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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Daughters Of The Cult’ On Hulu, Where A Mormon Fundamentalist Named Ervil LeBaron Wreaks Havoc

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Daughters of the Cult

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Daughters of the Cult, a five-part docuseries that appears in full on Hulu in conjunction with ABC News Studios, concerns the family and followers of Ervil LeBaron, a radical religious fundamentalist and polygamist who more than lived up to his “Mormon Manson” nickname. With at least 12 wives and dozens of children, LeBaron transformed his breakout sect of the faith into a weaponized force to carry out his aims, which often targeted rival fundamentalist leaders. Here, a group of LeBaron siblings speak out about their upbringing, being on the run from the FBI, their perspectives on sister wife practices, and being brainwashed from birth to believe in and follow their father/cult leader.    


Opening Shot: “I was 13 years old the day I escaped my father’s cult. A violent, polygamist cult.” And as a reenactment of this moment appears, we’re introduced to Anna LeBaron, who speaks alongside her sister Celia LeBaron. 

The Gist: By the early twentieth century, the Mormon church no longer recognized polygamy. But that didn’t stop breakaway fundamentalist believers in the practice from settling with their followers in Mexico. And by the late 1960s, Ervin LeBaron and his brothers Joel and Verlan had set up their flock on a primitive colony based in Chihuahua. Joel was the designated prophet of The Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times, where plural marriage was exulted, while Ervin was the charismatic face man, converting people to the cause and keeping the tithes rolling in. But Ervin wanted more power, and control of that financial juice. And soon enough he split from his brothers to form a splinter sect, The Church of the Lamb of God, with himself as sole prophet.

“I was fully convinced that we were God’s people,” Celia LeBaron says in Daughters of the Cult. “And even losing my sister could not shake my faith.” Indoctrinated from birth, Celia, Anna, their brother Hyrum, and all of their siblings were expected to obey Ervin’s every order, which he typically declared came straight from the divine. Weapons training also became standard, especially after Ervin adopted the doctrine of “Blood Atonement.” What Mormon historian and blogger Lindsay Hansen Park describes as a defunct tenant of the mainline LDS church became central to Ervin’s belief system, and the justification to murder any of his perceived rivals, which included his brothers and other fundamentalist leaders.

Daughters of the Cult will delve further into Ervin LeBaron’s hold over his children and followers, which eventually led to over 30 killings, some committed after his capture via jailhouse decree laced with religious zealotry. Brainwashing, the coercion of young women into sexual relationships and plural marriages with older men, and the experiences of Anna and Celia, first as children forced into a life on the run and then as those who escaped the cult – it’s a true crime stew curdled in fear and the nature of one man’s murderous, greedful god complex.

Photo: Hulu

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Speaking of fundamentalist Mormon cults, Netflix features the harrowing docuseries Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey that focuses on convicted “ultimate prophet” polygamist Warren Jeffs. Under the Banner of Heaven adapted Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book into a scripted series. And in a different though no less morbid light, the Max docuseries La Narcosatanica explored how a cult leader/serial killer in 1980s Mexico coerced women to do his bidding, all in the name of his self-styled death cult.

Our Take: Sometimes – often – it seems like we’ve just got too much true crime. From podcasts to documentaries to dramas developed out of podcasts and documentaries, it’s more than enough to create a strong sense of fatigue, if not a rejection of the form entirely. (What does dwelling on all of this violence say about us as a society?) And how many killers and cults are out there, anyway? The answer, apparently, isn’t finite. Because just when that fatigue really starts to saturate, a docuseries like Daughters of the Cult comes along to reveal an entirely new strain of ghastly acts committed in the name of religion, or at least as one man sees it. As a production of ABC News studios, Daughters doesn’t coat its narrative in impressionistic washes of animation, or other creative ways to represent past incidents and personal memory. Instead it presents its central subjects in straightforward talking head interviews, combines those with commentary from Mormonism experts and law enforcement authorities, and completes its format with reenactments in the style of 20/20 or Dateline. And this approach works, because it grounds the awful scope of Ervin LaPorte’s selfish, zealotry-fueled actions. He is reduced to the hardcore description denoted on his FBI’s most wanted notice: “religious terrorist.”  

But there’s a compelling human element in Daughters of the Cult, too, illustrated best by the sisterly bond between Anna and Celia LaPorte that guides the series narrative. It keeps us engaged with the horrors they describe, beyond just another round of true crime ogling, because it’s gripping to hear their perspective on what they experienced. And those perspectives are what prevent the all-controlling nature of a figure like their father and cult leader from becoming more of a monster than he already was.

Photo: Hulu

Sex and Skin: Speaking about her father Ervin’s methods, Celia Lebaron says that “The only way that you can make sure that these girls will be compliant to marry old men is to get them before they’re fully sexually mature, and to get them before they have a mind of their own.” Ervin, Anna LeBaron continues, always couched these declarations in the raiment of divine revelation. But at its core, “It was creepy old men marrying very young, underage girls for sex.” 

Parting Shot: “I did what I was supposed to do,” Rena Chynoweth says in an archival interview, and a reenactment depicts how Ervin LeBaron’s 13th wife approached a man she didn’t know, a man named Rulo Allred, stuck out a .38 caliber pistol, and pulled the trigger. This is in prelude to episode two, which focuses on Chynoweth and her accomplice’s actions in the service of Ervin.

Sleeper Star: Throughout, siblings Anna and Celia, the titular daughters of Ervin LeBaron’s religious cult, speak openly about their upbringing. The traumas they experienced of course, but also their relationship with ideas of faith and family. Like siblings do, they finish each other’s sentences, and even compete to complete a certain story or recollection. Their dynamic brings an approachable, familial chattiness to a subject that’s both profoundly personal and rife with sexual violence and mayhem. If Anna and Celia weren’t talking about growing up inside a murderous cult, they might be telling us funny family anecdotes over glasses of lemonade.  

Most Pilot-y Line: “Many of my siblings are afraid to tell their stories,” Celia LeBaron says, “and I don’t blame them.” (Keep in mind that she technically has over 50 brothers and sisters.) “We’re afraid. We’re doing this afraid. Afraid of the judgment that we could get from the world for having been raised in those beliefs.”

Our Call: STREAM IT. Daughters of the Cult is a true crime docuseries done right. Never elevating the violent, sexually controlling cult leader at its center to some ghoulish pedestal, it instead uses a journalistic eye to focus on the people he hurt most, his very children, who are given the space to share their perspectives.  

Johnny Loftus (@glennganges) is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift.