Renewed battle for control of FLDS

Now that cult leader Warren Jeffs has been convicted and sentenced, the fight is heating up for control of the 10-thousand strong FLDS polygamist group.

ABC 4 News (Hildale, Utah) reports

William E. Jessop, the same man who earlier this year claimed he was the rightful president of the group, has sent an open letter to Warren’s full brother, Lyle Jeffs, who is now apparently in command.

“Please take this as a matter of life or death.” the letter begins. “You all have had five long years and numerous opportunities to clean this immoral mess up, and you have not.”

It continues, “You condoned the immorality … by believing you can sit in the halls of the court and turn off the evidence and deny the abominations of Warren Jeffs.” Lyle was present in the San Angelo, Texas courtroom during part of his brother’s trial. But when the prosecution was presenting witnesses and evidence, Lyle would wait in the hallway.

The letter ends with the challenge to “come clean.”

The letter was delivered to all of the post office boxes in twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah.

Read William E. Jessop’s open letter PDF file

William E. Jessop

William E. Jessop was once a high-ranking bishop of the FLDS towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. He was handpicked for the position. In February Jeffs ousted him, along with several other FLDS leaders.

Jessop later spoke out against Jeffs, calling his action morally indefensible.

While jailed in January 2007 Warren Jeffs called William Jessop telling him, in a video-taped conversation, to let members of the FDLS know that he (Jeffs) was not the prophet, but that “brother William E. Jessop has been the prophet, since father passed — since the passing of my father.”

On the basis of that video Jessop launched a bid for control over the FLDS. However, earlier this month the Utah Department of Commerce reaffirmed Jeffs as the head of the corporations that make up the FLDS after a church bishop unsuccessfully sought to seize control. The head of the Corporation of the President is typically the FLDS president. Commerce officials said William E. Jessop ultimately failed to prove he was ordained by the previous prophet to control the church.

Warren Jeffs Remains Dominant Force

After Jeffs was apprehended in August 2006, one cult watcher reportedly predicted the arrest would 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.

Even after his September 2007 conviction as an accessory to rape for coercing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin Jeffs remained a dominant force within the FLDS.

Jeffs’ conviction was overturned in July 2010 on a technicality. He was later extradicted to Texas where he stood trial on sexual assault and bigamy charges.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Back in December 2007 Jeffs resigned as president of the business entity of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but last February — still in jail awaiting his trial — he resumed control and ousted dozens of male church members — including William E. Jessop.

Will FLDS split?

Observers believe that Lyle Jeffs, one of Warren Jeff’s brothers, is currently in control of the FLDS.

ABC 4 News says it has obtained what is purported to be Lyle Jeffs’ response to the Jessops’ letter sent in a text to FLDS members: “The enemy has mailed out another mailing. A trifold letter addressed to Box Holder. Give it no time. It is poison.”

Poison or balm? Either way, it seems another of the legacies of Warren Jeffs may be a bitterly divided polygamist community.

Typically FLDS members have loyally followed whichever leader happened to gain control over the group. They believe this leader is ordained by God and view him as God’s only prophet on earth — who must be obeyed without question. If you do not obey the ‘prophet’ you are kicked out of the community and lose your salvation. In addition your wives and children are reassigned to other men.

Warren Jeffs’ half-brother, who has been kicked out of the community, believes his brothers are ready to resume marrying child brides to older men with another half brother, Lyle Jeffs, leading the way.

Flora Jessop, who escaped from the polygamist sect when she was just 16 years old, also believes Warren Jeffs’ practices will likely continue even though he’s behind bars.

CBS News earlier this month wrote:

Jessop says there are several people “waiting in the wings” to fill Jeffs’ leader role in the fringe Mormon sect, including his brother, Lyle Jeffs.

Jessop says Lyle Jeffs will likely take the helm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — and says he will to continue Warren Jeffs’ practices if he’s not stopped.

It is not be inconceivable that the FLDS community could split, but it is far more likely that a number of people ousted from the group would start their own, rival sect.

Something to take into account: most current FLDS members have their properties tied up in the sect’s property trust.

Research resources on the FLDS

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 18, 2011.
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