The raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch will be a hot topic at a conference under way in Philadelphia on cults.

Several seminars at the International Cultic Studies Association's conference are devoted exclusively to polygamy.

"The conference was planned before the events that occurred in April," said Mike Kropveld, director of Montreal-based InfoSecte, a cult-monitoring group. "It has become an issue of concern with people coming out of the different fundamentalist Mormon groups."

Former members of polygamous groups and government representatives will give presentations, with the raid on the YFZ Ranch in the front of everyone's minds.

"We're going to be talking about the approach Utah and Arizona have taken in trying to solve problems and to create a safe environment for people in polygamous communities," said Paul Murphy, the coordinator of the Utah Attorney General's Safety Net Committee, a group of polygamists, government workers and social-service agencies working together to deal with abuse and neglect in closed societies.

Murphy said the states' approach has been to reach out to people with care, fostering involvement.

"People need to know that you care about them whether they are in polygamy or not," he said.

Acting on a call from someone claiming to be a pregnant, abused 16-year-old girl, Texas child welfare authorities and law enforcement went to the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in April. Once there, authorities saw other signs of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of hundreds of children.

Texas Child Protective Services alleged a pattern of abuse, with girls groomed to be child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators. Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the children to be returned after ruling that state officials acted improperly in removing the children and said there was no imminent threat.

A child-welfare investigation and a criminal investigation are both ongoing.

"It was interesting the way Texas handled the whole situation," said Andrea Moore-Emmett, an anti-polygamy activist and the author of the book "God's Brothel." She also is speaking at the conference.

"I was glad to see them doing something, in contrast to what we see with Utah and Arizona," she said.

Kropveld is hesitant to take a position on the raid, saying he wants to wait and see what develops. He noted that there have been numerous complaints leveled against the FLDS for abuse, but he worried about the long-term effects of Texas' actions causing the group to become more isolated.

"Are we using a hammer to kill a mosquito? That's a concern No. 1 when the state gets involved," Kropveld said.

Kropveld declines to apply the term "cult" to a lot of groups, saying it is too simple of a term to use and often depends on the individual experience. "Cult" also carries a negative connotation.

"You can have a good experience in a bad group or a bad experience in a good group," he said.

There are destructive groups where everyone is abused, Kropveld said, recalling California's Heaven's Gate cult that led to a mass suicide amongst its members in 1997.

Moore-Emmett was more direct.

"Absolutely it's a cult," she said. "It has all the hallmarks of a cult. Every one of these polygamous groups are cults. The dynamics are the same."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com