Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY -- On April 3, 2008, Texas law enforcement surrounded the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Within days, they had the biggest child custody case in history, touching off a compelling national debate.
Today, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is still maneuvering to win a public relations victory over the state of Texas.
FLDS leaders invited the media back to historic Fort Concho on Friday. There, they showed off the place where mothers and children were forced to live the first few days, along with an audio-visual presentation.
The FLDS public relations strategy evolved a week into the raid, giving maximum exposure of weeping women and frightened children. It continues a year later with an entire Oprah show, considered hopelessly one-sided by anti-polygamy activists.
"Usually, I like Oprah, but she pushed a lot of buttons. So I thought, "You know what? I don't have to put up with this crap." So I just turned it off," said Rowenna Erickson, with Tapestry Against Polygamy.
On one level, the Texas raid failed. The state Supreme Court ruled it illegal; 438 out of 439 kids were returned to their parents. The narration of Friday's audio-visual presentation states, "They had no credible evidence of abuse; only a hoax telephone call from a woman undergoing psychiatric treatment."
But the case did produce evidence like photos of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs kissing and apparently marrying a 12-year-old girl while he was a fugitive from justice. "It's emotional and spiritual abuse of women and children," Erickson said.
The raid strengthened the resolve of critics to fight FLDS culture, and it pushed the faithful into a hardened defense of their spiritual turf.
"It's been a very heartbreaking experience to see the legislation take one religion, focus on it, and try to find laws on how they can do what they did a year ago and be more efficient in doing it," said FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop.
But Rowenna Erickson said, "I don't know what the future is, but I'm so proud of Texas. Really, they did a wonderful job."
Though only one child remains in Texas state custody, the story is far from over.
After his conviction in Utah, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was taken to Arizona to stand trial. Back in Texas, he and 11 other FLDS men still face criminal trials for illegal marriages and sexual abuse of children.
Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst and Becky Bruce.