Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

KNPR

Ex-Church Leader Warren Jeffs' Influence Still Felt In Southern Utah

In a quiet little town that is divided by the Utah and Arizona state line there is another line that divides the residents.


Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, gained national attention when polygamist leader Warren Jeffs hit the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list in 2006. Jeffs was wanted on multiple charges of sexual assault against minors, incest and conspiracy to commit sexual assault against a minor.

Support comes from


He was ultimately arrested outside of Las Vegas in 2006. In 2010, he was convicted in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls and sentenced to life in prison.


While he was the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), Jeffs’ power in the Hildale and Colorado City area was undeniable, but now five years after his conviction, his presence in the sister cities is still felt.


According to Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs, who visited the towns to write a story about how live has changed, a school just recently opened for the first time in 13 years.


However, only a fraction of school-aged children are actually in the school, a testament to Jeffs’ edict that children should not be sent to school.


Women and children can be seen throughout the town donning prairie dresses and braids, and men drive around in trucks with windows so tinted you can’t see in them. People who are part of Jeffs’ sect of the FLDS church are also unlikely to talk to people they view as outsiders.


McCombs found that people who had been kicked out of the church or left it on their own were more likely to discuss what is going on.


Those who have left the church are trying to enter mainstream society.


Jeff’s former bodyguard and spokesperson Willie Jessup bought a compound once built for Jeffs for when he returned to the town and has turned it into an operating bed and breakfast.


McCombs notes that one of the biggest changes is that residents are beginning to receive deeds to their house. The church once owned most of the homes and land in the community and gave them out to members.


The state of Utah took over that trust in 2005 and now after years of legal wrangling is finally allowing a community board to decide who gets a deed to which house.  


“Its real sign of key progress in the community,” McCombs said, “The others who see people get the deeds are emboldened by a new reality that they never knew.”


Despite the changes, McCombs points out that the number of people in Jeffs’ sect still outnumber those outside it and the church leadership is still getting instructions from Jeffs.


“I’m not sure what orders he’s giving and no one outside the sect really knows,” McCombs said.


Most people suspect Jeffs communicates his wishes through letters and phone calls. One of Jeffs’ brothers then makes sure those wishes are carried out.

“It is a fascinating place,” McCombs said, “It is very interesting how things have changed in the four years since Jeffs was sentenced and more changes are coming. Yet you can see the strong, strong grip the sect has on the community.”

GUEST:

Brady McCombs, Associated Press reporter, Salt Lake City

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.knpr.org/.
Guests

Brady McCombs, Associated Press reporter, Salt Lake City

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.knpr.org/.

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories