To what extent Warren Jeffs (pictured above), and Mormons more generally, believe the more metaphysical, supernatural doctrines of Mormonism is a matter of conjecture. There’s no question that he availed himself of the social implications: polygamy and a strong-handed patriarchal society. We can imagine Jeffs succumbing to the conviction that he truly was God’s appointed, what with the kind of unchallenged power he wielded and his life-long immersion in a polygamist-based cosmology. Contrast him with Jeff Lundgren, former leader of the so-called Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints based in Kirtland, Ohio. He was likewise a controlling person, as cult leaders are required to be, and fancied himself a prophet. But according to psychiatrist Michael H. Stone, in his book The Anatomy of Evil (2009), Lundgren was more a grandiloquent con man bilking his followers of their money and indulging his sexual proclivities than a delusional individual believing he was really God (which unlike Jeffs he eventually claimed). In 1989 Lundgren had a follower lure a family of five into a farmhouse where the supposed prophet personally killed them and buried the bodies in a pit merely because they opposed his attempt to get his hands on their savings. Jeffs did not resort to violence, but neither did David Koresh and Jim Jones until cornered by authorities within the confines of their closely-monitored strongholds. (If we wanted to be charitable and make Jeffs look good by comparison, we’d note that Lundgren punished his jealous wife for not accepting the addition of a younger second wife by forcing her to smear his own feces on his genitalia and having her then perform fellatio. One wonders if Joseph Smith had this in mind for poor Emma.)
A jury found Mr. Jeffs guilty on two counts of being an accomplice to rape; he is currently serving a ten-year sentence. Unfortunately we must call a spade a spade here. If you think about it, Jeffs was only adhering faithfully to the original teachings of the religion’s founder. And what a strange and preposterous religion it is! I don’t want to lump all Mormons into this fundamentalist fringe, just as I do not perceive all Catholics as pedophiles or all Muslims as terrorists. However, the LDS church has for too long withheld condemnation of the immoral (and illegal) practices of its breakaway adherents. By the time of Jeffs’ trial, these abject inbreeders had already established a new bastion in Eldorado, Texas with a presumptive patriarch ready to launch a legal battle against authorities. In 2008 police raided the compound. According to Singular, authorities were making the same mistake they had made in 1953. He argues that their intrusion into the homes of polygamist families had set back efforts for half a century. Until Jeffs’ exploits at the turn of the new century, the fundamentalist Mormons lived under the radar, more or less, benefiting from their geographical remoteness, embarrassment or indifference of mainstream Mormons, and reticence of the government to make another mess. That’s a shame.
Singular argues that efforts on the part of private investigators and lawyers leading to Jeffs’ imprisonment paid off largely because they took the time to get their ducks in a row. Fair enough. But I think he too readily dismisses the quicker option of direct, immediate intervention, notwithstanding the pitfalls of government raids à la Waco. For fifty years these patriarchs were left to their own devices. Only a few brave women had the courage to oppose the injustices of a life they had been taught to embrace as normal. We’ll give one of them the last word. After hearing the jury’s decision on Jeffs, a former FDLS member, who had been banished and lived a life on the run, commented: “Warren’s leadership had been dismantled. If I closed my eyes, I could see a thirteen-year-old girl in a meadow with the sun shining down on her. Girls like to twirl when they’re happy and I was twirling like that. I was just free.”