A family with strong ties to the Fundamental Latter Day Saints religious sect was attacked about five miles outside of a small community called La Mora in the Sonora region of Mexico. The attack, believed to be tied to a Mexican drug cartel that mistook the family for a rival gang, took place on Monday afternoon in the region just south of the U.S. Arizona border. Of the deceased were 3 mothers and 6 children out of a group of three mothers and 14 children that were traveling to Chihuahua and Phoenix in three separate caravans. The 3 mothers belonged to the LeBaron family, a name with strong historical ties to the Fundamental Latter Day Saints religious sect that fled to Mexico decades ago to avoid persecution for practicing polygamy.
Why This Was Political
Authorities are unclear which cartel gang was associated with the attack, but suspect that it could have come from the Sinaloa cartel, which was once led by the now-imprisoned El Chapo. In response to the attack, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to denounce the cartels and pledge that he will do what it takes to end the drug war once and for all. Mexican government officials, however, warn that more violence is not the answer to the problem.
“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing. If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!,” said President Trump on Twitter on Tuesday morning.
In response to President Trump, Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador spoke against Trump’s suggestion to fight violence with violence. Obrador instead suggested doubling down on a promise from his election campaign that he would implement a “hugs not bullets” policy to combat the drug cartels.
LDS Church Denounces Fundamentalist Groups
Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (known more commonly as simply the Mormon Church), have spoken in support of the LeBaron family but have taken an extra step to distance their identities from the FLDS sect. The LDS church has, in recent years, been outspoken over its denunciation for polygamy to distance its history with the practice.
“We are heartbroken to hear of the tragedy that has touched these families in Mexico,” said a spokesperson for the LDS Church named Eric Hawkins, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Though it is our understanding that they are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones,” he continued.
Other members of the LDS church have taken to social media to clarify the distinctions between the LDS and FLDS religions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints once practiced polygamy and traveled west to avoid persecution in the 19th century. Later, once they settled in Utah and were forced to abandon the practice altogether, the church began denouncing it once and for all. Certain members of the church chose to continue practicing, fleeing south to avoid persecution over the practice. Many Fundamental LDS church members reside in the southwest United States, spanning from Southern Utah and Arizona to parts of Mexico.
Some experts claim that the FLDS members living in Mexico may not always practice polygamy, though. The LeBaron family could have easily been FLDS without necessarily practicing polygamy, as those details have not been confirmed by any authorities. The LeBaron family name specifically has strong ties to Mormon history throughout the United States and Mexico.
The family broke away from the LDS church back in the 1920’s, settling in La Mora, Mexico in the Sonora state. When they broke away from the church they formed their own sect called the Church of the Firstborn, which has strong ties to polygamy. Today, many LeBaron family members often travel freely between the United States and Mexico to visit other family members, as many of them hold dual-citizenship.
LeBaron Family Has Long History With The Cartel
This is not the first time that the LeBaron family has made headlines over its ties to the Mexican cartel. In 2009 a teen named Erick LeBaron was kidnapped from the family’s compound in Mexico by the local cartel and held at ransom for a million dollars. In protest to the cartel, the LeBaron family and other members of the church held massive protests throughout Mexico to bring attention to the issue and urge the Mexican government to take a greater stand against the violence. Luckily, LeBaron was returned to his family unharmed without having paid the ransom.
The latest massacre represents one of the most major attacks in a longstanding tension between the cartels of Sonora and the LeBaron family and compound. The compound houses hundreds of members of the Church of the Firstborn, though not all of them actively practice polygamy.