The whereabouts of fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs remain a mystery, but a former follower says his dictatorial grip and bizarre policies still hurt the polygamous town he controls.
Walls, fences, short ones, very high ones — the latest fashion in the landscaping of America’s biggest polygamy community.
Richard Holm, Former Follower: “It’s a certain amount of paranoia I believe.”
Richard Holm used to be a member, until Warren Jeffs kicked him out and tore apart his family. Now Holm makes this border town sound a bit like Nazi Germany, a place where the person next door may be a spy for Warren Jeffs, and where you can get in serious trouble for watching TV or cruising the internet.
Richard Holm: “He’s rewarded people for ratting on their neighbors and friends.”
There are probably a thousand or so married adult men, ‘elders’, who gather regularly in the meeting hall. Counting wives and children, that means Warren Jeffs has several thousand people who consider his word The Law. Richard Holm says they’re paying a steep price.
Richard Holm: “He’s absolutely raping the whole community.”
Holm says many houses remain incomplete because residents can’t afford to finish remodeling and expansion projects. Jeffs’ demands for tithing and special contributions have increased dramatically.
Richard Holm: “He’s taking whatever he can take from there and using it for his own purposes.”
Richard Holm: “The daily earnings of people, the liquidity is what’s being vacuumed and taken off.”
Under the “UEP”, the united effort plan that supposedly makes the local economy tick, everybody is theoretically equal. But Richard Holm says, increasingly, a favored few get more and more of the benefits.”
The most loyal are rewarded with financial benefits and more wives, Holm says, to increase loyalty and strengthen the inner circle. When Jeffs decided Holm himself was unworthy, he split up his family of eight kids and two wives.
Richard Holm: “Without any kind of divorce or separation ceremony Warren married my two wives to my younger brother. That’s what I hear; I, of course, wasn’t there.”
And it isn’t over.
Richard Holm: “There’s been some recent ripping of families apart, and I believe it will continue. I believe that’s what Warren thrives on. He’s a sensationalist and an extremist.”
In Holm’s version, it’s hard to tell if the walls are to keep people out or keep people in.
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