On the morning of November 4, 2019, an unassuming caravan of women and children was ambushed by masked gunmen on a desolate stretch of road in northern Mexico controlled by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Firing semi-automatic weapons, the attackers killed nine people and gravely injured five more. The victims were members of the LeBaron and La Mora communities--fundamentalist Mormons whose forebears broke from the LDS Church and settled in Mexico when their religion outlawed polygamy in the late nineteenth century. The massacre produced international headlines for weeks, and prompted President Donald Trump to threaten to send in the US Army.
In The Colony, bestselling investigative journalist Sally Denton picks up where the initial, incomplete reporting on the attacks ended, and delves into the complex story of the LeBaron clan. Their homestead--Colonia LeBaron--is a portal into the past, a place that offers a glimpse of life within a polygamous community on an arid and dangerous frontier in the mid-1800s, though with smartphones and machine guns. Rooting her narrative in written sources as well as interviews with anonymous women from LeBaron itself, Denton unfolds an epic, disturbing tale that spans the first polygamist emigrations to Mexico through the LeBarons' internal blood feud in the 1970s--started by Ervil LeBaron, known as the "Mormon Manson"--and up to the family's recent alliance with the NXIVM sex cult, whose now-imprisoned leader, Keith Raniere, may have based his practices on the society he witnessed in Colonia LeBaron.
The LeBarons' tense but peaceful interactions with Sinaloa deteriorated in the years leading up to the ambush. LeBaron patriarchs believed they were deliberately targeted by the cartel. Others suspected that local farmers had carried out the attacks in response to the LeBarons' seizure of water rights for their massive pecan orchards. As Denton approaches answers to who committed the murders, and why, The Colony transforms into something more than a crime story. A descendant of polygamist Mormons herself, Denton explores what drove so many women over generations to join or remain in a community based on male supremacy and female servitude. Then and now, these women of Zion found themselves in an isolated desert, navigating the often-mysterious complications of plural marriage--and supported, Denton shows, only by one another.
A mesmerizing feat of investigative journalism, The Colony doubles as an unforgettable account of sisterhood that can flourish in polygamist communities, against the odds.