I had the pleasure several weeks ago of living within the midst of Colorado City and seeing firsthand the conditions under which the FLDS people in that community are kept. I also had the opportunity to witness the beginning of a crumbling that is taking place within the hearts and minds of the people as Warren Jeffs ever present hold over them is splintering. A friend invited several of us to stay in her home which is located in the within community. Although she is no longer part of the FLDS belief, she insisted on keeping her home. Surrounded by those who still believe in Warren Jeffs and his teachings gave me the ability to see and feel first-hand the beliefs and lifestyle of those who are under FLDS control.
Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the FLDS church, was recently tried and convicted of several counts of sexual assault on a minor as was evidenced in his own records found on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas. According to his own words Warren Jeffs has spent nearly every waking moment convincing his followers to believe that he is the “one mighty and strong” and the only “mouthpiece of God” on the planet at this time. He convinced his people that only he, as the prophet, had the ability to arrange marriages and perform ceremonies. Only he had the ability to receive divine revelation from God and only he had the ability to turn away or accept members of his “one and only true church of God”.
Almost from the beginning of his position as prophet the appearance of paranoia set in. Warren has maintained his position as prophet and leader by consistently eliminating members from his church who he believes have turned against him and his religion. Even his only family and those closest to him have not been exempt. Those men who were expelled from the religion lost all privileges of the priesthood while their wives and children were given to other “more worthy” men. Men and women who were turned out were told they could never communicate with their families still inside and convinced that they would spend an eternity paying for their unrighteousness. Those inside have been taught that any who leave are spiritually dead. They have been threatened with their own expulsion if they speak to family members who have voluntarily left or been exiled. The fear of elimination from the church and impending “eternity in hell” that will occur if anyone turns against Warren has effectively kept his people under his control. Members of the FLDS swear their allegiance to him as their source of eternal exhalation and still follow him, even from his prison cell, out of fear of what might occur without their blind obedience.
But, the empire is crumbling as dissent and questioning sets in. In January 2007 Warren Jeffs had a moment of conscience as he openly admitted that he was not the rightful prophet, naming instead a man by the name of William E. Jessop (not to be confused with Willie Jessop). He later retracted his words stating that he was under the control of the devil at the time. That one slip of Warren’s mouth was recorded on prison video and has been released out over the internet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fePt8-VndY&feature=relmfu That video has been enough evidence for those who have seen it to create doubt in Warren’s leadership and follow William Jessop out of the FLDS. Many thousands have not seen the video as internet access is denied and telephone conversations are closely scrutinized by Warren’s right hand man and brother, Lyle Jessop.
During my visit to the community I had opportunity to speak with many of William Jessops followers who see him as a godsend. William’s leadership is a far cry from that of Warren Jeffs. Those who follow William out of the FLDS are allowed to choose their own clothing, put their children into public school, and live open lives. The happiness I saw in their eyes and the enthusiasm with which they spoke was evidence enough to me that they were enjoying their freedom. Those members who have left are actively attempting to connect with their family inside. They admit that the most difficult part about leaving was not the fear of eternal damnation but the inability to be with their families. Mothers and fathers are unable to speak to their children and men who genuinely love their wives have watched as they are given to other men. Brothers and sisters who want their siblings to experience the same joy and freedom they have found are kept apart. Those who are still inside have been told to close their eyes, ears and hearts according to one man I spoke with.
The belief that William Jessop is the true prophet is causing doubt among the people, but there is a dissention that Warren himself could have never foreseen and cannot control. In my opinion, the desire for human contact will be the eventual undoing of Warren Jeffs FLDS Empire. From behind his prison walls he still controls the minds and bodies of his people, but for how long? He insists that he alone has the ability to arrange and perform marriages. He teaches that any physical contact is intended for pro-creation only and any sexual activity outside of pro-creation is a sin against God. I was told by several sources that until Warren is allowed physical contact with his own wives the men in his allegiance must also abstain. Any pregnancies discovered to have been conceived after his abstinence policy will be grounds for immediate dismissal from the religion and result in families being torn apart. Warren’s tight control over his follower’s physical desires will fail as has already been evidenced by some. Several FLDS men have been seen buying condoms in a neighboring community and is an indication that his control is waning. It is my belief that this type of rebellion will become more commonplace and thus leaving many to wonder about the validity of Warren’s divine appointment and spiritual revelations.
One final note to consider is the power struggle that is taking place within Warren’s most trusted followers. While Warren Jeffs serves out a life sentence in the Texas State Penetentary other men are vying for his position as head of the FLDS. Aside from the movement created around William Jessop there are others attempting to fill Warren’s shoes. Warren’s brother Lyle has been appointed by Warren to be his mouthpiece to the people. According to several individuals I spoke with this past week there is a possibility that Lyle may usurp Warren’s power. Also playing the game is Willie Jessop, the FLDS spokesperson and the one Warren called upon to instigate some of his most hurtful actions against his people. Willie is known in the FLDS as Big Willie and outsiders refer to him as Willie the Thug. In one of Warren’s admitted paranormal experiences he saw that Willie was betraying him and Willie was evicted in the same manner that Willie had perpetrated on many others before him. Willie is now a renegade looking for his own path to leadership. It is believed by some that Big Willie is playing both sides of Lyle Jeffs and William Jessop, pitting them against each other for his own benefit, and as they take the fall he sets himself up as the new leader of the people.
One thing is for certain, the FLDS under its current direction with Warren at the helm is beginning to crumble. It is a welcome change for everyone watching who has loved ones inside. Only time will tell how the battle will end, but in the end I believe the people will all be better off. With the rein of Warren Jeffs behind them they will be free to reconnect with their families, return to educating their children and hopefully find the emotional and spiritual healing they rightfully deserve.