Unspeakable Times

Warren Jeffs Controlled A Religious Sect For 20 Years, And Its Members Are Finally Speaking Out

In 2002, Warren Jeffs became the president of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church.

During his time in power, Jeffs became known as “the prophet” and oversaw widespread abuse of the children in his sect, many of whom were girls forced into marriage with adult men. The FBI began investigating Jeffs and put him on their 10 Most-Wanted list after he fled the state of Utah in 2006.

Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence for sexual assault in Palestine, TX. Following his arrest and conviction, filmmakers released multiple documentaries about the FLDS and Jeffs’s misconduct as the organization’s leader. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Netflix series Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, which the streaming service released on June 8, 2022.

Below, we'll look at the ways Jeffs abused his power, how he was ultimately brought to justice, and how some former FLDS members are finally reclaiming their lives.

  • Jeffs Married His Father's Wives After Taking Over The FLDS

    Jeffs Married His Father's Wives After Taking Over The FLDS
    Photo: FBI / Fair Use

    Warren Jeffs's father, Rulon Jeffs, was president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) from 1986 until his death in 2002. During that time, sources report that Rulon slowly consolidated power and advocated for both polygamy and child marriage.

    Rulon Jeffs was estimated to have 60 wives, with 20 surviving at the time of his death. The church itself had approximately 10,000 members living in compounds in Colorado City, AZ; Eldorado, TX; and Hildale, UT.

    When Warren Jeffs took over as president, he decided to marry his father's wives. However, one woman refused to marry Jeffs and another managed to escape the FLDS. Jeffs was believed to have 20 wives when he took over as president, but that number had risen to 78 by the time of his 2006 arrest. His youngest wife was a 12-year-old girl.

  • Jeffs 'Reassigned' Wives And Children To Other Men

    As the FLDS prophet, Jeffs had the authority to “reassign” wives and children from one man to another if they had committed some sort of misdeed or weren't completely loyal to Jeffs. Some sources have reported that Jeffs's followers believed in him so fervently, it was unlikely for women in the community to speak out against their reassignment to a new husband.

    Jeffs was also the only person within the church with the authority to approve marriages. The most devout of Jeffs's male followers were typically assigned three wives, oftentimes young girls. Jeffs also preached that wives belonged to their husbands for “eternity," and that husbands had the power to grant or deny their wives access to heaven when they died.

  • Jeffs Preached That He Was 'Christ Incarnate'

    After Jeffs took over FLDS leadership from his father, he began preaching that he was “Jesus Christ incarnate,” according to a former FLDS member. According to Jeffs, this meant that his deceased father was God. He also claimed that he could marry his father's wives because he was the "renewed" or “reincarnated” version of his father, Rulon Jeffs.

    Jeffs told his followers that the church wasn't a democracy and that “the work of God is a benevolent dictatorship.” He also preached increasingly about the apocalypse and taking his followers to an unknown location that he called the “Center Place.”

  • Jeffs Allegedly Attempted To Create A 'Master Race'

    In 2016, former FLDS members told Rolling Stone magazine how Jeffs decreed only men of a so-called “royal bloodline” could reproduce in the community. These chosen men were limited to intercourse with women selected to be a part of the “United Order,” an elite group within the faith - many of whom were already married. The 15 alleged “seed bearers” hid their identities using a hood and a sheet during the act.

    If an impregnated United Order woman followed the required “special detox diet” and successfully gave birth, members whisked the baby away. Reportedly, Jeffs's intention was to create a “master race” loyal only to him.

    Former FLDS members also alleged Jeffs rewarded the United Order members, while others suffered from psychological punishments and lack of food.