War­ren Jeffs’ son talks about polyg­a­mous sect


As a young teen, Roy Jeffs would spend long days typ­ing up his fa­ther’s ser­mons while stuck in­side a house in an Al­bu­querque sub­di­vi­sion where he and his mother were sent to live in hid­ing. In the mid­dle of the night, the phone would ring. It was his fa­ther, polyg­a­mous leader War­ren Jeffs.

“There would be like this pierc­ing of de­spair in your heart,” Roy Jeffs said. “What’s he go­ing to say now? Is he go­ing tell me I’ve lost my place? Is he go­ing to kick me out?”

Roy Jeffs, now 23, says he was con­trolled, ma­nip­u­lated and shuf­fled around the coun­try and as­signed to work crews to atone for his per­ceived trans­gres­sions be­fore leav­ing the sect last year.

His sto­ries pro­vide a win­dow into the se­cre­tive sect based on the Utah-Ari­zona bor­der in which cell­phones, toys, movies, the In­ter­net, bi­cy­cles and even swimming were strictly for­bid­den. He said Jeffs im­posed his con­trol over fol­low­ers by re­as­sign­ing chil­dren and wives to dif­fer­ent men, send­ing peo­ple to “houses of hid­ing” and wield­ing the con­stant threat of ex­ile.

The son told his story to CNN for the first time in a story broad­cast this week and de­scribed his up­bring­ing in the polyg­a­mous sect in an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­view on Fri­day.

The younger Jeff said he lived a child­hood al­most en­tirely cut off from the out­side world. He didn’t see a movie at the theater un­til he was 20, when he slipped away to one in Tuc­son, Ari­zona. He has seen hun­dreds of movies since, with “Fast & Fu­ri­ous 6” among the most mem­o­rable.

Roy Jeffs usu­ally landed in trou­ble be­cause of the con­fes­sional letters he would send the man he still calls Fa­ther. War­ren Jeffs, con­sid­ered a prophet, or­dered his young son to con­fess his thoughts, temp­ta­tions and sins to pre­serve his place in the faith and avoid go­ing to hell.

Among the things he wrote about was his at­trac­tion to girls, some of whom were his fa­ther’s child brides who were younger than Roy Jeffs.

War­ren Jeffs would then turn around and pun­ish the son for his ad­mis­sions, send­ing him to do con­struc­tion work around the West or live in the houses of hid­ing like the one in Al­bu­querque.

“I was scared of him,” said Roy Jeffs, who left the sect in Fe­bru­ary 2014 and lives in the Salt Lake City area. “He told me he knew ex­actly

what I was think­ing.”

‘Maybe have a lit­tle fun in life’

Lawyers for War­ren Jeffs did not re­turn mes­sages seek­ing com­ment Fri­day, and an email sent to him at the Texas prison was not im­me­di­ately re­turned. The sect, known as the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-Day Saints, does not have a spokesman or a phone list­ing where lead­ers can be con­tacted.

Roy Jeffs’ story is not un­com­mon for mem­bers of the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter­Day Saints, said Amos Guiora, a Univer­sity of Utah law pro­fes­sor who has stud­ied the sect for years.

Peo­ple of­ten are moved around the coun­try in hid­ing or work­ing on crews for the group. The sect has homes scat­tered across sev­eral states where peo­ple are sent to re­pent for so-called mis­deeds, Guiora said.

Roy Jeffs also says his fa­ther sex­u­ally abused him be­fore he was 6 year old. He says he’s not fil­ing a po­lice re­port be­cause War­ren Jeffs is al­ready serv­ing a life sen­tence in a Texas prison for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing un­der­age girls he con­sid­ered wives.

“I just want the truth to be out there,” Roy Jeffs said. “I want that in­for­ma­tion to be there so when peo­ple are ques­tion­ing things and they are look­ing around, my story is there.”

Roy Jeffs said he con­sid­ered leav­ing sev­eral times, but he was talked out of it by peo­ple warn­ing him he would be fol­lowed by the FBI and would have to dis­own his fa­ther to get work. Turn­ing against the man they con­sid­ered the prophet, they said, would bring eter­nal damna­tion. War­ren Jeffs con­stantly warns his flock that they’ll be de­stroyed dur­ing an im­pend­ing apoca­lypse if they don’t fol­low his com­mands, he said.

He fi­nally left af­ter he re­al­ized he was damned to de­struc­tion be­cause he’d never meet his fa­ther’s high stan­dards. So he thought, “I might as well leave and maybe have a lit­tle fun in life.”

Roy Jeffs is en­joy­ing his new free­dom — he re­cently went boating and wake­board­ing for the first time — but says the tran­si­tion is dif­fi­cult. The sex­ual abuse and con­trol­ling man­dates still fill his head and plague his abil­ity to have a nor­mal life.

“If I think about too hard, think about ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened, it just breaks me down real bad,” Roy Jeffs said.

But he has hope: “I feel like I can do what I want. It’s my life now.”


Roy Jeffs, 23, son of po­lyg­a­mist leader War­ren Jeffs, speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view in Salt Lake City, Utah, Fri­day, Oct. 2.

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