OGDEN -- Authors of histories of polygamy in both the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints documented Monday how views of members of the FLDS Church changed as media continued to report on the effects of an April 2008 raid of their Eldorado, Texas, compound.
"Once people get to know people from the other side, the other turns out to not be so different," said Craig Foster.
He said news stories of the sect started out describing members as living lives filled with "indiscriminate prostitution" and then changed quickly to depict them as respectable people who just wanted what was best for their children.
Foster and co-author Newell Bringhurst spoke Monday at the Weber State University Lindquist Alumni Center as part of Weber Historical Society's Fall Lecture Series.
The two are authors of a three-volume series of books titled "The Persistence of Polygamy."
Volume One, "The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy" (John Whitmer Books, $24.95), was recently released. The other two are expected to be out within the next year or so.
The two authors also wrote "The Mormon Quest for the Presidency: From Joseph Smith to Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman" (John Whitmer Books, $24.95), among other books.
Monday's lecture was titled "The FLDS and the Outside World."
The presentation centered on results of the April 2008 raid, but Foster and Bringhurst also offered general observations from their interactions with the FLDS and other fundamental LDS groups.
Bringhurst outlined six effects of the raid and the reporting of the events that followed it.
The first outcome, he said, was that the FLDS members won a legal fight to regain custody of their children.
In their efforts to do so, he said, members came to actively engage the media in telling their stories, he said.
"Willie Jessop became a spokesman," Bringhurst said. "He turned the discussion of the raid into a debate on human rights."
Bringhurst said the group also developed a website designed to elicit sympathy.
The requirements outlined by Texas Child Protective Services officials following the raid, he said, compelled the church to publicly renounce the practice of underage marriages.
Also an effect, he said, was members' renewed fears and paranoia as experienced in a similar 1953 raid on their compound in Short Creek, Ariz.
But the Texas raid came to facilitate greater interaction between FLDS members and members of other fundamentalist Mormon groups, he said.
Bringhurst said the events also caused fundamentalist Mormons of all types to "come out from the shadows" in seeking tolerance from the mainstream society.
Foster said many members of the FLDS church have been just as repulsed by FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs' child sexual abuse, uncovered by the raid, as anyone else.
The two men said they hope Jeffs' recent conviction will stand as his lawyers question the constitutionality of the means by which the evidence against him was obtained.
"The irony of the whole FLDS raid is that they ordered it under questionable circumstances," Foster said.
The two talked about meeting Jeffs' own brother and hearing him say that justice was served in his conviction.
They also told of a jailhouse confession Jeffs made, in which he stated that William E. Jessop was now the true prophet of the church.
They said they have observed about 200 people going to church in a separate facility in Hildale, Utah, under William E. Jessop's leadership and that their sources tell them more attend every week.
However, they also said it has been difficult for many members to be aware of all the outcomes of Jeffs' trial because of the isolating nature of their community.
Foster said faithful members cannot read newspapers, watch television, listen to the radio or go onto the Internet. He said: "I hate to use the word brainwashed, but let's say they have gone through an extensive conditioning."