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Texas Town Wary of Polygamist Sect's Arrival

Residents of the rural West Texas town of Eldorado are concerned by the arrival of a polygamist sect known as the FLDS, or Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members derive their polygamous theology from the teachings of early Mormon leaders, but Mormons abandoned polygamy long ago.

The home base of the FLDS is in the sister cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. But now, Utah and Arizona authorities are cracking down on the towns, probing allegations of sex crimes against minors, domestic violence, welfare fraud and tax evasion.

Last March, FLDS leaders arrived in Eldorado to purchase 2,000 acres just outside of town. When the FLDS men first came, they pretended to be businessmen and said they were building a hunting retreat for corporate clients. FLDS leaders have since admitted that they are building a new settlement for their religious sect. The sprawling ranch is complete with an imposing white temple that dominates the horizon around Eldorado.

Nobody knows how many people are living there now; the oft-stated estimate of 200 is just a guess.

Eldorado locals were already distrustful of the group after its initial lie about its intentions in settling there. Many are disturbed by the group's secretiveness and disgusted by its practice of polygamy and sexual involvement with young teenage girls. There is also a concern that someday, the FLDS might try to get involved in Eldorado politics, running its own candidates for sheriff and mayor.

But others in Eldorado are conflicted, caught between their morals and powerful West Texas beliefs about civil liberties. Some believe that as long as FLDS members aren't breaking the law, the group should be left alone — that what they do on their land is their business.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.