FLDS Cover Story in February National Geographic

Randall Stephens

The latest issue of National Geographic arrived in my mailbox yesterday. And, behold, it doth have this story on "The Polygamists: A sect that split from the Mormons allows multiple wives, expels 'lost boys,' and heeds a jailed prophet." It's a well-written, thoughtful piece.

I'm particularly interested in the power that leader Warren Jeffs (now incarcerated) had on the community. Jeffs claimed to receive direct instructions from God on even the most mundane aspects of his life. He received messages as he slept. According to the essay Jeffs diary, confiscated by authorities, has this entry: "The Lord directed that I go to the sun tanning salon and get sun tanned more evenly on their suntanning beds." I see a great short story here.

A choice passage:

Members of the faith describe the life that the Jessops and other founding families have built as idyllic, one in which old-fashioned devotion and neighborly cooperation are emphasized and children are raised in a wholesome environment free of television and junk food and social pressures. Critics, on the other hand, see the FLDS as an isolated cult whose members, worn down by rigid social control, display a disturbing fealty to one man, the prophet Warren Jeffs—who has claimed to be God's mouthpiece on Earth.

To spend time in Hildale and Colorado City is to come away with a more nuanced view. That view is revealed gradually, however, due to the insular nature of the community. Many of the oversize homes are tucked behind high walls, both to give children a safe place to play and to shield families from gawking Gentiles, as non-Mormons are known. Most residents avoid contact with strangers. National Geographic was given access to the community only on the approval of the church leadership, in consultation with the imprisoned Warren Jeffs.


The Pharisee said…
Whether you agree with them or not, the FLDS are blocking the path of death to freedom of religion.

Clearly, if raised in the soup of their beliefs, young people tend to subscribe to them, becoming the next generation of polygamy practicing Fundamental LDS.

The state says "no, this is abuse." Believe it, it is what Texas said, that the teaching of their beliefs was abuse itself.

Shall a religion bow to the state and alter it's beliefs to fit what the state says is acceptable, or do they get to behave as they see fit?

No one at YFZ is complaining of abuse or sexual assault, yet Texas came in, sifted through everything these people owned, and put them away for sentences as long as 33 years, which will make one man 90, when he gets out of jail.

Provided he lives that long.
Kelly Baker said…

Thanks for the notice. I will pick up a copy soon because I have a lingering interest in FLDS and dress.
Art said…
Wait, I thought everyone had visions telling them which sun tanning salons to frequent?
Randall said…
My visions are mostly about what hair tonics to purchase.
Christopher said…
Good post, Randall.

From the standpoint of scholarship, there is so much to be explored of the FLDS (and Fundamentalist Mormons more generally). This is probably prevented (at least in part) because the closed nature of the community makes research difficult. But there is quite a bit of literature produced by the FLDS and other groups, and the events of the past couple of years in TX may have ultimately worked to bridge the distance and suspicion between the FLDS and outsiders (however so slightly). Now, if I could just get my hands on Warren Jeffs's diary.

Attending the FLDS rally at the Salt Lake City courthouse last year was interesting, to say the least:


This post by independent historian John Hamer's visit to Colorado City in May 2008 may be of interest, as well:


Kelly, as you may know, following the raid in Texas, FLDS women started a website that sold handmade clothing (FLDSdress.com). It appears, however, that the site is no longer in service (the URL directs to the main FLDS website now). But it did spawn the following site mocking their efforts: http://fldsdressed.com/
Anonymous said…

Thanks to the 2008 YFZ raid, a lot of information has come out about the FLDS and their practices. Some good, some not-so-good.

You can even read Warren Jeffs' dictations chronicling his activities, which is pretty much like a diary. They're compiled here:
Neil J. Young said…
I wrote a piece on the history of raids on this community for Slate after the Texas raid in 2008:

John G. Turner said…
On the lighter side, this post at By Common Consent is well worth the click:

Jam Inn said…
Mr. Pharisee is a registered lobbyist in Vermont to legalize the cause of polygamy. There are recognized limits placed upon 'Freedom of Religion' by our Supreme Court. Limits not observed by the FLDS Church or the soft peddler Pharisee. See the long standing ruling of Reynolds vs. United States made in 1887 and has withstood over 100+ years of legal challenges. Mr. Pharisee says,'Clearly raised in the soup of their beliefs, young people tend to subscribe to them, becoming the next generation of polygamy practicing Fundamental LDS.' The 'young' he mentions include girls 12 to 16 years illegally married and sexually assaulted by hand selected men aged 30, 40 and 50+ years old, with multiple wives of their own. The children in the FLDS Church are homeschooled and fully indoctrinated into the illegal beliefs by church approved and published reading/study materials not unlike young Hitler youth were in NAZI Germany in the 1930-40s.

This issue isn't about 'Freedom of Religion' as much as freedom to live religious sect free and not born into a closed society that denies US Constitutional rights in God's name!
Kelly Baker said…

Thanks for all the links. I was already aware of the FLDS online dress shop, but I wasn't aware of the mock site. Also, your perspective on the all YFZ goings-on should also be helpful.
The Pharisee said…
There are days, I feel like a garbage scow, with all these seagulls following in my wake......
Anonymous said…
NPR's Talk of the Nation has an audio interview (and photo gallery, but National Geographic already put that up) about the FLDS cover story:


I'm interested if anyone from D.C. went to hear Sinclair speak at the NG Live! event last night?
denise said…
You should read the book "Stolen Innocence" it's a true story about this girl who grew up in a polygamist sect and Warren Jeffs was the principal and a teacher at her school. He grew so powerful that he became the leader of their town. It's pretty surreal and I can't believe people like him exist! It puts everything (religion) into perspective for me.