The Polygamist's Daughter

Stories, Reflections and Conclusions of Life on the Inside


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Big Willie and Oprah Winfrey Part Two

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In my last post I mentioned that Oprah recently interviewed Willie Jessop on her, “Where Are They Now?” television show. To bring you up to date, I shared my perspective of their first interview in 2009, at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, several years before Warren Jeffs was imprisoned for raping a twelve year old girl.

There is more to the story than many have been told. What many people don’t realize is that Warren’s sexual perversions went beyond the so-called “marriage” of underage girls. 

He was responsible for the underage marriages of little girls to the men in his most trusted circle of friends. These were his most intimate followers who bartered with their daughters the way kids might barter with their lunches. In essence, he ran a crime ring that anyone who looks closely enough would call sex-trafficking. His sexual obsession with children extended to the molestation of family members, including little boys. He justified all of it in the name of God, instilling in his victims that sacred and secret were synonymous. His destruction of innocent lives left some to commit suicide because they were unable to cope with their experiences.

Enter Willie Jessop. In Willie’s loyalty to his prophet, and only true mouthpiece of God, Warren Jeffs, Willie was blinded by his belief. He was so blinded that he could not see anything but his need to be redeemed in his prophet’s eyes, and he would do anything to earn that redemption. There is no evidence of murder so I can’t go that far, but driving someone to end their own lives is pretty darn close. How much a part Willie played in that we will never know. That is between Willie and his God. Willie in his loyalty and deception, attempted to discredit anyone who spoke out against Warren, including the children that were molested by him. Willie played an integral role in causing suffering in the lives of potentially thousands of people. However, I will leave those details for another post because they are very vast and complex. Some of that suffering he is now facing for himself.

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Before I get into the meat of my perspective on Oprah and Willie’s recent conversation, I want to clarity two very important things.

#1. People can change. I absolutely believe people can change and often do following a mid-life crisis that forces them to rethink everything they think they know and come home to their own truth.

#2. Editing is everything. From my personal experience with television interviews, and in working on my own documentary footage, I understand the editing process. I would venture to say that much of the conversation that took place between Oprah and Willie has ended up on the cutting room floor as they say in the film industry. What occurred during the entire conversation between Oprah and Willie, is only known by Oprah, Willie and the production team.

In Oprah and Willie’s recent conversation a great amount of time was spent reviewing footage of their previous interview 2009. Revisiting Oprah’s visit to the Y.F.Z. Ranch gave Willie the opportunity to redeem himself in Oprah’s eyes (which to me hold a lot more weight than Warren’s eyes ever will) and her vast audience. In Willie’s charming and confident way, he was up to the task. Personally I didn’t buy a lot of it. Not to say that he wasn’t remorseful for the role he played in deceiving Oprah, the world and himself, I just saw too many holes in his story.

Like many Americans I followed the story of Warren Jeffs and the F.L.D.S. when it hit the news in the early 2000’s. Unlike most American’s my interest went beyond curiosity. My purpose for following the story was wanting to see and understand the people of the F.L.D.S. and compare them and their beliefs to my own polygamist upbringing in the A.U.B. Because of my desire for understanding, I have spent a great deal of time and energy researching polygamy, religious abuse, and human rights abuses in the name of religion. I believe it is time for all religions to teach love rather than fear and stop using God’s name to justify harms against humanity for their own vain purposes. That is what I call using God’s name in vain.

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My insights with regard to the F.L.D.S. are more than my personal perspective, they are intertwined with on and off camera interviews of those affected, hours upon hours of reading personal stories and my own research into legal proceedings.

Here are some inconsistencies I found in Willies recent interview with Oprah.

Willie gave us the impression that he left the F.L.D.S. on his own accord after listening to the tapes that Warren recorded of his “Heavenly Sessions” and after interviewing the girls involved. However, in his court testimony he referred to himself as a “Lost Boy,” a term that was used to describe the young boys, some as young as eleven years old, that Willie had a hand in literally kicking out of the community/religion. These pre-teen and teenage boys were dropped off on the side of the road with no money, skills, knowledge of the real world, spare clothing or place to go. They were abandoned like stray dogs by their families at Warren’s command, simply because they did not fit into his perfect plan. That one slip of the tongue out of Willie’s mouth indicates that Warren had him excommunicated. Personally I find it insulting to the young men he ousted, to even have the audacity to compare himself to their plight.

In speaking to individuals who were a part of the arrest, investigation and the trials of Warren Jeffs, I was stunned to discover that Willie did not turn states evidence on Warren. Neither did he offer up any evidence he supposedly had by interviewing the girls who had been victimized. Willie was more of a deterrent than anything else. In one expert’s words, “Warren was convicted almost in spite of Willie.”  In his interview with Oprah, Willie said that he interviewed the girls on the recordings. I suspect if Willie did interview those girls, it was for his own selfish purpose. As a business man he was gathering evidence for a future lawsuit as personal retribution against Warren. Of course I can’t verify that, but it looks very suspicious to those who know the timeline and who have witnessed Willie’s track record. I question the validity of when and where, or even if he went through the boxes of evidence. The experts I talked to don’t remember him being ever involved in any part of the investigation. His grandstanding with Oprah appears to be simply that.

Willie also indicated that he is no longer part of the religion. To be more precise he no longer follows Warren Jeffs. The F.L.D.S. has broken up several times and he is a part of what had been nicknamed (the last time I checked) as the 3rd Ward, under the direction of another William Jessop. Yes, I know that is confusing. Willie lives in Colorado City, he is a polygamist with the same religious beliefs as the rest of the F.L.D.S., he just doesn’t play follow the leader. In other words, he still believes that the only way he can become a god in the hereafter and rule his own planet, is to live the commandment of plural marriage and follow Joseph Smith’s original teachings.

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When Oprah asked Willie about the whereabouts of the girls, Willie was cryptic in his reply.

The truth is that all of the girls were returned by Child Protective Services back into the belief system that victimized them. Willie played a role that helped to ensure their return. They are all adults now and are still part of the F.L.D.S. When and if they decide to leave they will be welcomed with loving arms in the outside world but whether they choose to ever leave will be up to them. In their eyes they are sealed for time and all eternity to the prophet, a man who is guaranteed to ascend to the highest level of their multilevel, pyramidal heaven as a god himself and bring them with him as his eternal consorts. What girl can pass that up?

One last thing because I am getting long winded and blogs are supposed to be short and sweet, or so I’ve been told.  

Willie launched a lawsuit against Warren Jeffs and the F.L.D.S. (I don’t have the details of what the lawsuit entailed) and hurt Warren where it hurts him the most…money. Willie was awarded $30,000,000. Part of the settlement included Warren’s mansions, one which was fully constructed to the finest detail, but had never been lived in. Being the business man that he is, Willie has turned it into a Bed and Breakfast for the curious “gentiles.”  Oh how I wish Oprah would have asked him what he did with his winnings. I want to know if he is using the money to help restore those who he had a hand in hurting or is he keeping it all to himself?

In closing I will reiterate that I do believe people can change because I have witnessed dramatic changes in my own life and those around meAlthough it is less about changing and more about becoming who we really are.

I do think that Willie feels remorse for the role he played in causing the suffering of so many other people. I do think that he feels anger now that he has a twelve year old daughter and understands a father’s role of protecting his children. I do feel that he is repulsed by the men and women who willingly handed their daughters off to be sacrificed in the name of God. And, I do think he was blindly manipulated by Warren’s veil of deception and in discovering the truth, was rocked to his core. He was, like so many others who followed Warren Jeffs, blinded by his religious belief and his wanting to believe. I also think however, that Willie is self-serving and willing to lie if it serves him, even when that pretense is so unnecessary.  There was no reason to attempt to deceive Oprah again and no reason to fabricate his story, and yet, that appears to be precisely what he has done.

My heart goes out to Willie, and to anyone who cannot live their lives in integrity and transparency. It is such a liberating way to move through life. And my heart goes out to all of those people who are still blinded by belief and unable to follow their own truth.  

I hope that someday they can all find their way home to themselves.

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Big Willie and Oprah Winfrey Part One

Several days ago on Oprah’s show “Where Are They Now?”  Oprah sat down in a lengthy on-camera conversation with Willie Jessop.  Big Willie, as he is un-affectionately known by those who knew and feared him as Warren Jeff’s henchman, was given an opportunity to redeem himself in Oprah’s eyes, and in the eyes of her millions of viewers.

In 2009, following the government raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint (F.L.D.S.) Yearning for Zion (Y.F.Z.) Ranch in Texas, Oprah and her film crew were given carte blanche access to the ranch, with Big Willie as Oprah’s personal tour guide.

Oprah and Big Willie

During Oprah’s visit, Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the F.L.D.S. sat in a Utah prison, serving a sentence for sex crimes against children after being on the F.B.I.’s 10 Most Wanted list. The government raid on the F.L.D.S., Y.F.Z. Ranch was in response to a call from an anonymous caller who claimed she had been the victim of a sex crime at Y.F.Z Ranch.

During the raid on Y.F.Z. the government seized boxes of records containing mounting evidence of Warren having what most many of us would consider orgy rapes of underage girls.

To his own demise, he kept audio recordings of those orgies as what he called, “Heavenly Sessions.”  Photographs were taken of the bed and private chamber in the temple that he used for his group sessions, and the audio recordings were seized as evidence that would eventually put Warren Jeffs in a Texas prison for the remainder of his life, and then some. The results of the investigation were still underway when Oprah paid her visit to the Y.F.Z. Ranch.

Back to Big Willie, aka Willie Jessop and his visits with Oprah. Okay, I admit I am a little jealous, not of Willie, heavens no. I am a little envious of the quality time he was able to spend with a woman I deeply admire as one of the great change makers and voices for global transformation.

From the moment Oprah stepped into the back seat of the automobile with Big Willie at her side, I knew she was in for the ride of her life and a deception like she had never or probably has ever experienced.

Oprah and Willie Jessops

Willie wasn’t only Warren Jeff’s henchman, he was Warren’s personal body guard, protector of Warren’s assets and secrets and the F.L.D.S. spokesperson. He was the man who delivered girls, ousted young boys, kicked out old men and ensured the reassignments of women and children. He was Warren’s right hand-man, and for good reason, Willie was large, bold, wickedly smart, an excellent business man and a smooth talker. That in itself would come back to haunt Warren later.

One of the first questions Oprah asked in her 2009 interview with Willie was how the F.L.D.S. people would feel about her. His reply was an outright lie when he told her the people would have no issue with her. Oprah represents everything the people are taught to despise, or more precisely, taught to fear. As a strong, successful, unmarried, childless, black woman of the world, she would be considered an abomination in every possible way. But, I’m sure the children were taught to keep their mouths shut, play along, and pretend they weren’t afraid. Then immediately wash everything down with bleach, have everything re-consecrated and Jesus called upon by a man with the Melchizedek to clear away the evil spirits after she left.

When Oprah asked various individuals about the underage marriages, everyone just smiled as they lied through their sickeningly sweet smiles, insisting they knew of no such thing.

This of course is completely ridiculous. Underage marriages have been a mainstay in that belief system for the past 100+ years. The people see nothing wrong with these young marriages because the legal marriage age, which not so long ago was only 14, and is still only 16 with parental consent. Even younger marriages are legal with a court consent. And, since a court of God holds more weight than a court of law, underage marriage can easily be justified by religion in their eyes. And, because God’s laws are superior to men’s, even though, “thou shalt not lie” is one of the ten commandments, when you lie for God and religion that makes lying perfectly okay.

Polygamy was blatantly obvious so Oprah didn’t even bother asking about it.

The kicker of the entire visit with Oprah was her wanting to understand about the bed in the temple. Rumor had it that there was a bed in the temple that Warren used for his sexual rituals. When Oprah asked Willie about the bed, Willie replied that any bed in the temple belonged to the groundskeeper. Right. A small, bed with side rails in a hidden chamber of the Holy of Holys on the third floor of the temple – that belonged to a groundskeeper?

Inside the Polygamist Retreat

I’m not 100% positive, because there is no way I would ever be allowed inside, (and if anyone told me the full truth about what happens in a temple they would have their tongue cut out – at least that’s what my parents told me) but I’m pretty sure that there is no regular Mormon temple with a bed like the one in Warren Jeff’s temple. Not even for the groundskeeper.

Aside from being completely snowed by barrage of lies that Oprah endured at the F.L.D.S., what she did see was an example of how communal living can look in the appearance of perfect harmony. Albeit, that perfect harmony came at the expense of no personal time for anyone and continual sacrifice to “the order”.  

Without having a personal conversation with Oprah, I can’t say how she felt by the time she left. In my personal perception she was impressed by the people, unimpressed by Willie, and not fully convinced that everything was as it appeared. Although rumor has it that Willie conned Oprah out of a nice sum of money; supposedly on behalf of the children, which the children never saw. But since I can’t substantiate that, I will chalk it up to hearsay.

Fast forward to the present day. Warren Jeffs still calls the shots for the F.L.D.S. from behind prison walls as the undisputed prophet for thousands of people. His followers believe that he is in prison for religious persecution and that Hollywood magic was used to manipulate any incriminating audio and video footage. They aren’t allowed to watch television or have internet access, so any evidence to the contrary is inaccessible.

They are, in every sense of the word, blinded by their beliefs.

Because I am obviously long-winded and highly passionate about this particular subject. I am writing a second post about Oprah’s recent interview with Big Willie, as he spills the beans about what really happened, why he lied, and where he is heading with his life.  Stay tuned for part two.

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Warren Jeffs Crumbling FLDS Empire

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.