FLDS: Polygamy sect: Sinister Group?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): …isolation of this community along the Utah-Arizona border. What’s harder to grasp is the total domination that one man, Warren Jeffs, has over the 10,000 people who live here. They’re part of a Mormon sect of polygamists who call themselves the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. They call Warren Jeffs the prophet. The mainstream Mormon church banned polygamy in 1890 and doesn’t associate with this sect.

This is one of the few photographs of Warren Jeffs, a seemingly ordinary man, but one with extraordinary power.

DR. DAN FISCHER, FORMER FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: If there were a Taliban of America, I would say this is it.

COOPER: Warren Jeffs hasn’t been seen in more than a year. The FBI has been searching for him since June on charges of fleeing prosecution in Arizona, for arranging marriages involving underage girls. In the FLDS, reality is filtered through Warren Jeffs.

SAM ICKE, FORMER FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: If the law comes in and takes over or anything happens to them, it’s all a test sent from God through Warren. Everything is a test. Because they believe that the afterlife is going to tell the truth.

COOPER: Sam Icke is no longer part of the FLDS community. He was expelled by the prophet when he was 18.

ICKE: The thing that actually got me kicked out was, you know, I kissed this girl, and then she told, you know, told everybody what was going on.

I got a call from the leader, Warren Jeffs, and he told me to, you know, that — to come and talk to him about it. I left, went home, and within the next day or so, you know, he called my dad and told him that I had to leave.

COOPER: Sam is one of several hundred young men asked to leave the community. They’re called the “Lost Boys“. What happened to them is to some a question of math, too many boys are competing in a polygamist world where some men have 10, 20 or even 30 wives. MARK SHURTLEFF, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL: The bottom line is, they don’t want them there competing. They’re told that not only are they being kicked out of their homes and from the community, the only community they’ve ever known, but that they’re going to burn in hell. Talk about “Lost Boys”. That term is absolutely applicable. These boys think that they have no chance in this life or in the afterlife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are extremely strict.

COOPER: Dan Fischer, a successful dentist near Salt Lake City, has created the Diversity Foundation to help the “Lost Boys” who have been banished from the FLDS in recent years. He says he has names of 400 young men.

FISCHER: Some actually expelled out, in which they’re given no more than an hour or two to be out of town, pack their bags, take whatever they can carry, and be gone. And with the communication that they’re not welcome back.

COOPER: But those who defend the FLDS say the lost boy issue is overblown. In a statement, Rodney Parker, an attorney who’s represented the FLDS since 1990 said, quote, “The number is completely unsubstantiated as well. The label ‘Lost Boys’ is a characterization that I don’t think most of the people it’s applied to would agree with. They say, ‘I chose to leave, this wasn’t for me.'”

IKE: When I turned 18, I was kicked out, dumped on my head.

COOPER: Sam Icke lives under the protective wing of Dan Fischer, who actively supports about 60 “Lost Boys”. Some with jobs, housing and schooling.

Fischer was once part of the FLDS and had two wives, but he divorced one and left the sect 12 years ago. He’s known Jeffs for years.

FISCHER: In the last few years where this society has become apocalyptic at a fanatical level it has set the stage for crazy things to happen, and people accept it, believing that their salvation is on the line if they don’t do as they’re told.

COOPER: The absolute power Jeffs wields destroyed the life Paul Musser loved. He was married for 23 years and had 13 children. Jeffs told him suddenly five years ago that he was unfit to get his wife into heaven.

PAUL MUSSER, FORMER FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: He just said that she needed somebody to exalt her into the celestial kingdom and that I couldn’t. And I kept asking him — I asked him at least three times if I could repent or make it right with him. He just said, well, you don’t have time to repent.

COOPER: What happened next may be hard for anyone outside the sect to understand. Musser told his family goodbye the next day.

MUSSER: I just hugged and kissed all my children. Told them that I loved them very much, but that I wasn’t good enough to be their father anymore, according to what the prophet said.

COOPER: Since then, Paul Musser has had a change of heart.

MUSSER: As time went on, and as I saw my family given to this one man and then he fell out of favor, and then she was given to another man. So she’s been with two men besides me. And I just said to myself, this is wrong.

ISAAC WYLER, FORMER FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF LATTER DAY SAINTS MEMBER: This is a fanatical religion. I mean, you go back and look at Mormon history and see some of the things that’s been done in the name of religion. It’s no different now.

COOPER: Isaac Wyler was in a group of 21 men told to leave their families by Jeffs at a routine church meeting.

WYLER: That’s the kind of control that is here. So being kicked out and losing your wives and children is — it’s a big thing, but it’s not like throwing your life away. To die for the prophet, to die for God, yes, that would be an honor.

COOPER: We wanted to talk to people with a positive view of their lives inside the FLDS community, but David Zitting, mayor of Hildale, Utah, and a member of the FLDS for more than 20 years, said that’s not likely to happen.

“The citizens of this community have gone through many years of dealing with the media in various forms,” he told us. “And what they have experienced in this has caused them to not want to make statements to the media or be interviewed by the media because it has in the past tended to be more fabricated and non-factual.”

Jeff’s absolute control seems linked to his followers’ belief in his divine power. Wyler’s daughter once asked him if Uncle Warren was Jesus Christ.

WYLER: And I says, no, what would give you that idea? And she says, well, teacher so and so — because I don’t want to give the teacher’s name — said that he’s Jesus Christ, and he’s returned. Jesus Christ returned. And he’s going to be killed.

COOPER: In a country founded on the separation of church and state, it’s hard to fathom a community where the church is the state. And hard to understand why polygamy is rarely prosecuted, even though it’s a felony in Utah.

SHURTLEFF: The problem is, how do we put every single polygamist in the state in jail, and then what do we do with tens of thousands of kids? I don’t have the resources to get involved in that. I want to focus on the most serious crimes being committed in the name of religion.


COOPER (on camera): Well, the shadowy world of Warren Jeffs’ community is the focus of the book, “Under the Banner of Heaven.” In it, Author Jon Krakauer takes readers deep inside the sect where he says he found plenty of dark secrets. I talked to Jon Krakauer earlier.


COOPER: So, in your opinion, does Warren Jeffs deserve to be on the top 10 list?

JON KRAKAUER, AUTHOR, “UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN”: Yes. I think he does. And I think it’s a good move.

COOPER: You’ve described him as evil. What, in particular, about him?

KRAKAUER: Just about everything. I mean, he — if he were in a larger arena, he has the kind of pathology that would put him on a par with Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein. I mean, he’s that kind of — he has those kind of instincts. And he’s done — he’s damaged thousands of lives. I mean, he’s a sexual predator. He’s raped and sodomized many, many children, girls, women, and he’s created this culture that is damaging in its own right.

He’s ripped apart families. He’s ripped off the federal government for millions of dollars through welfare fraud and other means. He is a bad guy in countless ways.

COOPER: I haven’t heard of many sexual predators who attack both boys and girls. He seems to have done both.

KRAKAUER: Oh, without question, yes. And the evidence is more than compelling. It’s overwhelming. I mean, this whole — this whole move to finally bring him to justice, I mean, there are a number of us who have been trying for years to get law enforcement to pay attention.

COOPER: Why do you think it’s taken so long?

KRAKAUER: His people are really good at presenting this image to the world of we’re just good old boys down here in southern Utah. We have a little different idea of marriage, but basically we’re patriotic, law-abiding citizens — which is utterly untrue. These people are extremely good liars.

COOPER: It’s, I mean, it’s almost impossible to believe that in this day and age, someone like this guy can control — I mean thousands — we’re talking about thousands of people here, and that these people, I mean, they don’t watch television, they don’t listen to radios, that they can allow themselves to live under this guy’s rule, in the United States. I mean, it’s crazy.

KRAKAUER: It is astonishing. I mean, when I first came upon this group, I was amazed that, you know, thousands of these people are living in the modern age. You go into their town, their main town, Colorado City, and it’s like the twilight zone. On the surface, it looks sort of normal. But everyone answers to the prophet. To the cops, they don’t obey the laws of the state if they conflict with the laws of Warren Jeffs’ decrees. They obey Warren. People don’t believe it, but there’s — you know, no one really knows, but there’s at least 50,000 of them in the West.

COOPER: 50,000 polygamist groups?

KRAKAUER: Most of them are quiet, they’re not a danger. They just quietly exist out in their little communities. Warren Jeffs is something else.

COOPER: And Warren Jeffs basically is preaching that his group, he is the only true prophet that they are really adhering to the true laws of god?

KRAKAUER: That’s right. They claim they’re the true Mormon church, and Warren is one of those. And he has probably the single largest group. The FLDS group, his group, is the single largest polygamist group in the West.

COOPER: Does he really believe, I mean, his rhetoric? Is he a charlatan or does he actually believe what he’s preaching?

KRAKAUER: No, he’s not a charlatan. I am convinced he is a true believer. He, since birth, you know, he’s been told — he was born three months premature. He shouldn’t have lived. In 1955 babies born that premature, died. He was delivered at home by his father, the prophet, Rulon Jeffs. And since his birth, he was seen as, you know, this miraculous preemie who was destined for great things.

He’s made many prophecies, almost none of which have come true. Only the most banal have come true. Several times he’s predicted the end of the world. And when it hasn’t come to pass, he says well, to the followers, it’s your fault. You weren’t righteous enough. You need to work harder. And it all works in his favor, it’s a no lose proposition.

COOPER: I guess he’s got bodyguards, from what you’ve written about. Where do you think he’s hiding, and how hard is it going to be for the FBI to actually get him?

KRAKAUER: Without question, he’s in Texas. He recently bought 1,700 acres in west Texas in the middle of nowhere, outside a small town called El Dorado, and he’s been systematically building a city there. He’s built this immense temple, towering 100 feet over the scrub. And he’s there. He’s probably been there almost constantly since last October. He may have left occasionally. There’s rumors that put him back in Colorado City, but basically he’s there. And everyone knows that. The problem is how to arrest him. And without provoking some calamity that would dwarf the calamity of Waco or even Jonestown. That’s the challenge.

COOPER: You think he’s capable of something like that?

KRAKAUER: Oh, there’s no doubt. If he is cornered, if he has no other way out, there’s little doubt — there’s no doubt that he would kill himself and take as many people with him as he could before he’d submit to the law. He’s never going to go to jail. He’s said as much. He said he will never submit to the laws of the United States.

COOPER: And as soon as somebody decides, for whatever reason, to leave, I mean, they are not just ex-communicated, they are cut off entirely from their family members?

KRAKAUER: Right, and actually, few people decide to leave. Most people are kicked out by Warren for all kinds of reasons, largely to maintain this culture of fear. He’s very good. He has this knack that the best, most famous tyrants have of using fear and intimidation. His favorite tactic is, if you’re an important — you know, if you’re a male in the society and you do something that he doesn’t like, he will take your many wives and many more children from you. They will be immediately married to other men. They will end up in that man’s bed, and you will be cast out.

What’s astonishing is since Warren took over as prophet in 2002, he’s ex-communicated many dozens of high-ranking men, and we assume that some or most of these men would flip and help law enforcement, but they haven’t. They still believe. They think Warren is a false prophet, some of them. Some of them still believe he’s the prophet. But they still just slink away. They become what’s known as eunuchs in the religion. They give up their wives, their property, their wealth, and they repent from afar and still are true believers. These people — the power of their faith is kind of awesome to behold. It shouldn’t be underestimated.

COOPER: We just saw a piece about the “Lost Boys”, these young boys who were turned out by Warren Jeffs’ sect. You’ve unofficially adopted one of these young boys. I mean, how has it been for him trying to adjust living in our world?

KRAKAUER: It’s great. I mean, he came to Boulder, Colorado, which is about as far as you can get from Short Creek, Utah, pretty permissive town. There’s been a lot of challenges, but it’s been really good. He’s done really well. He came here, you know, with a sub-eighth grade education, didn’t know what a fraction was. He got his GED. He’s in community college now. He’s going to enroll in real college next fall. So he’s doing wonderful. And many people would respond the same way if they had the opportunity to get away from this group.

COOPER: Well, as I said, it’s incredible to think this is happening this day and age and these people are out here in the United States, thousands of people. You’ve written about it. John Krakauer, thanks for joining us.

KRAKAUER: My pleasure.


COOPER: Well, as we said, Warren Jeffs is now on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. But he has been on the radar for some time.

Joining me now is Tim Fuhrman, special agent in charge at the FBI, Salt Lake City Division.

Thanks for being wit us, Tim.



The FLDS is also considered to be a cult of Christianity. Sociologically,the group is a high-control cult.

COOPER: There are a lot of bad people on this list. I mean, Osama bin Laden. What are the charges against Jeffs that put him on par with some of the worst of the worst?

FUHRMAN: Well, clearly in this case, he has been charged with two pretty heinous crimes in both Arizona and Utah. Rape as an accomplice in Utah and sexual conduct with a child and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a child in both states. And the FBI’s involvement has come by the state authorities in both Houston — or I’m sorry, Utah and Arizona, asking us to assist them in apprehending him.

COOPER: There have been reports about the FLDS community and Jeffs really for years. Why now put him on this list?

FUHRMAN: Well, I think one of the things with respect to the charges that have been filed against him, we have to give a lot of credit to the victims in this case for having the courage to come forward. The state and local authorities have asked the FBI to come forward and assist them in apprehending him. We submitted the information back to Washington. We wanted to give the nation — the nationwide and international publicity to our search for him and the attempt to apprehend him.

And at this particular time, we had a vacancy on the top 10 list, and it was reviewed back in Washington, and we’ve decided to put him on the top 10 list.

COOPER: I guess he’s not like a fugitive in that, you know, he could be off in Europe somewhere. Most people seem to think — John Krakauer’s said he’s definitely in Texas. Do you think that’s true? Do you know where he is?

FUHRMAN: Well, if we knew where he was, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. He is a little unlike most fugitives in that he seems to have some financial support which enables him to evade us. Most fugitives are not going to have that type of support, and they have to come out and sometimes commit criminal activity which could get them apprehended.

But I can’t say that he’s in Texas. I understand Mr. Krakauer has indicated that. But if we knew where he was, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

COOPER: So, if you knew where he was, you would go in after him? I mean, obviously, you know, Krakauer mentioned Waco. Obviously, there’s a lot, you know, there are a lot of people involved. There’s the potential for, you know, a nightmare scenario. How much is that on your minds in how you proceed?

FUHRMAN: Well, clearly we’re treating him like any other armed and dangerous fugitive. He himself may not be armed, but we do have information that indicates he travels with armed bodyguards. We would take the appropriate action, whatever is necessary, to protect not only the individuals trying to apprehend him in law enforcement, but even Mr. Jeffs himself. We would like to have a peaceful resolution to this matter.

COOPER: Tim Fuhrman with the FBI, appreciate you joining us. Thanks.

FUHRMAN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Warren Jeffs now finds himself in the company of some infamous people. Here’s the raw data. Along with Jeffs, the FBI’s 10 most wanted list of fugitives include Boston Mobster James “Whitey” Bulger; Glen Stewart Godwin, a convicted killer who escaped from prison. There’s also Richard Steve Goldberg, an accused pedophile; and, of course, Osama bin Laden. Quite some company.
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CNN / Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, USA
May 8, 2006 Transcript

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