From his shaved head and striped jumpsuit to his withering limbs, Warren Jeffs no longer resembles the exalted man and prophet who ruled the polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including Canada’s FLDS community in Creston, British Columbia, called “Bountiful”.
However, looks are deceiving because Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence, plus 20 years, and teetering between martyrdom and self-delusion, has maintained control over his followers despite his confinement. Desperate to remain leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs’ tactics are diverse. In 2007 while imprisoned in Utah, a video surfaced that showed Jeffs in prison garb admitting he was a false prophet and had lied to his followers.
Yet several years later, he ordered his subordinates to spend thousands of dollars on newspaper ads across the United States which declared “Cease thy wicked attack ye government authorities against my people and my church”, an ad clearly designed to buttress his tarnished image with his followers.
Reports of suicide attempts, head banging and food and water deprivation have been replaced by ranting revelations and errant edicts meant to solidify his control.
Over the last year Jeffs has ex-communicated hundreds of younger fathers and husbands, including at least a dozen or more men from Bountiful, ripping families apart with no apparent concern. He has also ordered “rebellious” teenagers to be evicted from the community, for offences as innocuous as hairstyles and teen friendships. Several teenage girls from Bountiful have been caught by this edict.
Jeffs has also banned sexual relationships between spouses including kissing, hugging or any physical contact other than handshaking, a rule that will prevail until he is released from prison. He has declared that a group of fifteen men alone are worthy of procreating and they shall father all FLDS children.
Mothers and fathers have been ordered not to touch or hug their children and toys, recreation, and games are no longer permissible.
The Bountiful elementary and secondary schools have, for the first time, refused government funding, opting to run the programs they desire. Reports have surfaced that school hours are now filled with YouTube videos of Jeffs’ preaching.
But Jeffs’ new tactics are backfiring. At Bountiful, both fathers and mothers who have been banished by Jeffs or taken the brave step of leaving voluntarily, are fighting back, trying to regain control of their lives, and more importantly, taking steps to rescue their children, who are suffering terribly.
Recently, four young boys were ejected from Bountiful because their father was an “apostate”, one of the men who refused to accept Jeffs’ leadership. At least 40 children have been denied any contact with their fathers for many months, a situation that was partially remedied this week by Creston Provincial Court Judge Sheard who ordered immediate access. A further court hearing is scheduled in Creston on November 7, 2012.
The awakening in Bountiful may signal the beginning of the end of Warren Jeffs.