Warren Steed Jeffs, born December 3, 1955, is the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church), a polygamous denomination. In 2011, he was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault, for which he is serving a life sentence plus twenty years.
Warren was born to Rulon Jeffs (1909–2002) and Merilyn Steed more than two months prematurely in Sacramento, California. He is the “president and prophet” of the FDLS to date – even from behind bars. Inheriting the position after his father, Rulon Jeffs, who passed away in 2002, Jeffs assumed the leadership role and had 87 wives, as claimed by a former church member. A week after his father’s death, he had married all (18-20 wives) but two of his father’s wives; one refused to marry Jeffs and was subsequently prohibited from ever marrying again, while the other fled the FLDS compound.
As the sole authority figure in the FLDS Church to perform marriages, Jeffs was responsible for assigning wives to husbands. He also had the power to discipline male church members by “reassigning their wives, children, and homes to another man. He specifically taught that a devoted church member is expected to have at least three wives in order to get into heaven, and the more wives a man has, the closer he is to heaven. He was also believed to have made these statements which indicate he was a racist;
- “The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth.”
- Cain was “cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people … He has great power, can appear and disappear … He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils … If you, young people, were to marry a Negro, you could not be a priesthood person, even if you repented. You could not stay in this work.”
- “Today you can see a black man with a white woman, et cetera. A great evil has happened on this land because the devil knows that if all the people have Negro blood, there will be nobody worthy to have the priesthood.”
- “If you marry a person who has connections with the Negro, you would become cursed.”
Jeffs made his money mainly through real estate and construction. He controlled almost all of the land in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, which was part of a church trust called the United Effort Plan (UEP). The land had been estimated to be worth over $100 million by 2006. He also got free or low-cost labour from his followers, including the men and boys who carried out his construction projects, and in addition, he took control of members’ finances and cut them off from the outside world. Members were made to pay monthly fees to the church, usually between $500 and $1,000, and if they couldn’t pay for any reason, they were threatened to lose their job, home, and community.
In June 2005, Warren Jeffs was charged with two counts of rape and was an accomplice in Utah for allegedly arranging in April 2001 a marriage between a then-14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old first cousin, Allen. He faced an indictment by authorities in Mohave County, Arizona, with sexual assault on a minor. He had gone into hiding by then. In May 2006, Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, offering a $60,000 reward. This reward was soon raised to $100,000, and the public was warned that “he may travel with several loyal and armed bodyguards”. Amid all the charges and chaos, Jeffs was occasionally returning to Colorado City to perform more “child-bride marriages. On May 27, 2008, The Smoking Gun website released images of Jeffs with two underage wives, one of whom was 12 years old, celebrating first wedding anniversaries in 2005 and 2006. Two of his nephews and two of his own children came out to accuse him of sexually abusing them.
Warren Jeffs was finally pulled over and arrested in August 2006 along with his favourite wife, Naomi Jessop, and his brother, Isaac, in possession of four computers, sixteen cell phones, disguises (including three wigs and twelve pairs of sunglasses), and more than $55,000 in cash. Jeffs’ wife and brother were questioned and released. After a long wait, his trial eventually occurred in August 2011, where he represented himself in San Angelo, Texas. He was convicted on two counts of sexual assault of a child on August 9, 2011, and was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. Jeffs will be eligible for parole on July 22, 2038.
While in prison, Jeffs released a book entitled Jesus Christ Message to All Nations, which included several directives to set him free. He tried to commit suicide in 2007 by hanging himself. He also fell ill while fasting in 2009. He was placed in a temporary medically induced coma by Texas prison doctors on August 29, 2011, due to becoming extremely weak from fasting for the previous three days.
To date, even behind bars, Jeffs is still calling the shots and is in full control of the FDLS. It is believed that he could be using visits with his many brothers to help direct them on how to continue running the organization. Church members continue to pray for him daily for his release and still believe he is their one true prophet.