Double Exposure

Arizona's finally followed Utah's lead and launched serious action to stop abuses by polygamists

It's not unusual for Jeffs to declare that a man has offended the church and reassign his wives and children to another man in the community.

Such reassignments are seen as a bonanza for a favored male, since he is also allowed to spiritually marry the daughters of his newly assigned wife or wives.

When a husband dies, Jeffs immediately assigns grieving widows to new families. "No tears are shed for the dead," Bateman says, "before women are given to other men."

Brian Stauffer
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.
John Dougherty
Warren Jeffs' compound: The prophet's horde of wives live in structures the size of hotels.

Jeffs, who once served as principal of a private FLDS school near Salt Lake City when his father, Rulon, was prophet, strictly controls education. In 2000, he ordered the faithful to withdraw their children from the town's public school and enroll them in private church schools.

Few FLDS students graduate from high school, and only a handful go to college. Religious indoctrination in the church schools is used to train women from birth to accept marriage assignments without question. Men, meanwhile, are instructed during years of "priesthood" training to refrain from displays of passion and expressions of love for their wives.

"That's considered childish," Bateman says.

In a society where there are only a smattering of low-wage construction and trucking jobs outside the public sector, families keep themselves afloat by systematically tapping into the welfare system. The FLDS' push for households to sign up for food stamps, medical care and housing assistance, and for local governmental institutions to request highway- and airport-improvement funds and public school assistance, is known as "bleeding the beast."

And the beast has been bled successfully over the years.

Tens of millions of dollars a year in welfare and other government funds are directed into a community controlled almost exclusively by the church. The Colorado City and Hildale town councils, the public school board and all other key positions of authority are beholden to Jeffs. In addition to the unknown portion of public money that goes toward supporting Jeffs' personal lifestyle, critics believe he will be the recipient of funds derived from a $1,000-a-week-per-family tithing requirement he recently instituted.

Jeffs assumed control of the FLDS last year after his father, Rulon, died in September 2002. The elder Jeffs had been the spiritual husband to as many as 70 wives, some of whom his son inherited.

As FLDS president and the community's prophet, Warren Jeffs controls a trust called the United Effort Plan that owns nearly all the property in Colorado City and Hildale and has a stake in many of the town's private businesses. Any man who crosses Jeffs therefore risks losing not only his wives and children, but his home and job.

Of frail stature and pale complexion, Jeffs is rarely seen in public. Last August, he suspended church services and stopped performing polygamous marriages of the faithful in the wake of evidence-seeking incursions by Utah authorities.

The ban on multiple marriages he instituted for the rest of the society hasn't extended to himself. Sources say he has taken on at least one additional teenage wife in the last month.

Jeffs' autocratic leadership style is patterned after that of his father, a former accountant, who reigned for 16 years.

Some in the community remember when things were different. They say LeRoy Johnson, who led the FLDS until his death in 1986, was a kind and mild-mannered leader.

Known as Uncle Roy to the faithful, Johnson was a Mormon prophet in the image of church founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, says Blackmore, the leader of the fundamentalist sect in Canada.

"Uncle Roy was the example of Mormonism," says Jeffs' bitter rival. "[He was] forgiving, sociable, determined to keep alive our fundamental principles, and opposed to priest craft."

Warren Jeffs, Blackmore says, is a protégé of mid-20th-century fundamentalist Mormon leader Guy Musser, who played a major role in preserving Mormon polygamist movements in Salt Lake City and later in the Colorado City area.

Jeffs grew up under Musser's influence, regularly attending lavish luncheons at Musser's palatial home outside Salt Lake City. Elite members of the fundamentalist Mormon church were always there, Blackmore says.

Musser was a gifted orator, and so controlling, Blackmore says, that he dictated to his own sons when they could engage in sexual relations.

Not only has Warren Jeffs adopted Musser's dictatorial ruling philosophy, Blackmore says, he has embraced the lavish lifestyle his mentor enjoyed.

"Musser had a walled-in city block of seven or eight houses and was entirely supported by the people," the rival leader says. "He did not work, or allow his children to work."

How marriages are handled is perhaps the most notable difference between the regime of LeRoy Johnson and those of Rulon and Warren Jeffs. In a polygamous society where it is believed that a man must obtain at least three wives to enter the "celestial kingdom," nothing is more important than the ritual of wedlock.

Musser joined a man with his wives in secret, and so does Warren Jeffs.

Under Johnson, it was a very different story, Blackmore recalls. "Marriages were a joyous public event for Uncle Roy."

Schools Cashed Out

The top administrators of the Colorado City Unified School District walked briskly toward the district's $220,000 airplane parked at the Kingman Municipal Airport on December 1.

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