Back during the summer, we ran a story and follow-up on the reclusive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway sect that defected from the Mormon church (the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) more than a century ago when the mainstreamers abandoned polgamy. Jeffs, widely called a “cult leader” (and probably much worse, besides), was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in May after fleeing charges of rape-as-an-accomplice — for allegedly arranging underage marriages (though various allegations have been made, child rape among them) — and reportedly setting up shop in a $20-million complex-cum-temple in Eldorado, West Texas, as well as in Arizona; Utah; Colorado; and South Dakota. In August, Jeffs was captured by Nevada highway patrol and sent to Utah to appear in court. Testimony began November 21; Jeffs pled not guilty December 14. (The husband in the arranged marriage — the alleged rapist, in other words — has yet to be charged.) Meantime, Jeffs whiles away the hours in a Utah jail, but that doesn’t mean Jeffs’s influence has waned: He’s believed to be leading his followers from his cell, and as many as five law-enforcement officials in a pair of Arizona-Utah border towns — including the towns’ marshal — may lose their badges over their reported Jeffs allegiance, Salt Lake City news outlets reported December 8.
Jeffs’s power is considerable and longstanding (when, in 2000, he ordered FLDS members to pull their children out of public schools to get them away from “apostates,” enrollment in the Colorado City Unified School District dropped from 2,000 to 250). In the coming year, look for this closely watched and strange case to inform and add kindling to the debate over the role of religion in society — quite the germane topic.