Friday, May 12, 2006
Minutemen's rallying cry: No amnesty
In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol today, I stood between the warring lines of our national immigration debate.
The Minutemen, those advocates for rigorous enforcement of immigration laws, were rallying against any sort of amnesty program for illegal immigrants. A short distance away, protestors in favor of greater rights for immigrants were trying to shout down the Minutemen speakers.
The protestors called the Minutemen racists, Klansmen, Nazis, and repeatedly chanted at them in Spanish.
As I wandered among the Minutemen, however, they had little say about the protestors. One after another they repeated the basic tenet of their group: If a nation has laws about immigration, those laws should be enforced, period.
The folks who came to support the Minutemen were a mixed-lot racially -- mostly white, but some African-Americans, some Asians too. I don't think I saw any Latinos among them.
Many of the Minutemen took a couple of days off of work to drive to the Washington, D.C., for this cause. Some told me they'd never been interested enough in politics to do anything like this before.
And that caught my attention more than all the shouting, signs and speeches I heard, because generally, when ordinary folks care enough about an issue to abandon part of their ordinary lives to get involved, whatever that issue is, it is going to get bigger.
Standing by the Capitol on this spring day, I watched a small, heated confrontation, but I couldn't help but wonder: Will much bigger, more volatile clashes on immigration follow in the heat of the summer?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Cop accepts prison after videotaped shooting
When Sgt. Billy Anders emerged from his prison cell in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I expected to greet a man filled with anger and resentment after a judge recently sentenced him to one year in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
For his own protection, Anders is serving this sentence in solitary confinement. He's locked in a concrete room with a small window 23 hours a day, surrounded by violent criminals, some of whom are on death row for heinous crimes.
As I greeted Anders, I found a former cop who seemed more concerned about how our crew was holding up in such a depressing place than with his own well-being. I sensed no prejudice or hatred from this cop who served 31 years on the force, just one year short of retirement.
During our two-hour interview, I looked for signs of malice in Anders' demeanor that might suggest he killed Earl Flippen, a former white supremacist, out of revenge for his partner's death. Anders shot Flippen just moments after Flippen killed his partner. They were responding to a domestic disturbance call in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
We asked Anders to explain why he still felt threatened even after severely wounding Flippen and placing him in handcuffs. We asked him why his account differs so much from what appears in his patrol car video camera, which captured the incident.
Anders said he has little memory of his decision to pump a fatal bullet into Flippen's chest. He said he only wants the court of public opinion to consider the totality of the circumstances that led to the shooting, believing his life and that of a 3-year-old girl he was trying to save were in danger. Anders had already lost his partner. The girl's mom had been killed too.
Videotape can be a powerful witness, especially when it appears to contradict a police officer's account of an incident. In this case, it appears that Billy simply cannot justify his actions. Even his own team of investigators and the town's chief prosecutor saw a crime there. If the state didn't act, the feds were preparing to intervene.
After a distinguished career in law enforcement, and without ever firing a single shot on duty before this incident, Anders now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, reading scripture, pondering why this all happened. He gets one hour a day to shower and shave.
Billy has accepted responsibility for his actions, and many residents in this remote corner of southern New Mexico's national forest consider him a hero.
In the meantime, he says he thinks often of that little girl's future, even as he struggles to find redemption at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, the very same place that Earl Flippen, the man he killed, once served hard-time.
How polygamy affects your wallet
You may or may not agree with polygamist Warren Jeffs' lifestyle, and you may or may not think he is indeed the dangerous criminal the FBI says he is, but would you believe Jeffs and his followers are costing you money?
"Their religious belief is that they'll bleed the beast, meaning the government," said Mark Shurtleff, Utah's attorney general. "They hate the government, so they'll bleed it for everything they can through welfare, tax evasion and fraud."
It makes some sense. Polygamists have multiple wives and dozens of children, but the state only recognizes one marriage. That leaves the rest of the wives to claim themselves as single moms with armies of children to support. Doing that means they can apply for welfare, which they do. And it's all legal.
"More than 65 percent of the people are on welfare ... compared with 6 percent of the people of the general population," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff hasn't filed charges against Jeffs or his organization, but he's investigating Jeffs for "cooking the books," avoiding taxes, and even setting up offshore accounts.
One thing we do know is that Jeffs and his followers have not been paying their fair share of property taxes.
A judge appointed accountant Bruce Wisan to take control of the group's $110 million trust. Wisan's biggest challenge: Collecting more than $1 million in overdue property taxes from polygamist property owners living in Colorado City, Arizona, where Jeffs' church is based.
"They've received benefits of living on trust land for free," Wisan said. "They didn't pay for the land. In many cases it was community efforts that built the house. So all they have to pay are utilities and property taxes and I don't think that's unreasonable."
The other fundamentalist polygamist
We are out in Utah and Arizona looking for the other fundamentalist polygamist on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. The one whose name isn't Osama bin Laden. It's Warren Jeffs.
I spent some time recently in Saudi Arabia, where polygamy is legal, yet by no means universal. In Islam, a man is not supposed to have more than four wives. Interestingly, bin Laden's father had many more than that, but he got around this by frequent divorces. He ended up with more than fifty children. The founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, also had a number of wives and several dozen children.
Back to where I am now, Utah, which happens to be another desert climate. (Does that have anything to do with polygamy? If so, I can't figure it out.)
I spent the day out here with a private investigator named Sam Brower, who has been looking into Warren Jeffs and his organization for the past three years. There have been a number of civil suits against Jeffs, and Brower has helped the plaintiffs in each, so he's spent considerable time and effort in trying to understand Jeffs.
Brower compares Jeffs and his church to the Taliban. They dress and act in a certain way, he says, and Jeffs controls the women and makes them subservient. This is all wrapped around Jeffs' version of a fundamentalist Mormonism. Brower says that in his opinion, Jeffs is also a terrorist, but his "terrorism is directed at his own people."
The big fear of course among the law enforcement community with Jeffs right now isn't about terrorism. Instead, the operative word is Waco. Everyone worries about what might happen if Jeffs gets involved in a big standoff. But that is a story for another day.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Polygamous group exists in a different world
I said it often on the air Tuesday night, but I find it hard to believe that a religious sect like the one led by fugitive "prophet" Warren Jeffs has existed in the United States for so long.
We live in an age of information, where it's easy to believe everyone is connected by technology. But the longtime existence of Jeffs' organization, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shows that not everyone is part of the same world.
There are plenty of religious orders in this country that choose to live in isolation. That's not why Jeffs is of interest to legal authorities. They are after him because he stands accused of heinous acts against minors, and essentially, running an organized crime outfit. His organization, which broke away from the Mormon Church decades ago, teaches polygamy as a way of life.
I keep staring at those pictures of women in long skirts turning away from the camera, the few grainy, telephoto images that we have of Warren Jeffs' thousands of followers. What must life be like in those communities?
I'm in Utah now, and am spending the day talking with people who once followed Jeffs' teachings. Other CNN correspondents have fanned out across this region to cover the story from different angles.
Gary Tuchman is in Arizona looking at a relatively content polygamous household. Randi Kaye is exploring the tax and welfare implications of polygamy. And Rick Sanchez is taking a closer look at "Yearning for Zion," a Texas compound where many of Jeffs' followers live.
We're broadcasting live from Utah tonight on this fascinating story. I hope you tune in.
Fort Knox has nothing on polygamist compound
I'm in the town of Eldorado in the Texas hill country today, trying to report on a bizarre, yet impressive compound of polygamists that rises out of 1,600 acres of brush and cactus. But I think it may be easier to penetrate Fort Knox than to get inside this place.
The compound, which is called "Yearning for Zion," is home to followers of Warren Jeffs, the polygamist leader recently named to the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Some outsiders suggest Jeffs might be in there too.
So far, I've tried driving in. And I've played a game of cat and mouse with the people living inside, who run the other way when they see us. With our telephoto lens we watch them as they, in turn, watch us. It's eerie. Now, I'm trying to fly over the compound in a rented plane.
This place is amazing, like a small city surrounding a giant Masonic temple, where devout followers of Warren Jeffs believe they need to be to get ready for the apocalypse. Jeffs, who they believe is their prophet, has told them they need to be here when the world ends in order to start a new civilization.
Of course, in the meantime, Jeffs has a more pressing problem. He's running from the law for allegedly having sex with minors and arranging marriages between underage females and older men.
You see, these fundamentalists, who broke away from the mainstream Mormon church in the early 1900s, believe that in order to get to heaven each man must have at least three wives. And the more wives you have, the closer you are to heaven.
We've spent the day talking to law enforcement officials in the area, both local and federal. We asked: Why don't they go in and look for Jeffs? They tell us they can't until they are convinced he's there.
Will the compound eventually be raided? Is this going to be the next Waco? That's what residents here in Eldorado fear most. You'll hear from them and get a closer look at "Yearning for Zion" on tonight's show.
Polygamists claim it's all about love
It was one of the harder interviews for us to arrange. Polygamists don't like to talk on camera. It is against the law in every state to have a plural marriage, and people involved in this lifestyle are constantly looking over their shoulders wondering if they might be arrested. Many of them have parents and grandparents who have spent years in jail.
But after weeks of negotiations, a group of polygamists who live near Colorado City, Arizona, agreed to talk to us for tonight's "360°" special on polygamy.
We went with one female polygamist to her home, and what a home it is -- 32 bedrooms, immaculately decorated, architecture that resembles Versailles. This is not the typical polygamist's home, but size is a great benefit in this kind of family.
Linda (who did not want her last name used to protect her family) was afraid to give too many specific numbers and details about her life. But she did tell us she lives with at least ten other wives, and has more than 30 children, nine of which she has given birth to herself.
Many of the wives in the house have paying jobs, she said. The husband they all share has a job they do not want to disclose. We also talked to one of Linda's teenage daughters. She said she is not sure if she will be a polygamist too, but claims it's the most normal lifestyle in the world.
In addition to Linda, we interviewed nine other male and female polygamists, all from different families, who say they have plural marriages because it's a religious commandment. They are fundamentalist Mormons, who believe the Mormon Church made a mistake more than a century ago when it banned polygamy. One woman said, "Why is love punished? That's what our lives are about. Love, love and more love."
The women acknowledge their husbands must have significant stamina. When we asked a question that a lot of us are curious about regarding how conjugal visits are determined, a woman named Joyce joked that whichever wife draws the short straw is the one who sleeps with the husband that night! But she then added in seriousness that it's all decided by good communication among the wives, who are her best friends, as well as their husband.
The people we talked to are not followers of Warren Jeffs, the man recently named one of the FBI's 10 most wanted, but they are not ready to vilify him until a jury finds him guilty. They dress conservatively and act conservatively, and say they are open-minded concerning how other people live.
But they do not believe the rest of society is open-minded enough when it comes to their lifestyle, which they say they are not willing to give up, no matter what the law says.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Shhh ... New Orleans witnesses spate of murders
There are two things you need to really understand about New Orleans before you can talk about any issue there: 1) It is much smaller than you think and 2) Everything is about politics.
So when I tell you the murder rate is rising, but the chief of police doesn't think it's that bad, you can understand why people in New Orleans are starting to worry.
New Orleans has always been a high-crime city, but there was a big drop-off in the number of murders committed in the initial months after Hurricane Katrina. The flood that wiped-out large areas of this city also was credited with dispersing New Orleans' criminals.
But the effect appears to be temporary. So far this year, thirty-two people have been murdered in New Orleans; thirteen last month alone. In this city of 180,000 people, the result is murder rate comparable to some of the most crime-ridden areas of the country.
Last week, I sat down with Warren Riley, the new chief of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). He tried to explain how crime is not that bad in New Orleans.
The actual murder rate, he says, is lower than it was before Katrina wiped-out the population. He also tried to explain that the official estimate of the population -- 180,000 people -- is wrong.
Why? Because that figure doesn't count all the people who drive into New Orleans every day to work. It only counts the people who actually sleep in New Orleans when all those workers go home.
So the NOPD has decided to add a new mathematical twist to make its murder rate look better than it is. They add the daytime population to the nighttime population, then divide by two. That gives a much bigger population figure, and lo and behold, 32 murders in four months doesn't look as bad.
Despite trying to put a positive spin on the numbers, police officers admit there are indications that violent Latino drug gangs are following the heavily Hispanic labor force into the city. This is setting up the potential for turf wars with the mostly African-American gangs that dominated this city pre-Katrina.
The police force is short around 200 officers, and Chief Riley is asking the state for 50 or 60 troopers to help patrol the city's abandoned areas. Also, many police stations are still unusable, and the jail, courts and even patrol cars are in disrepair.
Chief Riley hopes to have his force back to around 1,600 officers in the next two years. Even so, he says he may need a force twice that strength to really control crime in New Orleans.