Ex-FLDS member Brenda Jensen gave testimony this morning as follows:-
“I was born a Blackmore in Cranbrook B.C. We lived for a few years on a farm near the border with the U.S., and my father was one of the original organizers of the community at Bountiful. My mother was the sister of my father's first wife. They had five children, and I am the middle child. His first wife had eight children – four of her own and four adopted.
The FLDS were a cold, isolated people who lived in a non-nurturing environment. If they grew too close to their children, then they wouldn't want to give them up when the time came. We were to remain as “empty” as possible until we married, and then the Prophet received a direct order from God as to who should be our husband. We had absolutely no choice. It was forbidden to interact with the people who lived in nearby Creston. FLDS folks could work in the town but were allowed to have no social interaction.
We moved down to Colorado City* when I was about 14. Secrecy was very important. They would threaten us with rape and murder to teach us to fear them at all levels. There were very few monogamous families where we lived. Everyone lived in awe and fear of the Priesthood Men who lived in Colorado City. Many of these men also had big homes in Salt Lake City. They spread out their families in order to appear more normal. We sent boys and men on work missions to Colorado City, and marriages were arranged between our two communities. It was important to have a fresh bloodline at Colorado City. Priesthood men visited Bountiful at least once a month. Four men at a time came up to give us instructions from God. Rae Blackmore became a leader.
Violence was the first thing you encountered as a child, because they wanted even 2-year-olds to give instant obedience. There was a lot of spanking and smothering down kids. It was like Animal Farm – we were all equal, but some were more equal than others. Some enjoyed favours and privileges and lived in beautiful homes, while others lived in terrible situations. Certainly there was a pecking order among the wives – a caste system.
There were so many children – there was no nurturing, they were of no importance, there was mass conformity, individuality was not valued. Parents quickly learned to be ready to hand over their children over to the Priesthood Men. It was very important for girls to begin breeding children. It was their duty and they dared not disobey.
At Short Creek Dad began to grow disillusioned with the calibre of the Priesthood Men. They held their meetings in a bar-room atmosphere, and argued over who was going to get which girl as a wife. Obedience was the most important quality we could show to prove that we were supporting the Priesthood Men, because the Priesthood would be standing at the gates of heaven to await us with open arms.
Lessons began at birth. You had to remain within the rules on dress, who spoke to whom, get your heart and mind in the right place in order to please the Priesthood. School was an important training ground for a child to learn obedience. You learned about physical punishment, isolation, shunning until you were broken. We became physically obedient and emotionally broken. Consequences for individuals included excommunication, being sent to another family, beatings – all in order for you to 'learn better'. Meanwhile the Priesthood Men 'received a direct revelation from God in a bar.'
You were never good enough, you didn't belong to anyone, your parents probably didn't accept you - and all this was explained as God's will. You began to believe that nobody loved you, you weren't worthy of love, you felt self-loathing and hopelessness very early on; you believed that nothing was ever going to change or get better. There was no-one to turn to, so you might as well give up. Even school was totally devoted to the teachings of the Priesthood.
At Short Creek things were much more restrictive than in Canada, where I had ridden a horse and worn pants ans shorts. Not allowed in Short Creek. I read books at home, but not anywhere else. Going to school was just like going to church on a school day.
I was terrified of marriage. I felt so vulnerable – had absolute fear. I was assigned to Hammond (who was in his late fifties), who told my brother that I would be his 13th wife. I was 17 at the time. Hammond was known to be cruel both physically and emotionally, and before long father told me that I did not have to marry the man if I didn't want to. It was the happiest day of my life!
It was a huge defiance of God when I said no to Hammond. I was overwhelmed by the decision, because it was very rare for my father to say no. But by then, he had begun to feel more and more disillusioned with the church and its Priesthood, who could assign or break up marriages on a whim.
My father was so distraught that he developed a bleeding ulcer over the whole matter. He was taken to hospital in a station wagon which served as the ambulance, and when a community nurse told the driver that they were losing him, so to drive faster, the Priest told the driver to slow down. My father said that they abandoned him, and were ready to murder him. That experience took away any hope that anything good would come of that community.
The family left Short Creek with nothing – no money, no goods. This was when I was 17, and we moved about 30 miles away. We wanted to stay close enough that we would be there if anyone else wanted to leave and needed help. We built a small home, and I attended High School locally. The transition was very difficult. Almost all my siblings left Colorado City, and our beautiful farm was taken over by the church trust, and became part of church holdings. The only thing we had left was freedom of religion.
“Keep Sweet” means you must never complain, never speak out about an injustice or a harm or an unfairness. You must put harms and atrocities on the shelf. Women were never allowed to voice an objection to a new wife. We were never allowed to have goals, to study what we wanted. Everything had to be learned so that it could be put to community service, not for personal benefit. I was never taught to love myself, nor to develop any self-respect.
I chose to marry, and I have three daughters. I wanted my children to know that I am here for them, that they all have the chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, without doubting that they are loved. I taught my own children of the wonderful freedoms available to them.”
N.B. *Colorado City is basically synonymous with Short Creek.