Persecution Complex

Prophet Warren Jeffs' conviction won't stop underage marriages among his followers, much less end polygamy

The recent conviction of Mormon polygamist leader Warren Steed Jeffs on two felony counts of rape as an accomplice is a huge public relations victory for Utah and Arizona authorities who have been under intense pressure to crack down on so-called "spiritual" marriages of underage girls.

But it is doubtful that the conviction of the leader of the nation's largest polygamist sect — considered by his followers to be God's prophet on Earth — will stop illegal marriages of children or stem polygamy.

That Jeffs is headed for prison will not even mean a new prophet will reign over the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Insiders say Jeffs' second-in-command, Wendell Nielsen, is running day-to-day operations of the church but that Warren, reminiscent of top organized crime figures, will rule the FLDS from behind bars. That includes deciding who will marry whom in the religion.

The prophet (left) and his defense team.
AP/Wide World
The prophet (left) and his defense team.
Victim Elissa Wall at a press conference after the verdict.
AP/Wide World
Victim Elissa Wall at a press conference after the verdict.

More than 50 years of government indifference toward widespread abuses within the FLDS has allowed the sect to grow from fewer than 400 people scratching out a living on the remote Arizona Strip in 1953 to an economic powerhouse with more than 10,000 members spread across the West.

The sheer size and wealth of the rapidly reproducing congregation, which accounts for only a quarter of the estimated number of polygamists in Arizona and Utah, have forced law enforcement to focus on the most notorious crimes while conceding that little will be done to stem a practice that violates the Arizona and Utah constitutions and has been found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, Jeffs' high-profile arrest while on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List and subsequent conviction on felony charges — which could bring him life in prison — have focused the nation's attention on abuses that have flourished for decades within the closed FLDS society.

Authorities hope the conviction will give hope to those trapped inside polygamist groups, that it will encourage more victims of child and spousal abuse to step forward.

Brock Belnap, county attorney of Washington County, Utah, hailed the victim in the Jeffs case, 21-year-old Elissa Wall, as a courageous "pioneer" who challenged FLDS leaders and endured shunning by family and friends to bring Jeffs to justice.

"She stood and took the stand and withstood attacks on her credibility and reputation with honor and with dignity," Belnap said.

Wall was only 14 when she was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin in a fundamentalist ceremony performed by Warren Jeffs in April 2001. Wall left the FLDS in 2004 and filed a lawsuit in December 2005 against Jeffs and the church. Her suit spurred Washington County prosecutors to file criminal charges against Jeffs in April 2006. Jeffs was arrested in August 2006 during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 northeast of Las Vegas and has been held in jail at Washington County's Purgatory Correctional Facility. Jeffs is scheduled to be sentenced November 20 and could then be transferred to Arizona, where he faces criminal charges in Mohave County.

Wall testified that she felt "trapped" and had to go forth with the arranged marriage and submit to unwanted sexual relations with her cousin to stay in the good graces of religious leaders who she believed controlled her spiritual destiny.

"I hope that all FLDS girls and women will understand that no matter what anyone may say, you are created equal," Wall told a horde of reporters after the verdict. "You do not have to surrender your rights or your spiritual sovereignty."

Authorities argue that Jeffs' conviction will make it clear to fundamentalist leaders that they will be dealt with harshly if they use religious indoctrination to convince young girls that their only hope of salvation is to marry into polygamous families.

"Let this verdict be a warning to anyone else who believes that forcing young girls to marry older men is acceptable and without consequence," declared Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff moments after an eight-member jury returned the verdict on September 25.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard concurred, stating that the "verdict sends a message that forcing girls under the legal age of consent to 'marry' older men is not only unacceptable, it is illegal."

Beyond the swaggering press releases and away from the glare of staged news conferences on the plaza outside Utah's Fifth District Court, where Judge James L. Shumate presided over the weeklong show trial, a far greater battle was being fought and quietly won by polygamy advocates.

As Jeffs, 51, is facing five years to life in prison, the attorneys general in Utah and Arizona have announced they will not prosecute consenting adults for engaging in plural marriage.

"We are not going to go out there and persecute people for their beliefs," Goddard declared.

The states' capitulation to polygamy marks a monumental victory for fundamentalist Mormons who have steadfastly held to the practice as their central religious tenet since faithful men were first commanded to marry multiple wives in the 1830s by Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

At first glance, the concession may seem a practical approach for the states at a time when gay marriage and civil unions are increasingly becoming more accepted.

But the problems that occur within closed, polygamous societies go far beyond predatory sexual behavior, as New Times has revealed in articles about the culture dating back to 2003 (see "Polygamy in Arizona").

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kelley moore reid
kelley moore reid

Is this the same John Dougherty that used to swim AAU in Virginia??? I saw a clip from a story about Colorado City, AZ and thought that you looked like the same guy in our carpool... Does the name Melissa Belote mean anything to you?


The more I read this paper the more I realize it is purely a tabloid, used for shock affect to gain readership. Anyone within the Church community understands that these "offshoots" from the LDS Church are not affiliated in any way with the official Mormon Church. To lump this group with the LDS Church is out of an ignorant and blind hatred for Mormons. I joined the LDS Church in 1988, and at times I did not always understand why so many hated the Church, I never held it against anyone for their misguided criticism of my faith. I have never in my life attacked another for their religious beliefs, it serves no purpose. We are all entitled to our own beliefs and faith, unless it causes harm or injury to others. Jessups or whatever his name is not nor has never been a Mormon, and perhaps the writers at your paper should find out who is a member of the LDS Church before printing such deceptions?


YES!!! John Dougherty is BACK!!!

Thank you New Times...

Jay Beswick
Jay Beswick

Thank You John, it wouldn't have come this far without your in depth reporting. You faced the enemy and saw it through. This group had 385 adherents in the 1953 "Short Creek" raid and by 2002, we can debate between 10,000 to 12,000 followers. How involved we each were as activist will be revealed in time. Like many others I had to attend the trial, with 102 of the audio's on Jeffs direct and indirectly were from my library of Jeffs data.

As for the similiarity of the two faiths in the FLDS vs LDS, I have cleared that up on with the Celestial lectures of plural marriage offered in over 50 video/audio clips so far! Warren Jeffs explaining polygamy and doing it to girls underage in these audio's makes his attorneys LIARS, just as Steed had done to mount his leaders defense.

As for the mainstream LDS church, you need the 550 audios I own and 10,000 pages of text to know a truth that you too must lie for, just as Steed did for Warren. The text and doctrine follow the same past, but the FLDS stayed true to the early teachings. Don't believe me, go to YouTube and llok up user name fincenMIB and listen for yourself. Included so far are two calls to LDS PR Director Michael Otterson, so we don't need to pull punches any more. Former Utah Senator Scott Howell insisted I call Otterson on 10-21-02 to explain the relationship of the Colorado City Attorneys in Snow & Nuffer, as "Steven Snow" General Authority of the LDS church, who's firm had represented COLORADO CITY, from 1991 to 2001, Dave Nuffer becoming a Federal Judge by Appointment of former Governor Michael Leavitt. Senator Howell was appauld by the connection and insisted I called the MAINSTREAM church. Also that night former Senator Howell had contacted Janet Napolitano who that night had her Governor's debate occuring in Mesa AZ. All of this is headed in to You Tube where only the truth will reflect what who knew and when. You Tube is a wonderful venue for this.

Before attending the Jeffs trial, I attended the Mountain Meadow Massacre Memorial on 9-11 and while there, met with Shannon Novak, Burr Fancher and Frank Kirkman. In case the names don't ring bells, Shannon was the University of Utah Professor who examined the skelital remains for only 2 days after a LDS contractor had unearthed the mass graves of its victims. Frank & Burr, are with MMMF and I was in dialog with all 3 prior to meeting them in person. The modern day LDS church should just offer the stewardship of this mass grave site to the decendents, but like POLYGAMY, its about to get very UGLY! The issue cross networked with activist involved with Warren Jeffs, when it was learned what role Dixie Leavitt played in getting the remains reburried as fast as he could, cutting short research that clearly led to proof of how women and children were cold bloodedly murdered at that site in 1857.

So if any one wants to play games with he said, she said, not to worry, I intend to get 1,000 video's up in time and the public can judge me, you or this newspaper. Defending any faith blindly, compares both to what Steed did for Warren Jeffs. Without facts I hear this debate over and over and yet even the DA was armed with over 100 audio's, I listened to these, Brock listened, the courtroom heard 2 or 3 and yet those who would slam this paper, haven't heard a single one. So go to You Tube or for that matter, GOOGLE search "Warren Jeffs" under the new catagory of GOOGLE Video's, then come back here and debate what Warren has said and how he references Brigham Young & Joseph Smith. The Cain doctrine on Negro's changed by the LDS in 1976 is explained in detail, its all there. The court played one full tape and parts of others, but I offer the whole speech, CHECK IT OUT!



Poor, poor Cody. So the crap the FLDS belive is offensive to you and you dont want it being linked with the crap you belive. Guess what buddy - all religion is crap, do you realize ther are nearly 4,000 different sects of christianity, all with their own narrow view of what ultimte truth really is. Your belif is no more rational than that employed by the child molesters/rapists exposed here - your just happen to not break any laws.

That being said, if a guy wants to marry 2 chicks or five, or if woman wants to marry 6 men - if they are all consenting adults who gives a F*!# what they do with their lives. Personally I think there should be no marriges at all - nor any of the perks that come with it, or the divoce that so often follows

Flora Jessop
Flora Jessop

Thank you John for another enlightening story about Arizona and Utah Polygamist Criminal Organizations.

After reading the story, then the only response, I feel it is time to comment on the 'Mormon' outrage. I will go point by point and list my perspective, which is not limited to only these observations.1. The Mormon church started all this polygamy abuse.2. The Mormon church still believe that eventually they themselves will live polygamy.3. The Mormon church still adhere to the polygamous doctrines they started.4. The Mormon church has spawned hundreds of these polygamist Criminal Organizations with Mormon Priesthood Leaders, who after studying "the doctrine in depth", realize they must become a 'Prophet' and restore the actual doctrine or be damned.5. The Mormon church continues to have a member of the Twelve Apostles, Jeffery R Holland, hold the position of 'Polygamy Director' whom I have met and spoken with myself.6. The Mormon church is so busy trying to distance themselves from Organized Polygamist groups they turn away those trying to escape the abuses, telling them to return home and be good wives.7. The Mormon church has many good loving members who support stopping the tragedy of incestuous polygamist breeding but who do not understand the true aspect of the Mormon Priesthood Leaders who maintain the same practices and doctrines within the church.8. The Mormon church has targeted good Mormon people who have become outspoken advocates against polygamist abuses going so far as to pull all of their church callings.9. With all of the media done on the polygamist abuses, isn't it interesting that so many Mormons respond with outrage, disgust, horror and accusation, not about the abuses being perpetrated upon the women and children within polygamy, but rather the FACT that these are MORMON POLYGAMIST ORGANIZATIONS!10. As a child I sat at the Sugarloaf cafe in Cedar City, Utah with my uncle, the Mormon Fundamentalist Bishop Fred Jessop, while he met with Orrin Hatch, Dixie Leavitt, Mike Leavitt and many other Mormon Leaders. If there are NO CONNECTIONS why were these meetings held in the back room and kept secret?

There are many Mormons who support us in stopping the abusive practice of polygamy but I must say it does not help the Mormon image much when the outrage focuses on the FACTUAL link of the LDS (Mormon) church and the Mormon Polygamists. If the Mormon church does not sanction the practice of Polygamy, why then has Utah become the state where the Polygamists feel they are safe as long as they stay quiet? Many polygamists from around America are moving to Utah for the protection offered there, not only from the Mormon church but also from the Mormon government.

Wake Up! This is not about your Mormon religion. This is about CHILD ABUSE! Period. Maybe if more Mormons stood up and defended the children rather than their church Organization we could begin to stop the cycle of abuse. Consider what the Catholics have been through. It is only a matter of time before the Mormon church must stop hiding behind their church walls and face the ugly truth hiding within.

Cody Easterbrook
Cody Easterbrook

This careless story and sloppy reporting has failed to make the clear distinction between this obscure and appalling polygamist cult and the respectable worldwide church known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church, often referred to as the �Mormons� has repeatedly asked journalists to make clear the distinctions between the 13-million-member worldwide Church and polygamist groups such as that of Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is NOT now, and NEVER has been a member of the Mormon Church nor does he have any connection or association. Headlines such as this are misleading and negligent. The Associated Press style guide tells reporters that the term Mormon �is not properly applied� to the other churches that resulted from the split after Joseph Smith's death. It should be obvious why the AP has adopted that policy. It is widely understood that the word �Mormon� refers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sends out �Mormon missionaries,� sponsors the �Mormon Tabernacle Choir� and builds �Mormon temples.� Associating the term �Mormon� with polygamists blurs what should be a crystal-clear line of distinction between organizations that are entirely separate.This is comparable to giving credibility and credence to someone claiming to be the Pope by calling them a �Catholic leader� despite having no association with the faith whatsoever. This type of reporting is inaccurate, extremely misleading, and dangerously irresponsible. Please get the facts straight and report more responsibly so I am not left answering for an atrocious cult of which I am not a member. For the record, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued its practice of polygamy in 1890, and for 117 years Mormons have followed a monogamous lifestyle.

Cody Easterbrook

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