One of Ruth Jones' last deeds as a conservative activist in Oregon was to crash a high school gay-rights assembly.
She passed for a senior co-ed, clad in a leather jacket and with blond hair to her waist. But standing incognito toward the back of the auditorium, her anger burned hotter with every act on the stage.Finally, she could take it no more and pushed her way into an outside hallway to vent her rage.
"I mean my tantrum stopped everybody in their tracks. I told the teachers and any adult there that they had no right to make students watch this play. I was almost spitting I was so mad," recalls Jones, who asked that her real name not be used.
Her vigor for conservative ideals later would turn Jones and her husband to less-public but far more costly displays, moving them to seek refuge from "the liberal, corrupt" government in Oregon's Statehouse.
Their search, shared by dozens of families and individuals with the same passion, ended 19 miles south of this rural town at a place called Mammoth Valley.
It was to have been a prototype community with 200 building lots; followers would forsake the world, adhering to the "freedom principles" in the U.S. Constitution.
Its organizer, Bill Doughty, was accepting "donations" of between $2,000 and $14,000 in exchange for promises of deeds to lots. Each parcel was priced from $2,000 to $5,000, but Doughty encouraged would-be residents to pay a $10,000 "infrastructure" fee to further guarantee a spot in line.
In four years, the former minister had persuaded at least 72 families or individuals to pay for unsecured land rights in the high desert area dotted by cedar trees and sagebrush.
Four families had left their jobs and homes during summer 1992 to live on the land in tents and trailers. The others with money in the project waited with growing impatience for the day they could build in Mammoth.
Meanwhile, Doughty feverishly worked another fund-raising angle.
With an empty gas tank and countless unpaid bills on his mind, the constitutionalist stopped in July 1993 at the home of Arizona resident Elna Garrison, a retiree whose generosity had bailed him out before.
This time, he needed $20 to take him back to Utah after a trip to California. Though he owed her $80,000, Garrison was only too happy to oblige him the gas money.
She still believed in this man who was building a center for the youths of America to learn what the country's Founding Fathers really intended. And she desperately wanted his "covenant community" to flourish.
So she gave him the $20, along with a $2,000 check to cover unpaid utilities in Utah, and sent him north.
That loan - still unpaid - was the last Doughty took from Garrison but only one of dozens he hasn't repaid families from California to Arizona, according to numerous interviews with former sup-porters.
To date, according to a Deseret News examination of private papers and court documents, followers have provided Doughty more than a million dollars through organizations he fathered from the Meadeau View Lodge in Duck Creek, a tiny community nine miles east of Cedar Canyon's 10,000-foot summit.
The lenders are ordinary folk: retirees, construction workers, small-business owners, teachers, draftsmen, mothers, fathers. The largest chunks of cash, Doughty promised in word and letter, would be used to either finish the Skousen Center adjacent to the lodge or help pay off its mortgage.
The center, named after the patriarch of constitutional thought in the western United States, W. Cleon Skousen, was to host conferences for adults and youths, who, armed with their new knowledge, would save the Constitution from today's lawmakers.
"We would have been much more cautious had not Dr. Skousen been a part of it," said Myrna Johnson, an Arizona mother of nine who gave Doughty $19,000. "We would not have gone hook, line and sinker, like we did, if it was just Bill - not with how hard my husband works for every penny."
Others, like Garrison, knew Doughty from his early days in California, where his conversion to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced him to Skousen's thought. Her faith in Doughty came easily.
Garrison's last large loan was for $25,000 on May 1, 1992, "to help complete construction of the Skou-sen Center as rapidly as possible," according to a promissory note. Doughty was to repay the loan with 11 percent interest in three months.
"I haven't seen a penny yet," said Garrison, who has not taken legal action and is more forgiving than some former Doughty de-vo-tees.
"You can't totally blame it all on Bill Doughty," Garrison said. "People have to do a little thinking on their own. . . . It's foolish for them to take their last cents and put it into something like this."
"He's an honorable, honest man, and the last time I saw him he just admitted his failure. Instead of promoting he should've been taking care of the business end, too."
Doughty says he hasn't kept his financial promises because fate has dealt him a brutal hand.
The winter after his stop in Arizona, a propane explosion beneath the floor of the Skousen Center condemned the building. "You see, we couldn't use the center anymore for our gatherings," he said, noting that the conferences were crucial moneymakers.
Today, despite the nearly half-million dollars lent to complete it, according to former Doughty office workers, and a $107,000 insurance check for its reclamation, the center remains half-finished.
Neighbors complain about its unsightly exterior, the silver panels of insulation drawing unwelcome questions from tourists. The floor, damaged by the blast, is awkwardly skewed; the windows are layered with dust from the nearby gravel road.
So where did the money for the Skousen Center go? Its namesake can only speculate.
"I had nothing to do with the finances. I've thought that a lot of it went out on routine expenses - secretaries to answer phones, people to wait on tables. The truth is, I really don't know," Skousen said in an interview earlier this month.
In late 1993, he resigned from the board of the institute that used the center.
"I saw (Doughty) doing things that were irrational; offering people double-principal notes with no way of paying them back," Skousen said. "I'm sorry with what's happened."
Darryl Hainsworth, who worked as Doughty's bookkeeper for nine months last year, said utility companies frequently threatened to cut off service.
"I had to grovel to keep the lights and phones working," he said.
And Doughty refused to let him help organize the finances so lenders could be paid.
"He spent a lot of time in California and Arizona picking up checks. I know a lot of money was coming in, but he told me it wasn't my responsibility. . . . I have no idea where it went," Hainsworth said. "Not to pay the bills."
Even when checks started bouncing, Doughty stubbornly held the reins, Hainsworth said.
"He wanted to be king of the mountain."
Doughty seems as genuinely baffled as anyone about where the money ended up.
When asked how much it would take to repay everyone, he simply says, "I don't know."
The winter of 1993 set snowfall records in the valley where Bill Doughty hoped to build his constitutional utopia, crushing the few poorly supported mobile homes on the land.
By then, the pioneering families who lived at Mammoth Valley during summer were gone, driven by the high-altitude cold to motel rooms and relatives' homes in Cedar City.
Doughty's community was dying. But not because his 72 investors had lost faith.
"We had been working to get there for three years. We were excited, ready to give it our all," said Coleen Gleason, a mother of seven who learned of Mammoth after she heard Skousen speak at a California conference in 1987. She later organized a California chapter of Youth for America, the group that inspired teens to study the Constitution.
After leaving the Fullerton area, she and her husband, Phillip, worked in Cedar City as the national directors of the organization. They expected deeds in return for their $20,000 investment to Doughty and for their eight months of work.
Myrna Johnson and her husband, Lyle, of Mesa, Ariz., were as hopeful as the Gleasons, giving Doughty $19,000 for a place on the land list.
"We are not rich, by any means. My husband is an air-conditioning contractor, and we have nine children. We thought it would be a good investment for our family," Myrna Johnson said.
Sheldon Dickensen, another California victim, had enough faith in Mammoth to borrow $40,000 from a bank to cover three lots and a donation to the Skousen Center. "I never did see any deeds. . . . I've simply been making payments on that loan for a number of years now."
The list of those who gave money for promises of land but never received deeds also includes families in California, Oregon, Arizona and Utah. Several contacted by the Deseret News contributed at least $8,000 apiece and planned sometime in the future to move to the area.
"I've spent many sleepless nights asking myself why I believed him," said Coleen Gleason. "I decided that it wasn't just him. For those of us turned onto the Constitution, it was about what the Founding Fathers were truly trying to do. . . . It was so exciting to learn and claim my heritage - a spiritual experience. Bill found he could take this spirit, this religious experience, and use it to his advantage."
Others weren't as taken with Doughty and his message.
In need of yet more cash, Doughty withdrew $170,000 from his own family trust in late 1989, according to Kenneth J. Sheppard, a Salt Lake lawyer representing the trust.
He said Doughty had no legal right to the money, which was banked for his children and his brother's children by their grandmother, Lillis J. Foote. As other bills mounted, Doughty used the money to pay off the 1988 loan that bought the 400 acres in Mammoth.
Angry at the action, Doughty's family lowered the boom, filing a lawsuit against him in Los Angeles Superior Court. The judge ruled against Doughty in November 1992, appointing his sister-in-law as full trustee, dividing the trust equally among Doughty's and his brother's children and ordering him to repay the money.Comment on this story
"Doughty couldn't satisfy the judgment, so he gave his sister-in-law a trust deed to the Mammoth property for $175,000," Sheppard said.
Doughty was to repay the money in five months or risk a public auction of the land.
The family trust wants the money back and plans to auction the 400 acres and accompanying water rights at Mammoth on Aug. 1.
His failure to repay that loan probably closed the door on his dreams for a Utah-based, national bastion of constitutional values. And it might leave his 72 investors with no way of reclaiming their losses.
Tomorrow: Where are the civil authorities?