LAS VEGAS – Of all the news surrounding the capture of polygamous prophet Warren Steed Jeffs, one tidbit stood out for many of his current and former followers: What he was wearing.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was clad in shorts and a short-sleeve white T-shirt – a marked departure from the ankle to wrist dress code, worn over white religious undergarments, imposed on his followers.
“It is going to be a big deal in a lot of people’s minds because he has cut people off for doing the very same thing,” said Winston Blackmore, a Canadian polygamist and former FLDS member.
While some might justify the clothing as part of a necessary disguise, others said it seemed to violate the “perfection” Jeffs demanded, which he may have recognized.
Jeffs asked to be allowed to change into his “regular” clothes before he was taken from the FBI office to the Clark County Detention Center and photographed, according to David G. Nanz, an FBI special agent with the Las Vegas division.
Naomi Jessop Jeffs, one of his plural wives, also asked to be allowed to change from pants to a dress.
“There will be those who say, ‘When you’re running from the devil’ . . . but others who would say [other FLDS prophets] wouldn’t have done that,” said Ezra Draper, who moved from Colorado City, Ariz., to northern Idaho in 2003 after becoming disillusioned with Jeffs’ leadership.
Of course, many of Jeffs’ followers did not expect him to be caught, believing that God would protect him.
Residents of FLDS communities scattered around the country – from Canada to Texas – were said to be initially saddened, subdued and shell-shocked as word spread of Jeffs’ capture.
No FLDS members would comment for the record for this story. About 6,000 FLDS members live in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
The media deluge led many residents to hunker down in their homes and even prompted temporary closure of some businesses.
“Nobody is answering any of my phone calls,” Draper said of his unsuccessful attempts to reach brothers who live in the FLDS towns. Their phones appeared to be turned off, prohibiting Draper from leaving messages.
Marlyne Hammon, who visited the CMC grocery store in Colorado City early Wednesday evening, said the FLDS appeared to be resuming their daily lives.
“Maybe they are so used to hiding how they feel I couldn’t tell, but people just seemed to be going about their lives as normal,” said Hammon, a member of Centennial Park, a separate polygamous community located a mile south of Colorado City.
Others said the sentiment is that, despite current events, “God’s work” would go on.
But those who have been subjected to Jeffs’ dictatorial decisions regarding their faith and families – he has expelled hundreds of men and reassigned their wives and children to other men since taking over as prophet in September 2002 – say it’s time for his own judgment day.
“My reaction is if Warren got judged by the same justice he meted out to people he’d be locked in a cell and they’d throw away the key and never let him out,” said Blackmore, who was ousted by former prophet Rulon T. Jeffs in what many describe as as power play by the son who succeeded him. “That is the real outcome of what he did to so many when he dismantled their families.”
Blackmore said that, unlike his own former followers, Jeffs will get a “fair tribunal” and a chance to tell “his side of the story.”
“For a guy who has such contempt for so many people’s lives and the judicial system, he is certainly going to be blessed by it,” Blackmore said.
As the judicial process unfolds, some former FLDS members expect there to be little change in the faithful’s dedication to Jeffs while others anticipate a steady awakening for those paralyzed by his rule.
“Change will come, but slowly, as more realize they can make choices without repercussions from their religion,” said former FLDS member Michael Chatwin, who recently returned to Colorado City, Ariz., from New York. “In five years, you’ll notice a significant difference. It will be like any other place in America.”
Tribune reporter Mark Havnes contributed to this story.