Ep 84 – CC Polygamy Pt7 Roy Jeffs Pt2 Thomas Monson Death
On this episode, we get into part 2 of the interview with Warren Jeffs’s son, Roy, and hear about his transition out of the FLDS and how he’s doing today a few years after leaving. After that I recount a bit of my journey to Short Creek over the holiday season and discuss the death of the Mormon Prophet, Thomas S. Monson. Maybe we can draw some conclusions contrasting the two versions of Mormon Prophets.
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Let’s jump right in to part 2 of the Roy Jeffs interview.
That concludes our interview with Roy Jeffs. I want to thank him again for coming on to the show and sharing his unique experience with all of us and speaking so candidly about his personal history.
I want to take a few minutes to discuss some thoughts that have cropped up in the last 24 hours. I had this episode planned and scripted out, but lo and behold, my social media blew up yesterday about Thomas S. Monson passing away and now I’m left with a decision of whether to date this episode by talking about a news headline and scrap the entire script I had planned, or to go with the original plan and essentially ignore this prominent story making waves all over my social media and news aggregators. I’ve decided to go with the former and use it as a jump off point to discuss Mormon prophets.
I don’t know what I can say about Monson that hasn’t already been said by numerous news outlets and op-ed pieces written already. I don’t harbor any condemnations of Monson that I don’t harbor against the church at large and I won’t be dancing on his grave the way I did when Boyd K. Packer passed away when this podcast was in it’s infancy.
Thomas Monson was a product of his system. His first job after getting his degree in business management was with the Deseret News, the church’s primary propaganda arm masquerading as a news agency. He was cultivated and pigeonholed to be in church leadership from a young age and he’s been running in blessed circles his entire life. He’s never suffered any significant financial hardships, never been in danger of not being able to put food on the table, never had to worry about a medical bill going unpaid, and always had friends in high places to ensure his success. Thomas Monson led a charmed Mormon life.
Let’s take a step back, Monson was born in August 1927. Right there is something worth taking note of. His parents were born at the turn of the 20th century. His earliest childhood was spent during the great depression and he was coming of age at the tail end of the greatest generation into the silent generation, or the lucky few. He was barely old enough to serve in World War II, but only had a brief stint with the Naval reserve and remained stateside for his entire tour from 45-46. He got his bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1948 and later gained his master of Business Administration from BYU in 1974. These are all markers of a perfect candidate to become an apostle especially because his first job was in printing at the age of 12 which he continued after his education by becoming an advertising executive and later general manager of the Deseret News Press in the 1960s. From all I can tell, Monson has never taken a paycheck from a company which wasn’t affiliated with the church, every single dollar he’s made in his life has been somehow connected with the church with the tiny exception of his naval reserve service for barely over a year. He won Slate.com’s most powerful man over 80 in 2009 and 2010 and built the City Creek Center multi-billion dollar shopping mall which has been a cash-cow for the church since he cut the ribbon in 2012 with those famous words: “Let’s go shopping!”
You can watch a movie made about him from a few years back which tells a number of faith promoting stories, just search for Thomas S. Monson on Youtube and it tells of his early church service from being a bishop of a widow’s ward in the 50s and becoming a Mission President in Canada into the early 60s. He was finally inducted into the quorum of the Twelve in 1963 at the age of 36, and you can hear his voice in the intro to this show saying “I pledge my life, all that I may have; I will strive to the utmost of my ability, to be what you would want me to be;” given during his induction speech.
What does his legacy leave us? He was an apostle during the uprising of new Mormon history which was sort of kicked off with Fawn Brodie in the mid-1940s but really came to fruition in the 70s and 80s. He was an apostle when the church lifted the priesthood ban in the late 70s under prophet Spencer W. Kimball. He’s been a counselor in the first presidency since 1985 under Ezra Taft Benson, Howard Hunter and Gordon B. Hinckley and finally in 2008 he took the mantle as prophet seer and revelator of the LDS church and president of the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the office he served in until January of 2018. For the past year or so, Monson has been rather ill with some form of dementia. People in and out of the church have known for a long time now that this day was coming and now that we’re here a very smooth transition will take place to put Russell M. Nelson in the office of Prophet and President at the age of 93.
There are many ways to approach Monson’s legacy. In some ways, the church is more progressive now than it has ever been before which all happened with Monson as apostle or prophet. The church is significantly more transparent with its history than it was even in 2007 under Gordon B. Hinckley. Monson oversaw the publishing of the church essays which have shed much needed light on the church’s official stance with complicated issues lurking in its history. The Joseph Smith Papers project has made more church history records publicly available on the internet than ever before and historians now have greater access to documents in the church history library than they have in the past. I can heap accolades onto Monson and the church about their history in the past half-decade under Monson’s presidency for hours when we compare it to how they’ve approached Mormon history before his leadership. But that’s enough condoning, because we can’t lose sight of the church’s actions which deserve condemnation.
During this recent renaissance in church history, the Mormon church has also been more politically active than it ever has in its history prior to the 2000s. Prop 8 happened at the very beginning of Monson’s administration, and every amicus brief, every lobbying effort, every 5-star dinner held between a public official and a member of the Q15; every single political move the church has made in the past decade has all been under Monson’s watch and leadership. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to exert their political will in concert with every other conservative religious organization out there, in spite of what the progressive populace has seen as morally good. They’ve thrown their horse into the race with the Obergefell decision, with the transgender bathroom bills in southern states, with the Gay wedding cake fiasco out of Colorado and those are just the issues the public is aware of, there’s no way to understand where the church has thrown its lobbying and political efforts in every case or law in which they’ve had some vested interest.
The church experienced a leak in November of 2015 which made clear their stance on gay couples who were members of the church. They subsequently published a statement to be read in various congregations which said that children of gay couples couldn’t be members of the church until they were adults. The Evergreen organization operated under Monson’s leadership as apostle and prophet which used gay conversion therapy methods including shock-therapy, pummeling an effigy of one’s mother, undressing in front of other men, and re-enacting childhood trauma to try and turn people not gay. This hateful and bigoted anti-science organization merged with another larger gay-conversion therapy center in 2014 named North Star which it still operates under to this day holding quarterly firesides in Utah. The teen suicide rate in Utah has increased by 141% in the past 6 years and it was already twice the national average to begin with. Gay teen homeless rates in Utah are nearly double the national average.
Under Monson’s leadership, Bloomberg published their landmark 2013 article, How the Mormons make their money, which had a team of economists estimate the LDS church’s wealth. They estimated a hefty sum of $7bn in non-taxable tithing income every year, listed over 100 for-profit insurance, ranching, and media companies under the church’s control and made the summary estimation of the church’s total wealth to be somewhere between $40-50bn. An international company with untold political power and multiple propaganda arms, boasting current membership numbers of 16 million people, all completely free of government oversight because of their status as a religious organization, all controlled by Thomas Spencer Monson and 14 other obscenely wealthy white male Americans.
The New York Times published a great article about the life and legacy of Monson and included in it is a picture of Thomas Monson and ex-president George W. Bush shaking hands in a very familiar way for those of you who’ve gone through the temple ceremonies. This happened right after Monson took the presidency.
Now we fast-forward from what’s left behind by Monson and focus on what has been happening the last few months and what will happen in the months to come as polygamist Russel M. Nelson takes the office of president.
Recently President Donald Trump made a visit to Utah, during which time he was surrounded by a number of the Q15. He also met with Senator Orrin Hatch and removed Obama era restrictions on two national monuments in Utah. Nobody really knows what else was discussed. Last week, Orrin Hatch announced he will not be running for his senatorial seat again this year, marking the end of his more than 40 years in Utah politics. He’s known as one of the primary authors of the 2018 tax bill which was just signed into law by President Trump, and Hatch said he’s happy to retire at the height of his career.
President Trump wished Orrin Hatch would run for his 8th term as senator saying: “You are a true fighter, Orrin. And I have to say, I've gotten to know him very well. I've gotten to know a lot of people very well. You meet fighters and you meet people that you thought were fighters but they're not so good at fighting. He's a fighter. We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come."
People have known for a long time that Monson wasn’t long for this world and Orrin Hatch’s retirement comes at a very convenient time for a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve. I sincerely don’t think the church will be so heavy handed as to elect Hatch into the Quorum, especially because he’ll be gone within another decade or two, but a son or nephew who is in his 30s or 40s like Monson was in 1963 when he became an apostle who would one day lead the church as prophet, that doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me.
Let’s put a pin in that for a minute.
I want to speak briefly about Warren Jeffs to add to what was said back in Part 4 of his time running the FLDS in Short Creek. For those of you who have been keeping up with the show, you know I travelled to Short Creek over the holiday season to spend a day and a half in the area and meet with some of the residents of the area. I’ll have a lot more reporting to do about my experience down there which will be coming in the next few weeks as standalone segments while we jump back into our historical timeline in 1841. But let me just share a little bit of information I gleaned from the visit to the twin cities of Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ.
One line which stuck with me that Terrill Musser said was that Warren Jeffs basically worshipped Hitler. The level of control Jeffs exerted on the FLDS in the twin cities, in Texas, Colorado, and South Dakota is highly reminiscent of the second or third Reich when it came to the methods Jeffs employed to control his people. They consecrated everything to the church’s UEP, including their homes, furniture, cars, and anything they got their hands on. During this time, Jeffs absorbed a number of successful companies into the UEP and sucked them dry of all capital and drove most of them into the ground to live high on the profits, he isn’t a very good business-man. We could continue to discuss what Jeffs did ad nauseum, but I’ll spare doing so to draw a line between the two points floating in the ether of this episode.
Warren Jeffs operated within the constraints of the resources provided to him. He was divine ruler over some 10,000 people and had complete and total control over the government of the Twin Cities. He caused unmitigated damage to the various institutions and infrastructure of the town and now the people are left with Short Creek being a shadow of it’s former self to rebuild from all the damage that’s been inflicted. Jeffs was able to throw around the capital of the UEP, estimated at $110mn when it was under his control, to accomplish whatever he saw as necessary or good in his little Reich.
Similarly, the Mormon prophet operated within his constraints to accomplish whatever he saw as necessary or good in the Utah Reich. Utah is moved and shaped by the Mormon church. They throw around billions of dollars in capital and tithing and the voices of millions of adherents to create and perpetuate a government and populace that will bend to their will and never exert control or regulation over this massive multinational corporation. In that way I think we can see some interesting similarities between the LDS and the FLDS prophets beyond simply sharing a core set of doctrine and beliefs. Yes, they are different in many ways, but the two religions may be a bit more similar than many people are comfortable with. Rest assured that if Warren Jeffs happened to have the means and resources of the LDS church at his disposal, he would be committing those means to lobbying and political machinations just like the LDS church currently does.
But let’s take a step back. Thomas Monson was no Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is an abhorrent man with proclivities towards raping young men and women who see him as god on earth. For all I can tell, Monson is worlds apart from Jeffs in many respects, but… they are both prophets of God with people fawning over their every word as if straight from the mouth of God. Just because one prophet commits certain atrocities and another prophet doesn’t, that doesn’t mean they’re dissimilar in many other ways. Both of these religions fall somewhere on a gradient totalitarian control and both employ similar mechanisms with different means to accomplish their will.
I can’t personally raise any criticisms against Monson that I don’t have of the church at large because he was, by most standards, a good human being, even though he espoused ideas that were antiquated and bigoted by today’s standards. What I can raise objections to is the societal loophole which allows people like Monson or Jeffs to become venerated by their respective communities and grants them religious exemptions to do whatever they please under the guise of freedom of religion.
One thing I can’t escape where the FLDS and the LDS really strike similar tones is the fact that whatever we see going on at the surface level is nothing like what is really happening behind closed doors. We know some of the most egregious crimes committed by Warren Jeffs and we know of the most stalwart examples of the Mormon church spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying efforts, but that’s just what catches our attention. I can’t help but see that there is a Mormonism which operates behind closed doors, outside the scope and reach of any journalist, historian, or average chapel-attending Mormon. The apostles no longer keep journals using the justification that they could be used against the church at a later time, and similarly I toured Warren Jeffs’ home while in Short Creek and saw with my own eyes the hidden document room where they kept all their sealing records. These religions have more power than we could ever imagine. They operate in a world outside of any government or non-government oversight or regulation. They use the influence of insane amounts of money and tightly woven personal relationships with high-ranking government officials to protect and expand their never-ceasing power.
The most insane part of all of this is what the LDS church has done to the FLDS. They’ve sponsored and condoned the various raids in Short Creek and Texas. When Jeffs was taken prisoner and going through trial, a Mormon Utah Judge removed the UEP from FLDS control and instated an ex-FLDS current practicing LDS attorney to be the director over the UEP and control its funds. Yes, an LDS person controls the piggy-bank of the FLDS. What better way to fuel the FLDS persecution narrative that was born out of the 1930s when the two churches excommunicated each other? The LDS church has so much power over Mormonism and that power doesn’t stop at just Mormonism, it extends to the government in Utah, the federal government in small doses, and their reach has been spanning to third-world countries for the past 150 years in even smaller doses.
Let me give you a snapshot of what will happen in the next few months. I’m taking this from a post of the exmormon subreddit, posted by user FaithfulTBM, I think the name is ironic.
The order of operations for selecting a new prophet falls to seniority with a bit of pomp and circumstance to give it the air of the divine. The brethren will spend the next few days meeting with family and friends to set up the funeral proceedings for Monson, after which they’ll convene a meeting in the temple beginning with a session in temple clothes, after which the Q14 will change into regular business attire to continue the meeting. The second most senior apostle, Dallin H. Oaks, will move that Russel M. Nelson be set apart and ordained as President of the Church, which will be seconded by M. Russell Ballard, who is currently third in seniority.
The motion will not be tabled yet as is customary in these special meetings. Soon after the motion is proposed, another junior apostle will move that it be carried, after which, “Nelson will accept this motion being moved with tears and (feigned) humility”.
After Nelson accepts, he’ll choose his counselors and all three men will be ordained to their positions in the new leadership. After this, the church will announce a press conference, likely in the Church Office Building, to tell the world the good news of the new appointments and the new prophet will be sustained in the upcoming April conference as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator when they will call a new apostle to fill Nelson’s newly vacant position.
Following that, the Deseret News and everybody with social media accounts linked to Mormons will laud their new prophet with bios about Nelson and the newly inaugurated apostle. Then, in another 2 years’ time when Nelson inevitably passes away, the whole process will be repeated. Considering the ages of all the next apostles in line, this will probably happen 5 to 6 times in the next 20 years, and the Mormon colossus will continue to trundle on in perpetuity, ruled by geriarchs who’re successively more disconnected from the progressing society in which Mormonism finds itself. It will continue to spend millions of dollars on lobbying and buying politicians, historians will wax distracted by the next salacious release from the Joseph Smith Papers project. Mormons in first-world countries with access to information will continue to leave in droves but it won’t match the missionary efforts the church puts millions of dollars into in third-world countries to continue to keep the membership numbers rising. Breakoffs will continue to happen and the LDS church will continue to ignore them until they become too large and will then do whatever necessary to break them and take control of their finances the way they did with the FLDS in Short Creek. The world will keep turning. Mitt Romney, Nephew of a past apostle will run for Utah Senate to replace Orrin Hatch. Every Thursday night you’ll see a new episode of the Serial Mormon History Podcast in whatever podcatcher you use. The Mormon religion will keep growing and amassing more wealth and gain the favor of more politicians and presidents. They may slightly move on little issues, maybe in a few years they’ll grant the priesthood to women but every woman who enters the leadership after that will be a product of this same system and no substantial reforms will ever take place. The church will continue to cover up any wrongdoing on their part, especially when it comes to child molestation. The variables will change of whatever societal issue the church faces every day, but the same tired algorithms will remain true. Maybe, one day, ten thousand earth years from now, historians will look back on our little 21st century and see what happened with those pesky religions and ideologies and all the atrocities committed by their adherents since the beginning of written history. They’ll frown on our modern society with all its significant problems we could solve if not for the lack of will to do so, but they’ll know which side of history certain groups of people were on. Let’s make sure we stay on the right side of history.
Resuming Historical Timeline next week
Jonathan Tindell Secular Stories, send in your recording.
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