He’s gone from polygamy to pop culture.
Warren Jeffs merchandise is popping up on the Internet, from T-shirts featuring the Fundamentalist LDS Church leader dressed in stereotypical “pimp” garb, to Jeffs’ voice fronting a song for an experimental rock group’s latest album.
“His view of the world seems very twisted, and we wonder if he really believes what he’s saying, or is it just rhetoric to control the flock?” Steve De Chiara of the Chicago-based group KinkZoid wrote in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News.
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“Warren Jeffs Explains” is the single off the group’s latest album. The group describes its style of mixing sounds, tape loops and instruments to “create a clash of audio imagery.”
“While listening to the clips we noticed that he spoke very soft, rhythmically, and almost hypnotic in tone,” which the group thinks may be useful for a good cult leader, De Chiara said.
The song features a racist and homophobic sermon by Jeffs explaining the origins of rock music. Jeffs gave the lecture when he was principal of the FLDS-run Alta Academy school at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the 1990s. The Deseret Morning News obtained a series of tape-recorded sermons from the time that speak about arranged marriages for girls and Jeffs’ version of the history of polygamy and the Mormon religion.
“So when you enjoy the beat of the rock music, maybe even toned down with an orchestra, you are enjoying the spirit of the black race,” Jeffs said in his monotone voice, adding that listening to rock music will “rot the soul” and lead to immorality, corruption and godlessness.
“Thus, the whole world has partaken of the spirit of the Negro race, accepting of their ways,” Jeffs said in that 1990s sermon.
KinkZoid decided to put Jeffs’ words to a blues riff.
“It fit very nicely to a blues-type beat” because he is speaking very close to perfect 4/4 time, “and the irony of the content of his speech put to a primarily African-American music form (blues) made it all the more intriguing,” De Chiara wrote.
Jeffs’ biggest fan base won’t likely hear his newfound fame as a rock star. Faithful followers in the FLDS-enclaves across the western United States have been told to shun all forms of media, including newspapers, TV and the Internet.
Polygamy as a whole has become part of pop culture. HBO’s popular drama “Big Love” thrust polygamy into the spotlight. The show about a man and his three wives in suburban Utah brought attention — both good and bad — to plural marriage.
“I think it helped in saying this is a culture, too,” said Joyce Steed of the Centennial Park Action Committee, a pro-polygamy group based on the Utah-Arizona border.
Polygamy has always been ripe for parody, but not everybody is exactly berating plural marriage. Some shirts, posters and mugs on cafepress.com proclaim “Future Polygamist,” “Monogamy Sucks” or “Three times the wives means three times the fun.” One shirt even says, “I don’t mind polygamy if it means someone else will do my husband’s laundry.”
Mary Batchelor of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices said she has tried to maintain a sense of humor about it.
“If it’s done with good humor and not intended to be mean or derogatory to people, I see nothing wrong with it,” she said.
Steed said she enjoys a good laugh sometimes at how people see polygamy.
“Polygamy Porter Beer, I think, is hilarious,” she said.
Jeffs, 51, is scheduled to go on trial in April on charges of rape as an accomplice. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is facing similar charges in Arizona.
Jeffs was also indicted by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City on charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, stemming from his time on the run and his time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Even at that time, his activities gave rise to merchandise.
On the Internet auction site eBay, anti-polygamy activist Jay Beswick ordered 100 T-shirts featuring Jeffs’ wanted poster to draw attention to the fugitive FLDS leader.
Unfortunately, Beswick’s timing was off.
“Two days after the prophet’s capture, the shirts arrived,” Beswick wrote in the product description.
He gave them to other activists and police in Arizona and is now trying to unload the rest for $9.99 each.