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.
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.
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.
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 me. Although 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.