Comments by the leader of a Utah-based polygamous church that blacks are the "seed of Cain" and "uncouth or rude and filthy" have landed his sect on a list of hate groups compiled by a civil rights organization.
In a listing to be released next week, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will join the Ku Klux Klan and numerous other groups identified as racist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"This is done strictly based on ideology," said Mark Potok, the director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, which monitors hate groups and extremist activity in the United States. "It has nothing to do with a record of criminality and it's no comment on our part that they've done something."
The Montgomery, Ala., center describes a hate group as one with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, usually based on characteristics such as skin color or religion.
The newest list will have 762 groups, many of them chapters of the same umbrella organization. The FLDS has four listings for the places where it controls property - Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; Eldorado, Texas; and Mancos, Colo.
FLDS President Warren Jeffs landed his church on the list by his descriptions of blacks in tape recordings apparently made in the mid- to late-1990s. In them, he contends that blacks "are low in their habits, wild and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind."
In addition, Jeffs warns against interracial relationships, saying they could lead to the loss of priesthood blessings.
Potok said Jeffs "has a completely racist ideology."
But Salt Lake City attorney Rodney Parker, who represents the church, said Jeffs' remarks come from a strict interpretation of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The theological discussion does not equate to racism, he said. "These people are the fundamentalists," Parker said. "They take the teachings of the early Mormon prophets literally and seriously."
He added: "I've never heard anyone in the church promote racism or discrimination. They promote tolerance."
The FLDS, based in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, broke away from the Mormon mainstream in the early 1900s over, among other factors, the LDS Church's abandonment of polygamy.
The polygamous group came to the SPLC's attention through news reports about its purchase of a ranch near Eldorado and its construction of a small community there, including a temple.
The FBI is aware the FLDS is being added to the SPLC list, according to a story appearing today in The Eldorado Success, a weekly in the small West Texas community. Special Agent Bill Endorff declined specific comment on the FLDS but does say that the agency routinely tracks hate groups.
Texas state Rep. Harvey Hildebran, who has introduced legislation targeting the polygamous group, told the Success, "We have already heard tapes of the church's leader preaching racism, so the addition of the FLDS to the hate group watch list comes as no surprise to me."
The Republican is sponsoring bills that would raise the age of marriage with parental consent from 14 to 16 and would forbid marriage between stepchildren and stepparents.