Warren Jeffs is tightening his grip on the polygamist group he leads as “prophet” while he is in prison, demanding people abandon amenities such as toys, pets and recreational vehicles to give more money to their church, possibly to support the sect’s massive ranch in Texas, a sect member said.
Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the twin border cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are being threatened with excommunication, potentially losing their family and property, if they do not follow through.
“Because of the lack of resources in Texas, he is trying to mandate other communities turn in their resources,” said Willie Jessop, an FLDS member who is not loyal to Jeffs.
Jeffs is in a Texas prison serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting two girls ages 12 and 15.
That fact isn’t known to the vast majority of Jeffs’ followers, Jessop said.
“The greatest part of the cover-up is no access to any outside communication to expose their minds to what they’re sustaining,” Jessop said. “Ninety-eight percent don’t know what he was actually sentenced to prison for doing.”
FLDS members aren’t being allowed to have things like bicycles, ATVs, trampolines or toys. There is no Internet access for faithful followers of Jeffs, and pets, or any animals that don’t bring monetary gain, are forbidden, Jessop said. […]
Sam Brower, a private investigator who has built a career looking into the FLDS and keeps up with members, said Jeffs has given a deadline of Dec. 31 for his supporters to prove their loyalty.
Brower said he gets nervous “when I hear radical religious extremists making deadlines.”
Members are now required to pay $5,000 more each month, he said, an incremental amount from previous mandates to pay tithes plus $500, then $1,000, then $2,000.
The money may be going to “places of refuge,” FLDS outposts around the country, Brower said. Much of the money may also be going to construction projects, he and Jessop said.
Purge taking place
Former members of the group say a large-scale purge is underway in the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Many followers of the imprisoned polygamist leader are being forced out and many others are said to be leaving voluntarily because they’re disturbed by what’s going on.
“A lot of people are scared; a lot of people are just getting tired,” said Isaac Wyler, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “With the numbers of people that are being kicked out right now, yeah, I’d say it’s a purge.” […]
Observers say it’s part of a program to cleanse and purify FLDS members, with a deadline of Dec. 31. FLDS faithful reportedly have to profess their loyalty to Jeffs and to show they’re obeying his moral edicts. If they don’t do so by the end of the year, they’re out.
Attempts to reach FLDS leaders for a statement were unsuccessful. One person who has acted as an FLDS spokesman in the past said he believes the leaders would have no comment on the new developments. […]
Former member Carlos Holm, who has numerous relatives in the group, said many FLDS members are quitting or expecting to be forced out by Dec. 31. Holm said FLDS leaders are cracking down on entertainment and outside sources of information, enforcing bans on DVD movies, news media content and the like.
“They’ve completely banned the Internet from Colorado City,” Holm said. “They don’t talk to anybody on the outside unless it’s for business reasons.”
He also said FLDS members were ordered to make a list of their personal possessions. “And they’re supposed to write down everything they had,” Holm said, “every last item in their house — from a dish-cloth to every butter knife — everything they owned. And if they owned any movies they were supposed to write that too. But they’d obviously lie about it so they wouldn’t be kicked out.”
FLDS families have been told to turn over $5,000 to the church, Brower said, and all members have been told they must be re-baptized by Dec. 31.
Wyler said members are required to profess their loyalty to Jeffs in personal interrogations by the end of the year. “They’re going to ask them if they believe that Warren Jeffs is the prophet of God and will they obey him 100 percent, and things like that,” Wyler said.
Interrogations have been so intense, focusing on intimate sexual matters, that many are quitting before they’re kicked out, Wyler said. “They’re just leaving. They’re just saying the questions they ask are way too personal and they feel violated when they’re done,” he said.
He believes by the end of the year, hundreds will have quit or been kicked out. Typically, departing members leave behind fractured families because church leaders reassign their wives and children to faithful FLDS members. The disruption of family life could put FLDS leaders in danger, according to Holm.
Ever since succeeding his father as FLDS leader in 2002, Warren Jeffs has ruled the sect with an an iron fist.
After Warren Jeffs was apprehended in August 2006, one cult watcher reportedly predicted the arrest would mark the end of the church.
Even after being sentenced last August to life in prison, Jeff still remains in control. A day after he was sentenced, the Associated Press wrote:
“The vast majority are just not going to leave,” Atlanta-based polygamy historian and writer Ken Driggs said. “They’ve got family ties and marriage ties and a culture deeply rooted in their faith.”
Followers of Jeffs’ Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are likely to still revere him as a prophet, despite evidence presented in the Texas case that he had sex with girls from the sect as young as 12, former church members and experts say. Jeffs, 55, was sentenced by a Texas jury Tuesday and will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 100 years old.
There was no mass exodus in 2007 after Jeffs’ conviction on Utah sex assault charges. Most members remained loyal. As he spent almost five years in various jails, Jeffs continued to spiritually direct the faith, counsel followers and lead Sunday services by phone.
His legal grip on the church also remains strong.