Polygamy and Politics in Colorado City, Arizona

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3TV News reporter Mike Watkiss talks about recent developments in Colorado City, an Arizona town on the Utah border that’s controlled by members of the FLDS church and their imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs. In recent weeks, the federal government has sued the town for discrimination and the Mohave County Sheriff has begun patrolling the town.

Ted Simons: Last month the U.S. justice department filed suit against two polygamous towns run by the FLDS church on the Arizona-Utah border. The federal civil rights lawsuit against Colorado city, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, claims that both towns discriminate against non-FLDS residents. Here with more on the lawsuit and what federal intervention could mean for the area is 3 TV reporter Mike Watkiss, who has been covering this story for, it seems like you've been covering this story for way too long.

Mike Watkiss: Way too long, and the story doesn't change very much. You have noted there has been some significant developments just in the last couple weeks, and months. The feds filing at long last, and they should have done this a long time ago, they basically filed a lawsuit alleging that both municipalities, Hildale, Utah, and Colorado city, are just I redeem bring corrupt. The mechanisms within those structures, those governmental structures are designed to carry out the orders of Warren Jeffs, not to adhere to the law. The utilities are used to per cute people, the cops are in essence the enforcers for Warren Jeffs. Tom Horne and our attorney general and the Mohave county sheriff took a very courageous step and they basically have taken Mohave county deputies and are saying, we're patrolling the streets. We're going to get the FLDS thug cops, the town marshal and we're going to get them out and provide some legitimate outside law enforcement. And then the feds filing a suit against these municipalities basically saying that they just, not be trusted. And they're being used to persecute non-FLDS, and people who have been thrown out of the church.

Ted Simons: Examples of the persecution. I know in the lawsuit they mention housing, public services, and policing and such. But we've also heard other stories just horrendous things going on in terms of ex-members of the church and folks who don't -- before we get to that, how many folks who live in those two communities are not members of the FLDS church?

Mike Watkiss: You know, the majority by far is FLDS. But there are a lot of folks who have -- Warren Jeffs over his tenure as leader has had this history of tearing families aparty, basically saying you're an unworthy mornings I'm taking all three wives and I'm going to give them to the guy across the street and all of your children are no longer yours. So he's been ripping families apart in the most cruel and brutal fashion. If the men speak up, the FLDS cops come and tell him, we're going to cause trouble for you. The FLDS cops are the ones who drive the young men out, lost boys, and if girls run -- the bottom line is, there's a significant portion who are not FLDS. People have been thrown out, people who have moved there, left on their own accord because they think this guy is crazy. And they definitely feel the persecution of the majority, the TYRANNY of the majority. Their animals were killed. We had a cat buried in concrete, FLDS sending a message sending a message to non-FLDS guys. We've done stories about animal abuse. That pushes people's buttons. But the bottom line, they have been abusing. And this is the core of this, been abusing women and children in that sort of culture for generations, and Arizona's history on this is abysmal in doing anything.

Ted Simons: Why is Arizona's history -- just this last legislative session there was an attempt to do something about it and the legislature couldn't get it done. What's going on here?

Mike Watkiss: Utter cowardice, dishonesty, stupidity on the part -- let's be fair, the senate, whether you're talking about Tom Horne introduced a bill that basically decertified the town marshal's office as corrupt entity, and he said that we need to get outside law enforcement in there to allow justice for everyone, not just the FLDS people. It was thwarted basically by a couple of lawmakers from Mojave counsel to my recollection women who represent that district should have some knowledge of this and clearly don't. And they told their colleagues in the state house that oh, things are getting better. Mr. Jeffs is not in charge now that he's incarcerated. He's very much in charge. And if they had done any homework they would have known that. They're dishonest, and it failed in the legislature so Tom Horne said, this is too big a problem, I'm going to find outside money and pay the Mohave county sheriff to go in. They're both courageous, they did the right thing.

Ted Simons: How is that going?

Mike Watkiss: I think you now have law enforcement that -- if you're non-FLDS you don't have to call the town marshal and know they're going to side with the FLDS in any dispute, these guys will always side with the FLDS faithful. Warren Jeffs is still very much in charge up there.

Ted Simons: Stop right there. I'm confused about this. This guy is supposed to be in prison in Texas. And he apparently is Sun-Il charge of these two towns? What's going on? How is that happening?

Mike Watkiss: He has access to telephones, and people -- if you have this assumption this guy is -- he just got fired from his office, it doesn't work that way. This is a lifetime assignment. They look at him as a mouthpiece of god. That doesn't go away because he's incarcerated. In many ways this enhance the his status. He's now a martyr to the polygamist mandate plural marriage. And so for these representatives to get up and say, Jeffs is out of the picture, he is still sending reams of documents to lawmakers all over the world, telling them there's going to be an apocalypse unless they let him out of that jail cell. He's ripping families apart, he's prohibiting children from any play, he has these crazy -- he's very much in charge.

Ted Simons: OK. As far as the federal lawsuit, what are the feds asking for, what kind of compensation are they looking for, what is the solution that they want to see?

Mike Watkiss: I think clearly you have to take away the municipal powers, because Arizona has done nothing, this cancer has been able to metastasize into these structures. FLDS now controls -- we had-to-go in and take away the school district, pass special laws because the FLDS had bankrupted it, bought themselves an airplane -- this required -- it's such a unique problem, it requires unique solutions. We need to -- the feds need to businessically take away some sort of receivership. Some outside authority needs to run these communities so they do not do the bidding of Warren Jeffs, they do not persecute FLDS. I know many of the people, they're unnamed parties but the people who are the substance of that lawsuit have been persecute the terribly in that community. You're going to see this when they start -- these lawsuits come out.

Ted Simons: You've had been up there obviously many times, and -

Mike Watkiss: Too many times.

Ted Simons: Recently as well. Are you seeing anything different than when you first went up there? Is anything changing, anything developing, getting better, worse?

Mike Watkiss: I think in many ways it's getting worse, because they're circling the wagons and there's a degree of paranoia. That was always going to be the case. We've allowed to it go so long, and doing nothing about it, they really need to take some remedial steps and they're doing that now. It may get worse, but the FLDS are circling the wagons, they're angry at the outside world, but now they have good outside honest law enforcement, the feds want to take away the municipal governments. We have to take these draconian measures now because of our failure to do anything for generations.

Ted Simons: Last question, you've been covering this story for too many years, and you've really done a tremendous job of going up there, talking to people, implicating yourself into this mess. Why? What is it about this story that gets you going like this?

Mike Watkiss: I grew up in Utah. I come from -- I have polygamist ancestors and I thought somewhere along the line this story has never been accurately told. The heroes in this are a handful of women we have profiled who got out and said, we're not going to allow what happened to us, the abuse to us, to happen to our little sisters. And they started raising hell. And I started telling the stories. And truly, the heroes of this cause are the handful of women, I could name some names, who got out and raised hell. And to the extent that men have had any hand in this, we are just doing our jobs. These women risk their lives, they risked everything to make sure that what happened to them does not happen to their little sisters and brothers.

Ted Simons: You're doing a great job of keeping this thing covered. Continued good work on this, and thank you for joining us.

Mike Watkiss: It's great to be with you, Ted.

Mike Watkiss:Reporter, 3TV News;

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