Imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs spends thousands on newspaper ads

Polygamist Jeffs says Jesus wants America to free him

The Tennessean/January 24, 2012

Jesus has a message for America, say leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Let Warren Jeffs go.

That claim is made in published copies of the polygamist sect leader's jailhouse revelations, being sold by his followers for $1 to $10. Jeffs' followers are promoting the message through tens of thousands of dollars of paid ads placed in national and regional newspapers, including two in The Tennessean. Students of charismatic leaders like Jeffs said it's not unusual for them to claim God will rescue them after they get in trouble with the law.

The ads claim that Jesus is coming back soon to judge America for its sins, including abortion and persecuting Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting two young girls.

"Cease thy wicked attack, ye government authorities in the United States of America, against my people and my church," reads a revelation Jeffs claims to have received on Dec. 12.

According to The Tennessean's rate card, the ads that ran Friday and Sunday cost $6,903.23. A similar ad in The Washington Post costs about $10,000.

Kathleen Flake, associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, said the ads are aimed at reassuring Jeffs' flock that he is still a legitimate prophet.

"The audience for the ads isn't the readers of the newspapers," Flake said. "The audience is the people placing the ads."

Jeffs supporter Vaughn E. Taylor, listed as a contact on the ads, did not return calls requesting comment.

Other jailed religious leaders have claimed to be prophets of God who are being persecuted for their beliefs. That's been the case for the Rev. Tony Alamo, who once ran a Music Row church in Nashville. He was sentenced in 2009 and is jailed in a federal penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz., for sex crimes.

The current version of his newsletter at includes an article titled "IT IS EASY TO TELL WHEN THE LORD IS COMING BACK TO EARTH," which details God's anger at America's sin.

Janet Bennion, author of Polygamy in Primetime, a study of fundamentalist Mormons, said making predictions of doom is common for fundamentalist prophets. But few can spend as much cash as Jeffs' followers.

"If Warren says the dawn of the apocalypse is near, and we must rally to cling to the true prophet of God, then the FLDS will pour their funds into this message, hundreds and thousands of dollars in advertising if need be," Bennion, an associate professor of anthropology at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt., wrote in an email. "Millenarianists such as Jeffs always predict that doom is around the corner, and only he has the answers to how to survive the destructive wrath of God." Some have lost faith

The ads probably are a sign that Jeffs may be losing control of the group he has led since 2002. Stuart Wright, a professor of sociology at Lamar University in Texas, said that Jeffs has about 8,000 followers. But some have lost faith in him since he was jailed last year.

"I think he is having real trouble," said Wright, co-editor of Saints Under Siege, a study of a 2008 raid on a polygamist compound in Texas.

Wright said Jeffs' followers run construction companies that work on contracts around the country. Much of their money is then donated to the church. So even though their numbers are relatively small, they can afford the advertising campaign.

"This is not a poor group," Wright said.

The ads failed to impress Drew Pope, director of public affairs for the Nashville stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pope said that Jeffs' followers have never been members of the LDS church.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints IS NOT and has NEVER BEEN associated with or even affiliates with Warren Jeffs and the FLDS faith," he wrote in an email.

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