Cult leader Warren Jeffs ousts leaders; retakes control of FLDS

Polygamous cult leader Warren S. Jeffs has retaken his post as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce.

The Salt Lake Tribune explains:

Following his 2007 conviction on accomplice to rape charges, Jeffs, 55, handed over legal control of the church’s Corporation of the President. His first counselor, Wendell Neilsen, took over last year. He resigned on Jan. 28, and Jeffs signed a document taking his place on Feb. 10.

“I, the undersigned, Warren Steed Jeffs, have been called and sustained as the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and by virtue of such calling I am the corporation sole of the Corporation of the President,” the document reads. It was filed on Feb. 15 with the Utah Division of Corporations and Commercial Code.

Another FLDS leader, Hildale mayor David Zitting, said Wednesday he has also resigned his post. Zitting said he tendered his resignation a month ago.

Arizona TV station KTVK reports sources say that Jeffs has also kicked dozens of prominent men out of the FLDS church.

Those recently kicked out include David Zitting, the elected mayor or Hilldale, Utah; Willie Jessop, an enforcer; and Merrill Jessop, the leader of the YFZ Ranch.

Jeffs did this all while behind bars in Texas.

NPR says:

It is unclear why Jeffs would resume control of his church now, or how he would lead the faith while in prison. Attorney Rodney Parker, who has represented the FLDS in the past, tells NPR that he is “not in a position to comment.”

The Deseret News adds:

Switching leaders of the FLDS corporation is just one of many changes reportedly happening within the polygamous community. People familiar with the situation in the FLDS towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, say Jeffs has ousted between 30 to 35 male church members. […]

Joani, a child protection advocate who works to ensure the safety of children leaving polygamous homes and asked that her last name not be used, speculates that Jeffs is trying to clean house of anyone believed to be next in line to be charged in Texas so the FLDS Church doesn’t have to pay their legal fees.

“If anyone has the possibility of being charged, they now are being ousted. They’re picking and choosing as they go along,” Joani said. “I think it’s all financial. They’re not unworthy. They’ve done everything they’ve asked them to do.

The men being removed come from all of the church’s communities in Texas, Utah, Arizona and elsewhere, she said.

The ruthless cult leader held a similar purge in January 2004, when he kicked about 20 men out of his polygamous cult — stripping them of their ‘priesthoods’ as well as their families.

After Jeffs was arrested in August 2006 while on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, one cult watcher reportedly said the arrest will mark the end of the church.

But cult experts and others familiar with the FLDS thought Jeffs would retain his grip on the cult’s followers even from jail.

In March 2007 it was reported that Jeffs, while in jail, had renounced his title as ‘prophet’ of the sect. [See also]

When Wendell Nielsen was installed last year as president of the FLDS and of the corporate entity that handles the faith’s business dealings it remained unclear what status Warren Jeff held. At the time the Salt Lake Tribune said it is likely he remains the sect’s prophet, a position the FLDS consider appointed by God.

In September 2007 Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.

Two months later he was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

Last July the Utah Supreme Court overturned Jeffs’ conviction. CNN explained:

In a unanimous decision, justices found that jurors in the case were given improper instructions by Washington County Judge James Shumate before reaching their verdict that Jeffs contributed to the 2001 sexual assault of teenage victim Elissa Wall, then 14, by directing her marriage to an adult cousin.

A month earlier a judge in Arizona dismissed two charges against Warren Jeffs and ordered that he be sent back to Utah.

At the time the Salt Lake Tribune reported

Mohave Superior Court Judge Steven F. Conn’s ruling came after County Attorney Matt Smith filed a motion Wednesday asking that the cases be dropped so that Texas can proceed against the 54-year-old Jeffs — something Smith said both Arizona victims want. […]

A Texas grand jury indicted Jeffs in July 2008 of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and bigamy based on his marriages to two underage girls — including one who was 12 when she was spiritually married to the sect leader at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.

Jeffs was extradicted to Texas last December.

Currently his trial is expected to begin in July.

Just last Saturday it was reported that the government of British Columbia, Canada has applied to re-open its constitutional reference case regarding polygamy in order to present new evidence that parents in the FLDS community of Bountiful smuggled young girls across the border to marry Warren Jeffs.

Research resources on the FLDS

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 24, 2011.
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