VANCOUVER – Shackled at the waist with a bulletproof-vested guard on either side, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs stood in a Las Vegas courtroom Thursday morning and agreed to go first to Utah to face charges of being an accomplice to child rape.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
After that, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will be sent to Arizona where he is wanted for having sex with a minor and conspiracy to have sex with a minor.
Until his arrest, Warren Jeffs had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, along with Osama bin Laden. Now he’ll be spending his days in Purgatory Correctional Centre in St. George.
Jeffs was brought down not by force or some sophisticated surveillance, but because of a traffic violation. The temporary licence plate on his red 2007 Cadillac Escalade wasn’t visible.
Jeffs had told his 15,000 or so followers in the United States, British Columbia and Alberta that he was invincible and would never be caught. And he might not have been except that Jeffs looked so nervous when he was pulled over on a highway north of Las Vegas, Nevada State Trooper Eddie Dutchover grew suspicious.
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There was certainly nothing about Jeffs, his brother Isaac (who was driving) or Naomi Jessop Jeffs (one of his 50 or more plural wives) that distinguished them as fundamentalist Mormons.
Jeffs and his brother were wearing cargo shorts and white, short-sleeved cotton T-shirts. FLDS boys and men are never supposed to wear short-sleeved shirts or shorts. All members of the sect are supposed to have their bodies covered at all times and wear a ”temple garment” – religious underwear – that covers them from neck to wrist to ankle.
Naomi was wearing jeans and a pink T-shirt, a far cry from her usual long-sleeved, ankle-length dresses in pastel ginghams or floral prints.
The fact that the SUV was red has also been a subject of much interest on Internet blogs. Jeffs and previous prophets had banned red. Some said it was the colour of the devil, but Jeffs told his followers that red was off limits because that’s the colour of cloak Jesus will be wearing when he returns to Earth following the apocalypse. Who knows how Jeffs’s followers will interpret the arrest vehicle?
It’s these details – and the hypocrisy – that interest Winston Blackmore, the former FLDS bishop of Bountiful, B.C. who was ex-communicated by Jeffs in 2002.
Blackmore, himself, is under investigation by the RCMP for having either married or arranged marriages of underage girls, was circumspect about the arrest. In an e-mail, Blackmore said at least Jeffs will get a hearing.
”I don’t know what will happen to those folks (who follow Jeffs),” Blackmore wrote. ”We all remember when they dug Saddam Hussein out of a rat hole that the world seemed to think that his terror days were over.
”Time has proven that was not to be the case. I am sure that the legacy of Warren Jeffs will live on like some bad dream that seems to never go away.”
But Truman Oler, who left the group three years ago, thinks there’s a good chance that many of Jeffs’s most loyal followers in Bountiful, Colorado City, Ariz., Hildale, Utah and Eldorado, Tex. won’t even know the details of the arrest.
Many of Oler’s family remain loyal to Jeffs, including his mother and his brother, Jim, who is the bishop of Bountiful. But they don’t speak to Truman. They’re not allowed to talk to apostates – people who reject Jeffs’s leadership and teachings.
Jeffs banned books, newspapers, television, radio and DVDs. He ordered all family photos destroyed. Some say he even banned laughing for a while.
His followers will likely not see or hear reports of their prophet being described as ”meek,” ”timid” and ”pale.” They probably won’t hear that when he was arrested, he had at least $54,000 in cash, 15 cellphones, four portable radios, four laptop computers, three wigs, a collection of sunglasses, a police scanner, a GPS device and a duffel bag believed to be stuffed with even more cash.
If they hear anything, it is more likely that they’ll be told their prophet is so powerful that he was ”escorted into court by a phalanx of court officers and eight SWAT team officers,” as one television report said.
Oler, who said he still can’t quite believe that Jeffs is in jail, is concerned about what happens now.
Many Jeffs followers already live in poverty because he keeps demanding more and more money from them. First, he needed it to support his extravagant lifestyle, then his flight from the law. Now, it’s likely to be the legal bills.
”There are probably going to be lots of court cases and lots of money (needed) for lawyers, and people are going to have to give lots of money for that. Already each guy is donating $1,000 here and there,” Oler said.
So, here’s the irony. With Jeffs behind bars, rather than his followers being safer, they may be at greater risk because of his demands for money to pay the legal bills.
So while B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal and his U.S. counterparts talk about providing witness protection and new identities to victims willing to testify, nothing much will change until they do what anti-polygamy and child protection advocates have asked for for the past 50 years.
Educate the kids so that they know they have choices about how to live, where to live and what to believe.