Cult leader Warren Jeffs has spent the past six years behind bars after being arrested and later convicted of sexual abuse of young girls, but that has not stopped him from continuing to exude complete control over his polygamous community.
A Friday expose on ABC’s 20/20 has revealed the insulated world of The Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints Church where Jeffs’ 8,000 followers continue to believe that he is a prophet and God who has been wrongly imprisoned. ‘Anybody who thinks that Warren Jeffs’ incarceration ended his rule in this community has no idea what they’re talking about,’ said reporter Mike Watkiss. ‘He is in many ways more powerful because now he’s martyred.’
A 2008 raid on Jeffs’ FLDS stronghold in Eldorado, Texas, revealed the polygamous community which included pregnant child brides in pastel prairie dresses with elaborate braided hairdos. The FLDS holds polygamy as a fundamental belief and its men take multiple wives in what are termed ‘celestial marriages’ each performed in a ceremony called a ‘sealing’. The Utah-based church believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven and arranged marriages sometimes involve underage girls.
More than a year after his conviction of child sex abuse, it appears that little has changed in the remote Yearning for Zion compound in Colorado City housing the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a radical wing of the Mormon Church. Like in the past, Jeffs decides where people live, whom they marry and even what they eat and how they dress.
Children of cult members receive little more than a grade school education where science and history are ignored in favour of religious studies with an emphasis on Jeffs’ proverbs, and where every school book must be personally approved by the leader. One proverb reads: ‘When you disobey there must and will always be a punishment.’
Children in the local schoolhouse are also taught that Jeffs was the president of the United States and that God led Neil Armstrong away from the moon during the Apollo 11. When questioned by an ABC reporter about their general level of knowledge, a trio of girls who escaped the cult several months earlier along with their mother said that they had never heard of Ronald Reagan, Santa Claus or AIDS.
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