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FLDS cult’s ranch to be seized

The state of Texas is one step closer to seizing the Yearning For Zion Ranch — a 1,691 acres property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Under Texas law, law enforcement can try to seize property that was used to commit or facilitate certain criminal conduct.

The church — theologically a sect of the Mormon Church, and sociologically a high-control cult — is headed by Warren Jeffs.

In August 2011 Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church considered to be “spiritual marriages.”

A number of Jeffs’ followers have also been prosecuted for crimes committed at the sect’s ranch.

Ranch raided

On April 3, 2008, Texas authorities raided the ranch and took 400 children in protective custody after receiving a phone call — later determined to have been a hoax — in which the caller claimed she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly.

Texas courts later rejected arguments that the group’s belief system is itself a dangerous form of abuse and later ordered the children to be returned to their parents.

Dozen men, including cult leader, convicted

However, 12 men — including the cult’s leader, Warren Jeffs — were indicted for crimes including child sexual assault, bigamy and performing an illegal marriage.

Much of the evidence used to convict the men came from materials seized during a search of the cult’s sacred temple — which is located on the property.

While many people are familiar with the raid on the FLDS’ Texas compound, few know the background, and fewer still understand the full extent of what took place at the Yearning For Zion ranch. In this NBC Dateline program Rebecca Musser tells her story of how she was married to the Prophet Rulon Jeffs then escaped the FLDS. Rebecca was later the key witness in the trials of Warren Jeffs that got him life in prison. Starting at minute 34, the Texas ranch is discussed — including what crime scene investigators found hidden in the FLDS’ temple.

Once all those indicted were prosecuted, the Texas Attorney General’s Office moved to seize the ranch. [Note that the State spent more than $4.5 million on the prosecutions]

Legal documents

In legal documents — including a 91-page affidavit, along with a search and seizure warrant — submitted when the State first moved to seize control of the ranch, a law enforcement officer describes how proceeds from illegal activities were used to purchase the ranch.

The State also says that FLDS leaders bought the ranch in a failed attempt to establish a remote outpost where they could insulate themselves from criminal prosecution for sexually assaulting children.

Last Monday, Texas District Judge Barbara Walther issued a default judgment in favor of the State, because no one representing Warren Jeffs showed up in court.

Leaders of the FLDS Church and the United Order of Texas Trust now have 30 days to appeal the judgment before it becomes final.

Is ‘Breaking the Faith’ real or fake? The FLDS cult under scrutiny

bullet The TLC show Breaking the Faith follows several men and women who escape the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Theologically a sect of the Mormon Church1, sociologically the FLDS — controlled with an iron fist by its jailed ‘prophet’, along with his brothers — is a high-demand, high-control, destructive cult.
breaking the faith
Following criticism of its Breaking Amish reality series, the TLC television network has been careful not to refer to Breaking the Faith as a ‘documentary’, a ‘true story’ or a ‘reality show’. And with good reason.

But as pop culture blog Starcasm.net points out, while the storyline is “apparently fake’ and scripted, the show’s cast members are actual former FLDS men and women.

“[T]here’s no reason to think producers won’t try to be accurate in their portrayal of the lives of young men and women before and after leaving the FLDS.”

If anything, those who watch the show will likely learn a lot about the polygamous cult.

Those who are unfamiliar with the FLDS will be shocked to discover what has been taking place — and is still going on — under the cover of ‘religious freedom.’

Meanwhile, the Tumblr blog, The principle- politics r us, provides some inside details about the show’s characters.

bullet In December, TLC premieres a second series that focuses on the FLDS. Escaping the Prophet “follows ex-FLDS member Flora Jessop on her mission to take down one of the most reportedly dangerous polygamist cults in America.”

Jessop, the author of Church of Lies, is a social activist who works closely with law enforcement to help rescue runaways and other FLDS victims.

In her book she recounts how she was held captive and was abused before being able to flee the cult.

She also writes about how in 2001 her sister Ruby Jessop was married, at the age of 14, against her will to her second cousin and step-brother who was then in his mid-20s.

Three weeks after the wedding, officiated by Warren Jeffs — the cult’s now-jailed ‘prophet’, Ruby escaped but was soon tricked back into the cult.

But early this year, Ruby again escaped — this time with her children:

bullet One more FLDS item: Rebecca Musser is a widow of the late FLDS ‘prophet’ Rulon Jeffs. She was 19 years old when she was forced to marry the then 85-year old FLDS leader — who eventually ended up with some 60 wives.

Rulon Jeffs died in September, 2002, and was succeeded — after a power struggle — by his son Warren Jeffs, the sick-minded dictator who changed the polygamous sect into an even more destructive cult by introducing increasingly restrictive doctrines, and by ruling his followers with an iron fist.

Once, when Musser resisted Rulon’s sexual advances, Warren Jeffs threatened that she would be ‘destroyed in the flesh‘ if she ever turned his father down again.

Upon his installment as the sect’s president, Warren told Musser that he would marry her off within a week. But had other plans, and fled Jeff’s walled and guarded compound.

After her escape she went on to speak out about the abuses she and others suffered within the cult.

Jeffs eventually forced Musser’s younger sister, Elissa Wall, to marry her first cousin at the age of 14.

He was indicted for doing so, but he went into hiding and became a fugitive.

The FBI joined the search and placed Jeffs on the Top 10 Most Wanted list.

Jeffs was arrested in August, 2006 during a traffic stop. He was travelling in the back seat of a red Cadillac, wearing cargo shorts and a short-sleeved cotton T-shirt. According the Jeff’s own rules — which he claims were dictated to him by Jesus Christ — FLDS members were forbidden from wearing short, short-sleeved T-shirts, or having anything with the color red (which was deemed ‘too sensual’.

In September, 2007, Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.

He was sentenced two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison. But his conviction was overturned on a technicality.

Jeffs was subsequently extradited to Texas, where he had been charged with sexual assault of one child and aggravated sexual assault of another.

When he went on trial, in July, 2011, Rebeca Musser ended up testifying against him a total of 20 times, helping prosecutors to win 11 convictions against him.

Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

During one of her appearances on the witness stand, Rebecca Musser wore a red, sleeveless dress.

Read Musser’s full story in The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice.

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Notes:

  1. While the FLDS is, theologically, a sect of the Mormon Church, the latter — formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — in turn is a cult of Christianity. Here’s what the FLDS and the LDS think about each other.

Scientologists almost ready to ‘build a new world’; Actors in cults

Religion News Blog L. Ron Hubbard foresaw a day when followers of his fantasy religion would create a new world. The cult is almost ready to take on that challenge.

Propeties belonging to imprisoned cult leader Tony Alamo will be sold in order to pay two of his former victims. And like Alamo, cult leader Warren Jeffs still controls his followers from behind bars.

Also: The Child-Friendly Faith Project is holding a conference on child abuse occurring in faith communities and cultural groups.

Plus: Michelle Pfeiffer talks about her involvement in a cult. [Read more...]

3 Aum members on death row may testify against fellow cultist

Makoto Hirata Three men who were sentenced to death for their part in the Aum Shinrikyo cult’s 1995 Sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway may be called to testify in the trial of fellow cult member Makoto Hirata.

Hirata faces trial for the fatal abduction and confinement of a notary clerk.

Also: ‘Hot Yoga’ guru Bikram Choudhury faces a sexual harassment lawsuit. Plus, more trouble for Narconon Arrowhead: Lawsuits allege its counselors traded sex for drugs.

Plus: Citizens of a polygamous cult’s town are being watched by surveillance cameras. [Read more...]