Bill Doughty's day of reckoning was here.
Six nervous men had shown up on this spring morning in 1993 to take him to the woodshed, agreeing in advance to confront the "visionary," as Doughty called himself, to tell him enough was enough, to let him know the dream was dead and to insist on knowing - point-blank - where all the money went.More than $1 million had disappeared, according to promissory notes and private papers obtained by the Deseret News as well as numerous interviews conducted by the paper.
The money came in loans and donations from followers who generously sacrificed and faithfully subscribed to the picture Doughty saw of a southern Utah utopia where families would live off the land and the Founding Fathers would be featured in a 20th-century theme park of America as it was meant to be.
Followers had sold their homes and moved from out of state to join the cause. They had forked over nest eggs, quit their jobs, borrowed against equity. Most had waited patiently, politely, persistently.
But somehow the plan had soured, and now they were angry.
Today they would resist Doughty's skilled salesmanship and his persuasive pitch. They would force him to concede failure - maybe even pay them back.
It proved a task easier said than done.
Bill Doughty was in classic form that day, according to followers who since have abandoned him. A California investment adviser, economist and one-time Baptist minister before his conversion to the LDS faith, Dough-ty possessed remarkable skill in gently steering listeners his way by promising returns he could not deliver.
"This was a meeting with six men whose families had been out on the street," remembers Phillip Gleason, who moved from California with a wife and seven children to join the movement and had lent Doughty $20,000.
What was supposed to be Doughty's comeuppance ended with four of the six ready to give him more money.
Court documents and interviews show the incident was one of many in which contributors hoping to be part of a grass-roots political movement got no return on their investment.
Clayton Cheney, an Ogden native who today lives in Cedar City, said scores of believers were taken in. Cheney was among those who lost relatively small sums of money, paying $2,500 on a parcel of land for which he never received a deed.
"He'd promise 100 percent interest to anybody who would loan money, and what's amazing is people thought he'd really pay that," Cheney said. "We were dumb, but they were stupid."
Among the victims were Cheney's own parents, Art and Bonnie Cheney, who in May filed a $235,000 lawsuit against Doughty in 6th District Court in Kanab. Doughty's own family also has sued him over his land dealings, and some investors have filed formal notices of interest in the property at Mammoth Valley.
The Cheney lawsuit alleges the elderly couple wasn't paid for building a trio of luxury cabins as part of a community called Liberty Village at Duck Creek. The project was done under the auspices of the Meadeau View Institute, Doughty's educational foundation whose aim is to spread constitutionalism, the politically conservative doctrine that espouses decentralized government, states' rights and economy in spending (see related story).
The elder Cheneys declined an interview request, but Clayton Cheney said his parents' partnership with Doughty claimed almost all of their life savings.
"For a long time after that they didn't even have money to eat on," he said. "They mortgaged a four-plex they'd nearly paid off in Ogden to do this."
By many accounts, their story is standard among former Doughty advocates.
"It's ruined people's lives," said Cheney.
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Bill Doughty resides 30 minutes northeast of Duck Creek in an out-of-the-way mobile home near the Garfield County town of Hatch. His domicile is equipped with a satellite dish; he drives a late-model Ford Explorer.
"The vision is a huge vision that takes tremendous sacrifice," insists Doughty, who says he sold a million-dollar home in California to come to Utah and start his project in 1988.
In an interview three weeks ago he said he timed his move to coincide with greater global events.
"The world is in deep crisis," says Doughty, explaining his thesis that two dominant socio-political factions in America - and elsewhere - are on a dangerous and headlong collision course.
"One element is going socialistic, and there's a redneck one coming up against it."
The alternative is Doughty's view of the future, which was to have materialized on the 400 acres called Mammoth Valley that surround his trailer house in the arid and mountainous country between Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
At fruition, Mammoth Valley would've seen a colony of modern settlers living in harmony, sharing political and moral values.
They would host a constitutionalist theme park at which visitors could learn about their political heritage by bumping into the flesh-and-blood likes of Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry.
Duck Creek would be its sister institution, set up as a sort of chautauqua central, an intellectual retreat for the constitutionalist move-ment.
Many followers believed that Duck Creek and Mammoth Valley would've sheltered the U.S. Constitution from what they suspect is its systematic and ultimate dismantling by the U.S. government.
Mammoth Valley and environs today bear silent testimony to the results.
A half-dozen mostly dilapidated trailers sit just off a dirt road beneath a parched and barren ridge. Doughty lives in the best-kept one and maintains an office in a separate mobile home.
At 62, he is afflicted with an occasional nervous tic but remains slender and fit. Sporting a shock of white hair, he treats visitors with a kindly professorial air and readily concedes his endeavors have been financially devastating to contributors.
But he shoulders only some of the blame.
"Why did it happen? Partly an act of God, partly me, partly because people got too nervous too fast."
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It's mostly because of Doughty, however, say some who are out tens of thousands of dollars.
Easily the most prominent contributor has been W. Cleon Skousen, a former Salt Lake City police chief who since the late 1950s has gained a national following for his role in conservative thought. Skousen has made a career of penning popular works that included "The Naked Communist" in 1958 and, more recently, "The Making of America," a history textbook that offers a constitutionalist view of the past two centuries.
"He came up here with money and stars in his eyes," said Skousen, who donated $50,000 to Doughty's cause and serves as the namesake for the Skousen Center, the central - and incomplete - structure at Doughty's Duck Creek facilities.
Skousen was also on the Meadeau View Institute's board of directors and loaned the enterprise his written support. And his photograph was published prominently in Doughty literature soliciting donations.
Today he distances himself from Doughty, however, producing a December 1993 letter of resignation prompted by what Skousen said was his discovery of "elements of self-deception."
"He was violating all the basic business rules," said Skousen, who said three accountants were enlisted in successive order to straighten out the books. None could do it.
Others support Skousen's account.
Marsha Nelson, a St. George resident who moved from the Seattle area to join Doughty, remembers her eight-month stint as Doughty's bookkeeper as a time of chaos.
"I would just find stacks and stacks of unpaid bills, and there was nothing to pay them with," she said. "I said, `Bill, we're teaching one thing and doing another.' "Comment on this story
Nelson and her companion, Dean Brooks, sank the $78,000 proceeds of their Washington home into Mammoth Valley and live today in a Washington County trailer house Brooks bought with a down payment from his last resource, a credit-card cash advance.
Skousen's own elderly sister last year granted Doughty a $45,000 loan on top of a $40,000 donation. The note in all likelihood will never be repaid, Skousen said.
"It's such a heartbreak," he said. "What started out as a dream is now a nightmare."
Next: Why followers joined the cause, and the price some paid.