WASHINGTON Even without an invitation, members of Utah's polygamous communities plan to appear at today's U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on crimes associated with polygamy.
Mary Batchelor, director of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices, and two other members of independent fundamentalist communities will be there, alongside representatives of the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
They are upset that the FLDS have been excluded from the hearing and fear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's push for a federal task force will lead to a crackdown on polygamy itself.
"It's causing fear in the community," Batchelor told the Deseret News.
"We've heard things from people that they're concerned it will create a fear environment like they had in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. We're afraid we're facing another underground period," she said. "All the work we've done is to avoid that, to bring people into the mainstream."
Reid, D-Nev., introduced a bill Wednesday to create a federal task force to track interstate illegal activity involving polygamous groups and also provide $2 million in grants to help states investigate and prosecute crimes. Reid claims such groups are involved in welfare fraud, tax evasion, extortion, kidnapping and transporting victims across state lines.
The bill would provide another $2 million in federal grants next year and $2.5 million a year for four years thereafter to help "victims of polygamy" come forward by providing witness protection, housing, education, mental health services, child care and medical treatment.
"We are taking aim at the blatant and systematic crime that is rampant within these polygamist groups," Reid said. "The suffering of innocent women and children because of these crimes is unconscionable. We're going to work with federal and state law enforcement to root out these problems before they get any worse."
Batchelor responded: "The way Sen. Reid is approaching this is harmful and destructive to many, many families that are innocent."
Principle Voices has tried to act as a liaison between governments in Utah and Arizona and the polygamous communities.
"We foresee we will need to broaden our lobbying efforts and go national," Batchelor said. "We don't want our work ruined by those on the national level who don't know anything."
In a letter sent to members of the committee on Wednesday, an attorney who has represented the FLDS Church took them to task for ignoring members' requests to testify. The irony that the hearings will be held on Pioneer Day, honoring the anniversary of the Mormon pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, was noted by Rod Parker.
"The ancestors of many FLDS members were among the pioneers who entered the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Those pioneers paid a heavy price for their faithful adherence to their religious principles in the face of extreme pressure," he wrote. "The FLDS carry on those 19th century religious traditions and, regrettably, have suffered the same injustices that their ancestors suffered."
Parker said the raid on the YFZ Ranch in Texas is the latest in a long history of persecution, accusing the committee of perpetuating it by holding a one-sided hearing.
Today's Senate hearing
TV: 8 a.m. CSPAN-3
Web updates: deseretnews.com.