Jeffs’ Rise to Power Threw Group Into Public Eye

The leader of the nation’s largest polygamy group is still on-the-run or in hiding, following his indictment last week for arranging an illegal marriage. Until the last several years, hardly anyone outside the group had heard of Warren Jeffs. Now Jeffs’ turbulent rise to power has swung the spotlight in his direction.

It’s been fifty years since this much attention has focused on the polygamist community Jeffs dominates. Ever since a police raid in 1953, Colorado City and Hildale have been pretty much left alone. But in a few short years, the tumultuous leadership of Warren Jeffs has changed the dynamic.

In the 1990’s the Colorado City group had a less controversial leader. The elderly Rulon Jeffs was revered as a prophet. His son Warren was known as a strict schoolmaster whose recorded sermons would later strike outsiders as politically incorrect.

Warren Jeffs: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth or rude and filthy. Uncomely, disagreeable, and low in their habits. Wild.”

As his father weakened with old age, Warren began asserting power in ways that made some followers uncomfortable.

Anonymous Former Member: “Very bizarre, very bizarre and fanatical.”

He ordered kids out of public schools and forbid contact with outsiders or outside media.

Richard Holm, Former Jeffs Follower: “He’s so driven, so supercharged with the idea that he’s got to purify a people and purify himself that I think he borders on insanity in many cases.”

He consolidated power, ousting some of the old guard, reassigning families of the unfaithful.

Dan Fischer, M.D., Former Polygamist: “On a monthly basis multiple families are being destroyed. Children wake up finding they have a new daddy, finding that they have new brothers and sisters.”

It wasn’t long before the fractures broke into the open.

Ross Chatwin, Ousted Member: “This Hitler-like dictator has got to be stopped before he ruins us all and this beautiful town.”

At the same time, Jeffs stirred outsiders by expanding to Mancos, Colorado and Eldorado, Texas.

Eldorado Resident: “We’ve read about cults before and this sounds like a cult and, no, not in Eldorado.”

Law enforcement scrutiny intensified.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: “Absolutely. I’ve heard it from way too many people, children, women and men who have been victims of that oppressive regime.”

Jeffs once had lawyers to stand up to the Attorney General.

Rod Parker, Attorney for F.L.D.S. Church: “He’s gone out and just vilified him in the public eye.”

But ominously, a few months ago he stopped defending the group’s interests in court.

Sam Brower, Private Detective: “And he feels that God is going to defend them, and that’s his own words.”

In some ways Jeffs had bad timing. His rise to power came just as legal scrutiny intensified against other polygamy groups and independents like Tom Green. By making his group visible, Jeffs created an all-too obvious target for investigators.

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John Hollenhorst

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 15, 2005.
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