Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

As the FBI chases polygamist Prophet Warren Jeffs, work continues 24/7 on his religion's foreboding new Texas capital

"We hate that they are here, and we are very concerned about the welfare of those children and young girls out there," the ranch owner says. "I just wish the courts and law enforcement at the state and federal level could address the situation."

But most local elected officials are cautious about saying anything negative about the town's FLDS neighbors. The April 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian sect in nearby Waco that left about 76 people dead is on their minds.

"[The polygamists] have not bothered a soul," says Schleicher County Justice of the Peace James Doyle, one of the few public officials to have entered the YFZ compound. Doyle was allowed inside to handle official paperwork when one of Warren Jeffs' wives died of cancer.

Winston Blackmore leads 600 anti-Warren Jeffs polygamists in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Winston Blackmore leads 600 anti-Warren Jeffs polygamists in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Two electric generators taken from Colorado City are partially hidden beneath tarps at YFZ.
Mark Folkerson
Two electric generators taken from Colorado City are partially hidden beneath tarps at YFZ.

As long as YFZ residents do not begin to register to vote in large numbers or apply for welfare, Doyle says, their presence is unlikely to generate huge opposition from local residents. Besides, Doyle says, there is little anyone can do to stop construction at the compound; there are no county building and zoning ordinances affecting the property.

At the same time, Doyle says he is aware of the FLDS practice of underage "spiritual" marriages, but until victims step forward and swear out complaints, there is nothing he can do to stop them.

Eldorado Mayor John Nickolauk has extended a friendly handshake to the FLDS, although he, too, wishes they had never come to the area.

"If I had a way, I would snap my fingers and they would be gone. But they are here, so let's try to make the best of it," says the retired Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran.

Nickolauk saw a financial opportunity for the town and signed a contract to have YFZ dump its sewage at Eldorado's treatment plant. The mayor says the polygamists have been excellent customers for the city.

"I wish everybody was like them," he says. "We give them the rules, and they obey them."

Like the town, the county and some local businesses are starting to reap substantial economic benefits. YFZ already is the county's sixth-largest property taxpayer, with a $200,000 bill due later this year.

Dan Griffin, owner of Griffin Oil Company, a wholesale fuels distributor, is reaping a windfall from thousands of dollars a week in sales of diesel fuel to YFZ. The fuel is used to power tractors, generators, rock saws and other heavy equipment eerily operating around the clock in the remote area. Griffin complained that the community newspaper has been sensationalizing FLDS members' presence.

"They haven't made any offense against anybody in this community as far as I'm aware," Griffin says.

Schleicher County Commissioner Matt Brown, who owns property adjacent to YFZ, is one of those who is highly suspicious of the polygamists. Brown says he is very concerned that Jeffs is on the FBI's most-wanted list and hopes the prophet is soon captured.

Brown says there needs to be far more cooperation between Arizona and Texas authorities in the hunt for Jeffs. He was particularly critical of Mohave County's failure to notify the Schleicher County Sheriff's Office about the grand jury indictments against Jeffs. The local media reported the news before county officials knew what had happened.

Brown says Sheriff Doran, who has only four deputies, could have set up surveillance around YFZ and might have been able to arrest Jeffs without a major confrontation.

"I'm sure Jeffs was there at the time," Brown says. "I think he left [Yearning for Zion] right in that time period."

Plural marriage, which the mainstream Mormon Church abandoned in 1890 as a condition for Utah to gain statehood, is what drives the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church requires men to obtain at least three wives to reach the "celestial kingdom," where it is believed that they and their harems will live as gods and goddesses forever. The FLDS prophet is the only person who can arrange and perform multiple marriages.

As prophet, Warren Jeffs expanded his power to include stripping men of their wives and children and tossing them out of the church if they questioned anything he said or did. He permits no appeals and never explains his actions. In the past two years, Jeffs has excommunicated dozens of men, reassigning their wives and children to men he considers worthy.

Most of the time, women go along with his edicts because they believe their salvation is dependent on their marriage to a man in Jeffs' priesthood.

The fanaticism instilled by Warren Jeffs into FLDS members cannot be overstated. Jeffs has so much power over the men that even when he kicks them out of the church, many continue to "tithe" tens of thousands of dollars a year to him in the faint hope of reinstatement.

"That's the only way they can get back in is to give money," says FLDS historian Benjamin Bistline, who quit the church more than a decade ago over a property dispute.

It is not uncommon for excommunicated men who lose their families (known as "eunuchs") to turn over their assets -- which in some cases can be worth millions of dollars -- to Jeffs and slip away silently to begin a long and typically fruitless process of repentance.

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