People who wish to control people absolutely must also control all the information. When Warren Jeffs went to prison four years ago to start his life sentence, the only way he could continue his immaculate reign over his religious group was to lock everything down. Marriages stopped, and people he found threatening were sent away to the outside, where they presumably could do no harm to the closed-in community.
People who left the FLDS group had trusted Jeffs as a prophet, but once presented with evidence of his crimes, they can’t accept a prophet who sexually abuses children. Their whole notion of the world crumbles when they start to confront the lies their whole lives were built on. Facing a whole, new, larger world, they are forced to find a new kind of strength” a desire to expose the truth where they can in order to get closer to a more normal, unveiled life.
One of his daughters, Becky, is speaking out for the first time about sexual abuse she and her sister suffered at the hands of their father. “I want people to know that he sexually abused some of his children so that they realize, when he accuses them of immortality and sends them away,” she tells Lisa Ling on CNN’s “This Is Life.” “It doesn’t mean they’re guilty. I imagine that’s how he’s trying to hide his own sins, by pointing at others.”
One of the crimes Jeffs’ accuses his church members of is “baby killing” via contraceptives. This is a fairly common idea among some strict religious groups, but Jeffs takes it even further. He judges women who have miscarriages to be “baby killers.” Other crimes being audacious enough to think for yourself, or to be so broken by religious guilt that you brand yourself wicked, giving Jeffs the very tool he wants to convict you.
Once former members start to learn the truth, they can speak out to the public, but it’s extremely difficult to get information to the people still inside the sect’s compound. They live in constant suspicion and fear, not of their leader, but of the wicked outside world and those walking among them who may be bad according to Jeffs. “They’re just gonna grow old waiting for something to happen,” Becky says of those still in the dark.
They stick to Jeffs’ strict orders, and have put their entire lives as a community on hold. They no longer teach their children in school or start new families. They are frequently subjected to Red Code lockdowns where they have to stay indoors with their blinds drawn shut while security teams patrol their roads. Any bad light shed on Jeffs is seen as pernicious rumors. They don’t know the truth, and they don’t want to accept that their entire worldview is built on the lies of a monster.
While Jeffs is locked away he still maintains absolute power over his congregation, but he requires the use of his brother Lyle to convey and enforce his messages. Becky says every adult in the church has been issued a personal correction from Jeffs, and many members are forced to receive punishment in The House of Repentance, a kind of prison house of enforced silence, or have their families broken up. Becky didn’t believe that the people who were being punished might be innocent until her own husband was driven out for being too self-sufficient, and she started facing her own punishments and exiles.
Three of her four children were taken from her, and she and her eldest son were sentenced to the House of Repentance before being driven away. It was while staying with her sister on decree of her father that she first discovered she wasn’t the only child who had been sexually abused by Warren Jeffs. Her sister had experienced a much worse, and more prolonged, period of abuse. It was in that moment, when she realized she was not alone in her abuse, that she understood that the abuse she had suffered had not been because she was “wicked,” and her father was not a holy leader. “If he had this in him, how can I trust him? How is he really a prophet?” she asked herself.
Lyle Jeffs’ son Tom left the community because of the strict rules, and was labeled an apostate. Still, he continued to believed Jeffs was a prophet until he contacted an attorney and reviewed the evidence against Jeffs for himself. “To find out that that’s the man that we were supporting?” Lyle’s son Tom said during a reunion with Becky. “How could this happen all these years and nobody know about it? It messes with your head, it does. When I first left, I thought ‘I made the worst decision of my life,’ now I come to find out it was the best decision I ever made in my life.”