Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

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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.

"My brother Lee was just kicked out," says Bistline, referring to F. Lee Bistline, who served on the Colorado City school board for more than 40 years.

"He just stuck his tail between his legs and slunk off like a wounded dog," says Benjamin Bistline. "He left his wives and kids and everything."

With no check on his power, Jeffs appears to be inching closer to reinstituting some of the most radical aspects of early 19th-century Mormon doctrine, including "blood atonement," or ritualistic human sacrifice.

A former FLDS member who left the church in April tells New Times he believes Jeffs is building a blood-atonement room in the Texas temple where sinners' throats would be slit and their bodies burned in a DNA-incinerating crematory. It is believed by strict constructionists of FLDS doctrine that this last-gasp ritual is sometimes necessary to ensure a sinner's eternal salvation.

Robert Richter says he left the church in April while he was working on a "secret project" to build computer controls for an extremely high-temperature thermostat that he now fears could be used to operate such a crematory at the temple to dispose of the remains of blood-atonement victims.

Richter says he was told to design controls to operate a thermostat that could handle temperatures up to 2,700 degrees. At that heat level, DNA is destroyed. Richter says he felt unqualified to handle such a project and wondered why YFZ officials did not hire a licensed specialist to do the work.

Richter says he was deeply troubled when he was told his work on the thermostat controls was to be kept secret. Richter, who was working in Colorado City, says he knew the thermostat was to be used in conjunction with a furnace, but he was not allowed to speak to other FLDS technicians working in Texas about the project.

The secrecy disturbed him to the point that he decided to leave the FLDS. It was a monumental decision, especially since he had a young wife and an infant to support.

Quitting the FLDS meant he must leave his church-controlled city job that paid $31,000 a year -- a relatively high salary in Colorado City.

"When a religion goes wrong, you have to get out," Richter explains.

Soon after leaving the church, Richter says he started reflecting on Jeffs' numerous sermons calling for a return to blood atonement.

"Warren has been teaching for a long time that those who are guilty of adultery must be blood-atoned," he says. "Warren's even made comments that we have got to figure out a way that we can start doing blood atonement so we can take care of these people who have committed adultery so they can be saved."

Richter says he knows of at least three FLDS men seeking on their own to be blood-atoned so they can gain entrance to heaven.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty