Monday, April 14, 2008

'Keeping Sweet' with Warren Jeffs and the FLDS.

Various law enforcement bodies have been involved in an extended raid against a FLDS compound outside of Eldorado, Texas. FLDS stands for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This Mormon sect was previously led by 52-year old Warren Jeffs, who is currently residing at the Utah State Prison. He is serving a 10 years-to-life sentence for having acted as an accomplice to rape. Apparently, in his capacity as unchallenged ruler among his followers, he arranged the marriages between underage teenage girls and adult men. Sometimes he ordered relatives to be wed. His attempts to flee and avoid prosecution on related charges earned him a place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Authorities still suspect Jeffs of serving as prophet to his 'community'.

Prior to being imprisoned, Jeffs was "President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator" of his FLDS Church. Their headquarters was once based in Colorado City, Arizona (and nearby Hildale, Utah). He had succeeded his father (Rulon Jeffs) in these positions, and married his dad's former wives after his death. He wed his own relatives and justified doing so to "preserve sacred blood lines". Jeffs is said to have at least 70 wives. He was notorious for punishing wayward members of his flock by stripping them of their wives and reassigning the women to loyalists*. There are additional rumors that as a young man Jeffs raped his nephews (one of which later committed suicide), and that he has consistently embezzled money from a trust fund set up to further the aims of the FLDS.

Evidently Warren Jeffs is not holding up so well in prison. Much has been made about a conversation he had with his brother Nephi, in which he allegedly admitted to immoral incestuous actions (with one of his sisters and a daughter), and having lied about his former claims to being the true prophet. Prison authorities have reported that he has been held in solitary confinement, and has actually tried to commit suicide by repeatedly banging his head against a wall. Given his incendiary beliefs and comments on race relations, he probably should avoid ever being released into the general population of his new home. His views are summarized quite nicely in his own words- "You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, or rude and filthy, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits; wild and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is usually bestowed upon mankind."

Meanwhile plans to grow the FLDS Church seem to be continuing as usual. The 1371-acre ranch in Texas (called the YFZ Land) that is currently being investigated is a growing concern to citizens of nearby Eldorado (population: 2000). They fear that the sect will take over key political positions in the county, and transform the area into their own private fiefdom. The owner (David Allred) is related to Warren Jeffs through marriage, and many of the buildings being constructed closely resemble edifices found in Colorado City and Hildale. Its location (only 150 miles from the Mexican border) was thought to be desirable by its 'former' leader, as Jeffs likely perceived it as a good place to hide out from federal authorities.

It's natural to wonder in our modern age how a man like Warren Jeffs can compel obedience from so many people. Jeffs is a slight man, with a gawky appearance that resembles that of a high school-aged, computer nerd. He is extremely unattractive. Certainly most of his assumed authority rests on his contention that he is directly descended from both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ (and Rulon Jeffs, for that matter). But even so, one would have to assume that he has a disproportionately willful personality to be able to command the 1200 priests of the FLDS. Still it has been suggested that Jeffs uses more contemporary means to exert his authority. A former member of the sect (Richard Holm) has accused Jeffs of secretly keeping an extensive collection of recordings he has made of members' confessions. It is said that he used these tapes to extort those he deemed disloyal.

*FLDS women would be moved to leave their husbands if Jeffs stripped them of their priesthoods. Women must be married to priests in order to ensure their heavenly salvation.

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