell and there's no recourse for them
except eternal damnation.
"As much as it may seem like hell on
Earth, they can be persuaded that eternal damnation is worse."