Cult leader Warren Jeffs quietly awaits trial, but released evidence reveals his paranoia and ruthlessness
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday February 16, 2009
Evidence reveals a paranoid Jeffs
[T]he YFZ Ranch is slowly being repopulated – but the April raid destroyed the secrecy surrounding the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, possibly forever.
In the largest release of evidence to date, hundreds of pages of dictations by Jeffs to his wife Naomie were unsealed last week, painting a picture in Jeffs’ own words of a paranoid leader whose meticulous control over his flock knew no bounds, continuing even after his arrest and imprisonment for arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
The dictations, along with letters and sermons written from jail less than a week before the raid, provide the clearest glimpses yet of a prophet genuinely afraid of the corrupting influences of the world on his congregation – and the often draconian steps he took to purify his members.
“The report was there were many tears, much soberness and humbling among the family,” Jeffs said after ordering four women and five children to leave the ranch in May 2004. “Even some of the young children cried, seeing some of their brothers and sisters going. I thank the Lord he reveals what to do to clean up the lands of refuge.”
Jeffs frequently used the Schleicher County compound as a way to reward and punish FLDS members, removing even members of his own family if he believed they were no longer worthy to live there and sending them back to the border cities of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. – collectively known as Short Creek.
The decisions often took wives from their husbands and children from their siblings – many of the same actions the sect accused the state’s Child Protective Services agency of during its investigation into the ranch.
In one case, Jeffs told a husband to send his wife, accused of having immoral thoughts about other men, to Short Creek, while leaving their 2-year-old child at the YFZ Ranch.
“The foolish virgins are being detected, and many are not virgins,” Jeffs said, referencing and playing on the words of a biblical parable.
Jeffs’ dictations show a constant struggle with the sexual sins of his flock – reports of child abuse and incest – at one point excommunicating a man after the man allegedly molested his daughters.
At the same time, however, Jeffs apparently saw little problem with ordering the marriages of underage girls to adult men, even their relatives – dictations in July 2006 and August 2005 describe marriages of girls aged 16 and under, and in June 2004 he described marrying young girls as a way to protect them from “men among us who would fall away (and) would seek to defile young girls and destroy them.”
In another ceremony, the bride told Jeffs she was a cousin of the appointed groom.
“At first she told me, ‘Well, we are cousins,’” Jeffs said. “I said, ‘Well, the Lord wants you to get married anyway.’ Afterwards I realized they were not blood cousins. The Lord knows what he is doing.”
Jeffs describes dozens of marriages in the dictation, carrying out the FLDS belief that God speaks to the prophet who is to be married to whom, and that only through marriage to a good man can the wives gain exaltation to heaven.
As he expelled more and more men he believed to be plotting against him, Jeffs reassigned more and more women – taking some as his own wives and reassigning others to his allies. He also reassigned their children, changing their names to erase any trace of their birth fathers.
In one case, Jeffs reassigned his sister-in-law after he excommunicated his brother, describing in detail her reluctance to part from her husband.
He traveled frequently between YFZ, which he called R17, and Short Creek, dictating in detail the steps to be taken in building the Schleicher County ranch, which had been purchased in late 2003.
Already, he had plans for a four-story temple and began the machinations to turn the ranch into a religious trust that would be funded separately from the United Effort Plan, the trust made up of all FLDS-owned land in Utah and Nevada.
Jeffs ordered nearly all construction and unnecessary expenditures in Short Creek to cease so money from the UEP could be poured into building compounds in Texas and South Dakota – an alleged violation of the trust’s ground rules.
As closely as he supervised operations at the ranch, he worried about the attacks from former members and Utah authorities, seeing secret cabals meant to assassinate him and obsessing over comments from his enemies that appeared in the news media.
On Sept. 3, 2005, one of the final dictations, Jeffs returned to the ranch, upset to find work on the temple not progressing as quickly as he’d hoped. He ordered the creation of English and reading curriculum and was haunted by dreams of a female assassin entering the ranch and trying to kill him with poison-tipped stars.
Even after his arrest in August 2006, Jeffs kept up a steady stream of correspondence – mainly to Jessop, ordering the disbursement of tithes, relating prophetic dreams of apocalypse, assigning new residents to the ranch and listing duties they should be given.
He also attempted in letters to explain the widely publicized phone conversation in which he had renounced being the prophet – calling the statements “my overanxious expressions.”
“This was the Lord’s test on all of us,” he wrote, “and I acknowledge the Lord with rejoicing for delivering me and all of you from the great deceptions thrust upon me.”
Polygamist leader quietly awaits trial in jail
KINGMAN, Ariz. — He’s the most notorious inmate at the Mohave County Jail, segregated for the crimes he’s accused of and the name he’s built for himself. Most of his fellow prisoners know him from the news, though they’ve never seen him in person.
Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was brought to the Arizona jail nearly a year ago, far from his followers, to await trial on four counts of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor. The charges stem from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.
For now, though, his life is a 7-by-12-foot cell where he spends his days poring over religious material and talking with attorneys over what lies ahead.
Once a fugitive on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, he’s now described as respectful and polite and his habits are held up as a model for fellow inmates. In past jail stints, Jeffs refused to eat, banged his head against walls, attempted suicide and was restrained to his bed for spending too much time on his knees praying.
“I’m having better luck with him,” said Jeff Brown, deputy director at the Mohave County Jail.
While the cases play out, Jeffs maintains his quiet existence, although the number of people wanting to see him in jail during twice-weekly visits has created a circus at times. Jail staff has had to coordinate the visits, each limited to two people, with the FLDS church.
Jeffs’ most frequent visitor has been Naomie Jessop, who was traveling with Jeffs when he was arrested in Las Vegas.
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