Division in FLDS after deadline

Followers had until Dec. 31 to prove loyalty

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/January 5, 2012

San Angelo, Texas -- The New Year's deadline given to followers to prove their faithfulness to imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs came and went, and the dust has yet to settle.

Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had until Dec. 31 to show they were completely loyal to Jeffs, 56, who is in prison for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl. Jeffs retains control over the sect through his brothers and members still loyal to him.

"The fallout is extremely far reaching as far as the social aspect," said Willie Jessop, who once acted as a spokesman for the sect but now opposes Jeffs' leadership.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 people have been kicked out of the sect in the latest round of excommunications, according to those close to the FLDS and social organizations that offer help to those who try to leave the sect behind. The sect is estimated to have had about 10,000 members in the United States and Canada.

To show loyalty, FLDS members were told to get rid of pets and toys, to abstain from sex and to give $5,000 per month to the church.

"The problem is, they had to turn in their assets to qualify," Jessop said. "Now, with the realization that they were swindled out of everything including their religion, it's an overwhelming social issue."

Sam Brower, a private investigator who has written extensively about the sect, said he saw people lined up outside a main FLDS meeting house in the FLDS-run, twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, late on Dec. 31.

The next morning he saw hundreds of trucks around the meeting house and, elsewhere, several groups meeting in separate school houses.

"It has really divided the community," Brower said.

Warren Jeffs, meanwhile, has continued to send messages throughout the world, to public officials in particular. Some have reached Tom Green County commissioners.

Paul Murphy, a spokesman with the Utah Office of the Attorney General, said he has a box full of them, including two copies of a 149-page book full of the revelations.

He checks them to make sure there are not any direct threats to individual members of the public.

"He seems to single out Cincinnati," Murphy said of one particular "revelation." He wasn't aware of any reason Cincinnati would be singled out.

"They all seem to be natural disasters," Murphy said about the general fires, floods and whirlwind judgments often described in the writings.

Despite the letters, Jeffs' communication has been limited lately. At the Powledge Prison Unit in Palestine where he is being held, Jeffs may have placed calls against prison rules.

"There were allegations that he made two phone calls on Christmas Day," said Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "An investigation was initiated and is ongoing at this time."

The calls might have been broadcast or recorded, which is not allowed, Clark said.

Jeffs has lost his phone privileges until the investigation is over, and two people were removed from his call list, but Clark couldn't say who they were because of the investigation.

"He could face disciplinary measures that would potentially restrict his phone privileges," Clark said.

Jeffs had been scheduled to go on trial Feb. 15 on charges of bigamy, but a pretrial has been postponed indefinitely, court staff said in Schleicher County and Tom Green County. The bigamy trial of Wendell Loy Nielsen, a former FLDS president, also has been postponed indefinitely.

The attorney general of Utah, in speaking about Jeffs' prophetic warnings, said his office is pursuing 10 "houses of hiding," locations that the AG's office believes may hold girls against their will for sexual purposes.

"From the beginning, we heard about girls being taken and put into homes away from their families," Murphy said.

The girls who disappear are called "poofers" as a slang term, Murphy said.

The toll on the FLDS in the new year has been difficult, Jessop said.

"The hard reality is just starting to settle in," Jessop said. "People are stunned."

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