Listening to the Lord: Jeffs exerted 24-7 control over FLDS faithful

The Salt Lake Tribune/March 5, 2009

As he crisscrossed the country eluding arrest, polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs wielded control over an inner circle of believers to a startling degree.

From the mundane to the intimate - trading in a four-wheeler, having heart surgery, arranging marriages and naming babies - few aspects of life escaped his scrutiny and say.

Jeffs controlled time and physical environments. He formed and destroyed personal relationships. He created new identities for his followers. He fanned fear with apocalyptic predictions and cultivated powerlessness with loss of salvation. He used rewards and punishments to modify behavior and shut down criticism.

Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, did it with a simple claim: The Lord was directing his every move.

The details of how Jeffs exercised this control -- mostly over his large family and those of hand-picked members sent to a remote Texas ranch - are contained in pages of his daily diary. The entries are included as exhibits in a court proceeding and released as public documents by San Angelo, Texas, Judge Barbara Walther.

The dictations lend credence to those who use cult terminology to describe Jeffs' behavior, including Janja Lalich, a sociology professor at California State University, Chico and author of Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults.

In such groups, there are "incredibly invasive guidelines for daily life and sanctions for not following, being disobedient, and it demands that kind of total commitment. The more controlling and invasive it is, the less able a person is to create a life for themselves," said Lalich, who has not read the dictations but went to Texas last summer to help caseworkers.

The last dictations - Jeffs always used a scribe - were made a week before Texas authorities raided the sect's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado on April 3, 2008, and temporarily took custody of 439 children, based on allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Evidence taken from the ranch, including dictations, is now being used in criminal prosecutions of 12 FLDS men on charges related to underage marriages.

Similar documents were found with Jeffs when he was arrested in 2006 and were later shared under seal with attorneys in various court proceedings.

Jeffs, who has led the sect since 2002, has never spoken publicly about alleged illegal activities or state actions targeting him or his community.

But the dictations show "a day-to-day, ongoing control of people's lives that was extraordinary," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has reviewed them. "He had absolute control over his people."

That has lessened since Jeffs' arrest and conviction, though his followers remain devoted to him.

The dictations show that Jeffs attributed nearly all his actions to the Lord, who directed him to frequent tanning salons, stay at certain hotels and in certain cities, buy "baggy black britches," purchase a television set with a DVD player, described how to make cement, go to bed and exile certain people.

"It is marvelous how the Lord is showing me where to go and what to do, who to bless, even naming the times of day I should go and do things," Jeffs said.

In 2005, he visited capital cities to observe the world's wickedness and curse them.

Weeks after visiting New Orleans, Jeffs watched in fascination as Hurricane Katrina swept away that "terrible, wicked place." It was, he said, an answer to his prayers.

By that point, Jeffs knew two lawsuits alleging abuse had been filed against him, that a Utah court had taken over the sect's property trust, that he had been indicted by a grand jury in Arizona and was wanted by the FBI. He blamed followers for some of these troubles.

"The Lord is not favoring us in these court battles anymore concerning the United Effort Plan [trust] because of the disunity and evil among the people, and the halfhearted are falling away in a spirit of complacency," he said.

Jeffs often traveled to Mesquite, Nev., to perform marriage ceremonies in rented hotel rooms - 18 on June 28, 2004. Others took place in Castle Rock, Colo., Kingman, Ariz., and the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the sect's historic home base once known as Short Creek.

The Texas ranch -was the place for "young marriages," Jeffs said, of girls who needed protection of worthy men.

He instructed three men at the YFZ Ranch in July 2004 on "how to receive and properly guide a young girl as their wife, perhaps who isn't physically prepared for child bearing, to become a father and guide until they are able to have children, but to properly draw them close so they would not look to another man."

The girls' parents often were not invited because they "could not keep the Lord's confidence," Jeffs said. His own family sometimes learned of his marriages after the fact.

"So the family has found out about three marriages they didn't know of before," he said in July 2004. Among his new wives was a 14-year-old girl.

Marriages often occurred in the middle of the night, with members given few details ahead of time. At one point, Jeffs told some women their husbands were unworthy and they were to be sealed to other men immediately.

He described how one woman in her 50s, the wife of his brother, reacted to that news. Every step was a "hesitation for her," Jeffs said, from her husband's excommunication to her marriage to another man.

"She would hardly look up," Jeffs said. "She would hardly take his hand."

Jeffs stopped mid-sentence during one wedding to change the groom's surname. A young woman who was about to be married told him the man was her cousin.

Jeffs' reply: "Well, the Lord wants you to get married anyway.

"Afterward, I realized they were not blood cousins," he said. "The Lord knows what he is doing."

One man whose two wives had been taken from him responded, "Well, whatever," according to Jeffs.

But most men grieved, even as they complied with Jeffs' demand they leave the community, write confessional letters and seek forgiveness so they could return. Their despair, Jeffs said, only demonstrated unworthiness.

Followers were expected to listen to or read trainings selected or given by Jeffs several times a day. Jeffs might delay a training for hours or days, explaining the people weren't worthy or the Lord had held him back.

A constant theme was the need for "oneness" in order to qualify to redeem Zion, a holy state in both physical and spiritual terms. Few would make it, he said.

Jeffs also tested people's loyalty in personal matters. He advised one elderly woman with a blocked artery to skip surgery and pray to the Lord instead. He blamed a 16-year-old's three-day labor on her midwife's failure to ask the Lord for help.

Followers in Texas who asked too many questions, expressed doubt, fear, bad feelings or their own opinions risked being sent back to Short Creek, which Jeffs said the Lord had abandoned.

After sending some of his own wives and children back to Short Creek when he found their faith wanting, he said, "The Lord is even naming my children in this pruning."

One summer, he called his family in the twin towns and ordered them to move from one house to another they'd lived in before, but gave each person a new room.

"This was a test," he said. "The Lord and father were watching to see how well they worked together and how they would sacrifice their feelings and also get rid of their darling idols" -- a term Jeffs used to describe both possessions and family relationships.

There was no time for "the selfish pleasure of social religion," Jeffs said, only for "fervent final preparation."

"If they don't qualify for Zion, they will not only go down with the wicked in this life, they could easily lose their place and fall short of Celestial glory," he warned.

After the Lord showed him that one young wife was a "spoiled, protected girl," Jeffs ordered her to put on "gentile" clothes and walk alone the length of the Las Vegas Strip at night. He called her three times "as she walked among the wicked." He then had her taken to a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, where she was to watch television for hours to see "what the world glories in."

The next morning, Jeffs warned the woman she was "one step away" from being cast out.

Sect members were told to regularly fast for up to three days because they had "displeased the Lord" or so the Lord would intervene on the sect's behalf.

Jeffs would invite select family members and followers to join him in prayer, giving them the chance to feel, through his touch, the "all-consuming fire of heaven."

Several women, Jeffs said, bore witness that they had seen heavenly beings while in his presence or watched as he was physically taken away.

At night, Jeffs experienced what he called "heavenly sessions" -- his term for sleeping. One or more wives were required to keep watch and record any utterances he made. Some of the younger ones nodded off and were reprimanded.

Jeffs said the Lord drew him to the Texas property, designed the buildings and temple, specified the decor, decided who would fill various jobs and set the construction schedule.

When projects lagged, it was because workers lacked faith.

The degree to which Jeffs exerted control "shocked and surprised" one former member who asked not to be identified to protect family still in the sect against possible repercussions.

"I am amazed that the people close went along with it," the person said. "However, I think that most of them did not know and still don't know what was really happening."

After his capture and imprisonment, Jeffs continued to deliver pronouncements, predicting in January 2007 he would be delivered from prison in "a miraculous way."

That same month, Jeffs told family he had improperly seized leadership of the church, and on Jan. 28 he tried to hang himself in his cell at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane.

It was just a test, he told followers three months later.

"I am to continue on and stand in my place and do His will," he said.

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