The Man Behind the Curtain
Fundamentalist Mormon cult leader Warren Jeffs has convinced thousands of polygamist followers that he receives direct revelations from God, visions that reveal the most intimate details of their personal lives.
But Jeffs' insights may be based far more on modern technology than any supranatural spiritual powers.
Warren Jeffs, the Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, may have been secretly making audio and video recordings of confessions by church members. Warren Jeffs made the recordings in the decade before assuming control of the church following the September 2002 death of his father and former prophet, Rulon Jeffs, according to allegations by a longtime member of the church who was excommunicated last November.
"He was secretly recording personal interviews with his father," says Richard Holm, a Colorado City town councilman and businessman who also provided transportation to Rulon Jeffs for many years.
Holm says Warren Jeffs has accumulated thousands of audio and video tapes that detail church members' transgressions, confessions and goals in life. Holm says he has personally seen some of the recordings.
He also says that Rulon Jeffs was aware that his son was taping interviews that church members believed were private conversations with their religious leader.
"Warren has a file on every man and no doubt many of the women," Holm tells New Times. "He has files that he has been accumulating for many years."
Holm has provided similar information concerning the existence of the recordings to the Utah Attorney General's Office during a series of interviews that have included Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Holm was in the upper ranks of the FLDS and donated millions of dollars to the church, he says. He owns a construction company and the town's only motel.
Utah AG's investigator Ron Barton says he believes that Holm is telling the truth about the recordings. "I think he is sincere," Barton says. Barton, however, has not seen or heard any of the recordings but has heard references from other people to the tapes.
Holm says Jeffs extracts information from the database that includes information on all 1,200 or so men who are members of the FLDS priesthood. Holm says Jeffs uses the information as the basis to excommunicate men from the church and reassign their wives and children to other men.
Holms contends that the database, combined with Jeffs' detailed accounting of how much money men contribute to the FLDS coffers, gives the church leader the ability to seek even more money from those who have confessed to wrongdoings.
"It certainly amounts to extortion and character assassination," Holm says of Warren Jeffs' use of the recordings to manipulate believers into making even more confessions that will only be used against them in the future.
Warren Jeffs could not be reached for comment. The FLDS attorney, Rodney Parker, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Holm says the excommunications have a devastating impact on the men who have devoted their lives to following the teachings of fundamentalist Mormonism, which includes polygamy as an essential element to obtaining eternal salvation.
Holm says his life has been ruined in the 10 weeks since Warren Jeffs stripped him of his priesthood on November 9 with a simple but devastating statement:
"Richard Holm does not hold the priesthood. Therefore, he cannot exalt his ladies and if his ladies choose to stay with him, they will go down with the wicked."
Holm says his two wives, who are sisters, were distraught when they learned from their father, church elder Truman Barlow, that Holm had been excommunicated.
"That just shook Lorena and Alice to the core," Holm says. "They were crying and sobbing. It hit me just as hard."
Holm says at first he thought it was a simple misunderstanding that he could quickly clear up with Warren Jeffs. So he decided to leave his home and prepare the letter of confession, believing that he would soon have his family back.
"There was absolutely no reason, no scriptural reason, no foundation in the scripture or the gospel, that would require the ripping apart and ripping away from my family," Holm says.
But his hope of reunification was soon shattered.
"Moving out was a total mistake," Holm says.
Immediately upon his departure, he says, his wives were subjected to intense indoctrination that emphasized their salvation was at risk. FLDS women believe they can only ascend to heaven by being married to a man who is a member of the priesthood.
For six weeks, Holm was unable to enter his home and communicate with his wives and seven children. He also had no communication with Warren Jeffs, despite Jeffs' promise that Holm could work with the FLDS to gain redemption.
Then came the ultimate blow.
"Warren did the dastardly deed of marrying my wives to my younger brother, Edson Holm," Holm says. "He married them to Ed for all time and eternity."
Holm says the FLDS removed all his personal possessions from the home in which he has invested more than $700,000. His former wives and children have moved into his brother's house.
And his home has been given to another man and his family. Nearly all the property in Colorado City is owned by the FLDS through a trust called the United Effort Plan. The UEP routinely evicts excommunicated members from their property.
Holm says he believes his downfall is based on inappropriate actions he took nearly 30 years ago when he left the church as a young man.
"I lost my interest in religion," he says.
Holm admits that he was unfaithful to a previous wife at the time.
But in early 1976, Holm says, he had a reawakening and was accepted back into the religion.
"I got my life turned around," Holm says. "I have been faithful to my covenants until now."
Holm says he believes his brother was awarded his wives and children because he had recently given three of his own teenage daughters to Jeffs so they could be married to other men.
One of the daughters, Holm says, was 17.
Holm says Warren Jeffs performed the marriage ceremony for the underage girl, but he's not sure to whom she was married. Warren Jeffs is the only person in the FLDS who can conduct marriages, which are typically done in secret ceremonies with no witnesses outside the immediate family.
Holm is now engaged in a custody battle in Mohave County Superior Court with his former spiritual wife, Lorena, for their seven children. He and his second wife, Alice, have no children.
Holm says he still believes that his wives love him and he describes their polygamous marriage "as heaven on Earth." But the women, he says, are following the teachings of the FLDS and don't want to risk their eternal salvation by being married to a man outside the priesthood.
Holm says he expects Warren Jeffs to continue the excommunications, which he calls "executions," for some time. Jeffs' goal, according to Holm, is to find 500 men of "pure blood" along with their wives and children who will follow him to create the New Jerusalem and await the return of the Lord.
With the intense media scrutiny on Jeffs and Colorado City, Holm says he expects that Jeffs will soon flee the area, a situation that authorities also believe is likely. Holm says Jeffs has long talked about moving the FLDS to Jackson County, Missouri, which is where Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith said the new Zion will be built.
Holm, who still holds fast to his fundamentalist Mormon beliefs, says Warren Jeffs is a false prophet and unworthy to lead the FLDS faithful.
"[Jeffs] hasn't brought any blessing or any help to the people in the community," Holm says. "He's been a consumer, user and a taker, not a builder. He's brought nothing to the table. He's got the power to rip people apart. I expect him to ride it for all it's worth and then move on."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.