(Photo: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)
A flock of devoted followers within the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints are shunning the fact their leader was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting underage “wives.” The sect is reportedly making plans to construct a three-story statue in honor of the now convicted felon, which will tower over their isolated desert compound.
FLDS members say they plan to erect a huge metal monument to reflect the likeness of their imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs, an anonymous source tells The Daily Beast.
Jeffs, the polygamist leader sentenced to life in prison this week for sexually assaulting underage followers, was found guilty for the rape of two underage children he calls “celestial wives.”
Investigators now know that Jeffs had 78 known spiritual marriages, with 24 being under the age of 16.
The jury deliberated less than half an hour to render its decision, but hundreds of FLDS cult followers remain under Jeffs' spell.
“The (statue) project is secret, or as FLDS terms it, a ‘heavenly hush,’ which means that anyone who discusses it will be kicked out of the sect,” the source told the news.
The inside source also told the news that those members building the statue believe that this is their “way of showing the world that they can’t take him away from us.”
It is not surprising that the convicted leader still has hundreds of dedicated followers because many inside the compound remain cutoff from society and do not know what is happening outside in the real world.
Jeffs banned television, all books except scripture, newspapers, and the internet saying the “world is a dangerous place” and “nothing outside our world can be trusted,” court records show.
How did it all begin?
The FLDS saga started when police raided the desert compound located in a remote part of West Texas in April 2008.
There they found women dressed in frontier-style dresses and hairdos from the 19th century as well as pregnant underage girls, according to law enforcement records.
Investigators have been unable to penetrate the religious cult for years. But, an anonymous call earlier this year came into an abuse hotline and spurred on an investigation. Police were able to place more than 400 children located in the compound in protective custody. The children were eventually returned to their families.
“Forcing people into a religious mold is far away from what God wants; he wouldn't have created people so diversely if diversity wasn't one of his objectives,” said Dr. Arnold Neumaier, an author of religious views and professor at the Institute of Mathematics in Vienna.
“In fact, much of what goes under the heading of religion is nothing else than idolatry. The worship of religious forms, turns life into spiritual death.”
The trial: Jeffs, 55, claimed he was the victim of religious persecution during the trial last week drawing national attention.
Most of America discovered that FLDS, which has at least 10,000 members nationwide, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism.
Jeffs represented himself after firing seven attorneys during a six-month period.
One day during the trial, he objected to the proceedings and delivered an odd hour-long speech defending his polygamous lifestyle. Court records show he threatened the judge twice in court warning that God would punish those involved in the trial.
Prosecutors were able to use DNA evidence in court to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl. Prosecutors also played an audio recording of Jeffs sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl for the jury.
They also played audio recordings, which Jeffs was heard instructing young women on how to please him sexually, court records show.
Since the trial began, former followers of Jeffs have spoken out about the life they led under his twisted leadership.
Many ex-followers have gone on record in recent days to say they regret their former life and are worried about the children still held captive within the walls of the FLDS compound.
Ex-FLDS members who live near the compound told reporters that they are not happy about the prospect of having a “giant Jeffs looming over them.”
"Remember what happened to Saddam Hussein’s statue,” a former FLDS bodyguard for Jeffs said in a statement to the media.
“That same thing will happen to this one.”
What is ironic about the construction of the statue is that the idea of worshipping or dedicating an idol of this sort is blasphemy in the FLDS world.
“This flies in the face of their religion,” former sect member Isaac Wyler told The Daily Beast.
“It is just as much against their principles as group sex. The FLDS can’t have idols. Idols are absolutely forbidden.”
Up to this point, Jeffs has been communicating with his religious followers from behind bars by making thousands of calls from jail.
As followers send in money to their leader, he continues to spiritually direct the faith, counsel members, and lead Sunday services by phone. Police say Jeffs used the phone to even excommunicate members from jail.
However, court records show that he will be sent to another high-security prison where it will be “difficult to get holy messages to his followers, or view images of the statue.”
What is the FLDS?
Polygamous groups and individuals in and around Texas and Utah often cause confusion for casual observers and for visiting news media.
The recent publicity about the FLDS has led to some confusion. A recent survey shows many people believe they were part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known as the Mormons.
But, the rising cult, now known as the FLDS, chose not to accept that polygamy as a church practice ended. Those who rejected the cancellation of polygamy through revelation moved away to form their own religious communities.
Then, various groups split off several times, and today there are a number of groups practicing polygamy, Today, any member of the original Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who practices polygamy is excommunicated.
Eventually, the FLDS broke away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around 1889.
From that point on, the FLDS Church developed new doctrines and cultural practices in recent years to fit their own religious agenda.
“Jeffs and his FLDS disciples, in contrast, have no missionaries,” writes Nathan B. Oman, an associate professor of law at The College of William & Mary.
"Their religion long ago abandoned the tradition of Mormon openness. They gave up engagement with the world for the isolation of the desert.”
The FLDS are a group, which believes God did not intend for polygamy to end.
The history of the FLDS religion is complicated, since it involves many divisions. However, their own website suggests they currently choose not to accept the authority of anyone other than their "prophet."
The so called "church" currently practices placement marriage, whereby a young woman of marriageable age is assigned a husband by revelation from God to the leader of the church, who is regarded as a prophet. The prophet elects to take and give wives to and from men according to their worthiness.
The women's standard of dress also differentiates members of the FLDS Church from people on the outside. Women and girls usually wear monochromatic homemade long-sleeved “prairie dresses,” with hems between ankle and mid-calf,
The frustration that Mormon leaders are feeling over the confusion also was detailed in a letter to more than 80 major media outlets nationwide from the church's attorney, and in a public statement from one of its apostles – also an attorney – about the importance of protecting the church's identity.
The letter reminds editors and publishers that the LDS Church has obtained legal registration, trade and service marks for the term "Mormon," among other terms, and asks journalists to refrain from calling the FLDS polygamous group "fundamentalist Mormons."
"We are confident that you are committed to avoiding misleading statements that cause unwarranted confusion and that may disparage or infringe the intellectual property rights discussed above," says the letter from Elder Lance B. Wickman, who is identified as the church's "general counsel."
Wickman asked that the letter be given to reporters and editors "and to your legal counsel," the letter said.
Distinguishing the 13 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the few thousand members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church in both Texas and the Utah-Arizona border towns of Hildale and Colorado City has proven to be an ongoing challenge for the LDS Church, which has issued at least three other public statements distancing itself from the FLDS group in recent months.