September 16, 2011

One man’s quest to put a predator behind bars

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People concerned for the welfare of children born and raised within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Days Saints will take small comfort in knowing that the church’s pedophile leader, 55-year-old Warren Jeffs, was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in Texas. While Jeffs’ conviction should halt forever his preying on young girls and his banishment of teenage boys who might have competed with him for underage “wives,” he still leaves behind the theological mechanism and eager disciples to perpetuate this sad saga of child abuse committed in the name of God. Besides being victims of sexual depredations, FLDS children were, and are, denied access to education and cultural awareness that would enable them to function independently of the church.

Among the dozens of wives Jeffs took during his nine-year reign were some as young as 12 years old. Other child brides were conferred on Jeffs’ favorite lieutenants, many of whom were also middle-aged or older. So strong was Jeffs’ authority that fathers and mothers seeking his goodwill enthusiastically surrendered their daughters to him. Anyone who resisted or hesitated to comply with his draconian, ever-changing rules ran the risk of being driven from the community and having his or her family taken away.

In Prophet’s Prey, Sam Brower, a private detective and member of the mainstream Mormon church—a very distinct entity from its fundamentalist offshoot—all but sputters with outrage as he recounts Jeffs’ increasingly flagrant offenses. Brower began investigating the FLDS after a trip to its headquarters on the Utah/Arizona border in 2004. There he found a closed, clannish and menacing society designed solely to perpetuate an us-vs.-them mentality. State and local law enforcement agencies tended to look the other way. From that point on, he began compiling evidence of Jeffs’ offenses and their effects on his followers. Occasionally, Brower worked in league with author Jon Krakauer, who had already written about two murderous fundamentalist Mormon brothers in his book Under the Banner of Heaven and provides the foreword here.

Although his focus is on Jeffs, Brower’s narrative makes it clear that as long as government officials are overly solicitous of religious practices—no matter how vicious and antisocial they are—children and childishly naive adults will always suffer.

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