Mayor of Polygamist Community Resigns

Mayor of Polygamist Community Resigns

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- A mayor of the one of the twin polygamist communities straddling the Utah-Arizona border has resigned in an apparent power struggle with church hierarchy.

Dan Barlow, the first and only mayor in the 19-year history of Colorado City, Ariz., turned in a single-sentence resignation letter Monday.

Kevin Barlow, the town clerk, said a new mayor will be selected by the council. Until then, he told The Spectrum of St. George, the town is in the hands of "Vice Mayor" Edson Jessop, who's also a councilman.

At an early Saturday meeting at the Leroy S. Johnson Meeting House, he and about 20 men were ousted from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Spectrum reported.

Reading from what he said was a revelation from God, the prophet, Warren Jeffs, stripped the men -- including six Barlows and four Jeffs -- of their priesthood, their wives and children and their right to live in town, an unidentified source told the newspaper.

The house cleaning, coming after months of an intensified power struggle between Jeffs and Colorado City's Barlow family, has set anti-polygamists and law enforcement officers on guard, The Spectrum reported Tuesday.

Given the rumors of "dissension and disagreement" in the past, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he wasn't surprised about the power split inside the FLDS church.

"All I knew was people were scared as hell," said Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist who drove to Colorado City from Phoenix on Sunday and removed two 16-year-old girls from the community. "I have a feeling it will turn into a bloodshed."

On Sunday morning, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan deployed four deputies and a canine unit from Kingman to Colorado City. For as long as needed, Sheahan said, the armed, uniformed officers will patrol the town 24 hours a day as "a prevention measure."

Since Saturday morning, a deputy from Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith's office has also been patrolling the neighboring town of Hildale, Utah.

With about 6,000 residents, the two towns are dominated by the FLDS, an offshoot of the mainstream and larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS church still teaches polygamy as a central tenet, a practice the Salt Lake City-based LDS church gave up a century ago.

Both Sheahan and Smith said they were relieved that no violence has erupted, but law enforcement officers haven't dropped their guard.

"It's been very, very quiet," Smith said. "It's a community so different than we are used to dealing with, I really don't know what to expect. We're just waiting to see how everything goes."

As in previous excommunication cases, women and children fear that they would be "assigned" to other men. After her father was ousted from the FLDS church at the Saturday meeting, one of the girls Jessop picked up told The Spectrum in a telephone interview that she was worried she would soon be ordered to marry an older man.

The Spectrum did not identify the girl. Her father, she told the newspaper, told the family to read the Bible and the Book of Mormon every two hours on Saturday. Some of the family members became scared and cried, she said.

"It's freaky," said the girl, whose name hasn't been disclosed to ensure her safety. "They were just, I don't know, kind of emotional."

For those who want to flee the polygamous enclave, said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, the state will establish a hotline, where help will be sent to pick up the victims. For now, he said, victims can call the Utah Domestic Violence Hotline toll free at (800) 897-LINK.

The Attorney General's office said the hotline has already received a few calls from people in the community. In addition, more than 10 governmental and non-profit agencies, including the Division of Child and Family Services and the Children's Justice Center, are prepared to provide services to those who come forward, said Shurtleff's spokesman, Paul Murphy.

Shurtleff said he will "do anything within my power" to ensure that no runaways are returned to their families against their will.

"If the situation becomes tense, we do want people to know that we are watching this," Shurtleff said. "There are people outside that care, that are concerned about them."

He said he hoped some residents might come forward and testify against abusers inside FLDS culture.

"There's a chance," he said. "Maybe now is the time."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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