The YFZ Ranch

Peter Van Sant Reports On The April 2008 Raid Of The YFZ Ranch

It has been nearly eight weeks since law enforcement raided the "Yearning For Zion" ranch in Eldorado, Texas - eight weeks since more than 460 children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) were removed from their homes, separated from their parents, and scattered across the state's foster care system.

"This is about children at imminent risk of harm we believe have been abused and neglected," an official from the state's Child Protective Services division told reporters.

But Willie Jessop, a member of the FLDS and the point man in the church's mess with Texas, says the state had it all wrong. "They were wrong when they kicked in the gate…. They were wrong when they brought in the guns and they ordered the children at gunpoint on the buses…. They were wrong when they raided it with a false and fake allegation to get into the place…. Where do you wanna stop saying it was wrong?" he asks.

"People are presumed innocent. Where's the presumption of innocence here?" Jessop asks correspondent Peter Van Sant.

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"So people who are tuning in and watching this show tonight who think they've got a pretty good handle on this story, that a group of middle aged men who are raising these young girls, having sexual relationships with them when they were 14, 15, 16 years old, you're telling me that that's a bunch of nonsense?" Van Sant asks.

"It's the biggest bunch of bull crap that's ever been sold to this nation," Jessop says.

But the standoff between the FLDS and the state of Texas didn't begin eight weeks ago. It really began five years ago, when a mysterious group bought almost 1,700 acres in Eldorado and started building what they said was a hunting retreat.

"I say, 'Hey. How ya doin'? I'm your neighbor.' And they said, 'Oh.' That's about it," remembers Chip Cole, who with his wife Kelly owns a ranch next door. "They weren't very friendly," says Kelly.

"And Chip called me and said, 'Somethin' weird is goin' on next door because all the women are wearing long dresses. There's some kinda cult goin' on,'" Kelly remembers.

Then word got out that the new neighbors were in fact members of the FLDS. The controversial religious group broke with the Mormon church decades ago and believes that polygamy is the path to heaven.

"They had one steely-eyed old religious fellow that wanted to talk about religion. He wanted to tell me that plural marriage was at the core of their religion. 'Course I said, 'Well that's great. I guess a gal can have two or three husbands, huh?' You know, they don't have much sense of humor," Chip Cole recalls.