PLAY­ING GOD

Hav­ing brain­washed a whole town, War­ren was a Lat­ter-day Sin­ner...

Real People - - PUZZLE TRAIL -

He claimed to be God’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on Earth, but War­ren Jeffs was no monk. In­stead, he was an over-sexed scrawny man who lived as if he was the Almighty him­self.

As Prophet of the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints (FLDS), an off-shoot of the Mor­mon Church, he was supreme leader.

And God for­bid if any­one crossed him.

In his moun­tain king­dom, strad­dling the bor­der of Utah and Colorado, Jeffs amassed 10,000 fol­low­ers, mainly through sheer con­vic­tion of be­lief and tremen­dous charisma.

He cre­ated a co­terie of faith­ful male fol­low­ers and used women to buy their loy­alty.

He alone had the right to as­sign wives and ‘re­as­sign’ them to more wor­thy fol­low­ers if they dis­pleased him.

The cult, which built the thriv­ing town of Short Creek, prac­tised polygamy, which is out­lawed by of­fi­cial Mor­monism.

They be­lieved a man had to have at least three wives to achieve divine grace, and the more he had, the more blessed he was. Jeffs had 70 on the go and count­less chil­dren.

He told his wives, ‘You have to know how to be ex­cited sex­u­ally and to be ex­cit­ing, to ad­min­is­ter that com­fort and strength. You have to be trained to do this.’

Jeffs banned TV and the in­ter­net, cut­ting his peo­ple off from the out­side world.

In a se­ries of tri­als be­gin­ning in 2006, brave women and chil­dren, who had es­caped, told of sex­ual abuse and other of­fences by him.

In a fi­nal trial in Au­gust 2011, a Texas jury sen­tenced Jeffs, then 54, to life in prison, plus 20 years for sex­ual of­fences against two chil­dren – one of whom was his child bride.

One of his daugh­ters, Rachel Jeffs, later ac­cused him of re­peat­edly rap­ing her.

You would think that his fol­low­ers would be glad to be free. But Short Creek is dy­ing. Peo­ple have lost jobs, their homes and are liv­ing in poverty.

More than half of them have drifted away, but the rest stay be­cause they don’t know where else to go.

Norma Richter, 51, was as­signed to her hus­band when she was 20.

She has 11 chil­dren by him and shares him with five sis­ter wives. Norma is one of an in­cred­i­ble 75 chil­dren born to her father and his eight wives – her own mother had 19 ba­bies.

Yet Norma won’t have a word said against ‘Un­cle War­ren’.

‘I love him, and I know only good about him. He’s very lov­ing and car­ing,’ she sobbed.

‘It hurts to think that any­body could see bad in him. I know the real man and he’s had a lot of things said that don’t hold true.’

But a for­mer mem­ber of the church, La­mont Bar­low, is one of the voices speak­ing out against Jeffs and is try­ing to get through to those peo­ple he brain­washed.

‘He’s a nar­cis­sis­tic sicko,’ he said.

La­mont re­mem­bers a time be­fore Jeffs took over. ‘We had TV and Christ­mas par­ties, we cel­e­brated the 4th of July, but then the Jeffs regime came in,’ said La­mont, who was 16 when Jeffs suc­ceeded his own father in 2002.

La­mont left at 23 and had to quickly adapt to a new ter­ri­fy­ing life.

As well as get­ting to grips with the ev­ery­day things like buy­ing fuel and shoes, and keep­ing a roof over his head, he’d lost his spir­i­tual con­nec­tion.

Out­side of the church, he met his wife, Ash­ley, who is also an es­capee of the cult.

But she missed her fam­ily so much that he agreed to move back to Short Creek with her.

La­mont’s goal is to cre­ate jobs, schools and health ser­vices.

‘What breaks my heart is that re­ally good peo­ple have had their hon­est and sin­cere be­liefs ma­nip­u­lated and used against them,’ he said.

But un­be­liev­ers like him face fierce op­po­si­tion from Jeffs’s fol­low­ers, many of whom have been evicted from their prop­er­ties af­ter the state of Utah seized the cult’s $100m es­tate.

For peo­ple like Norma, life with­out Jeffs to guide them is with­out mean­ing.

She in­sists she wasn’t brain­washed and imag­ines that he would be dev­as­tated to hear of the suf­fer­ing of his peo­ple.

‘We were hap­pier then,’ she said. ‘But it’s a test of my faith and I will en­dure it.’

War­ren Jeffs had at least two child brides The supreme leader had mul­ti­ple wives War­ren Jeffs was sen­tenced to life in prison Norma Richter be­lieves Jeffs is ‘lov­ing and car­ing’

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