U.S.-based polygamist sect buys newspaper ads urging repentance

Reuters/January 26, 2012

A breakaway Mormon sect loyal to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has placed a series of ads urging repentance in major U.S. and Canadian newspapers that display purported revelations from God via their faith's self-proclaimed prophet.

Jeffs, the 56-year-old leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting two girls he wed as spiritual brides when they were 12 and 14 years old at his sect's Texas ranch.

"Repent ye; now be of full humbling; all peoples shall be humbled in full way; as I send full judgment," reads one of the ads, versions of which have appeared during the past week in newspapers including the New York Times, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Vancouver Sun.

It was not immediately clear to whom the ads were directed, but Jeffs had complained repeatedly during his Texas trial last year that he was being persecuted because of his religious beliefs.

Jeffs' sect, which teaches that for a man to be among the select in heaven he must have at least three wives, is estimated to have 10,000 followers in North America.

The ads appeared less than a month after Jeffs, whose sect has been condemned by the mainstream Mormon Church, lost his prison phone privileges after being accused of preaching to his followers from behind bars via a phone call in violation of prison rules.

That had been seen as the latest indication that Jeffs was trying to maintain sway over his sect, which is accused of promoting marriages between older men and girls.

The sect appears to be spending thousands of dollars on the ads, which have appeared in a variety of sizes including a quarter-page ad in the Washington Post. An ad of that size in the Post could have cost between $10,000 and $12,000, according to Marc Rosenberg, an advertising manager at that paper.

The recent newspaper ads said more revelations were for sale for $2 to $10, but a contact person listed on the ads, Vaughan Taylor, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Such revelations have been sent to public officials and government representatives across the country, some calling for Jeffs' release and detailing natural disasters predicted to hit nations such as Australia, Russia and China, including tidal waves.

The documents also ask that Israel be protected and care be given to widows, orphans and the elderly, and urge an end to abortions and homosexuality.

Ken Driggs, a Georgia attorney who has written for academic journals about the FLDS, said the advertisements were unprecedented for the sect and that the goal may be to encourage sect members to follow Jeffs.

"It may be more for an internal audience," Driggs said.

But Willie Jessop, a former FLDS spokesman who still lives in an FLDS community but says he has disavowed Jeffs, said he doesn't think Jeffs' followers will see the revelations.

Most of his followers aren't allowed to read newspapers or the Internet, nor are they allowed to look at the revelations, Jessop said, adding that Jeffs was controlling the sect through his brothers.

"If people had access to all of his revelations, they would see there is no validity or credibility to them," Jessop told Reuters.

(Reporting By Matthew Waller; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)

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