Polygamist vs. Polygamist | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Cover Story

Polygamist vs. Polygamist

FLDS Church exiles battle for the hearts and homes of the polygamous faithful.



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Hook Me Up

Organized resistance to the UEP from Jethro Barlow’s former friends, relatives and those he attended church with has created all kinds of casualties. On an isolated hill close to the Vermillion Cliffs stands what Jethro calls “a classic example of the sadness of this situation.” The two-story house is close to being finished. When Jethro first entered it, tools lay on the floor, as though workers had gone to lunch and never returned.

A window is broken and the rat-bitten corpses of dismembered pigeons litter the floors. The pigeons fly in through the broken window, get trapped and die. The house’s builder, Jethro says, “claims an interest in it but refuses to do anything with it.”

Casualties other than wasted assets include non- and ex-FLDS residents who moved in at the UEP’s invitation, only to be met, after the YFZ raid, with determined opposition. The most disturbing example is Ron Cooke.

Cooke has idyllic memories of, as a FLDS teen, hiking for days in the striking Vermillion Cliffs that cradle the polygamous townships. When he was 18, he left and worked in construction. While laying pipe on a Phoenix main street three years ago, he was hit by a truck and spent four weeks on life support with spinal and brain injuries.

When the severely disabled Cooke and his wife, Jinjer, heard the UEP was offering properties to former residents, they saw an opportunity to have a home. With their three children, they moved to an unfinished, single-story house in Colorado City in May 2008, just about the same time Texas authorities were raiding Yearning for Zion. The house is just below the townships’ reservoir that Ron helped clean out on numerous Saturday morning work projects as a kid. The trust, Jinjer says, told them the man who built the house had washed his hands of it.

“Ron’s many years of service, his bloodline and his special handicap needs moved them to the head of the class,” Jethro says, when it came to assessing their right to occupy a UEP property. That, however, “put them in a position where they are at the grinding point of the resistance the city is putting up to the trust.” So, for 18 months, Ron has been forced to live in a cramped trailer built to transport four-wheelers, one he initially thought would be their home for just a few weeks. “He was slowly getting better before we moved here, but emotionally, he’s gone backward,” Jinjer says.

The home’s original builder was granted prepaid utility hook-ups in a 2001 building permit signed by city officials. But the city told the Cookes that the permit had expired, even though, as Jinjer points out, many unfinished properties in the townships still receive power and water. “They took no notice of it anywhere else, but us, they enforce,” she says.

Ron hand-delivered a letter to Hildale Mayor David Zitting in October 2008 but got no response. So, in December 2008, he filed a housing-discrimination complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s civilrights division against Hildale-Colorado City Utilities. Ron alleged that the city’s “claims that I need new plans, permits and inspections” to obtain hook-ups are excuses to hide “housing discrimination,” because he is non-FLDS. He also claims the city has failed “to make reasonable accommodation for my disabilities.”

Ron sleeps with a battery-powered oxygen machine to help him breathe. Without it, he could die. They keep a generator running as a backup, costing them $200 a week in gas. After a year and a half of fighting for hookups, Jinjer says, they are “super-broke.”

It’s not just about money. Outside their trailer, the wind picks up, hurling waves of red sand through the air. The Cookes used their shower in the trailer so much that the base cracked, forcing Jinger to shower her disabled husband outside at night in the cold, so he could go to bed clean. “I couldn’t believe I was doing it,” she says.

At a conciliation meeting in early October 2009 in Phoenix between officials from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and Hildale-Colorado City authorities, with the Cookes and Jethro Barlow on the telephone, an agreement was reached that the Cookes would receive power. Two weeks later, the city did an about-face and gave the permit to the man who built the home and who had abruptly reemerged to claim the property.

When the outraged Cookes demanded to know why they weren’t given the permit, Jinger says, “They told us, ‘We thought you weren’t interested.’” While Jethro is certain the Cookes will eventually receive utilities, he describes Hildale-Colorado City’s treatment of Ron as “reckless disregard for human life. The city has contrived the flimsiest, worst, mostdisingenuous reasons for not serving this family.” Colorado City’s town manager, David Darger, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Only Plygs Allowed
Joan and Jethro Barlow are having breakfast with Isaac Wyler in the Centennial Parkowned eatery, Merry Wives. She says she often ribs her husband about why he does a job that makes so many people hate him.

“Somebody has to stand up and do it,” Wyler interjects.

An high school English teacher, Joan feels askew in a township she contrasts to Baghdad. “I don’t enjoy going where I’m not wanted,” she says, so she’ll shop at a St. George Walmart rather than the local grocery store. “It’s like we’re at war, yet we’re not.” Nevertheless, her husband, she says, “feels like this is where he belongs.”

Jethro sticks to his polygamous beliefs and to his desire to be part of the community that, currently, is stridently opposed to him. His wives, however, both say they would discourage their children from entering polygamy. Jethro wants to see a return to the days when an Air Force traveling band would perform for the community, when a talent show by local adolescents would bring FLDS and non-FLDS together. “I never spent any more time in anywhere that felt like home.”

He sees hopeful signs of change. The FLDS Church is holding church meetings after years of them being banned by Warren Jeffs. Church members are working on their homes and Mohave Community College now boasts 100 FLDS students.

While the FLDS Church is calling on Utah’s courts to vacate the reformation of the trust and remove Wisan, Jethro hopes the leadership will “accept reality” and negotiate with the trust, perhaps, he says, over a few beers.

He wishes the FLDS would live its religion. “There’s nothing in it that justifies the treatment they’re dishing out to people who don’t believe.”