Documents: YFZ Ranch was Jeffs' 'center stake,' used to punish and reward followers

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/February 13, 2009

It was called the place of refuge - hundreds of acres in Schleicher County as isolated from the world as the people who would live there.

For Warren Jeffs, the self-declared prophet of the polygamous sect that owns the land, it was a new hope, a retreat for his closest allies to continue with God's work while they awaited the destruction of everyone around them.

He called it the "Center Stake of Zion."

The isolation was shattered April 3 - rent in the West Texas night amid allegations of forced marriage and sexual abuse, the temple desecrated by lawmen with a search warrant, 439 children taken into state custody.

The children have nearly all been returned and their cases closed, criminal cases are crawling through the courts, and the YFZ Ranch is slowly being repopulated - but the April raid destroyed the secrecy surrounding the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, possibly forever.

In the largest release of evidence to date, hundreds of pages of dictations by Jeffs to his wife Naomie were unsealed last week, painting a picture in Jeffs' own words of a paranoid leader whose meticulous control over his flock knew no bounds, continuing even after his arrest and imprisonment for arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

The dictations, along with letters and sermons written from jail less than a week before the raid, provide the clearest glimpses yet of a prophet genuinely afraid of the corrupting influences of the world on his congregation - and the often draconian steps he took to purify his members.

"The report was there were many tears, much soberness and humbling among the family," Jeffs said after ordering four women and five children to leave the ranch in May 2004. "Even some of the young children cried, seeing some of their brothers and sisters going. I thank the Lord he reveals what to do to clean up the lands of refuge."

Jeffs frequently used the Schleicher County compound as a way to reward and punish FLDS members, removing even members of his own family if he believed they were no longer worthy to live there and sending them back to the border cities of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. - collectively known as Short Creek.

The decisions often took wives from their husbands and children from their siblings - many of the same actions the sect accused the state's Child Protective Services agency of doing during its investigation into the ranch.

In one case, he told a husband to send his wife, accused of having immoral thoughts about other men, to Short Creek, while leaving their 2-year-old child at the YFZ Ranch.

"The foolish virgins are being detected, and many are not virgins," Jeffs said, referencing and playing on the words of a biblical parable.

Jeffs' dictations show a constant struggle with the sexual sins of his flock - reports of child abuse and incest - at one point excommunicating a man after the man allegedly molested his daughters.

At the same time, however, Jeffs apparently saw little problem with ordering the marriages of underage girls to adult men, even their relatives - dictations in July 2006 and August 2005 describe marriages of girls aged 16 and under, and in June 2004 he described marrying young girls as a way to protect them from "men among us who would fall away (and) would seek to defile young girls and destroy them."

In another ceremony, the bride told Jeffs she was a cousin of the appointed groom.

"At first she told me, 'Well, we are cousins,'" Jeffs said. "I said, 'Well, the Lord wants you to get married anyway.' Afterwards I realized they were not blood cousins. The Lord knows what he is doing."

Jeffs describes dozens of marriages in the dictation, carrying out the FLDS belief that God speaks to the prophet who is to be married to whom, and that only through marriage to a good man can the wives gain exaltation to heaven.

As he expelled more and more men he believed to be plotting against him, Jeffs reassigned more and more women - taking some as his own wives and reassigning others to his allies. He also reassigned their children, changing their names to erase any trace of their birth fathers.

In one case, Jeffs reassigned his sister-in-law after he excommunicated his brother, describing in detail her reluctance to part from her husband.

"I asked her again if she received the Lord's message," Jeffs said. "She hesitated a long time. ... Every step was a long hesitation for her. She finally said, almost in a whisper, 'I want to do what the Lord wants me to do.' ...

"I then brought Jim Allred in, and she would hardly look up. She would hardly take his hand. As the ceremony ended he was smiling and she was looking down, and I said, 'You may kiss the bride,' and she would hardly do it. She would hardly handshake for congratulations, and she would hardly take his hand to go out to the car. So there was a great spirit of resistance, yet she went through with it."

The dictations open in April 2004, shortly after he expelled dozens of high-ranking FLDS leaders, many of them members of the Barlow family, which included the mayor of Colorado City.

Jeffs seemed preoccupied with the Barlows, frequently mentioning them as threats to his position, if not his life. He reassigned their families to others, including to Merril Jessop, who would later become the head of the YFZ Ranch.

He traveled frequently between YFZ, which he called R17, and Short Creek, dictating in detail the steps to be taken in building the Schleicher County ranch, which had been purchased in late 2003.

Already, he had plans for a four-story temple and began the machinations to turn the ranch into a religious trust that would be funded separately from the United Effort Plan, the trust made up of all FLDS-owned land in Utah and Nevada.

Jeffs ordered nearly all construction and unnecessary expenditures in Short Creek to cease so money from the UEP could be poured into building compounds in Texas and South Dakota - an alleged violation of the trust's ground rules.

He oversaw the selling of land in Utah with an eye toward paying off the debt in Schleicher County.

"We could get up to $4.5 million dollars cash right away," Jeffs said, "which we would use to pay off the lands of refuge and to build the temple and the other building projects the Lord is having us do in the redemption of Zion."

As closely as he supervised operations at the ranch, he worried about the attacks from former members and Utah authorities, seeing secret cabals meant to assassinate him and obsessing over comments from his enemies that appeared in the news media.

"Ross Chatwin called me a pimp, a man that sells women for prostitution. He called me a pimp," Jeffs said. "So the devil is raging. ... I answer them nothing. I leave them in the Lord's hands."

Another instance, in July 2004, he was convinced he was followed through the streets of Eldorado by men sent to kill him.

"The secret combinations are growing stronger," he wrote. "Assassins and murders (sic) are seeking my life."

By then, Jeffs already was living as if he were pursued by authorities - despite not yet being charged with any crime. He frequently visited other states, taking a tour of the nation dressed in modern clothing to "kick off the dust of my shoes" - another biblical allusion - against the residents in each state.

He brought some of his wives to show them the culture of the world, making them watch late-night TV, renting action movies and visiting gambling districts. He and his wives also went suntanning, though it's not clear whether that was for pleasure or to disguise themselves.

"They display on their TVs on their regular channels nudity, corruption, corrupt language," he said in Montgomery, Ala. "Their cartoons depict violence and death. They glory in what is not real in devilry and evils, the science fiction, the revelations of Satan."

All the while, he maintained a tight grip on his followers in Texas, South Dakota, Utah and Arizona.

Believing one of his wives to be straying from the faith, he ordered an FLDS member to take her to the Las Vegas strip and force her to walk alone down the two-mile stretch and pick her up on the other side, then lock her in a motel room, where she was to watch television until midnight before being let out the next morning.

"She declared strongly to me that she just didn't realize how bad it was out in the world," Jeffs said. "I said to her strongly this morning, 'You are just one step away. You are right up to the line that if you step across you will be cast out and have no part of me or the Priesthood.'"

On Sept. 3, 2005, one of the final dictations, Jeffs returned to the ranch, upset to find work on the temple not progressing as quickly as he'd hoped. He ordered the creation of English and reading curriculum and was haunted by dreams of a female assassin entering the ranch and trying to kill him with poison-tipped stars.

Even after his arrest in August 2006, Jeffs kept up a steady stream of correspondence - mainly to Jessop, ordering the disbursement of tithes, relating prophetic dreams of apocalypse, assigning new residents to the ranch and listing duties they should be given.

He also attempted in letters to explain the widely publicized phone conversation in which he had renounced being the prophet - calling the statements "my overanxious expressions."

"This was the Lord's test on all of us," he wrote, "and I acknowledge the Lord with rejoicing for delivering me and all of you from the great deceptions thrust upon me."

As recently as March 26, Jeffs was greeting friends and family in jail, describing the conditions, talking about his knees, sore from the much time spent in prayer. If he had any dreams about the coming trials for his people, he gave no indication.

Instead, he meekly went with guards as visiting time ended, according to a transcript made by one of the visitors.

"He turned before going out the door," they wrote, "winked, and blew us a kiss."

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