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The FLDS Church (Fundamentalist LDS Church) 

In 1986 the First Warders in Colorado City were led by Council members Leroy Johnson and Rulon Jeffs.  In addition, Parley Harker and Bishop Fred Jessop were called to serve as “counselors” to Johnson.[1]  Harker was set apart first, but neither man was ordained an “apostle” and consequently they were not considered to be members of the Priesthood Council.[2]

 With their numbers expanding, Colorado City fundamentalists needed a larger place to congregate than the building they had used for years with a capacity of 800 people.[3]  Efforts were started to build a large meeting house, 240 by 175 feet that would easily accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 in its 42,000 square feet of floor space and be valued at over two million dollars.[4]  Reportedly “on October 25, 1987, Rulon Jeffs asked his followers to donate more money for the new building.  He told them that for every $1,000 turned in for the new church house, that contributor would be guaranteed a ticket to Jackson County, Missouri (where the Second Coming was to occur) and title to one lot there.  This promise was believed by many and they went to great sacrifice to contribute.”[5]  Named the “Leroy S. Johnson Meetinghouse,” the new edifice is equipped at one end with an elaborate rostrum and large organ for religious services and at the other, a stage with intricate lighting and sound capabilities for plays and other forms of entertainment.[6]

Leroy Johnson did not live to see the completion of the building that would bear his name.  Described as “an unassuming yet charismatic man who held the reins and the hearts of the people” in Short Creek, Johnson passed away 25 November 1986.[7]  Truman Barlow, son of John Y. Barlow, spoke at the funeral stating: “I promise you that there will come a day when every single person in this room, and I say it tenderly, whether you believe it or not, will have to have the stamp of approval of Uncle Roy, or your life in the hereafter will stop.”[8]

Leroy Johnson’s death surprised many FLDS members.  He “had told people that he was going to live until Christ’s return at His Second Coming, that he would be here to turn the ‘Keys of Priesthood back to Him.’  He had set the date of this event to be in the year 1998,” but was apparently mistaken.[9]

With Uncle Roy’s passing, Marion Hammon was left as the Senior Member of the Priesthood Council that had been called by John Y. Barlow.  However, due to his dismissal from the Council in 1983 (along with Alma Timpson), Rulon Jeffs alone remained to lead the First Warders and to oversee the UEP.  Immediately Jeffs was revered as the “President of the Priesthood” and “Prophet, seer and revelator” to most of the fundamentalists in Colorado City.[10]  Rulon retained Johnson’s two counselors, Bishop Fred Jessop and Parley Harker,[11] but when asked about the “Priesthood Council” in 1989, Rulon simply replied, “I am it.”[12]  Reportedly, he once referred to the Council as a “seven-headed monster.”[13]

Being responsible for the temporal needs of the members of the UEP, Bishop Fred Jessop encouraged anyone who was eligible to take advantage of government assistance in the form of welfare and the WIC (woman-infant-child) programs.  Reportedly in 2003, “thirty-three percent of the town’s residents receive food stamps B compared to the state average of 4.7 percent” resulting in more than $6 million a year in public funds being funneled into the community of Colorado City, Arizona.[14]  Controversial author Jon Krakaur wrote: “Fundamentalists call defrauding the government ‘bleeding the beast’ and regard it as a virtuous act.”[15]

Leroy Johnson’s taught: “We are not trying to set up another church or to set the Church in order.”[16] However, in response to a disagreement with members of the UEP, the Johnson/Jeffs group (the “First Ward”) officially registered their religious organization, calling themelves “The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (note the lack of a hyphen in Latter-Day and the capitalization of “Day”) or FLDS Church in 1991 with Jeffs as President.[17]

During the 1990s, Rulon Jeffs maintained his residency in Salt Lake City on a large estate at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  His home, complete with a massive living room capable of accommodating several hundred for Sunday meetings, contained its own baptismal font and “a restaurant style kitchen served the mealtime needs for [his] family.”[18]  There the FLDS Church maintained a youth education facility called the “Alta Academy.”  Jeffs would often fly by small plane directly to Colorado City landing near the city on a modern airstrip that was constructed with government funding.

 

                  

Rulon Jeffs Passes On

In 2002 Rulon Jeffs died at age 92 having married at least nineteen women and fathered at least sixty children.  While Rulon’s son Warren had been called as “First Counselor” in the FLDS First Presidency in 1998, no formal replacement for Rulon as “President of Priesthood” had been designated or ordained.  Neither Leroy Johnson nor Rulon Jeffs had called any new members of the Council of Friends (Priesthood Council) during their respective tenures as “senior member” of the Council.  This apparent lapse was based, at least in part, upon the feeling that Rulon Jeffs would never die.  He had told his followers on several occasions that he would live long enough to witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and that he would then personally turn his priesthood keys over to the Savior.[19] 

Regardless, Warren Jeffs was soon functioning in all the duties of the FLDS Church President and was later acknowledged as such.[20]  On 5 August 2003, Warren Jeffs was formally ordained Church President by his brother LeRoy Jeffs (whom Warren had just previously ordained Church Patriarch).[21]  Having also inherited his father’s position as President of the UEP, Warren Jeffs wielded complete control both spiritually and temporally in Colorado City. 

 Barlows Excommunicated 

Many in Colorado City did not question the ascension of Warren Jeffs to the presidency of the FLDS Church.  “I believe Warren is trying to accomplish something that even God hasn't heretofore,” said one follower.  “To be able to pull together a captive group of followers who are measured by a mortal man as being perfectly united in mind and body and purpose.”

Nevertheless, in the eyes of some fundamentalists and outsiders, Warren Jeffs early actions as FLDS leader did little to instill confidence.  Having constructed an 8-foot wall around his home compound, he promoted seclusion among all church members by establishing new rules forbidding followers from talking to any non FLDS members, even their own family members.  He also enlisted groups of men as the “Sons of Helaman,” to enter UEP members homes looking for unapproved literature.  Violators were excommunicated from the church and expelled from UEP property, with the men’s wives and children reassigned to more worthy FLDS patriarchs.  Surprisingly many of the disciplined fathers submitted to Jeff’s demands to “repent from afar,” retaining the hope that they might someday be restored to church fellowship and to their families.

On 26 July 2003, the fiftieth anniversary of the 1953 raid, Mayor Dan Barlow dedicated a monument and established a museum commemorating the oppressive events of that day.  Apparently those proceedings occurred without Warren Jeffs’ approval.  Offended and angered, he ordered Barlow to grind the monument into powder and sprinkle it in the hills. 

Speaking in Sunday Church services on August 10th, Warren Jeffs quoted a revelation he had received days before: “Verily I say unto you, my servant Warren, my people have sinned a very grievous sin before me in that they have raised up monuments to man and have not glorified it to me...  Reparations have to be made...  Hear the warning voice, oh ye my people, and repent and make restitution unto me that I may own and bless you in the day of trouble...  Let my people make restitution unto me, through the repentance of their sins and building up my storehouse and all other things, as I shall direct through my servants.” [22]  Then Jeffs suspended all further religious meetings but continued to allow his followers to pay their tithes and offerings to him.

Months passed then “on January 10, 2004, in a Saturday morning prayer meeting at the LSJ meetinghouse, Warren Jeffs stood before the group of about 1500 people (men and women) berating them for their many sins and the lack of respect they rendered to the priesthood (himself).  Then he read a list of names of about 20 people, asking them to stand up.  He told them they were excommunicated from the church and must immediately remove themselves from UEP property and leave the community.  Their wives and children would be reassigned to other men.  Most noteworthy in this group were Louis, Joe, Dan and Nephi Barlow.”[23]  Subsequently, Dan Barlow, Colorado City’s mayor for 19 years and a longtime unofficial spokesman for the FLDS church, proffered a one-sentence resignation letter to the city council and quietly left town.  He was eventually replaced by Richard Allred, a cousin of Warren Jeffs, and then David Zitting.[24]

Two days after the expulsions, 453 copies of an anonymous letter were circulated among Colorado City inhabitants encouraging Louis Barlow, the eldest of the Barlow brothers, “to forsake his birthright no more, that his time remaining quiet has passed, that he was chosen before the world was created to do an important work and that the time for his calling has come.”[25]  Then after three days, another letter was distributed accusing Warren Jeffs of marrying many of his father’s wives included his own mother and encouraging FLDS members to revolt.  Louis died four months later and nothing came of the prophetic calling referred to in the letter.

One of the twenty excommunicated men, Ross Chatwin, responded to his expulsion with open confrontation, calling Jeffs “a tyrant” and saying, “This Hitler‑like dictator has got to be stopped before he ruins us all.”[26]  Chatwin revealed Warren Jeffs’ demands in order for him to be reinstated on his UEP property and to be readmitted into the FLDS Church: “As a part of the process [of repentance], [Jeffs] requires the evictee to write a letter listing all of their sins.  He says that if the list of sins does not match the list of sins that God gave him through revelation then their eviction becomes permanent.”[27]

Warren Jeffs’ autocratical position among the FLDS was further strengthened in March 2005 with the death of Fred Jessop.  At 94, Jessop had witnessed much of the travails of the Short Creek - Colorado City area and was respected most members.  Serving as the only Bishop the townspeople had ever known, he had administered the distribution of commodities from “Fred’s Storehouse” for decades.  In addition, he served as second counselor in the FLDS Church Presidency under Rulon Jeffs.  With Fred’s passing and the excommunication of John Barlow’s sons, virtually no one was left to contest Warren’s preeminent emplacement atop the FLDS empire. 

Colorado City Unified School District 

In July of 2000, Warren Jeffs, on behalf of his ailing father Rulon Jeffs, announced that members of the FLDS Church should home-school their children and completely cut ties with non-members and former members.  When classes began on August 22nd, around 350 students were enrolled in the school system, compared to over 1000 the previous year.  More than half of the teachers in Colorado City schools were members of the FLDS Church and did not return for work.

Most of the remaining teachers and students were members of the “Second Ward” and considered to be “heathens” and “among the most evil people on Earth” by the FLDS members.  Regardless, while the most of the students in the district were non-FLDS, the FLDS leaders did not relinquish control of the school board, which determined the funding disbursed in the district.  Within two years, accusations would be leveled that FLDS leaders abused the school district treasury to provide unneeded jobs, new vehicles, credit cards, school supplies and other perks to help FLDS church members support their huge polygamous families.  Despite the drop in enrollment, the one-school district with 350 students maintained more than 100 employees B  nearly a 3-to-1 student-to-employee ratio (almost five times the ratio of comparable school districts).[28]

Documents showed that non-FLDS teachers’ salaries were some of the lowest in the state of Arizona, while non-teaching positions held by FLDS members were paying top dollar; FLDS school administrators were sometimes compensated more than $50,000 annually.  Especially disconcerting to state politicians was learning of the district’s purchase of a $220,000 Cessna airplane.  Ostensibly it was needed to fly board members and other district personnel to attend educational conferences.  No other school district in Arizona owned an airplane.

Arizona politicians became concerned at the allegations of fiscal abuse.  The Colorado City public school district received greater than $4 million a year in state and federal aid.  Since more than half of the taxable land in the school district was controlled by the UEP, the UEP property taxes of $800,000 a year paid only a small portion of the total funds expended each year to maintain the local school programs.  Consequently, the district had one of the highest tax rates in the state.

After several investigations and a litany of complaints, on May ninth 2005 Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano quietly signed into law a bill that allowed state education officials to take over the Colorado City Unified School District from religious leaders.  State officials planned to remove all existing administrators (Alvin Barlow, Jeffrey Jessop and Oliver Barlow) and hire new people.  Criminal prosecutions were also a possibility. 

Upheaval in Bountiful, Canada 

Foremost among the different branches of the FLDS church located outside the Utah-Arizona border area, was the group located at Creston, British Columbia, Canada.  Living in a town called “Bountiful,” they followed FLDS leadership since the 1960s.  Ray Blackmore presided locally until his death from leukemia in 1974, being followed by Dalmon Ohler who served until 1985.  Ohler lost his position to Winston Blackmore, son of Ray Blackmore, who reportedly wrenched power from Ohler, destroying him financially and discrediting him before the group.[29]  In 1992, Bountiful polygamists received a Canadian boost as a national court ruled that a law banning polygamy violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion.

Winston Blackmore served as bishop of the 1000 residents of the Bountiful area until the summer of 2002 when Warren Jeffs disposed him.[30]  Reportedly Blackmore had defied Jeffs’ leadership[31] and fomented doubts in Jeffs’ prophetic calling by publishing a newsletter on the Internet outlining several of Jeffs predictions that failed to come true[32]  It was also rumored that finding a new Bishop for Bountiful was not easy for Jeffs, who was forced to approach several men before finding one who would follow him.[33] 

In response to his dismissal, Winston moved south just below the Canadian border, to Boundary County, Idaho.  Establishing a new colony near Bonner’s Ferry with 200 to 300 followers, Blackmore created a stir among the local inhabitants who immediately became concerned about political goals and welfare subsidies.  In April 2005 Blackmore explained: “It’s been two and a half years since they distanced themselves from us, and there is no connection [at this time].  We have family and loved ones affiliated with Jeffs, who is getting more difficult to believe in with each passing day.” 

Legal Challenges Expand 

The spotlight was focused on FLDS fundamentalists in 2003 as Rodney Holm was dismissed from his position as a Utah law enforcement officer and charged with two felonies.   Utah law states that, unless legally married, is unlawful for a person ten years older to be sexually involved with someone who is under age eighteen.[34]  The Utah code also contains a statute against bigamy:  “a person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.”[35]

During a jury trial, it was shown that Holm took a third wife in 1998 when he was thirty-two and she was sixteen, and she bore two children prior to her eighteenth birthday.  A jury deliberated forty minutes before convicting him of three felony violations.  He was sentenced to “no more than five years in the Utah State Prison on each of his three charges and ordered the sentence on each be served concurrently.”  But the judge stayed the sentence giving him 36 months of probation.[36]

The legal challenges continued to mount in 2004, complicating the lives of Warren Jeffs and other FLDS members and officials.  A civil lawsuit was filed against Jeffs in August by one of his nephews, twenty-one year old Brent Jeffs who alleged that Warren and his two brothers sexually abused him during the 1980s.  Brent Jeffs’ lawsuit accused Warren, Leslie, and Blaine Jeffs of continual abuse of several children, which reportedly began when Brent was four or five years old and continued for two years.  The alleged perversions took place in a basement bathroom at the Alta Academy near Salt Lake City, the lawsuit said, while Sunday church services were being held upstairs.  Rodney Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney for the church, said Brent Jeffs' charges were “total fabrications.”

Four nationally known attorneys from three states collaborated on the lawsuit including lead attorney Joanne L. Suder of Baltimore, who had worked with sexual‑abuse victims for decades.  The other attorneys involved in Brent Jeffs' lawsuit included Patrick A. Shea of Salt Lake City (former director of the Bureau of Land Management in the Clinton administration), and Fort Worth partners John S. Jose and Rickey J. Brantley, two of the foremost personal injury lawyers in Texas.

In mid-2005 Shem Fischer, a former FLDS member in Hildale, obtained a “certificate of default” against Jeffs in a lawsuit Fischer commenced regarding his dismissal as an employee in an FLDS-owned business.[37]  In March both Utah and Arizona moved to decertify town marshals Sam Roundy and Vance Barlow due to their polygamous marriages.[38]  The following month a lawsuit was filed alleging that Jeffs conducted fraudulent financial transactions by transferring UEP property to private buyers that the FLDS church controlled.  In May, the Utah Attorney General’s Office asked the court to freeze assets of the UEP and to replace its top leaders including Jeffs.[39]

Temple Building in Texas

While the FLDS Church has additional developing communities near Benjamin Hills, Mexico (south of Nogales in the state of Sonora) and the other near Encinada, Baja (south of Tijuana), Warren Jeffs sought further expansion shortly after rising to the Presidency.  In November of 2003 the YFZ corporation (standing for Year For Zion) purchased a 1,691 acre spread west of the Texas town of Eldorado in Schleicher County.  Acting agent David Allred had known ties to the FLDS Church, but reported that the property was actually destined to be used as a corporate hunting retreat.  Eventually FLDS officials acknowledged their connection and rumors flew saying that the Colorado City polygamists were soon planning to migrate.

During the following year construction at the Eldorado compound proceeded at a vigorous pace.  Three large multi‑story dormitories were built with an estimated size of over 20,000 square feet per building.  In addition, a church and community center, several storage barns, a rock quarry, a concrete plant, construction trailers, a large cultivated plot for growing crops, a network of roads, a wastewater treatment plant and a water supply system were constructed.  FLDS spokesman assured county officials that their preparations were for no more than 500 occupants.

President Warren Jeffs’ exact plans for the colony became a little clearer with the dawning of 2005.  Reports suggested that he had predicted the end of the world on January first, but when it failed to materialize, his followers were directed to build a temple.  Between New Year Day and April fifth, construction proceeded at a frantic pace, sometimes late into the night.  The first FLDS temple ever built rose above the Texas soil at an impressive rate.  Loosely patterned after the Nauvoo temple, it apparently included a baptismal font below the ground, two assembly rooms and possibly an attic.  Indications suggest that it was destined to be completed before the 175th anniversary of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April sixth.

As April sixth arrived, rumors circulated in Texas and in Colorado City[40] that Jeffs had again prophesied the apocalyptic end of the world.  Even the national press indulged in spreading the gossip.  One source within the FLDS Church denied that any such prediction had been made.  Regardless, April sixth came without any remarkable developments either locally in Schleicher County, Texas or around the world.  Whether or not the rumors of Jeffs’ prophesies were accurate is unclear.  Nevertheless, no disillusionment or mass exodus among members of the FLDS flock was observable.

As 2005 draws to a close, it appears that formidable forces are combining to make life difficult for FLDS leader, Warren Jeffs.  While he carries the title of “Church President” and President of the UEP, internal problems may arise as some within the FLDS flock question his ability to lead and his claims to priesthood authority, having never served as a member of the Priesthood Council.  From the outside, lawsuits filed by state governments and disaffected members will undoubtedly hamper his ability to continue the path he began after assuming control of the FLDS Church in 2002.


[1]  “Jeffs Deposition,” 4-5 April 1989, 18.

[2]  Ibid., 19.

[3]   LSJ Sermons 7:260.

[4]   Ibid., 7:493.

[5]  Bistline,  Colorado City Polygamists, 157.

[6]   Altman and Ginat, Polygamous Families, 68.

[7]   Mackert, Sixth of Seven Wives, 4; Bitton, “Polygamist Leader Passes On,” 48.

[8]   LSJ Sermons 7:494.

[9]  Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 154.

[10]  Jeffs, “Deposition 4-5 April 1989,”  15.

[11]   Ibid., 18.

[12]   Ibid., 89.

[13]   Zoellner, “Rulon Jeffs.”

[14]   Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner, 12-13.  In 1993, one Utah State Department of Social Services employee estimated that through her office, “300 polygamous families receive from between $500 and $1600 worth of food stamps each month for families with an average of 15 members.”  She further explained: “The attitude of some polygamists is ‘the government is untrustworthy and corrupt, and I’m above it B but give me those food stamps and free medical care.’“ (Carolyn Campbell, “Inside Polygamy in the ‘90s,” 102.)  For scriptural commentary see D&C 75:28, 1 Tim. 5:8.

[15]   Krakauer, Under the Banner, 13.  See also Chynoweth, Blood Covenant, 46-47; Melissa Merrill, Polygamist’s Wife, 64; Daynes, More Wives Than One, 210-11.

[16]   “We are not trying to set up another church or to set the Church in order, but we are trying to prepare a people that the Lord can use to set His House in order when the one mighty and strong shall come.”  LSJ Sermons 1:65.

[17]   Quinn, “Plural Marriage,” 1998, 14, fn. 41.  Jeffs taught that the FLDS Church had been known as the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... for at least 40 years.”  (“Deposition 4-5 April 1989,” 15.)

[18]   Mackert, Sixth of Seven Wives, 266-67.

[19]  Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 189.  “Uncle Rulon had told us God revealed to him that his body would be renewed.  His 67 mostly young wives, yearning for motherhood, would have children, and that he would live an additional 350 years into the millennium.  He said he would be our last and only living prophet.  That is why he didn’t ordain any more apostles.”  (From an anonymous letter sent 15 January 2004 to residents of Colorado City.  Ibid., 203.)

[20]    “Warren Jeffs New Head of Fundamentalist Church,”  Associated Press/28 November 2002.

[21]  Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 195.

[22]  Quoted in Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 195-96.

[23]  Ibid., 197.

[24]  Richard Allred’s mother was sister of Rulon Jeffs

[25]  Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 200.

[26]  Washington Post, Sunday, 1 February 2004, A02.

[27]  From a letter distributed at a press conference, 23 January 2004.  In Bistline, Colorado City Polygamists, 210.

[28]  John Dougherty, “Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin,” available online at: http://www.polygamyinfo.com/plygmedia%2003%2043phinxnew.htm.

[29]   Krakauer, Under the Banner, 32.

[30]   Jeffs, “Deposition, 22 May 1989,” 17.  LSJ Sermons 4:1674.

[31]  Reportedly Warren Jeffs excommunicated Winston Blackmore over his refusal to stone an out of order wife who had moved from Utah to Bountiful. (Personal communication with an FLDS member who wishes to remain anonymous.)

[32]   The Eldorado Success, 3 February 2005.

[33]  Personal communication with Jim Ashurst.

[34]   Utah Code section 76-5-401.2.

[35]   Utah Code section 76-7-101

[36]   Spectrum Press, 11 October 2003.

[37]  Deseret Morning News, 13 March 2005, B7.

[38]  Deseret Morning News, 23 March 2005, B5.

[39]  Deseret Morning News, 27 May 2005, A1.

[40]  Reports in the Colorado City area included prophesies that FLDS properties would be “lifted up” above the earth on 6 April 2005.  On April fifth, a non-FLDS man living in a home near Colorado City wondered if he should purchase a “hard hat” to shield him from falling rocks that might drop from the elevating plot of ground as the properties ascended into the sky.  (Personal conversation.)