The biggest drain on the FLDS bank account in recent weeks is a seemingly frenzied construction project on a remote ranch in Texas. It’s believed to be the first polygamist temple and it’s setting off alarm bells. John Hollenhorst flew over the site in West Texas and brings us the exclusive story.
It’s not just the spending that has people worried. It’s the astounding speed of the project. Some believe Warren Jeffs has created a dangerous atmosphere by setting a deadline: his own “Texas Prophesy” of the end of the world.
The temple looms over Texas ranchland, as tall as a seven-story building and big enough to hold an enormous congregation.
Sam Brower, Private Detective: “It think that Warren Jeffs is thinking that this is the New Jerusalem. He’s building the temple there.”
When the secretive FLDS church bought the property and named it Yearning For Zion, they said they were planning a hunting retreat.
Randy Mankin, Owner-Editor, “The Eldorado Success”: “They lied to us about the purpose they were coming here for.”
FLDS members are doing the construction. And they’re quarrying huge blocks of limestone. The round-the-clock pace is startling.
On New Year’s Day, when free-lance writer Jon Krakauer flew over and took two pictures, the temple was just a rectangular outline. His first photo shows some sort of ceremony, possibly led by Warren Jeffs. In the second photo the faithful had closed ranks to hide the leader. Just five weeks later, the temple looked much more complete.
Sam Brower: “They’re driven. They’re driven to get it done quick and they’re doing it.”
Private detective Sam Brower says Jeffs set an apocalyptic deadline, the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Mormon Church.
Sam Brower: “According to my sources, the end of the world is going to happen, once again, according to Warren, on April 6th. That’s what they’re shooting for.”
Newspaper editor Randy Mankin has been monitoring progress and comparing it with the 1840’s Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. It’s a close match, right down to the plumbing for a baptismal font. He says local opinion in Eldorado runs the gamut.
Randy Mankin: “One extreme of ‘leave them alone and let them do what they want; it’s not affecting me,’ to the other extreme of, ‘Well let’s go kick the doors in and drag them out and burn the buildings down.’ And there’s every shade of gray in the spectrum in between.”
Anti-polygamy activists like Sam Brower have raised the specter of another Waco, or another Jonestown. But the local sheriff downplays the worry.
Sheriff David Doran, Schleicher County, Texas: “No, I don’t expect trouble. We’ve got good lines of communication with them. We’re talking to them on a regular basis.”
But as the temple has been growing, storm clouds have been brewing–legal troubles that could someday bring law enforcement there, to the ‘Gates of Zion.’
Lawsuits are pending against Jeffs for child sexual abuse and racketeering. Lawyers and former members are closing in on his assets. Criminal charges are under investigation. Jeffs himself has fired his lawyers and stopped defending church interests in court.
Sam Brower: “And he feels that God is going to defend them. And that’s his own words.”
Sheriff David Doran: “With a good line of communication we can come to a peaceful resolution, no matter what. That’s what we want to work towards anyway.”
The sheriff says it appears the Texas ranch is now FLDS church headquarters. It’s not clear what that means for followers left behind in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City Arizona. Just as the move to Texas got underway last year, Jeffs began thinning the flock, ousting unworthy members. Perhaps it’s no coincidence.
Feb. 17, 2005
John Hollenhorst (Reporting)