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Half a dozen women and girls, dressed in similarly solid color dresses, waited outside a Colorado City, Arizona, home watching as armed federal agents raided the residence in search of the man all of them — even the minors — called their husband.
Agents found and arrested Samuel Bateman, 46, a self-proclaimed prophet and member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an extremist off-shoot of the Mormon church that still practices polygamy. A federal affidavit obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune notes that Mr Bateman “began to proclaim he was a prophet” in 2019 and married multiple women and girls. Family members told investigators that year that he had even pondered taking his own daughter as a wife.
Mr Bateman was raised in Colorado City, which sits on the border between Arizona and Utah. It, along with Hildale, Utah, are considered the home bases for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, perThe Salt Lake Tribune.
Until 1904, polygamy was relatively common within the Mormon faith, but a church missive passed that year by Joseph F Smith — the nephew of the religion’s founder — called the Second Manifesto banned marriage practices that violated the law and excommunicated members who chose to continue practicing plural marriages.
Members who refused to comply with the new ruling reorganised and became the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The group exists as a separate entity to the modern Mormon church and is a close-knit, secretive community largely based in Utah and Arizona.
Though the "Short Creek" community — a collective name for the FLDS members in Colorado City — was traditionally closed off to outsiders, that has been changing in recent years, and played a part in Mr Bateman’s eventual arrest.
Residents of the area tipped off law enforcement to Mr Bateman’s alleged practices several times over the past two years, according to The Tribune. Court records show that federal agents became concerned that Mr Bateman was taking minors as his wives.
(2022 Trent Nelson)
Mr Bateman filled a power vacuum in the community after its previous leader, Warren Jeffs, was arrested and convicted for sexually assaulting minors that he had married. In 2019, Mr Bateman had a fallout with Jeffs and declared himself a prophet, quickly amassing a following of 50 people, and married 20 of them, including at least nine minors.
Mr Bateman was arrested in August after he was stopped by police while driving with a trailer filled with young girls, according to the Associated Press. This led the FBI to suspect that Mr Bateman was trafficking minors across state lines for sex with other male members of the community.
In recordings from 2021 collected by investigators, Mr Bateman claimed he was sending his wives, including the children, out to have sex with other men from the community because God had told him to do so, according to the Tribune.
Mr Bateman’s cousin spoke with The Tribune about the man, recounting how he changed drastically after a car crash in Canada, claiming it was "almost like a light switch happened," noting that he "turned into this very extreme person."
Following the crash, Mr Bateman began espousing extreme religious views and pushing away those who did not match his fervor. Jeffs was the leader of the community at that time and banned "modern" luxuries like sports, the internet, public education, books, music, and television for his followers.
Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and convicted for having sexual contact with girls he had taken as wives, but that conviction was later overturned. He was charged again in 2011 and was convicted to a life sentence.
That’s when Mr Bateman moved in. According to FLDS members who spoke toThe Tribune, Mr Bateman allegedly claimed Jeffs would only speak to him, and claimed authority over the members by way of the former leader.
(2022 Trent Nelson)
At some point Mr Bateman allegedly began using that authority to force girls and women to have sex with other male members of the community.
In court records viewed by The Daily Beast, Mr Bateman allegedly also forced girls to stand naked and watch him undertake something called the "binding of brothers," in which he had sex with another male member of the group.
He apparently justified his actions by claiming he was carrying out the will of the "Heavenly Father" and told the girls that they had "sacrificed their virtue for the Lord."
Mr Bateman is currently being charged with felony obstruction of justice for allegedly instructing his followers to delete their Signal messaging apps. He has pleaded not guilty to that charge and child abuse charges brought against him by the state of Arizona. It is unclear if more charges are pending.
The Independent has contacted Mr Bateman’s lawyer, Adam Zickerman, for comment.
The minors among Mr Bateman’s group of wives were taken into custody by the state and were placed in group homes around the suburbs of Phoenix following the raid. Eight of the nine fled state custody in late November, according to The Tribune. The eight girls were later found at an Airbnb in Spokane with one of Mr Bateman’s adult wives.
Moretta Rose Johnson, 19, the adult wife with the girls, was arrested on kidnapping charges and transported back to Arizona. The FBI has not revealed where the girls have been placed since they were recovered in Washington.