Warren Jeffs' followers divided over loyalty orders

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 10:21 AM

Matthew Waller

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- The New Year's deadline given to followers to prove their faithfulness to imprisoned polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs came and went, and the dust has yet to settle.

Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had until Dec. 31 to show they were completely loyal to Jeffs, 56, who is in prison for sexually assaulting two girls, one 12 and the other 15. Jeffs retains control over the sect through his brothers and members still loyal to him.

"The fallout is extremely far reaching as far as the social aspect," said Willie Jessop, who once acted as a spokesman for the sect but now opposes Jeffs' leadership.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 people have been kicked out of the sect in the latest round of excommunications, according to those close to the FLDS and social organizations that offer help to those who try to leave. The sect is estimated to have had 10,000 members in the United States and Canada.

To show loyalty, FLDS members were told to get rid of pets and toys, to abstain from sex and to give $5,000 per month to the church.

"The problem is, they had to turn in their assets to qualify," Jessop said. "Now, with the realization that they were swindled out of everything including their religion, it's an overwhelming social issue."

Sam Brower, a private investigator who has written extensively about the sect, said he saw people lined up outside a main FLDS meetinghouse in the FLDS-run, twin border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, late on Dec. 31.

The next morning he saw hundreds of trucks around the meetinghouse and, elsewhere, several groups meeting in separate schoolhouses.

"It has really divided the community," Brower said.

Warren Jeffs, meanwhile, has continued to send messages throughout the world, to public officials in particular.

Paul Murphy, a spokesman with the Utah Office of the Attorney General, said he has a box full of them, including two copies of a 149-page book full of the revelations.

He checks them to make sure there are not any direct threats to individual members of the public.

Jeffs' communication has been limited lately. At the Powledge Prison Unit in Palestine, Texas, where he is being held, Jeffs may have placed calls against prison rules.

"There were allegations that he made two phone calls on Christmas Day," said Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "An investigation was initiated and is ongoing at this time."

The calls might have been broadcast or recorded, which is not allowed, Clark said.

Jeffs had been scheduled to go on trial Feb. 15 on charges of bigamy, but a pretrial has been postponed indefinitely, court staff said. The bigamy trial of Wendell Loy Nielsen, a former FLDS president, also has been postponed indefinitely.

Murphy said his office is pursuing 10 "houses of hiding," locations that the AG's office believes may hold girls against their will for sexual purposes.

"From the beginning, we heard about girls being taken and put into homes away from their families," Murphy said.

The girls who disappear are called "poofers" as a slang term, Murphy said.

The toll on the FLDS in the New Year has been difficult, Jessop said.

"The hard reality is just starting to settle in," Jessop said. "People are stunned."

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