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By Jim Kouri
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
April 12, 2008

On ABC-TV's Friday night report, news anchor Charles Gibson informed Americans that a religious sect in Arizona and Texas was being targeted by law enforcement after they received reports of 16-year old girls being sexually abused.

"All their lives, the girls in the polygamist sect in the West Texas desert were told that the outside world was hostile and immoral, and that venturing beyond the brilliant white limestone walls of their compound would consign them to eternal damnation," according to the ABC News/AP breaking story.

"Now, if the state gets its way, hundreds of the girls could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling," said one official involved in the investigation.

"What they are up against is having to deprogram an entire community," Margaret Cooke, a former sect member who left the group with seven of her eight children near the end of 1994, told AP and ABC News.

The children "are so naive and they have been sheltered to the point that they don't even trust their own judgment," she claimed.

Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the state Children's Protective Services, is quoted by ABC News as saying the agency is working closely with mental health and other experts to make the children's transition from the religious compound to the government compound as easy as possible.

Meanwhile, in court papers unsealed Friday, authorities claimed they found a "cyanide poisoning document" in their search of the compound in the town of Eldorado. But, according to one law enforcement officer who wished to remain anonymous, "the 80-page list of items seized gave no indication that the cops found cyanide within the religious group's compound."

Later on Friday, the Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange admitted to reporters that the cyanide documents were actually pages torn out of a first-aid book on how to treat cyanide poisoning. But Mange said she didn't know why the sect would have such information in their compound.

Child welfare officials seized more than 400 children, most of them girls, in the raid on the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, saying the youngsters were in danger of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

The religious group requires girls at puberty to enter into polygamous marriages with much older men and produce children, according to court documents, however the papers do not explain how the authorities know this.

According to ABC News' Charlie Gibson, the sect teaches children to fear the outside world, including the very authorities who removed them until a court hearing Thursday that will help determine their future.

The children and the 139 women who followed them voluntarily out of the compound are being so secretive that child welfare officials are having trouble sorting out who the youngster' parents are, according to news reporters on the scene.

Most of the children are the offspring of the faith's inner circle -- including its prophet, Warren Jeffs, currently serving a prison sentence. They allegedly were born since construction began on the religious compound in 2003, or were hand-selected by Jeffs to come to the enclave, which the sect regards as part of Zion on Earth

Most of the sect's children have never attended public schools or worn modern clothing. The girls wear long, pioneer-style dresses and keep their long hair pinned up in braids.

"It must make liberals angry that so many kids are not being indoctrinated by government school teachers who have their own agenda, said political strategist Mike Baker, who's following the story and says he sees many similarities between the government's reaction to the Branch Davidian religious compound in Texas, and its reaction to this sects religious beliefs.

"I still remember the phony news stories about children being raped and sodomized in Waco, Texas by followers of self-styled religious leader David Koresh. The news media stoked up the federal SWAT teams to attack and kill men, women and children in a horrible bloodbath," said Baker.

Several legal experts told that although the religious group members have multiple marriages and their secret lifestyles may appear unusual, they have a right to their faith and privacy just as any other religion.

"The US Constitution's First Amendment protects these people the same as it protects Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other religions," said New Jersey attorney John Schwartz.

"I've seen it time and time again: people get all bent out of shape because of allegations of behavior they don't agree with. What you end up with is death and destruction as we saw with the Branch Davidians. These were Americans who were killed because society found their religious beliefs extreme," claims Schwartz.

Gary Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer representing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also believes the actions of law enforcement including the search of one temple can be compared to a law enforcement search of the Vatican or other holy places, according to his statement on CNN.

"What I see here is the government and the news media stoking up Americans with horror stories that have not been substantiated. Doesn't that sound similar to what happened in the 1990s in Waco?" asks Baker.

He points to many of the reasons used to attack the Branch Davidians being refuted after all the death and destruction. He also points to the fact that the news media and most political leaders were not very upset with so many being being needlessly killed including the children that they were supposedly trying to help.

One former law enforcement official claims that if President Bush and his attorney general allow another Waco to occur, they won't enjoy the media protection afforded President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

"I was shocked that one one -- not even conservatives -- took the Clinton Administration to task for such a heinous paramilitary action against American citizens," said former NYPD detective Sid Francis.

"It makes me angry when liberals shed crocodile tears for terrorists being mistreated, but they could care less when American citizens are brutalized by their own government," said Francis.

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...Children's Protective Services, is quoted by ABC News as saying the agency is working closely with mental health and other experts to make the children's transition from the religious compound to the government compound as easy as possible.