Get a Hammer and a Nail…

After the recent comments in chanson’s thread, I decided to copy this post from FLAK.

I am interested in finding out what it is about the raid that people are so passionate about. I will state my theories below my proposal.

And – as chanson did in one of her recent posts (on her blog;), I’d like to quote the Indigo Girls’ song “Hammer and Nail”:

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

This is going to sound like an LDS Sacrament meeting talk – I hope everyone will forgive the analogy and not immediately ignore it (LDS and non LDS).

If you are indeed inflamed with passion about this topic – I challenge you to stop merely posting about it on the internet.
*It’s time to write letters to your elected officials about your feelings.
*It’s time to write letters to the editor. Study child protection laws and the laws governing CPS.
*Study why CPS was created in the first place.
*Find out about the real statistics of child (and spousal) abuse within the U.S. and other western nations.
*Support (either yourself or through monetary contributions) foster parents.
*Find out how to support the fLDS children.
*Write your bishop and SP (since you’re not supposed to write the General Authorities in SLC) and ask them to donate LDS time and tithing funds to what’s going on.
*Write your charitable organizations of choice (religion, etc.) and ask that the families be supported.
*Heck, support the fLDS legal defense fund – if you believe the children have all been unjustly taken.

Any and all of these actions would make a difference. It might just be a drop in the bucket – but it will be a drop none the less.

It’s easy to sit back and spew rhetoric on the internet. I know, I do it ALL THE TIME. It’s much more difficult to stick your neck out and act. It’s much more difficult to back away from the keyboard and actually volunteer your time. Or, to sit back and think about why the raid is pushing your buttons. When we figure out why we feel how we do, what fear lies behind our anger – it makes our arguments even stronger.

I’m not trying to imply that posters in any of the current threads have NOT been taking the above actions.

I’m simply saying that if you haven’t, now is the time.

I have been very interested over the past week to read the many, varied responses (here and elsewhere) to what happened (and is happening) to the fLDS.

I’m not trying to get into (another) discussion about whether or not the raid was wrong, and whether or not the allegations of abuse are true. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the U.S. foster care system or CPS. Or whether or not polygamy is inherently s_exist (polygamy/polygny, one man married to multiple women with very strict gender roles, religious beliefs and subjugation).

What I want to figure out is why it’s bringing out such strong emotions in me – and also in other people on the net. Granted, it’s not difficult to push my buttons – and I’m sure for other people, it’s easy to get them worked up as well.

Here are my guesses:
So obviously, it’s hitting the family/children button for most people. The thought that cps/the government could potentially take away your child or a loved one’s child is a big deal.

Many posters (like on feminist mormon housewives) seem to be up in arms about a mother being removed from her baby when she’s nursing. Bringing up all sorts of buttons/issues for people who believe motherhood is sacred, nursing is a number one priority, childhood is sacred and the parent/child relationship should never be put at risk. Sometimes, I can’t tell if there’s an “even if the child is at risk of abuse” caveat there (not all posters, just one or two in particular).

It’s also hitting the freedom of religion thing, that many people feel passionate about.

It’s definitely hitting the legality of the raid – whether or not the government has over-reached themselves. Unlawful search and seizure and all that. I will be very surprised if there is enough evidence of direct physical abuse for all 437/462 children – but who knows. And we have had the U.S. government participate in some questionable raids over the years. I believe strongly in civil rights – so that might be a hot button for some of us.

And I know that some of the emails that I’ve seen about potential adoptions of these children – just seem to flame the fires of emotion.

Is it the size of the raid?

Is it descriptions of alleged abuse that a person might have read that could have taken place (like Flora and Carolyn Jessop’s descriptions?). I know that some of those descriptions have kept me up at night recently.

Is it (for some of us descendants of polygamists) the thought that we could have been in this situation had things occurred differently?

Just curious what your thoughts are. I’m just trying to figure out why this has such strong emotions associated with it for many people.

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26 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    It’s this simple: “innocent until proven guilty”. The raid is just another example of appeals to extraordinary circumstances allowing for the subversion of this basic maxim of lawful society. And when the consequences hit so basic a human right as the domestic bond between mother and child, well, no one wants to lose the benefit of doubt here.

    Sure, they’re wierdo polygamist and there does appear to be a very strong case for abuse. But the raid? This rounding-up of an entire community? This should scare the hell out of any thinking American. That it does not … this is ominous.

  2. profxm says:

    I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m waiting to see how this turns out legally before I do anything. Matt’s point is well-taken: innocent until proven guilty. I agree with that, but I also think “better safe than sorry” is a decent maxim for young kids.

    (1) it was one big compound, not random houses in dozens of different neighborhoods (ideal environment for predation),
    (2) there were accusations of sexual abuse of minors
    (3) there is now evidence that some of the minors did, in fact, give birth:

    On Monday, CPS announced that almost 60 percent of the underage girls living on the Eldorado ranch either have children or are pregnant. Of the 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who are in state custody, 31 either have given birth or are expecting…

    I say it’s better to keep the kids out of potential harm until the details are worked out.

    Let me give a different hypothetical: A two year-old child is brought to the hospital with bruises on its arms and a broken arm. The parents claim the child fell. Doctors examine the child and determine that the child was abused (grabbed and shaken). The parents have a second child that is 4. Do you leave the 4 year-old with the potentially abusive parents until it is determined legally if they are abusive or do you take the child away to prevent abuse occurring during the investigation?

    I say take the child away pending the investigation. There is evidence the parents abuse; protect the child at all costs. If the investigation comes up empty, apologize and give the kids back. Which is more harmful: (1) Abused kids or (2) separation from parents?

    In short, I’m not writing, donating, or ranting until I have evidence that the raid was misguided. Right now, I’m thinking the raid may be a little much, but the evidence is in favor of CPS.

  3. chanson says:

    profxm — If you have cause to suspect a parent of abusing one of his/her children, I could see that as legitimate justification to suspect the same parent of abusing another of his/her kids. But suspicion that one person is an abuser is not grounds to suspect a different parent of being an abuser, even if they live in the same “compound” (or are of the same religion, which is the real justification here). Additionally, suspicion of teen marriages doesn’t imply that small children are in danger of abuse.

  4. Hellmut says:

    It’s not about punishment but about protecting children. Therefore criminal law standards such as innocent until proven guilty do not apply.

    The problem in this case is that we are dealing with a culture that has codified child abuse as a matter of virtue and salvation. That’s enough to establish reasonable suspicion that children are in danger from their parents and require the protection of the government.

    In light of the obstruction of the FLDS parents and the fact that they are part of a conspiracy, it is difficult for the government to pursue the safety of the children in a less intrusive manner.

    The FLDS are consciously exacerbating conditions and then stage their propaganda show for the benefit of the gullible public. I did not see any of those mothers go to the media when Warren Jeffs ordered them to abandon their sons at the side of the road.

    Therefore, I have a difficult time taking the tears seriously. I am sure that there is heartfelt pain, however, it is employed selectively for the purposes of the FLDS organization and its leaders rather than in defense of family bonds.

    The problem with the Texas approach is that the authorities are making it impossible for mothers to distance themselves from the FLDS.

    Imagine the following hypothetical: Somebody like Carolyn Jessop is among the mothers. The authorities seized the children while Carolyn was planning her escape. Now she has to remain with the FLDS because solidarity give her access to communal resources to get her children returned.

    The Texas authorities need to carefully consider how to enable women to leave the FLDS. The problem is that the government has created an incentive for mothers to pretend and lie that they want to leave the FLDS in order to be reunited with her children.

    May be, it would be more effective to allow for parental care under supervision.

  5. chanson says:

    Hellmut — I never said that putting these kids in foster care was meant as a punishment for the parents. The courts decide questions that aren’t criminal trials (like this custody hearing), and they always have standards of what kinds of evidence can be admitted for consideration (though the precisions vary depending on the type of trial or hearing it is).

    To finish my response to profxm’s earlier question: taking a child away from his/her parents and placing him/her in foster care is incredibly traumatic for the child. Even a few short months is a huge deal when you’re only six or seven (when they’re naturally just starting to learn to be away from their families for even a short time). And under normal circumstances (eg. no suspicion of abuse), the child’s actual parents are far better than a foster parent at giving the child the love and attention that he/she needs, as well as being more concerned (hence vigilant) about the child’s safety. So “better safe than sorry” means not removing children from their parents unless there is probable cause to suspect that the child really is in danger.

    Imagine we’re not talking about the FLDS here. Imagine we’re talking about across the board standards. What do you think would be the minimum evidence that would warrant a court taking your kids away from you and placing them in the care of strangers (whose parenting skills you have no way of assessing) for an unspecified length of time?

    (That’s closer to Aerin’s original question than this tangent has been anyway…;) )

  6. Hellmut says:

    Chanson, FLDS mothers are not allowed to bond with their children. Besides, we do not even know whose children they are. Jeffs has removed hundreds of children from their physical parents. Nobody knows where they are.

    If you are interested in parental care then it’s high time the government step in and determine parentage.

  7. Matt says:

    Just to clarify, my point wasn’t meant to diminish the need to protect children and possible government roles rather that a line is crossed when a whole community is rounded-up.

    Also, Hellmut, you may very well know more about the specifics of how the FLDS handle their children but in my ignorance I must say that your claim about FLDS mothers not being allowed to bond with children and Jeffs apparent social engineering at the level of parent/child assignment … this is difficult to believe.

    Could you add reference info so I can look it up?

  8. profxm says:

    chanson… I understand your perspective – removing kids from parents can be traumatic. But my point was: Which is more traumatic, abuse or separation? I say abuse every time, as does the scientific evidence (though I’m at a loss for immediate references). What I’ve read indicates children placed in a nurturing home after removal from their parents who are not repeatedly moved around adjust farewell well. Abused kids do not (less likely to have healthy, nurturing relationships, etc.).

    My hypothetical scenario I gave above was meant to be outside the realm of the FLDS. My wife worked as a genetic counselor for 4 years and had to deal with issues of custody and abuse. Our legal system is actually very biased towards parental custody. She had one patient who had 7 kids with fetal alcohol syndrome. Eventually all of the kids were taken away, but the court couldn’t stop her from having kids and she was able to keep the kids on and off for years, despite neglecting them and being responsible for their physical condition in the first place.

    So, to answer your question: What’s the minimum evidence?
    -If one child shows up in a hospital with signs of abuse,
    -And one parent does not accuse the other (or someone else) and distance themselves from that other,
    -Then all the children should be removed pending further investigation.

    If, however, a child shows up at a hospital with signs of abuse and one parent accuses the other and kicks him/her out, I would be fine with giving the allegedly non-abusing parent the children until there is evidence against the non-abusing parent.

    As for a minimum level, I wouldn’t go with a bruise – I was spanked plenty and wouldn’t consider my parents abusive. But a broken bone or significant weight loss due to neglect or a child not being sent to school all warrant removal in my book. Oh, and failure to get children timely medical care should be included, regardless of parental religious views.

  9. Hellmut says:

    Matt, Carolyn Jessop shared that fact during her most recent appearance on the Diane Rehm Show with a panel of polygamy experts. Jessop also talks about FLDS family dynamics in her memoirs Escape.

    FLDS consider maternal bonding problematic because they want the children to be equally accountable to all sister wives. That way, husbands can wield the threat of separation from her children over an uppity wive.

  10. Matt says:

    Thanks, Hellmut. Interesting. So, if this is true, I think they have a very steep if not impossible task. Children will bond. I’m just guessing that in practical terms the terror of having children torn from parents remains the same. These are human beings, after all. Part of the problem, I think, is that the strangeness of their communal and religious ways has diminished consideration for this fact.

  11. aerin says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. I think it is a tricky situation – especially, as chanson and Matt point out, as a precedent. ALSO – I am very wary of completely trusting Carolyn Jessop’s accounts to remove 460+ children. Now, hear me out.

    I’m not saying that I don’t believe Ms. Jessop, and that she’s not telling the truth. Just that there are many different perspectives. And, we have seen the damage that can be done by false accusations. I personally believe that what happened in her individual family – with her husband was probably true – as far as other families in the area, I can’t say. And again, I’m hesitant to voice doubt, as typically former LDS voices who speak out are denounced as just being bitter and exaggerating. That’s not where I’m trying to go. I’m just saying that one person’s account doesn’t fit for everyone.


    As far as precedence goes, I don’t know a great deal about the Branch davidians at Waco. I do know that the FBI and others were denounced strongly for not removing the kids sooner – and for the children’s eventual death(s) in the compound. Were the authorities scared of another situation like that?

    From all accounts, a weapons pileup/doomsday scenario was not occurring, but perhaps that’s what the authorities feared.

    I agree that it is very traumatic to remove a child from their mother. But I still feel strongly we don’t have enough information in each of these cases. If many of the children are living communally, not with their biological mothers – that makes this even more complicated.

    I guess that’s the conversation I wanted to have in this post – where is the line? When is it okay to remove children while the abuse is being investigated? When it’s being investigated who the child is living with? For example, let’s say that one of the children has been living in Texas – but their biological mother is in Canada and the child a Canadian citizen. How traumatic is that – because unless the mother (in TX) has legally adopted that child – I think the state will send them back to Canada. Honestly, as terrible as that may be for the child – taken away from the only mother they’ve known, I can’t help but denounce the religion that would encourage children to not live with their biological mothers -creating this mess in the first place. BTW – I’ve only heard rumors of this, no proof. I just wouldn’t be surprised if something like that happened. This is getting long – I don’t feel that’s religious discrimination – to question the right of a religious belief system to remove a child from their mother illegally. Everyone, religious or not, has to obey the law – to be protected. That’s why family law is so d*mn complicated in the first place.

  12. Seth R. says:

    Sorry, but the rule of the law in America is to be ruthlessly objective and wary about intervening in families – no matter how emotionally charged the subject is.

    I just can’t afford to be swayed much by Ms. Jessop. These people are too emotionally attached to the situation.

    It’s the same reason I find the desires of the victim’s family to be utterly irrelevant in dealing with a murder case. In the eyes of the law, their personal wishes are irrelevant and are best ignored.

    Some may consider that cold and heartless, but that’s what a real justice system requires.

  13. Hellmut says:

    Folks, you need to reason a lot more carefully. Nobody has said that the children ought to be removed on Carolyn Jessop’s word.

    The argument is about the FLDS propaganda, which is displaying mourning mothers.

    There is a lot more than Carolyn Jessop’s word. In this context, everyone can observe the lost boys.

    Where were all these protesting mothers when hundreds of their teenage sons were abandoned at the side of some country road?

    Clearly, motherhood in FLDS families operates entirely different. Until the FLDS mothers start to demand reunification with the lost boys, they have no credibility.

    I am sure that they mourn their children. But that is not why they are protesting. You are witnessing a carefully staged FLDS propaganda campaign.

  14. Hellmut says:

    Matt, I am not quite sure what you mean but children will not bond automatically.

    Bonding is about a relationship. You cannot bond with someone unless you have sustained access to each other.

    Bonding requires time and physical affection. However, FLDS mothers are not allowed to give their children any form of physical affection: hugging, kissing, even holding small children will be punished by older half-siblings and sister wives.

    You might want to read about the history of child rearing. It is not the case that children automatically bond with their parents. The Victorian ideal, for example, valued the emotional separation of parents and children as well.

  15. Seth R. says:

    I really don’t care what sort of propaganda they’re using either. Rights are rights. We don’t allow the state into the home without damn good reasons for it, and a lot of solid evidence.

    I think Texas had good very reasons. I don’t think they had good evidence.

    Unfortunately, you need both in America to invade a home.

    Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about sympathy for the FLDS. I’m rather indifferent to them one way or the other. But I am not happy about seeing yet a few more rights being undermined.

    Funny how the same people who were getting all pissed-off about Bush’s rollback on human rights for terrorism suspects don’t even bat an eye about whole families being carted off by CPS based on a crank phone call.

    Guess rights are only for people you like.

  16. Matt says:

    Hellmut, I did not say “automatic”. That’s your word. I said “Children will bond.” Grant me that would you? So whether they bond with the natural parent or with others, they will bond. Okay?

    Seth is dead-on here, however. You may not like what you hear about the pigamists, but if these don’t have rights sufficient to be treated equally before the law, then none of us do. Rounding-up an entire community on suspicion, taking children from parents out of fear of what may be happening, rationalizing it all away by convincing yourself that the folks are just evil (cold, calculating, propagandizing … inhuman to a degree) this some ways down the the road of the end to equal protection for all of us.

    We must tread this road with profound caution.

    The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
    –H.L. Mencken

  17. Matt says:

    RE: Hellmut (13)

    I think what bothers me most about your reasoning here, Hellmut (other than the fact that you apparently think you’re the only one being careful about it), is that you so readily use the terms “everyone can observe” and “clearly … no credibility” in association with anecdotal evidence. None of which would be sufficient for any court but a kangaroo court.

    What you’re brewing here is a mob mentality. You may be right about some things … and you’re likely wrong about others–not having any real evidence. Ease-up, partner. These are human beings and American citizens we’re talking about here.

  18. chanson says:

    I agree with Seth and Matt about the importance of objective standards in court.

    The claim that FLDS mothers don’t bond with their kids (hence should be treated differently by custody courts) reminds me most of this case:

    Kay Bottoms sought custody of her grandson because his mother, Sharon Bottoms was a lesbian and was raising the boy in the home she shared with her lesbian lover. The trial court held that because she was a lesbian, Sharon Bottoms was per se unfit to raise her son and awarded custody to the grandmother.

    Now, I imagine that Hellmut will point out that being a lesbian is nothing like being FLDS, and I agree with that. In all sincerity, I think lesiban couples make as good or better parents than straight couples on average, whereas I think that the FLDS are horrible parents. But weirdly, the two cases are extremely similar from an objective, legal perspective: The parent’s lifestyle/beliefs were viewed by the community at large as rendering the parent inherently unfit (without making specific claims of abuse).

    Aerin’s point about the Branch Davidians at Waco is an interesting one, though. I understand that the rules about the justification for searching a vehicle are different from the rules about searching a building because the vehicle can be driven away. (Seth, correct me if that’s not accurate.) I could see having different rules about removing children (pending trial) from militarily defensible fortresses, as long as the courts decide on some sort of consistent and objective criteria for determining this. I imagine that’s what will be decided as this case makes its way through the court system.

  19. Hellmut says:

    Chanson, get real. In the FLDS case, there is evidence of abuse. In the lesbian case, there is no evidence of abuse. That’s decisive.

  20. aerin says:

    I know it’s sort of changing the subject, but in response to chanson’s comment – I think it is a valid question. Since lesbian couples (in most states in the US) are not allowed to legally marry, any children from their unions are not given the same legal rights. So, hypothetically, if the legal mother was abusing the child, their other parent would not have the same rights and protections under the law. Unlike a male/female couple. The state would separate the child from both parents, the legal parent accused of abuse, and the other parent because they had no legal status.

    I’m not sure if this is making sense at all. Just that chanson is raising a larger issue of how we protect and support children in alternative living situations. And I think that issue is valid to this discussion.

    Please understand, I’m not AT ALL implying that GLBT parents are not fit parents – just bringing up the issue of legal custody and parental rights. I know there have been some high profile custody cases among GLBT couples – which is part of the reason I bring this up.

  21. chanson says:

    In the FLDS case, there is evidence of abuse. In the lesbian case, there is no evidence of abuse.

    Really? Well, then why did Sharon Bottoms lose custody of her child? Oh, yeah, because the law was administered unfairly.

    This is why it’s absolutely critical to insist on consistent and objective standards in such cases. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and when you support the state in unjust/illegal treatment of your enemies, it becomes that much harder to contest it when the same thing happens to your friends.

  22. Seth R. says:


    If later evidence turns up evidence of abuse, does that justify Texas CPS making a raid based on inadequate evidence?

    In what kind of democracy do the words “I feel lucky today” justify police state action?

  23. profxm says:

    Turns out government officials in New York agree that abuse warrants closer scrutiny as well:

    They’ve revised their policies after a child they didn’t remove from the mother after the first child was removed ended up dead. This is basically my hypothetical above in real life.

  24. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    although I can’t think of any right now, Gov’t in Washington state (taxpayers) have been held responsible for many failures of DSHS (social & health services) to protect vulnerable (youth & seniors) from harm/exploitation. the need for toyota style (constant improvement) management is apparent.

  25. Matt says:

    Guy, hey–I’m your neighbor. Mercer Island. 🙂

    So Guy brings-up a good point here and that the liability angle.

    profxm, I’m thinking there may be some diff between the NY case and the FLDS. The NY story speaks of “open case” which I think refers to cases already in the system. If child welfare has a formal case (ie. known and documented past history that’s been handled by the dept in the past) and mismanages it then they become liable and so they’ve tightened their removal policy. So was the entire FLDS community an equivalent case?

    I’m thinking not. What do you think?

  26. profxm says:

    Well, I think we start parsing things a little to fine at that stage. If a new or old case is likely abuse and there is another kid around, I say take them all away until the investigation is complete. chanson seemed to disagree, but to me, that’s what the NY City case is saying – we can’t give abusing parents the benefit of the doubt. Concern for kids is primary. My take on it, at least…

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