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It’s been a year of upheaval for members of a polygamous church who occupy the small towns of Hildale, Utah and its neighbor, Colorado City, Ariz.
It’s an area collectively known as Short Creek -- located about 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
It’s home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – a sect that gained national attention when its leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs, was imprisoned on multiple counts of sexual assault against children.
Warren Jeffs' brother Lyle Jeffs was recently sentenced to five years in prison for defrauding the federal government in a scheme that involved many community members and the way they used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With two of the Jeffs' brothers now behind bars, leadership of daily operations of the church remains a question.
Nate Carlisle is a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. He has been covering the FLDS community in Short Creek for many years. He said the members he has talked to are not saying who is in charge of the church's day-to-day operations.
“The FLDS is being extra secretive about who is in charge at this point,” he said.
He said no one is leading Sunday services. Carlisle said the likeliest candidates for leadership are some of Lyle Jeffs full brothers because they have held leadership positions in the past.
In addition, hundreds of church members have been evicted from their homes in Short Creek due to a dispute over a land trust that owns much of the property in the area.
Carlisle explained that during the 1940s people turned their land over to a trust that was managed by the church. However, in 2005, the state of Utah took over the trust because of concerns that it was being mismanaged and being used for criminal purposes.
But the members are refusing to cooperate with the trust and are therefore being evicted. Carlisle says they're going "anywhere that they can find a job and a place to live," which has included Oklahoma, Washington state and communities around Utah.
Besides those dramatic changes, for the first time in the town's history, a non-FLDS person was elected mayor of Hildale.
“People say it was the first time there was a real choice in who to vote for in Hildale,” Carlisle said.
The new mayor isn't the only non-FLDS member in a position of power three of the five city councilmembers are not part of the church.
“The non-FLDS are now in control of Hildale government and that’s a colossal change in how things have been for so long,” he said.
Carlisle said people in the community are being more open about their lives and the church, which is a big change.
“Some of the FLDS members seem a little rudderless and so they’re taking it upon their own to tell some of their stories and talk to reporters when given the opportunity,” he said.
So can the church survive all of these monumental shifts?
“I think it will continue to exist in some form,” Carlisle said, “The question is going to be what is it going to look like a year from now, five years from now especially 10 years from now.”
Nate Carlisle, polygamy reporter, Salt Lake Tribune
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