Sect Members: Brainwashed or Believers?

Experts wonder if members of religious groups are victims of mind control.

ByABC News
April 15, 2008, 4:22 PM

April 16, 2008 — -- Between hysterical sobs, the women of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in rural Texas tearily pleaded Monday for the return of their children from state custody, but at the mere turn of a phrase, those tears mysteriously, uniformly stopped.

When conversations with reporters shifted away from the 416 children in state custody toward touchier subjects surrounding the mysterious religious sect, the overflowing emotions were quickly replaced with blank stares and terse replies.

Clad in conservative prairie dresses, hair back in buns and tight braids, the women stuck to monotone, emotionless responses in declining to answer reporters' questions concerning allegations of plural marriages and sexual assault within the sect.

Asked whether 14- and 15-year-old girls get married on the compound, a tight-lipped woman who would only give her first name, Marilyn, gave what appeared to be a rehearsed response.

"We are talking about our children now," she said, shaking her head, unwilling to stray from the subject of her children.

The shift to blank-faced denial was jarring in both its immediacy and consistency. Not a single one strayed from the script, an impressive display of solidarity, if a bit peculiar to the outsiders granted unprecedented access to the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

To outsiders, everything about these people is strange from the way they dress to the way they talk and especially the way they live. To the uninitiated, it may even appear that these women must be brainwashed to live within the confines of the isolated, controlled sect.

Questions about rumored child brides, teen pregnancies and men assigned multiple wives garnered stoic expressions and a relentless determination to defend the sect's lifestyle.

"Do you know the definition of Zion?" responded Marie, when asked by a reporter what life within the sect's gate is really like. "Heaven on Earth."

It's an extreme statement, and the women of the sect have begun to realize that their devotion to their lifestyle is unusual to those on the outside.