Fundamentalism seems to be on the rampage everywhere. It is well known Christian fundamentalism is having a field day in the so-called Mecca of liberal values.
The trial of self-proclaimed prophet and polygamist, Warren Jeffs, seems to reveal in appalling detail the stranglehold of US cult leaders on their own communities.
AdvertisementAfter 115 days on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most-wanted list and a year in solitary confinement in a jail called Purgatory, the leader of the nation's largest polygamist sect has begun in Utah, in the western part of the country.
Warren Steed Jeffs, 51, holds the title of President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the FLDS. He stands accused of being an accomplice to rape. The trial is in its fourth day of jury selection.
The charges stem from Jeffs' alleged practice of arranging marriages between adult male followers and underage brides.
The young accuser at the center of the trial is under police protection. "Jane Doe," as she is known in court documents, was 14 at the time she says Jeffs forced her into a "spiritual marriage" with a 19-year-old first cousin.
A reluctant child bride told a Utah jury Thursday that she was trying to preserve her eternal salvation when she obeyed Jeff's command.
She said she disliked her cousin because he once had sprayed her with a water hose on a freezing day.
"I preferred to stay away from him," she stated.
She told the jury she was given less than a week's notice that she was to be married.
On her wedding day, she left the girlish bedroom she shared with a sister and returned to find it redecorated, a queen bed taking the place of the twin beds.
Despite her reservations about her new husband, she said, she then tried to follow Jeffs' counsel to submit to him "mind, body and soul."
The two were married in Las Vegas by the prophet. "The whole time I was there I was crying. I wanted to die. I was so scared," she had testified at a preliminary hearing.
She told authorities her husband's demands for sex made her uncomfortable. But when she sought the advice of the prophet, Jeffs gave these instructions: "Go back and repent. You go give yourself mind, body and soul to your husband like you're supposed to. He will take you into the heavenly kingdom. Go back and do what he tells you to do."
Jeffs is charged with two counts of rape as an accomplice for using his church authority to coerce the unwilling girl into marriage.
The trial of Warren Jeffs is expected to pull back the curtain on a secretive community and what critics say are the abusive practices of its leaders.
The estimated 10,000 FLDS members are taught that outsiders are wicked. They are forbidden to watch television or movies. The only music they hear are tapes of Jeffs singing hymns. And, like "Jane Doe," girls as young as 13 are forced into marriages arranged by FLDS leaders, investigators and those who have left the sect say.
Under Jeffs, exiles charged, followers were taught that men couldn't get into the highest level of heaven without at least three wives. Women were ordered to submit to their husbands, who were their ticket to heaven. And, they were ordered to give birth every year to "replenish the earth."
The FLDS is not to be confused with the Mormon church, which abandoned polygamy in 1890. The church renounces the polygamous FLDS, which in turn believes it is practicing the true religion of founder Joseph Smith.
FLDS members live in isolation in the adjacent towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Other compounds have sprung up in such far-flung locales as South Dakota; Texas; British Colombia, Canada; and the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. But the area around Hildale and Colorado City remains the sect's home base.
As their faith dictates, followers cover themselves from chin to toe in prairie-style garb. Women wear long, pastel-colored prairie dresses, and men dress in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Former followers say red, thought to be the color of evil, is banned.
Jeffs, the son of a prophet, became the prophet himself five years ago. He was raised in an FLDS compound near Salt Lake City, Utah, and taught for a while at the sect's Alta Academy. His father, Rulon T. Jeffs, ruled as prophet from 1986 until 2002, when he died at age 92. Jeffs claimed he had received a revelation that he was to follow in his father's footsteps.
Followers believe Jeffs is a prophet, a blood descendant of Jesus who receives revelations directly from God. His critics, much smaller in number but increasingly vocal, call him a pervert who rules over his compound kingdom like a tyrant.
Soon after Warren Jeffs succeeded his father, the outside world began to hear from defectors and exiles. The turmoil led to lawsuits, which brought scrutiny from outsiders.