Ep 81 – CC Polygamy Pt4 FLDS Warren Jeffs
On this episode, we continue our examination of Mormon polygamy by walking through more than a century of plural marriage history affiliated with Mormonism. We begin with the Second Manifesto of 1904 and discuss the rise of the Council of Friends and the resulting Fundamentalist Mormon sects which arose from the Council’s leadership. We finish the last half hour with a quick deconstruction of the modern FLDS and Warren Jeffs.
Utah Becomes a State
Constitution of Utah
Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage
Second Manifesto 11904
Kidnapped from That Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek
John Taylor 1886 Polygamy Revelation
1933 Final Manifesto
Bradley’s Kidnapped from that Land
26 Jul 1953 Short Creek Raid
Timeline of Polygamist Mormon Sects
United Effort Plan
Utah and Arizona withdraw from UEP
Most Fundamentalist Groups
SPLC Classifies FLDS as Hate Group
Warren Jeffs renounces prophetic claims
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
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Today begins part 4 of our walk through the history of Polygamy. I’ll preface this conversation by saying that I had planned to bring a guest on this week to discuss the history of the FLDS, which will be the focus of today’s episode, however, after conducting the interview I feel like it will be better as a standalone episode. So next week we’re going to have Lindsay Park from Sunstone and Year of Polygamy to discuss some of the nuances of Mormon polygamy particularly in modern-day practices. As a preface to that interview, today’s episode will walk us through 100 years of Polygamy history focusing on primarily the FLDS, the largest and most well-known polygamist faction of Mormonism. It is paramount to understand the content of this episode in order to properly understand the context of what Lindsay and I discuss for next week’s episode.
With that out of the way, let’s talk 20th and 21st-century polygamy in Mormonism. We’ll spend most of our time discussing the FLDS, but it’s important to understand they are by far not the only polygamist Mormon sect out there. We’ll be making slight reference to other groups as they crop up, but our focus is on the largest population of fundamentalist Mormons, which is the FLDS.
To approach this subject, let’s pick up where last episode left off with the 1890 manifesto. Once the first manifesto was published, the practice of polygamy was merely driven further underground. Utah had been declared a United States territory when the Mormons began flooding in. It was granted territory status in 1848 once the United States won the Mexican War and annexed thousands of square miles. From that point forward the territory was in relentless pursuit of gaining statehood, but the public practice of polygamy was the primary holdup. Once the 1890 manifesto was publicly declared, the United States government essentially put the territory on a probationary period of 6 years for Utah to get all its ducks in a row and establish the status quo political parties. Prior to this, most Mormons were members of the Utah People’s party, which the government only marginally recognized as a legitimate political party. In 1894 the government passed the Utah Enabling Act, which gave Utah the ability to compose a state constitution and be admitted into the Union as a state equal with all other states.
In 1895 the Utah government officials met in a constitutional convention of sorts and ratified their constitution and finally on 6 Jan 1896 Utah was granted full statehood as the 45th state to gain such status.
If we focus on just the text of the 1890 manifesto though, it said nothing about outlawing polygamy or claiming it wasn’t a tenet of the religion, Wilford Woodruff merely advised against anybody taking or solemnizing plural marriage. This was a wink-nod situation for most people practicing and plural marriages were still actively formed. One thing worth pointing out, just like with the abolition of slavery, many families had built their entire structure and livelihood on polygamist practices. Just because something was outlawed didn’t mean it instantly went away. The constitution explicitly prohibited polygamy with Article III stating specifically:
“First:--Perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed. No inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; but polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.”
Utah had been built upon polygamy, and it was a struggle to get people to stop practicing as such, especially those who were already involved in polygamous relationships. A second manifesto was necessary to solidify the LDS religion’s stance on new plural marriages being solemnized.
From the LDS.org essay titled “The manifesto and the end of plural marriage”
“For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman. The beginning and end of the practice were directed by revelation through God’s prophets. The initial command to practice plural marriage came through Joseph Smith, the founding prophet and President of the Church. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church.
The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.”…
“Church members living in 1890 generally believed that the Manifesto was the “work of the Lord,” in Franklin D. Richards’s words. But the full implications of the Manifesto were not apparent at first; its scope had to be worked out, and authorities differed on how best to proceed. “We have been led to our present position by degrees,” Apostle Heber J. Grant explained. Over time and through effort to receive continuing revelation, Church members saw “by degrees” how to interpret the Manifesto going forward.
At first, many Church leaders believed the Manifesto merely “suspended” plural marriage for an indefinite time. Having lived, taught, and suffered for plural marriage for so long, it was difficult to imagine a world without it. George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, likened the Manifesto to the Lord’s reprieve from the command to build temples in Missouri in the 1830s after the Saints were expelled from the state. In a sermon given immediately after the Manifesto was sustained at general conference, Cannon quoted a passage of scripture in which the Lord excuses those who diligently seek to carry out a commandment from Him, only to be prevented by their enemies: “Behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”
Nevertheless, many practical matters had to be settled. The Manifesto was silent on what existing plural families should do. On their own initiative, some couples separated or divorced as a result of the Manifesto; other husbands stopped cohabiting with all but one of their wives but continued to provide financial and emotional support to all dependents. In closed-door meetings with local leaders, the First Presidency condemned men who left their wives by using the Manifesto as an excuse. “I did not, could not and would not promise that you would desert your wives and children,” President Woodruff told the men. “This you cannot do in honor.”
In 1898 Wilford Woodruff passed away and Lorenzo Snow took the mantle for a brief period before his death in 1901. With these old holdovers from Nauvoo polygamy gone from Mormon leadership, Joseph F. Smith, nephew to the original prophet and son of Hyrum Smith, took the prophet mantle and made some powerful reforms to streamline Mormonism and make it more acceptable by the standards of broader Christianity.
In 1902, a man named Reed Smoot, an apostle to Joseph F. Smith, ran for Utah State Senate. Smoot was a highly contested public figure as a polygamist running for public office. Smoot won his Senatorial seat in 1903 and the federal government proceeded to hold a series of hearings from 1904 to 1907, known as the Reed Smoot hearings, bickering about whether or not a polygamist should be allowed to hold a government office. They failed to reach a 2/3rds majority vote to unseat Smoot and he retained his office as Utah Senator. Political action was necessary to show Utah’s good faith at the beginning of these hearings so the prophet Joseph F. Smith issued the 1904 second manifesto on polygamy in the April general conference, which reads as follows:
“Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into, contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff of September 24, 1890, commonly called the manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff, and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriages violative of the law of the land, I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent, or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church, and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.
Joseph F. Smith,
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
From 1890 to 1904, the church leadership had been tacitly approving of or merely turning a blind eye to new plural marriages. With this second manifesto, plural marriages were officially prohibited and the polygamy witch hunt from within the church was officially kicked off.
As stated in that LDS.org article, ending plural marriage was a process, not an on/off binary commandment. Many of those in plural relationships saw the 1890 and 1904 manifestos as merely a suspension of plural marriage in Utah. On the public face of the LDS church, polygamy was officially unacceptable, but behind the closed doors of the temples, some of the leadership saw it as necessary to continue practicing to fulfill the new and everlasting covenant as commanded by previous prophets.
Now our focus shifts towards Short Creek. Short Creek is home to the twin cities of polygamy, namely Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. These were originally settled by Mormon polygamists back in 1860s and Brigham Young had said during a visit that one day Short Creek “would be the head and not the tail of the Church.”
Finally in 1913, the area was founded as a ranching community, home to dozens of polygamist families. Now we introduce somebody into the fold who will become an early leader of the FLDS, Lorin C. Woolley. Woolley had served as a mail carrier among the Mormon leadership right before the 1890 manifesto was released. Woolley had been interacting with John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff in their hideouts while they were hiding from the government. Lorin Woolley claimed to have an 1886 revelation from John Taylor which assumed the first-person God narrative when John Taylor supposedly asked God about polygamy:
“My son John, you have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant how far it is binding upon my people.
Thus saith the Lord: All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.
Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments, and yet have I borne with them these many years; and this because of their weakness—because of the perilous times, and furthermore, it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters. Nevertheless, I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not, and as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory, they must do the works of Abraham? I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof; even so, Amen”
The details surrounding how this revelation came to be have evolved since Woolley claimed to have the text of the revelation in 1912, giving the story a legendary status of being an 8-hour meeting during which the resurrected Joseph Smith appeared to John Taylor to deliver the revelation. Whether or not John Taylor actually gave this revelation has been called into question as the document only surfaced more than 25 years after his death. Nobody could call it into question as it was reportedly given in a closed-door meeting while Taylor was in hiding from the government. Nothing corroborates this document. Woolley just cropped up in 1912 with a piece of paper sporting John Taylor’s signature and the cornerstone for a new prophetic foundation for a break-off sect was officially laid.
Short Creek soon became a refugee camp for those who were excommunicated from the mainstream LDS church for practicing polygamy.
Over the next 2 decades the area would amass a significant population of polygamists, and the LDS church seemed to try their best to ignore their existence. The geographical location of Short Creek offered some insulation from raids by state officials. It’s right on the border of Utah and Arizona, so when state officials would raid the area, the inhabitants would merely move across the state line out of their jurisdiction.
During this 2-decade period from the early 1910s to the 1930s, a number of significant events occurred for polygamist Mormons. In 1918, President Joseph F. Smith passed away and handed his prophetic mantle down to Heber J. Grant, who went on a public crusade to end polygamy or disconnect fundamentalist sects from the mainstream LDS church. Eventually these disparaged practitioners who were slowly divorcing themselves from the mainstream LDS church formed what was known as the Council of Friends in an effort to consolidate power and leadership over the numerous polygamist sects. Lorin Woolley claimed that John Taylor had originally formed the Council of Friends in 1886 at the same time he delivered the revelation we previously read. The Council of Friends was comprised of George Q. Cannon, Samuel Bateman, Charles Wilcken, John Wooley, and Lorin Woolley. Lorin later claimed in 1932 that the Council of Friends dated back to Joseph Smith who initially founded the Council in 1832. These were all spurious claims. We can’t minimize Woolley’s self-interest in having divine sanction for his actions to continue practicing polygamy.
From Mormonfundamentalism.com about the Council of Friends:
“Throughout the 1920s, Church leaders worked diligently to neutralize the efforts of the budding fundamentalists. President Heber J. Grant issued stern warnings denouncing their teachings and practices in 1925, 1926, and 1931. Finally in June 1933, the First Presidency comprised of Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins and J. Reuben Clark, Jr., issued an “Official Statement,” which was published in The Deseret News, Church Section. Called by many the “Final Manifesto,” it was penned by Second Counselor Clark and warned “that polygamous or plural marriages are not and cannot now be performed” and was written “in order that there may be no excuse for any Church member to be misled by the false representations or the corrupt, adulterous practices of the members of this secret, and (by reputation) oath-bound organization.”
The declaration did more than simply clarify Church doctrine and advise Church members, it also assisted in transforming “a rag-tag collection of polygamist sympathizers... into a cohesive movement.” With Joseph Musser at the typewriter, Woolley,Broadbent, and Barlow fired back by publishing one of the most revolutionary teachings to ever emerge from Mormon fundamentalism.”
We won’t read it here, but you can find a link in the show notes for the 1933 final manifesto, and it is SCATHING. The final manifesto was the final straw for the Council of Friends under Lorin Woolley’s direction who supposedly took the mantle of senior member from his father, John Woolley, who’d died back in 1928. This 1932 council was composed of Lorin Woolley, J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow (very important individual), Joseph Musser, Charles Zitting, LeGrand Woolley, and Louis A. Kelsch.
Lorin Woolley, John Y. Barlow, and Joseph Musser were kind of the heads honchos of the Council of Friends and the spearheaded the public opposition to the LDS church. Joseph Musser was a prolific writer and in refutation of the 1933 final manifesto he wrote a book titled “The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage”, marking a prominent shift in the already strained relationship between the LDS church and the fundamentalists.
From later in the same article on Mormonfundamentalism.com:
“The first hints were provided in a new book entitled The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage authored by Joseph Musser. Receiving the first editions months later in October, he promptly “Mailed a copy to each of General Authorities, and placed some in the Book Stores.” At that time, one devout polygamist, Charles Zitting, “was praying about when the Church shall be set in order and a voice audibly told him ‘That the forces are not strong enough, but when Bro. Joseph’s book comes out the numbers will increase rapidly.’“
Musser spent the next week distributing more copies of The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage wherein he explained that “there is a Priesthood organization greater than that of the Church; and that Priesthood always has, can now and will continue to function aside from and independent of the Church.” Joseph Musser’s book provided the very first introduction to the idea that there is a PRIESTHOOD organization “above the Church, being God’s power on earth.”
The Council of Friends went by a number of names, but has always been viewed by the adherents to these groups to be above any religion in priesthood authority, superseding the authority of the Quorum of the Twelve and LDS church Presidency. Most fundamentalist sects today still adhere to some version of a council of friends with varying numbers from one to as many as fourteen or more. It’s just worth noting that Woolley’s original Council of Friends is where this authority was originally claimed.
One person who is paramount to the foundation of the FLDS is a guy briefly mentioned before, John Yates Barlow. Mormonfundamentalism.com has a solid article on him and provides a nice summary of his early history and attitudes towards polygamy.
“John Y. Barlow was born 4 March 1874, the son of Israel Barlow, an ardent supporter of plural marriage both before and after the 1904 Second Manifesto. John took his first plural wife in 1902, one more in 1918, and another in 1923. He served as a missionary in the Northwestern States Mission where Apostle Melvin J. Ballard presided, but secretly preached plural marriage to members and investigators. In 1935, Ballard recalled: “Seventeen years ago, I discovered [John Y. Barlow] was teaching polygamy out there among my missionaries. I asked him about it and he defended the idea so vigorously that I said to him: ‘If you are such a strong advocate of it, you must be practicing it.’ Barlow said, ‘That’s just what I’ve been doing.’“ Dishonorably released and sent home early from his mission, he was later excommunicated with Elder Ballard serving as a witness against him. Nathaniel Baldwin met John in 1921, recording: “came home from a little ride up the canyon... Young [John Y.] Barlow sat in the back seat of the machine [car] with his two wives. They seemed to be happy and contented. Young Barlow seemed to be also full of faith and hope and seemed to be contented with his condition, being also cut off the Church.”
With any religious movement, infighting is expected and arguably necessary for the growth and expansion of the group. The senior member Lorin C. Woolley passed away in 1934, naming J. Leslie Broadbent his rightful successor, who subsequently passed away in 1935. The ensuing conflict created differing factions of fundamentalist sects.
“At Broadbent’s death, two men made claim to be his rightful successor. Charles “Elden” Kingston, son of Charles W. Kingston, asserted that Leslie had designated him as the “Second Elder.” The Kingstons would eventually establish the Davis County Cooperative Society, remaining entirely separate from all other Mormon fundamentalist groups.
John Y. Barlow, who sat next in line in seniority of the Council of Friends, also asserted his position as the “Senior Member.” Many also believed that Broadbent had designated him as “Second Elder.” Regardless, the majority of polygamists followed Barlow’s leadership, believing him to be the presiding priesthood leader on earth. It was a calling that he readily accepted.”
John Yates Barlow now had his own faction of Mormon fundamentalism which became the ruling body over the polygamists living in Short Creek.
The LDS church decided to capitalize on this momentary fracturing in September of 1935. They went with a nuclear option to either bring the polygamists into line with the LDS leadership or cut them off permanently. They sent Stake President Claude Hirschi to Short Creek with a powerful oath of fealty in hand. From Martha Bradley’s “Kidnapped from That Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists” on page 57:
“Stake President Claude Hirschi presented to the members of the Short Creek Branch a ‘loyalty’ oath designed to test their allegiance to President Heber J. Grant and their conformity with the Church’s anti-polygamy stand. As reproduced in Truth magazine it stated:
‘Short Creek, Arizona, September 7, 1935
To the Stake President and High Councils of Zion Park Stake and to Whom It May Concern:
I, the undersigned member of Short Creek Branch of the Rockville Ward of the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, declare and affirm that I WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION WHATSOEVER SUPPORT THE PRESIDENCY OF THE CHURCH and that I repudiate any intimation that any of the Presidency or Apostles of the Church are living a double life, and that I denounce the practice and advocacy of plural marriage as being out of harmony with the declared principle of the Church at the time.’
Fundamentalists in the group, many of whom had entered into the principle, unanimously refused to sign the document. Then they waited. But not for long; partly because of their connections with the Barlow group, that same day, 7 September 1935, the Zion Park Stake presidency and high council moved to excommunicate twenty-one adult members of the Short Creek Branch without a formal Church court, close the branch altogether, and remove the Mormon Church from Short Creek, Arizona. They dispensed with the traditional methods of Church adjudication which would have allowed the defendants to present evidence and question the witnesses.”
And just like that, John Yates Barlow and the Council of Friends, in response to the LDS church’s nuclear option oath of fealty, excommunicated the LDS church from Short Creek and removed any members there who refused to adhere to the Council of Friends as their sole leadership body. Like some kind of morbid amputation of a diseased limb, this was cutting the final nerve connecting the two churches, creating coevolving sects of Mormonism with wildly different goals in mind. The one, to amass wealth and world-wide membership, the other to amass wives and celestial glory while insulating themselves from the world.
On important issue raised in that 1935 oath of fealty which we haven’t really discussed is the accusations flying around about leadership of the LDS church living double lives. We have to remember that this was in 1935 and plural marriages were solemnized underground in the LDS church until the early 1910s. There were still a few of the LDS elite living in the 1930s who had made the trek across the plains as children and lived their whole lives under the law of celestial plural marriage. There were still a number of practicing LDS who had been sealed to multiple wives prior to the 1904 second manifesto, less than a generation before the uprising of the Fundamentalist faction in Short Creek. There WERE LDS leaders at this time living a double life. Any accusations this Council of Friends was lobbing at HQ in SLC were founded in reality and for legal and PR reasons, the LDS church needed those accusations to not be true. They were still trying to erase their past with polygamy to be in line with the constitution of Utah and the laws of the Federal Government.
The division and strife between the LDS church and the Fundamentalists would become the primary PR nightmare for the LDS church while the Fundamentalists were just trying to practice what Joseph had taught was the new and everlasting covenant to attain celestial glory. As the churches evolved parallel to each other in different ways, the LDS church fell further into line with mainstream Christianity and the FLDS became deeper entrenched in their beliefs. The Utah and Arizona state governments would make the laws known from time to time throughout a series of raids spanning the rest of the 20th century.
The most well-known of these raids on the FLDS is just known ominously as the Short Creek Raid of 1953. This Short Creek Raid is truly a blight on American history. Governor Howard Pyle of Arizona had been dealing with the lawlessness of the FLDS who weren’t paying many of their taxes and decided to take action. There were also abundant rumors child-brides being taken as polygamous wives well before reaching the age of 18, which looks terrible for any governor if this is happening in their state without any action being taken to mitigate these rampant statutory violations.
One major issue to point out is that the FLDS was a group run by a few selected elites in the movement. Those elites owned most of the property, the majority of wives, and were also the most egregious violators of state and federal laws. For this particular Short Creek Raid, the Utah State Government took a back seat and let Arizona take the lead. This single raid represented a confluence of completely different world views coming into conflict with each other.
From the FLDS perspective: We’re just trying to practice our religion in a country which guarantees religious liberty and the free exercise thereof. We don’t recognize the federal government as having any jurisdiction over the kingdom of God in Short Crik. We are living happy lives in line with what God wants and we’re endlessly persecuted by our government.
From the Government’s perspective: We’ve been dealing with this religious cult for decades now and they’ve eluded the constraints of law and paying all their taxes for far too long. These religious zealots are marrying children and sex trafficking them across state lines. Their standard of living is significantly lower than that of the rest of the country and very few people here are educated in any secular schools. Property is divided up among the people as the church sees fit but they’ve given all their property to the church and none of their marriages are legally binding so should a divorce happen; these poor women and children have no legal recourse or right to their own property. We have to do whatever possible to stop this cult from gaining any more followers.
From the FLDS perspective: We have to do whatever necessary to follow the prophet and keep living God’s words and will.
These directly opposed viewpoints came to a head on 26 Jul 1953. The day before, in order to keep the FLDS from being tipped off about the raid and abandoning the settlement, the county deputies cut the single telephone line going into the community. As dawn broke on the 26th, someone had tipped the Mormons off and they had accepted their fate. They gathered in the schoolhouse and began singing hymns while they sent the little children out to play in the yard surrounding the schoolhouse as the sun began to rise on the community.
102 armed and uniformed police officers and members of the Arizona National Guard flooded into the community and made the largest mass arrest in American history. Of the more than 400 inhabitants of the town, only 6 people weren’t taken into custody. 263 children and over 120 adults were rounded up and thrown into buses. Governor Howard Pyle tried to spin this as a battle against insurrection opposed to Government control and more than 100 independent newspaper reporters were present during the raid. The produced multiple effects, mostly negative against the Governor and police officers who gave the children into the hands of already overwhelmed social workers. For the next 2 weeks, newspaper front pages were filled with pictures of crying children being ripped from the hands of screaming mothers with men being led away in handcuffs.
Headlines read like the dawning of a war on American soil. “Police operation at Short Creek like military raid on enemy post,” “State marshals its forces in effort to wipe out plural marriage practices of United Effort cult,” “Short Creek cult SMASHED by Pyle” and they go on and on and on. More than 90 percent of the adults charged prior to the raid were taken into custody and a bitter legal battle ensued at the same time a massive PR nightmare gripped Governor Pyle and the states of Arizona and Utah.
From the Arizona Republic the day after the raid:
“Highly Competent investigators have been unable to find a single instance in the last decade of a girl child’s reaching the age of 15 without having been forced into a shameful mockery of marriage.
The State of Arizona is fulfilling today one of every state’s deepest obligations—to protect and defend the helpless.
The State is moving at once to seek through the courts the custody of these 263 children, all under the age of 18. They are the innocent chattles of a lawless commercial undertaking of wicked design and ruthlessly exercised power. This in turn is the cooperative enterprise of five or six coldly calculating men who direct all of the operations and reap all of the profits, and are the evil heart of the insurrection itself.”
Governor Pyle’s official statement reads as follows:
“Before dawn today the State of Arizona began and now has substantially concluded a momentous police action against insurrection within its own borders.
Arizona has mobilized and used its total police power to protect the lives and future of 263 children. They are the product and the victims of the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine.
More than 100 peace officers moved into Short Creek, in Mohave County, at 4 o’clock this morning. They have arrested almost the entire population of a community dedicated to the production of white slaves who are without hope of escaping this degrading slavery from the moment of their birth.”
I recommend you do a newspaper archive search with keywords Short Creek for 1953 so you can read some of the articles I’ve filled my mind with. It gives one a realistic sense for the public perception and widespread outcry for legally orphaning 263 children through the avenue of what many considered government overreach and discrimination against a specific religion.
The LDS Church back in SLC was one of the very few media outlets which commended the actions of Governor Pyle, even in spite of the significant public outcry against what had happened. The LDS church couldn’t have been more pleased with this raid on their enemies. From their Jul 27 1953 publication we find gems such as these:
“Law-abiding citizens of Utah and Arizona owe a debt of gratitude to Arizona’s Governor Howard Pyle and to his police officers who, Sunday, raided the polygamous settlement at Short Creek and rounded up its leaders for trial. The existence of this community on our border has been an embarrassment to our people and a smudge on the reputations of our two great states. We hope Governor Pyle will make good his pledge to eradicate the illegal practices conducted there “before they become a cancer of a sort that is beyond hope of human repair.”
“Any individuals who may once have been members of the LDS church and who have engaged in the practices which prompted the raid by the Government of the State of Arizona have apostatized or have been excommunicated from the Church. They are in no way connected with the Church and are living in open defiance of its doctrines and the laws of the land. As one of its fundamental tenets, the Chruch teaches that its members believe ‘…in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.’”
“Again, we commend the Governor for his forthright efforts. We have full confidence that the rights of the innocent will be protected, the accused will be given a fair trial, and we hope the unfortunate activities at Short Creek will be cleaned up once and for all.”
So much to parse out of that editorial from the LDS owned Deseret News.
First, the LDS church called the FLDS an embarrassment to Utah and Arizona, I’d be willing to bet the FLDS saw the LDS church in the same light and wished the same fate to befall them, but the LDS wasn’t infracting upon the law as fragrantly as the FLDS so they weren’t really in danger of something like that happening.
Second, the LDS church clearly wanted the FLDS eradicated in line with what Governor Pyle had said about them becoming a cancer beyond hope of repair. To think that the LDS church had no dog in this fight would be hilariously ignorant. If their nearest geographical competitor for prophetic claims was to be taken out by the government, that removes the FLDS from common parlance of religious sectarianism and leaves many people believing in the BoM to be soaked up by the ever-hungry LDS church. The ideological divides between the churches seems to fall away when there are unattended sheep to be absorbed by the shepherd with the already larger flock.
Third, the Deseret News article never said anything about polygamy, they beat around the bush. They said individuals who engaged in practices which prompted the raid, never hitting the nail on the head in saying those people who practice polygamy are in apostasy. “They are in no way connected with the Church and are living in open defiance of its doctrines”. This is the active distancing the LDS church was trying to do, trying not to take any splash damage from this explosion in the media. The FLDS and its adherents had been excommunicated back in 1935, but they failed to mention that the FLDS had also excommunicated the LDS church at the same time. Whoever delivers the wrath of God holds the real authority so I can understand them casting condemnation from their superior legal position. But, that last part, where the church said the FLDS is living in open defiance to church doctrine, that’s simply not true. The LDS church is the one living in defiance to their own doctrine. D&C 132 still sits in part of the Mormon canon and it’s very explicit that polygyny is necessary to get to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. The LDS church ignores this or doesn’t actively practice it so they can remain in peaceful harmony with the government, but you can be certain that half a century before this the LDS church was openly practicing polygamy which is exactly what Joseph commanded them to do. I would further postulate that if polygamy is decriminalized in the near future that the LDS church will be happy to jump right back on that D&C 132 bandwagon. None of the manifestos retracted the doctrine, they just suspend it until U.S. law falls into line with their own doctrine.
A quick thought exercise for you, let’s say polygamy is decriminalized next week. With a magic wave of the legal wand and no lobbying from the church one way or another, let’s just make it legal for this hypothetical, how would that change the church’s missionary efforts in other countries where polygamy is still illegal? Would they encourage people to move to the United States to be able to legally practice the new and everlasting covenant? Would they encourage people to practice it in private in spite of what the government says just as Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff did? Or would they decry polygamy as being counter to God’s will in spite of what their canon says? Maybe this is a conversation we’ll revisit in the future. Feel free to weigh in if you’d like on facebook or twitter, I personally have no idea what’s most plausible.
Finally, fourth to parse out of the Deseret News article, the LDS church hoped that Governor Pyle would clean up the FLDS once and for all. What does that look like? What was the LDS leadership hoping for? Did they want the FLDS to be legally disbanded as a church? Did they want all the leadership locked up for life? Once again this is an example of the LDS church lobbing media bombs at a smaller cousin religion from their higher status as publicly acceptable.
If we can learn anything from the history of the LDS church in Utah, it’s that it takes a REALLY heavy dose of persecution all at one time to actually snuff out a religion. If even one little sprout remains alive, the religion will continue to flourish and the persecution will only fertilize the religious soil and galvanize the followers to more viciously oppose whatever force is persecuting them. The public was so appalled by the governor’s iron-fisted approach to dealing with the FLDS and all the pictures of children being ripped from the arms of their parents who were being placed in handcuffs came back to haunt him during his 1954 reelection campaign and he lost his seat to Democratic underdog Ernest McFarland. Pyle blamed the FLDS raid the previous year for his loss.
Persecution or prosecution, depending on which side of the belief spectrum you find yourself on, against the FLDS and its leadership continued. By 1954 there were three main factions of polygamist sects. Overlooking a significant amount of confusion about the proper leader and who was legitimately ordained to be the leader, Elden Kingston had broken off from the leadership vacuum left behind by J. Leslie Broadbent’s death and formed the Kingston group known as the Latter Day Church of Christ. John Yates Barlow had called Leroy Johnson and Rulon Jeffs to be members of his Council of Friends and Barlow was the primary leader until his death in 1949. The 1953 raid on Short Creek upset a lot of people and incarcerated most of the leadership of the FLDS apart from the Kingston group which didn’t suffer anything during the raid as they were located further north in Utah. Rulon Allred had been affiliated with the writer Joseph Musser since 1935. Joseph Musser was the sacred glue which held the fundamentalist leadership together. He passed away in 1954, a year after the infamous Short Creek raid and the ensuing chaos fractured the Fundamentalist groups again. Rulon Allred claimed to be the rightful successor and formed the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) with their own priesthood Council of Friends, and Leroy S. Johnson took leadership of the original FLDS faction formed in Short Creek. John Barlow had also called Rulon Jeffs into his FLDS Council of Friends priesthood leadership group.
Leroy Johnson took leadership of the FLDS during the confusion following Musser’s death in 1954 and led the FLDS until his death in 1986. Before we get into the more modern history of the FLDS, we need to briefly introduce one of the primary confounding factors to all of these groups and that was land and property ownership. These Fundamentalist groups practiced the fundamental tenet of Mormonism known as the new and everlasting covenant, a euphemism for polygamy. They also attempted in some instances to practice the United Order, a doctrine introduced by Joseph Smith in 1834 of communalistic ownership of property. Around 1925, 2 decades before Joseph Musser’s death and most of the prominent splits happened, the polygamist sects created the United Effort Plan.
The United Effort Plan (UEP), was the dedicated trust for members’ property to be deeded over to which was controlled by the Council of Friends. Basically, if you were a Mormon fundamentalist and you owned property, the Council of Friends required that you give that property to the church and they divvied it out as they saw fit. Some version of the UEP survives in most of the fundamentalist sects as it was taught as a fundamental tenet by Joseph Smith.
These common property trusts do nothing but cause confusion and concentrate the entire community’s wealth into the hands of the elites of the given group. Any time the state has tried to step in to curtail the control or enforce laws on the leadership of these groups, these trusts have usually been a central issue to draw the attention of the government and cause chaos and confusion. When it comes to paying taxes, the trusts only create more problems because the average follower doesn’t have much if any property legally in their name, but they live in housing and drive vehicles which require tax to be collected on, which they usually pay into the trust with the assumption that the trust is paying those taxes on the property they’re using. Often the second step doesn’t happen so the people living in the houses are foreclosed on because the leadership isn’t paying the taxes, but it’s the average follower who suffers the wrath of the government for not paying taxes.
These communalist trusts are something to keep in mind throughout the entirety of understanding the legal issues with the fundamentalist groups, most of them share it in common and it only creates headaches for everybody.
To zoom back into our timeline, upon Leroy Johnson’s death in 1986, Rulon Jeffs became the leader of the FLDS and instated Winston Blackmore as the sole trustee over the polygamist sects in British Colombia as long as he keeps in line with the FLDS and looks to the Jeffs family as the sole religious leaders.
One quick addition to throw in here before getting to Warren Jeffs; the 1953 raid was the most prominent and publicly circulated PR nightmare of all the raids on the fundamentalist groups. It wasn’t the only raid though. As early as the 1940s the government had been mounting small raids on various groups including those in Short Creek, but 1953 was the largest and it cut the deepest scars into the collective psyche of the groups. There were subsequent smaller raids in the 80s which were largely unsuccessful in curtailing abuse, but did reopen the scars from the big 1953 raid.
The FLDS has been our primary focus, and we’ve only mentioned other groups in the periphery so far, but that’s what happens when you try to cover 100 years of history in just an hour. Here’s a brief list of other polygamist and fundamentalist Mormon groups which had brief lives or even exist to this day.
One of the largest is the Kingston group founded by Charles and Eldon Kingston. Today it’s led by Elden Kingston’s son, Paul Elden Kingston who’s been the leader since 1987.
There’s the Apostolic United Brethren, known as the Allred Group, founded when Rulon Allred was refused admission into the council of friends in the late 1940s. Today it’s led by Lynn A. Thompson who took the mantle of leadership in 2014 from J. LaMoine Jensen, who’d been leading it since 2005. He was the first non-Allred leader of the group who took the mantle from Rulon’s son, Owen, who’d been leader of the AUP since 1977.
There’s also the Centennial Park group founded by J. Marion Hammon in 1983 after Leroy Johnson dismissed them from the FLDS. They’re also known as the Second Ward and they consider the FLDS in Short Creek to be the First Ward.
There’s also one major tangent we haven’t even brought up yet, and that’s the LeBaron group founded by Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr., as a separate stake from Joseph Musser’s Council of Friends group in 1936. LeBaron’s sons were excommunicated for teaching plural marriage in 1944, after which they closely affiliated with Rulon Allred’s Apostolic United Brethren. In 1955, Joel LeBaron organized the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times in Salt Lake City.
There’s also the Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly, another Utah based fundamentalist group. It was founded in 1977 by a man named Alex Joseph, but after his death in 1998 the group seems to have dissolved.
Another group known as the Church of the Firstborn and the General Assembly of Heaven is a fairly recent group founded as a breakoff of the LDS church in Magna, Utah in 2001, led by a man named Terrill R. Dalton who runs the sect to this day.
There are dozens of others and I’ve probably missed a number of rather prominent sects. The main takeaway I offer with this list is that Mormon fundamentalism is like Green Jello. You can try to squash it, change its form, hit it with a hammer, no matter what you try to do, Mormon fundamentalism and polygamy only spreads and separates into smaller factions, making them increasingly harder to track and police for any abuses, sexual, child labor, tax related, or otherwise.
Let’s go ahead and broach one of the central focuses for today’s episode to finish out. Warren Jeffs is a challenging icon of Mormon fundamentalism to wrap one’s mind around. Today’s examination of Warren Jeffs only hits on a few high points to understand some of the most prominent features of his history. I’ve gained some personal opinions of Jeffs which I’ll briefly share once we know a bit more about the man, but I would encourage you all to look him up with resources provided in the show notes to gain your own nuanced understanding of him. Hopefully the information I present will offer you a basis for why I have my opinions about him.
Let’s start at the beginning. Warren Steed Jeffs was born 4 Dec 1955 to Rulon Jeffs and Marilyn Steed. He was called as a counselor to his father, Rulon, upon reaching marriageable and leadership age. In 2002, Rulon Jeffs, at the age of 92, died and Warren became the new leader. However conservative Rulon was in keeping the FLDS groups isolated from the outside gentile world, Warren cranked everything up another few notches. A few powerful reforms came into place when Warren took the mantle. He called for all members to wear clothes only made by themselves, no outside books, no gentile music, no internet, and he effectively cut off all communication with the outside world. He also commanded all the members to pull their children from the public education system in lieu of homeschooling, an order to which they promptly complied.
Warren also excommunicated Winston Blackmore as head trustee of the British Columbia sect of FLDS and absorbed all his wives and children into his harem and bringing the Canadian polygamists deeper under his control.
The rise of Warren Jeffs coincided with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s crackdown on polygamy. In October 2003 he passed polygamy reform through Utah courts which further criminalized polygamy with steeper sentences and he announced a sweeping investigation of the Hilldale police force, recommending decertification of any police officers with more than one wife.
2003 was a hard year for Warren Jeffs, but it was nothing compared to 2004. In mid-2004, a nephew of Jeffs, Brent Jeffs, filed a lawsuit against Jeffs alleging sexual abuse as a child perpetrated by Warren.
Also in 2004, Jeffs cleansed the leadership and made himself the sole sealing authority in the group so all marriages would require approval of Jeffs and nobody else. He excommunicated 21 men from Short Creek, including the mayor, and reassigned their wives and children, taking many of them for himself. He also absorbed all their personal property into the UEP and required them to be physically removed from the community.
By the end of 2004, Jeffs was beginning to hear rumors of an impending arrest and began spending much of his time in hiding.
2005 was a much harder year for Jeffs. There’s truly no way I can convey to you just how large of a criminal empire Jeffs was amidst constructing at this time. In June 2005, Jeffs was charged with sexual assault on a minor with an added conspiracy to commit sexual misconduct for arranging underage marriages. He was formally indicted on sexual assault charges in July of 2005 while on the lam. Utah’s Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, ordered the freezing of the UEP’s assets which amounted to more than $100 million. At this time, Jeffs and the FLDS elite were dealing mainly in cash, often carrying in excess of $100k on their person. Warren’s brother, Seth, was arrested under suspicion of harboring his brother as a fugitive of the law during a routine traffic stop. He was found with nearly $142k in cash and about $7k worth of prepaid debit cards. The state of Arizona placed a $10k bounty on his head. The state of Utah also charged him with fleeing prosecution for evading court indictments and staying in hiding.
In early April 2006, the state of Utah issued a warrant for Jeffs arrest on felony charges of accomplice statutory rape of a teenage girl and the following month the FBI placed Jeffs on their top ten most wanted fugitives list and raised the bounty to $100k. It was expected that he was travelling at any given time with faithful armed guards to ensure safe travels in hiding.
In June of 2006 Jeffs returned to Colorado City Arizona to perform marriage ceremonies as he was the only man with sealing authority. It’s understood at this time Jeffs had taken more than 70 wives. An anonymous website posted recent pictures of him celebrating with new child brides as young as 12 in Short Creek. Authorities knew he was in only a few possible areas and were on heightened alert.
Finally, on 28 August 2006, in true crime lord fashion, Jeffs was pulled over in his iconic brand new red Cadillac Escalade for not displaying his temporary plates. You can find an article with pictures in the show notes of the arrest. He was found with one of his wives and his brother, and had in the car 4 laptops, 16 burner cell phones, multiple disguises, and more than $55k in cash.
Following his arrest, Jeffs faced 2 counts of felony accomplice to rape charges in Utah. After conviction of those charges, Arizona was next to charge him on two different accomplice to rape accounts, and 8 other counts including sexual assault on a minor and incest.
His Utah conviction was reversed and he was transported to Arizona for trial. The Arizona state prosecutors claimed it would be impractical and unnecessary to try Jeffs in Arizona as the witnesses no longer wanted to testify against him and he’d spent 2 years in prison already.
Finally on August 9, 2011, Jeffs was convicted on two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life plus 20 and a $10k fine by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He becomes eligible for parole in 2038 at the age of 83.
Viewing Warren Jeffs’ colorful career as prophet the way we did is like staring at a vast mountain range from our historical peak and only paying attention to the few peaks that rise above the misty fjord while ignoring all the smaller peaks and valleys that add depth and character to his life. We could spend hours of this podcast talking about just Warren Jeffs, and our historical timeline may get there one day, but don’t hold your breath. Let me offer a few closing points of Jeffs’ doctrine and teachings left behind as his true legacy before adding my own thoughts.
Jeffs had and still has complete dictatorial control over his adherents. He controls what they wear, who they associate with, who they’re allowed to marry, and all information going in and out of the FLDS communes. He forces men and women to dress simply in clothes they make for themselves which look exactly like you’d expect. No piercings, tattoos, or distinguishing characteristics are allowed.
He requires all members to be home-schooled and the children are dramatically lacking in fundamental learning compared to their secular counterparts. All property, even to this day, is consecrated to the church’s United Effort Plan which all funnels up to the elite and eventually into Jeffs own pockets. The UEP has since been taken over by a non-FLDS trustee, who deals with the tangled mess Jeffs spun for his adherents, which only further fuels the persecution narrative.
Jeffs also encourages the FLDS to take advantage of government welfare programs like the general welfare fund, food stamps, and the WIC program. This takes money from the government and further funnels it straight to Jeffs and his wealthy elite while the majority of FLDS families consistently struggle to put food on their tables.
Now we get to some of the more salacious aspects of his legacy. With a roughly 50/50 split in population, there’s always a dramatic shortage of women to give to the elites, creating colonies of what are known as Lost Boys, who are faithful FLDS young men, excommunicated for simple lack of female resources.
Jeffs also taught of blood atonement. If any gentile or apostate commits certain sins, they can only pay for it through the shedding of blood. Simply apostatizing from the FLDS can incur the wrath of blood atonement.
The UEP also owns a few manufacturing plants in or near Short Creek. Much of the work is done by child labor and the people are either paid such a pathetic little pittance of a wage so as to be considered offensive by any objective observer, or they’re simply not paid at all, making it very challenging to distinguish from child slave labor.
Before Jeffs was arrested, in 2005 the Southern Poverty Law Center added the FLDS to its list of hate groups and Jeffs is a notoriously bigoted man. Some quotes attributed to him the SPLC used to put the FLDS on their list:
“The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth."
"[Cain was] cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people. He has great power, can appear and disappear. He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils."
"If you marry a person who has connections with a Negro, you would become cursed."
Homosexuality: "The people grew so evil, the men started to marry the men and the women married the women. This is the worst evil act you can do, next to murder. It is like murder. Whenever people commit that sin, then the Lord destroys them."
Role of women: "I have been instructed that any young man who will not leave our girls alone is to be sent away and not allowed to be among us, even before they destroy the girl.”
Given everything we’ve discussed today, I want to share a few parting thoughts. Warren Jeffs is given the label of that one crazy fundamentalist polygamist FLDS guy who’s serving life in prison. He’s a religious zealot who uses his religion to practice polygamy.
One striking thing about learning so much of polygamy history for the past little while is a recurring thought I can’t seem to shake. Keeping polygamy outlawed as it currently stands is simply impractical and causes too much damage. We shouldn’t condemn or convict Jeffs based on polygamy, he lied, stole millions of dollars from over 10,000 people, committed widespread fraud in multiple states, raped, tortured men and women, boys and girls, he brainwashed people, and did unthinkable things we’ll never have provable documentation of. He did plenty of terrible things while prophet of the FLDS and we can condemn him for everything else even without factoring polygamy into the equation.
There were 2 subsequent raids on the FLDS Short Creek area, one in 2008, the other in 2010. The 2008 raid, reminiscent of the 1953 raid, 439 children were taken into the custody of Texas Child Protective services. The 2010 raid turned up in very few arrests and no prosecutions. But let’s hone in on Jeffs alone and ignore his equally dastardly elites.
The truth of the matter is, Utah and Arizona both had a very hard time convicting him and both states ended up throwing out the cases, it was Texas which passed down the 2 rape charge judgement landing him life in prison. Why?! This man has more than 70 documentable wives and there’s absolutely no way of knowing that’s accurate, and you mean to tell me that every single other one of those marriages are with informed consenting adults?! 2 RAPE CHARGES when he’d been raping children and teenagers for half a decade while at the same time stealing their property and brainwashing them?! The state prosecutors botched the Jeffs conviction! The prosecuting attorneys, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and everybody involved in the case handled Jeffs with the kid gloves and now he’s spending his time locked in a cage away from society where he belongs, but he still provides divine directives to his followers from prison! Yeah, the FLDS isn’t done! They still have property all over. The residents of Short Creek expect him to be miraculously released from prison and Jesus to return all in one fell swoop. The most faithful have moved to a compound in South Dakota where they’re even more isolated from the outside world than they were in Short Creek and don’t allow any outsiders in. The FLDS Hydra has only grown more heads with the removal of Jeffs and the persecution narrative only further galvanizes and entrenches the average believer which feeds into the perpetual isolation.
In my opinion, Warren Jeffs is a deplorable human being with no regard for how his actions damage the lives of his thousands of followers. He is utterly reprehensible. In a world with increasingly fewer heroes, he’s a black-blooded villain responsible for ruining the lives and stealing the property of every FLDS follower. Why do they follow him?! Because he’s. THEIR. PROPHET! Why did the government go so easy on an obvious crime lord? Same answer, because he’s. a. PROPHET.
Warren Jeffs is a man claiming to speak to and for God through divine revelation, living communalism, fervently believing in the religious teachings of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and D&C, wrote his own religious books his followers eagerly devour when they can barely afford to feed their families. He’s been chased from town to town while hiding from the law for committing atrocities and has spun it all into the religious persecution narrative. He’s built a temple to perform sealing practices in Texas. He claims to be the one person on earth who is truly led by God while all other religions are false and led by corruption. The truth of the matter is, Warren Jeffs forces Mormonism to stare itself right in the mirror. I dare you to find a better analogue to Joseph Smith.
Personally, I condemn Jeffs for everything he did, especially for raping children. But the facts are that he got a Mormon religious exemption in the courts. You put his rap sheet on a man named Jose Alvarez, Tony Dellamony, or Muhammed Khaibir and you have a completely different conviction. But because Jeffs is Mormon and committed his atrocities in an area where the government and prosecution are largely Mormon, they can only stick him with 2 accomplice to rape charges and a fine for $10,000? I’m sorry, what?! WHAT ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE?!
The hardest part about all of this is that he’s the public face of polygamy, but Jeffs does NOT define polygamy, he is a malicious, child-raping predator. It’s pretty simple to condemn Jeffs and not condemn polygamy at the same time. Jeffs is defined by his polygamy, or at least he’s labeled as barely more than such, but what about all the truly heinous and misanthropic deeds he actually committed deserving of truly terrible labels? How about fraud? Con-man? Sexual assaulter? Thief? Predator? Warren Jeffs is a degraded, deceitful, pathetic parasite of a human being who relies on fear and intimidation or untestable claims of divinity to achieve his ends. He’s not creative. He’s never done anything an objective observer would consider a commendable act of altruism. He’s done nothing but lie cheat steal and rape, but at least he was convicted for 2 rape charges and he has to pay $10,000 for everything he did. HOW IS THAT FAIR?!
Only religion would allow him the loophole he squeaked through while the states largely ignored the system which empowered him to do what he did. So the 2008 raid rescued over 400 children from the cult and we cut one head off the FLDS leadership, big win, right? What about the other 6,000 people who live under his foot and still look to his prison cell to get their divine directives from on high? I don’t fault any single person for allowing a man like Warren Jeffs to rise, I fault the ideology and dogma which fostered the reality that made his rise and crime spree possible, and it’s the same ideology and dogma which protected him from a harsher sentence once he was in cuffs; RELIGION!
This just broke last night on KUTV.com
“Six Mormon families suing LDS church over alleged cover up of child sexual abuse”
“The [six] families allege LDS leaders knew one of their members was abusing children and actively covered up the abuse that continued for years. The case is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Helen is one of the plaintiffs and spoke to KUTV’s sister station in Washington D.C.—asking that only her first name be used—and said she reported the abuse of her 4 and 6-year-old children to her bishop, the leader of her Martinsburg, West Virginia congregation, and the top women’s leader called the relief society president, who was also the abuser’s mother. She said they didn’t believer her and they didn’t do anything.”
The brief states as follows:
“The [LDS church]…knew that it had a sex offender in its midst as early as December 2004-January 2005, when Michael Jensen was charged in Provo, Utah, with felony sexual abuse of two girls and pled guilty to two sex offenses in the presence of his parents (who became Church leaders) and a Church bishop in Provo.”
The article continues:
“It says that instead of warning others about Jensen, even as his predations began to mount, local church leaders “covered up, minimized and denied” his abuse and “Dangerous proclivities; sponsored false explanations when evidence of abuse surfaced; touted him as a trustworthy and exceptional member of the Church community.”
These stories are a dime a dozen! Religion is the last bastion protecting bigotry and child molesters and the most egregious examples become a Warren Jeffs who never properly pays society back for all the damage he’s inflicted. At some point we have to ask ourselves, if the best religion has to offer us is a sense of community we can get through other means, but everything we’ve discussed today is some of the worst religion can create, is the tradeoff worth it?
We shouldn’t be so naïve as to paint all of polygamy with the same brush. This is patriarchal, religious polygamy. As soon as you taint real polygamy with religion it becomes a system designed to oppress women and trade them as property, and the wealthiest get the most property. Some of my best friends are polyamorous and they lead incredibly happy and healthy lives and they’re very well educated and really good parents because their relationships fill the three criteria of informed consenting adults. None of those boxes are checked when it comes to somebody like Warren Jeffs.
The religious community may not want to see an example like Jeffs and consider themselves on the same spectrum as he, but all of them are. And the only way to show people just how twisted and disgusting some religion can be is by pointing out the similar faults in all religion. Shine the spotlight on religions faults. Don’t criminalize polygamy because happy people engage in secular poly relationships every day and keeping it criminalized only fuels the persecution complex and forces religious cults into compounds so they can effectively separate their sheep from the rest of enlightened society. Shame on the government for letting Jeffs and his elite get off with so much. Shame on religion for creating a world where the things Jeffs did are somehow excusable. Shame on humanity for not taking a tougher stand against a truly evil human being.
To think that Jeffs somehow didn’t know what he was doing or to claim he sincerely believes himself to be a prophet of God carves out some kind of exception for psychopathic and sociopathic behavior. If you have any reservations about his sincerely held religious beliefs, I’ll leave you with some audio posted by my friend, Jonathan Streeter, Thinker of Thoughts on his youtube channel of a video released by the Washington Utah County Attorney’s office of an interaction between Warren and his brother, Nephi in 2007.
The next few episodes will be interviews I’ve amassed during my time researching the subject of Mormon polygamy. We’ll jump back into the historical timeline in the new year.
Thanks and closeout.
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