FLDS and the Oneida Commune
On the face of it, Oneida was guilty of the same offenses the FLDS is charged with. Sex between young women and older men (and young men and older women) was an explicit part of their system and they made no attempt to conceal it. Their marriage pattern was even stranger than polygamy, since everyone was married to everyone. Like the FLDS, they saw their sexual system as an important part of their religion. Like the FLDS, they had a charismatic leader with complete authority. The FLDS is charged with brainwashing its members, Oneida had a well organized system of criticism and indoctrination.
Oneida functioned openly, publishing descriptions of what they were doing and why for a period of decades, and its final collapse seems to have been due more to internal problems—the founder was getting old, there was no well established successor, and the second generation, as with Israeli kibbutzim, was less enthusiastic about the system than the first—than to external pressure, although there was some of that.
The FLDS, on the other hand, functioned only by staying under the radar of the formal legal system. In both its recent collisions with the law, the treatment looks close to a presumption of guilt. The leader was charged and convicted with being an accessory to rape on the grounds that a woman claimed, some considerable time after she was married, that he had helped pressure her into the marriage—a result I find it hard to imagine in an ordinary case. The recent raid seized all of the children and took them away from their parents although the allegations, if true—and very likely they were true, whether or not the phone call that set off the raid was real—were only relevant to a small fraction of the children.
I do not think I have yet read any defense of the FLDS—any public statement arguing that they should be left alone to implement their very odd, and quite likely illegal, pattern of behavior. Yet Oneida, once established, functioned openly, propagandizing for its system, for decades. Why the difference?
Three possibilities occur to me. The first is that nineteenth century America was a more tolerant society than twenty-first century America, at least with regard to issues having to do with young people having sex. The second is that the Oneida commune was supported by the surrounding community, in part because it was an economically successful system providing employment, at its peak, for about 700 of its neighbors. The third is that its more symmetrical sexual arrangements—young men with older women as well as young women with older men—were less offensive.
Comments? Other explanations?