Image credit: Bob Daemmrich/Corbis
Four years ago, when Bruce Wisan first started traveling to the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City, a remote fundamentalist Mormon community on the border of Utah and Arizona where polygamy is openly practiced, people shunned him in the rutted, unpaved streets. They called him an instrument of Satan. He couldn’t even persuade the local café to serve him lunch.
The residents had reason to be suspicious. Wisan was appointed by a Utah state court to safeguard and manage the fundamentalist Mormon trust that has administered 85 percent of the property in the twin cities since 1942. His immediate predecessor was Warren Jeffs, the community’s notoriously authoritarian “Prophet,” who was convicted as an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl. (Jeffs has multiple wives himself, and still faces charges in Arizona and Texas.)
Wisan’s job was to clean up the mess Jeffs left behind. As Wisan told me, the prophet had stopped defending the trust from two lawsuits (later settled) and was possibly mismanaging its assets. Jeffs was also known for splitting wives from husbands, “reassigning” families to suit his whims, expelling dozens of men who challenged his authority, and transferring houses at will (practices he surreptitiously continued after Wisan arrived). To compound the confusion, before his arrest, Jeffs had orchestrated a stealthy exodus of select followers to a new compound in Texas. Even the most open, honest attempt to figure out who deserved to live where could bog down in dizzying complication.