Man lifts the lid on what it was really like growing up in Warren Jeffs' polygamous Mormon CULT - where girls could be married off as young as 14 and 'men were living in fear'

Daily Mail, UK/December 16, 2023

By Raven Saunt

A man has lifted the lid on what it was really like growing up in Warren Jeffs' polygamous Mormon cult - where girls could be married off as young as 14 and 'men were living in fear.'

Popular YouTube creator Peter Santanello met with former members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church (FLDS) in Hildale, Utah.

Married couple Sam and Melissa grew up within the religion under the reign of Warren Jeffs - who has since been imprisoned for life on two felony counts of child sexual assault.

Sam laid bare the truth about the pervasive control within the church and dished on the intimidation tactics used to spread fear throughout the members.

Sam began by explaining that he was raised by his three moms in a trailer, which was home to dozens of kids at once - all of whom were his siblings.

He said: 'My mom was the second wife. That's a whole interesting story about how the wives got along and all of that - but my mom was the second and I am about the middle child of hers she had 12 kids.

'I have 36 siblings altogether.'

He explained that birth control was 'completely against the rules' and that 'the sexual stuff was so taboo.'

'Marriages were all arranged and completely dependent on what Warren Jeffs decided at the moment - if someone deserved another wife, if they were righteous enough, it was up to him,' Sam explained.

The former member said that this often meant people were 'forced' to get married - including girls as young as 14 to older men.

Melissa explained: 'Most of the men in the community they're assigned their wives and if the prophet says here's your new wife she's 14 are you going to look him in the eye and say "well I don't want a 14-year-old"?

'He's going to look at you and say so your questioning what God wants for you. God told me that this 14-year-old is meant to be your fourth wife are you telling me you don't trust God?

'And that's what these men are dealing with and so who's going to question that authority in that sense.'

She continued: 'The women can have situations where they are oppressed or in circumstances that there's abuse or these other things that can happen - but the men also can be victims as well and I think we overlook that a lot.

'We don't think about the pressure that this man has to live perfectly and if his family's not perfect, and if his wives aren't perfect, and if his children aren't perfect, if anything in his life and household isn't perfect he can lose everything.'

Sam confirmed: 'It became common for Warren Jeffs to just kick people out of the community - claim that they did something evil, say they're not worthy to be here anymore.

'He would force them out and that would open up all of this room for women to be passed around to other men.'

He continued: 'Men were living in fear all the time that if I don't obey perfectly this will happen to me and I'm gone.

'He made an example of a lot of people to put fear into the other members of the church.'

Delving deeper into the control that Jeffs had, Sam said: 'We were very in awe of our leaders. We thought for sure they were talking with God, they could do no wrong, we were just in awe of them.

'It's just hard to explain but I would have given my life for them at that time.'

He continued: 'Everyone was completely under the direction of Warren Jeffs and he had power over them in every aspect of their life down to their kids, their wives, their homes - everything they owned belonged to the church.'

Sam admitted: 'I respected someone like Warren Jeff so, so much and so deeply and fully believed in him.

'He was very intimidating. I thought he talked with God, I thought it was a normal thing that he would literally go and have conversations with God that's what we were told that he was this perfect man that could do no wrong....

'Warren was the king and everyone bowed to him basically exactly.'

He said that FLDS members were kept living in fear - which was spread at the 'famous meeting house' which became 'an icon for the city.'

'We were told that the moment we walked into these doors for church it was a safe space, that the outside influences, that Satan and his demons were not allowed in because it was dedicated by the prophet.

'But they would tell us if you could actually see all of Satan's angels, if you had the eyes to see their spirits when you walk out the doors trying to tempt you and cause you to do evil, you would never dare walk out these doors.

'They would say things like that to keep that fear of making us do what's right throughout the rest of the week.'

Discussing how he broke away from the church, Sam explained: 'I didn't agree with some of the rules and I was a teenager and I wanted to experience life a little bit different.

'Then once I was on the outside looking in started to realize how crazy things really were and I started getting more information.

'When I was in it, we weren't getting information from outside sources. They didn't let us watch TV, they didn't let us read a lot of the books that were being published - so we had no idea what Warren was actually doing because they wouldn't let us.

'It was similar to the what you think about North Korea where they don't let information come in and everyone's in their own little compound. That's kind of the way it was.'

He said that after leaving it took him six months to realize that Jeffs was actually a 'false prophet' who had been 'doing a lot of awful things.'

But walking away from the church also meant severing ties with his family.

'When I made that decision, I was also making the decision which I knew, unfortunately, that I was not welcome back,' Sam said.

'I was not welcome back to the community, I was not welcome back to my family or the home or anything like that so that's what that meant and that's where it is today.

'It hasn't changed all these years later I don't have any kind of relationship with my mother.'

He candidly admitted: 'I missed the community. It was difficult to go to sleep sometimes because you literally leave your past, your family and everything is gone immediately.'

Sam, who now has kids of his own, said that his parents and many of his siblings still belonged to the church and that he had no contact.

'They're told yeah they're told that if they have communication with the outside world - especially apostates like myself - that they could be damned to hell for having that,' he said.

In 2011, Jeffs, who is estimated to have had 85 wives, was sent away for life after he was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault for having sex with two girls aged 12 and 14.  

He is currently serving a life sentence plus 20 years for the charges but, as of 2018, The Guardian reported that there were still about 10,000 active members of the church.

Sam claimed that Jeffs still had control of the FLDS from behind bars, and communicated via letters and calls.

'For a long time he was given phone call privileges where he would call to certain homes and everyone would gather in and he would actually talk to them for hours from his prison and given them what he would call "revelations" on how they should live,' Sam said.

Reflecting on his experience, he said: 'It was very intense I look back now and think I can't believe I lived in that. It seems so crazy that I was ever a part of it.'

Sam claimed that the town was still 80 per cent fundamentalists - but that 90 per cent of those 'no longer believe in Warren Jeffs.'

Rounding off the discussion about his upbringing, he said: 'Honestly I wouldn't change it. I think it really has defined who I am today.

'I will say I wouldn't want my children to live and grow up the way I did just because I feel like the way that we have decided to raise our children is better.

'But I learned a lot. I take the good things that I that I learned here and I apply that to our family now.

'I really do feel like I learned a lot of good values growing up in the small community.

'I don't look down on the FLDS people. I look down on what Warren Jeffs and some of the other leaders - and maybe even prophets before Warren Jeffs - did some things that I highly disagree with.

'But as far as the people, what they were trying to do, what they were trying to stand for, I don't look down on that at all.'

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