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In Nov. 2002, former school teacher and accountant Warren Jeffs (born December 3, 1955) was named president of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), succeeding his father, Rulon Jeffs, who died in September.
The FLDS is one of a few such sects that have been the target of allegations of welfare abuse and forced marriages of underage girls.
Almost immediately after securing his leadership position, Warren Steed Jeffs -- whose stated goal was perfection on earth -- began tightening control over the religious sect, and he soon ruled with an iron fist.
Among other things, he forbade members from associating with apostates -- those who left the 'church' on their own accord or who were disfellowshipped and sent away.
He canceled group gatherings, church activities, community dances, holiday celebrations and the flying of American flags.
Members talking to the media now risked losing their families and houses to the church.
As time went on, Jeff kept adding new rules, banning books, newspapers, television, radio and DVDs. At one point he ordered all family photo albums to be destroyed.
In June, 2005, Warren Jeffs "was indicted on charges that he arranged a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a man who was already married."
Earlier, law enforcement agents attempted to serve papers on Jeffs regarding two civil actions: "Two lawsuits are pending in Utah against Warren Jeffs, the church's prophet and leader. One complaint, by a nephew, accuses Jeffs of sodomy. Another, filed by former members of the church, alleges a cover-up of child-sex abuse."
Jeffs went in hiding and became a fugitive. In July, 2005, the FBI joined the search for him, and the states of Arizona and Utah announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
In May, 2006, the FBI placed Warren Jeffs on their Top 10 Most Wanted list.
On Aug. 30, 2006, Jeffs was arrested after the car in which he was travelling -- together with Isaac Jeffs, one of his brothers, and Naomi Jessop Jeffs, one of his 50+ plural wives -- was stopped for a traffic violation.
All three were wearing clothes Jeffs had forbidden others from wearing. The car was a 2007 Cadillac Escalade -- a red one, even though Jeffs had forbidden use of the color red because, he insisted, that’s the color of the cloak Jesus will be wearing when he returns to earth following the apocalypse.
Jeffs was subsequently jailed in Arizona, where he faced charges related to marriages involving teenage girls.
Those charges were dropped, in June, 2010, in favor of sending him to the state of Texas, which wanted to prosecute him on similar charges -- based on evidence obtained during an April, 2008, raid on the cult's compound and temple. [Details in this story: Texas takes possession of FLDS cult’s ranch.]
On July 27, 2010, the Utah Supreme Court reversed Jeffs' conviction and sent the case back for a new trial, saying there were "serious errors" in instructions given to the jury that deprived Jeffs of a fair hearing.
In August, 2011, a Texas jury convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls “spiritual marriages.” He was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
In this NBC Dateline program Rebecca Musser tells her story of how she was married -- as the 19th wife -- to Rulon Jeffs, and how she escaped the FLDS.
Rebecca was later the key witness in the trials of Warren Jeffs that got him life in prison.
This program provides much insight into Warren Jeffs. Starting at minute 34, the Texas ranch is discussed, including what crime scene investigators found hidden in the FLDS’ temple -- evidence that helped convict Warren Jeffs.
Though imprisoned for life, Jeffs continues to rule his followers with an iron fist.
In an academic paper published in February, 2014, University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora and law graduate Julia Chamberlin write that polygamy is a "concrete crime with clear consequences for those forced to participate in it."
The paper focuses on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Describing extensive interviews with former FLDS members, the researchers conclude that parents in the FLDS fail to protect their children as they carry out orders given by Warren Jeffs and other church leaders:
The interviews clearly showed the extraordinary control Jeffs exercised over the community, remarkably in spite of the lack of his physical presence. In addressing this issue, one interviewee commented that for many community members hearing his voice (an issue to be subsequently addressed) provided sufficient cause for acting in accordance with his demands and acceding to new Revelations. These new Revelations espoused an end of the world prophecy on December 31, 2012, the removal of eight-year-old girls from their parents’ home in order to prepare them for their future role as a sister wife, the transfer of newborn babies to new caretakers who subsequently rename them in order to erase their selfidentity, and only fifteen ‘worthy’ men were permitted to impregnate women in the FLDS community (the woman’s husband and others forcibly hold down his wife as one of the fifteen men rapes her). The willingness to conform is of particular note when it directly harms individuals and families alike; unquestioned obedience culminates in destruction of families, underage marriage and shunning of particular individuals accused of crimes/sins.216 As noted by the individuals who Guiora met, the overwhelming majority of faith members accept, unquestioningly, Jeffs’ commands.
- Source: Polygamy: Not 'Big Love' But Significant Harm
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