If you’ve never heard about the horrible things now-incarcerated FLDS church leader Warren Jeffs has done, prepare yourself: this is deeply unsettling stuff. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is, as the name implies, a fundamentalist offshoot of the LDS church (commonly known as the Mormon church). Before being sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison in 2011, Jeffs was the President and “Prophet” of the FLDS, notorious for its polygamy and child brides.
Warren Jeffs’s biography is still being written, but he’s already done a lifetime of gut-wrenching things. He reportedly still leads the church and community from behind bars, meaning he might yet add a few things to this list via one of his many proxies. If you can stomach it, here are some facts about Warren Jeffs and his long, strange history as a “Prophet.”
He Married His Youngest Wife When She Was Only 12
Jeffs married his youngest wife, Merrianne Jessop, in 2006 when she was just 12 years old, later consummating the marriage by raping her on a temple bed. Jessop told caseworkers when she was 15 that the then-50-year-old “Prophet” couldn’t possibly be guilty of a crime because “Heavenly Father is the one that tells Warren when a girl is ready to get married.” Merrianne’s own father performed the ceremony. Jeffs, in an odd bit of symmetry, gave one of his own daughters away to an older man on the same day.
He Made Audio Recordings of Rapes and Sexual ‘Training’
As if the rape of his 12-year-old child bride wasn’t horrific enough, Jeffs also made at least some of his other reported 70-plus wives watch as he did it—plus, he made an audio recording of it all. Jurors were asked to listen to the recording of the rape during the trial where Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault in 2011. The tape—seized following his arrest in 2006—also included recordings of Jeffs instructing other “child brides” to “assist” and “comfort” him physically (as well as shave their pubic hair). He called the rapes “heavenly sessions.”
He ‘Reassigned’ Wives and Children to Other Men
As FLDS prophet, Jeffs has given himself the power to disrupt the lives of his followers as he sees fit. Wives may belong to their husband for all eternity, according to Jeffs’s doctrine, but the prophet may “reassign” wives and children to other men as punishment for misdeeds. Tragically, the wives rarely resist, because obedience to the prophet is paramount. However a family is broken up and put back together, the husband, ultimately, gets to choose whether or not to “invite” his wives into heaven—a rare decision the prophet can’t influence.
He Admits to ‘Immoral Actions’ With His Sister and Daughter
Recordings of a telephone conversation Jeffs had with various family members while in jail in 2007 revealed he thought he was a “wicked man” because of “immoral actions with a sister and a daughter” when he was 20 years old. Jeffs didn’t go into details.
It was a rare moment of Jeffs appearing remorseful for his actions, or at least aware that the world at large considered him a criminal. In 2011, another such moment: court documents revealed Jeffs kept a journal chronicling his history of sexual assault. “If the world knew what I was doing,” he wrote, “they would hang me from the highest tree.”
He Says Homosexuality Is ‘Like Murder’
The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled an intelligence report on Jeffs in 2005, including audio recordings of him expounding on various topics. Regarding homosexuality, Jeffs minces words a little, but his feelings are clear. “It is like murder,” he says, but not before first declaring it “the worst evil act you can do, next to murder.” Jeffs thinks a vengeful God doesn’t tolerate homosexuals: “Whenever people commit that sin, then the Lord destroys them.”
He Allegedly Raped His 5-Year-Old Nephew
During his trial in 2011, Jeffs’s 28-year-old nephew Brent Jeffs told jurors his uncle raped him in a restroom following a “family meeting” when he was five. He allegedly asked Brent to kneel “like he was praying” before warning Brent “this is between me and you and God.” Jeffs’s adult niece also told jurorshe made her sit on his lap when she was 7 and did undisclosed “inappropriate things” to her. She was reportedly sobbing so hard in the courtroom the prosecutor stopped questioning her and didn’t ask for details.
He Says Black People Are ‘Evil’
Another Southern Poverty Law Center recording revealed Jeffs thinks black people are how the devil “has always been able to bring evil unto the earth.” He also thinks even having “connections” to a black person will cause someone to become “cursed.”
Jeffs tries to back these claims up with the Bible, claiming Cain “was cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people.” Cain also still manifests himself, apparently, “as a mortal man” that’s “used by the devil.” Jeffs thinks he “has great power,” including the ability to “appear and disappear.”
He Is Allegedly Creating a Miniature ‘Master Race’
Former FLDS members tell Rolling Stone that Jeffs, at least as early as February 2016, has decreed only men of a so-called “royal bloodline” can reproduce in the community. These 15 men are also limited to sex with women selected to be a part of the “United Order,” an elite group within the faith—many of which are already married. The 15 “seed bearers” hide their identities using a hood and a sheet during sex. The cuckolded husbands are forced to watch the “breeding session” for some twisted reason. If the impregnated United Order woman follows the required “special detox diet” and successfully gives birth, the baby is whisked away and put into hiding, thus creating the start of a “master race” loyal only to Jeffs.
He Prayed So Much in Prison That Wounds Festered on His Knees
Jeffs has been serving a life sentence in a Texas prison since 2011, but it doesn’t appear to have softened his faith any. He reportedly prayed so much at one point “open wounds began to fester on his knees.”
Rolling Stone says Jeffs never interacts with other inmates, choosing instead to sit alone and read letters from his followers. To keep him from doing too much harm to himself during his intense prayer sessions, officials have at least once had to chain him to a wall.
He Banned All Books from His Community (Even Kids’ Books)
Former FLDS member Carolyn Jessop says before Jeffs took over, there were plenty of books available in the community, including her personal collection of more than 300. That all changed when Jeffs decreed that “all worldly material” be banned. All literature was burned—even magazines such as Motor Trend—including kids’ books. The children were also taught “dinosaurs had never existed and that men had never set foot on the moon.”
He Forced A 14-Year-Old Girl To Marry Her Abusive Older Cousin
Jeffs forced Elissa Wall was forced to marry her first cousin, 19-year-old Allen Steed, when she was just 14 years old. Wall is now 31, and she speaks openly about the abuse she suffered during her time in FLDS. Wall protested the union, but Jeffs forced her to go through with it. She was resistant to playing the role of Steed’s wife, and he began sexually and physically abusing Wall. She suffered several miscarriages as a result. She told Jeffs about the abuse, but he chastised her for being a bad wife. Wall said, “he reprimanded me over and over for not being submissive. Reminding me of my teachings. Reminding me that I was the property of this man and he could do whatever he wanted to me.” She ran away when she was 18 and eventually told police what happened.
He Preaches That He Is Christ Incarnate
When Jeffs’s father, Rulon, died, Warren took over the sect and began preaching he “was Jesus Christ incarnate,” according to a former member. He married several of Rulon’s wives, but not out of disrespect: he also preached that his father, pictured above, was God. Specifically, he explained Rulon-God wasn’t dead but had been “renewed” or “reincarnated” into the form of Warren-Jesus. This, he claimed, made it okay for him to marry his father’s wives.
He Allegedly Forced His Wives to Engage in Group Phone Sex
Former Jeffs family caretaker Roy Allred told the FBI that Jeffs’s 70+ wives, for a time, engaged in “nightly group sex rituals” with an incarcerated Jeffs listening in—and participating—over the phone. These so-called “heavenly comfort sessions” allegedly began when Jeffs was on the lam and would call in from the road. Allred, listening in on secure phone lines he set up for Jeffs, says at least one wife was “underage and inexperienced in the ways of sex.” Here’s CNN’s description of a typical “session”:
Allred said he could hear heavy breathing and some of the wives whispered they wished Jeffs were with them. The prophet encouraged them, exhorting, “Go after it” and “Go all the way.” The women responded, saying, “Yes, we are doing this for you.” And “This is heavenly. This is so special.”
He Made a Custom Temple Bed for Consummating Marriages
Court documents from his 2011 trial revealed Jeffs demanded a special temple bed be constructed at his “Yearning for Zion” ranch temple in Eldorado, TX, just for consummating marriages. Jeffs reportedly wanted the bed to be sturdy “so it wouldn’t rattle,” and to have padded sides that could hold him in place as “the Lord does His work with [him].” Jeffs also wanted “a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it.” The world got to see the bed (Associated Press photo here) when the temple was seized in 2014.
He Banned The Internet So Members Couldn’t Learn About The Outside World
To keep his members as isolated as possible from the world outside of FLDS, Jeffs carefully monitored the Internet, and few people had phones that would allow them to access the web. Roy Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’s estranged son, who has left the church, said that gaining Internet access was instrumental in allowing the members to realize they were brainwashed and abused. Roy Jeffs said, “[The Internet] definitely opened our eyes to what the world was really like and that peace and happiness exist out here. Without it, I don’t think this many people would’ve left.”