Sep 11, 2012

The Trip from Bountiful

As discussed, Warren Jeffs appears to be totally losing it. Deranged proclamations, paranoia, mass excommunications, and propaganda blaming members for his continuing incarceration, have raised the concern of social agencies and law enforcement near his Yearning For Zion Ranch and other strongholds around the US. Now comes news that Canadian officials are also dealing with the fallout of an FLDS spinning out of control as the compound in Bountiful, British Columbia shows similar signs of distress.

Jeffs's earlier edict prohibiting sex and marriage for all but fifteen of his most faithful stewards and their selected females has resulted in hundreds of husbands and fathers being excommunicated and their families shattered. Numerous teens have also been excommunicated for innocuous offenses like wearing short sleeved shirts or improper hairstyles. Most tellingly, socializing with their friends is now a banishing offense. Wives have been reallocated like the chattel they are.

Six men from Bountiful, B.C., went to Provincial Court in Creston this week pleading for access to their 40 children after having been excommunicated by Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of North America’s largest polygamous sect.

Earlier this year, the fathers were deemed to be “unworthy” by Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some of these men are actually risking their own legal standing because they're practicing polygamy -- and not necessarily willingly.

One told [attorney Georgialee] Lang he loves his first wife and had never wanted a second wife.

He told her how he’d been taken from his home one night and driven by church leaders on a circuitous route that ended in Nevada, where he married a woman he’d never met before.

One of things that is coming clearer as the curtain is peeled back on this insular sect, is that the men in FLDS are as much victims of Jeffs's tyranny as the women are -- except for those at the top of the food chain. As of now that would seem to be the fifteen men who have their pick of all the women, married or not.

Children are also being shuffled around and one of the petitioners believes four of his kids are living in the care of a woman other than his wife, who has since been reallocated.

In addition to banning all sex except for his chosen fifteen, Jeffs has also prohibited all intimacy and affection, except for handshakes. It's just so very 1984.

Mothers and fathers have been ordered not to touch or hug their children and toys, recreation, and games are no longer permissible.

The Bountiful elementary and secondary schools have, for the first time, refused government funding, opting to run the programs they desire. Reports have surfaced that school hours are now filled with YouTube videos of Jeffs’ preaching.

Yes, the children even have to watch telescreens of Big Brother Jeffs.

All of this is a test of faith. Followers must adhere to these guidelines until Jeffs is released from prison because, as discussed, he is blaming his incarceration on his followers.

While it's sordid and deranged, none of this is hard to figure out. It's simple divide and conquer. People who are able to form strong bonds with each other -- family, friendship, romantic love -- have split allegiances and won't be totally subservient. And the more powerless Jeffs feels, locked away in his prison cell, the more he intensifies his grip on his remaining followers. And anyone who he perceives as a threat to that authority has to go.

As discussed, I think this reallocation of wives to his fifteen chosen enforcers is a reward -- he's buying their loyalty with women's bodies. But there is something else it does which is in some ways more pernicious. It keeps those men from establishing strong emotional bonds. How can they with all those women and children and such totally imbalanced power dynamics. They don't have wives. They have sex objects and breeding stock.

These bizarre edicts are also a window into Jeffs's twisted psyche. He's in jail, unable to have sex with any of his many, many wives, so he's restricting sex. He's lonely so he's breaking down intimate relationships and friendships. I don't think this is just about his incarceration either. Jeffs's life story is one of isolation. He was a sickly child who did not play well with others. He was also a Peeping Tom, lusting after girls from a safe distance. He's odd, even by FLDS standards and was never so much part of a community as he was a power figure by inheritance. 

Perhaps the most telling of his bizarre new rules is his restriction on affection with children. Men are not allowed to touch any children at all. He has redefined touching children -- affectionately or even innocuously -- as adultery and its an excommunication offense. Note that it's adultery, not pedophilia. And then consider that Jeffs is a child molester. Not only was he convicted of marrying and impregnating underage girls, the court heard testimony that he had molested prepubescent children, including his then 5 year old nephew.

Many of the rulings Jeffs is dispensing from his jail cell are not exactly breaking new ground. He's been reassigning wives and families since he assumed leadership in 2005. What has changed is the scope and intensity as he struggles to keep his grip on power.

So far the displaced men of Bountiful are not having much luck through the courts. Interim orders have granted some visitation and have prohibited the wives from taking the children out of the district, but no other custodial rights have been granted to the frustrated fathers as yet. Meanwhile, they wait and pin hopes on signs like wives who are also considering leaving. Of course, it's much harder for women to get out than men.

There are signs that Jeffs's increasingly draconian leadership is backfiring and accelerating the fragmentation of his church. But shattered lives, damaged children, and at least one suicide, are a horrible price to pay. And it will most likely get a whole lot worse.

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