In a pattern that appears to be unfolding across the United States, media-shy polygamist Mormons are finally opening up to the press by allowing photographers and journalists into their homes. In July, The New York Times magazine ran a series of photos of women and children affected by the El Dorado, Texas, raid last spring. And now, in another surprising instance of candor, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, invited The Salt Lake Tribune into their compound in Westcliffe, Colo., a tiny town about 60 miles west of Pueblo.
The Colorado Independent visited Westcliffe in June, reporting on the fact that Lee Steed, an aide to jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, was rapidly buying up land in the area and had set up two compounds with several families. Attempts to contact Steed and other FLDS members were unsuccessful during the Independent’s visit. Each compound is guarded by a massive and winding fence; two young boys at the main compound sped away in a golf cart when approached.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the Westcliffe compound is home to 21 people, including several of the sect’s grandmothers, who quilt and draw during the day. The women say they love the seclusion in Westcliffe.
But as the FLDS openness grows, so do the fears in the surrounding community. While very few people seemed to know or care about the FLDS when the Colorado Independent visited Westcliffe, The Salt Lake Tribune quoted agitated and concerned neighbors, some of whom have set up a group called Step Up, a resource for FLDS who might be experiencing abuse.
One FLDS grandmother, who lost her voice to a stroke, wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune reporter that life in Westcliffe is "heaven to us. You should tell them we like this little town, and we are sorry that they don’t like us."