I grew up in a violent, fundamentalist, polygamist cult—a radical offshoot of the modern-day Mormon church. My father, Ervil LeBaron, was the man at the top.
He demanded total allegiance. In the 1970s and ’80s, he commanded followers to carry out mob-style hits on those who opposed him or fled his cult. He referred to these killings as “hot lead, cold steel, and a one-way ticket to hell.” Media outlets nicknamed my father “the Mormon [Charles] Manson” for the atrocities he committed, and authorities in multiple states (and Mexico) issued arrest warrants for him and his murderous followers.
We moved unexpectedly and often, living in constant fear of getting caught. On many occasions, we left home in the middle of the night to stay one step ahead of the authorities. The FBI and Mexican police would raid our homes, looking for my father and the others who had carried out his orders.
We experienced poverty of mind, spirit, and body. It doesn’t take any mathematical genius to realize that one man cannot support 13 wives and over 50 children. His ministry consumed all his time. Some of his wives worked, and others went on welfare, but they could never manage to make ends meet. Everyone, even young children, worked long hours in grueling conditions to ensure we didn’t starve. Even so, we regularly scavenged—or outright stole—to meet basic food and clothing needs.
As you can imagine, we were never allowed to make friends with anyone outside the cult.
Until a few years ago, the only pictures I had of my father were newspaper clippings, including one (from the National Enquirer) of him in handcuffs after the Mexican police finally tracked him down. After being taken into custody ...1