By DeWayne Wickham
The terrorist who worries me most in this New Year is not one of this nation's avowed enemies who is being stalked by American forces abroad. It is Warren Jeffs, the homegrown cult leader and imprisoned pedophile.
From his Texas prison cell, Jeffs — who is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a consecutive 20-year sentence for raping a 15-year-old girl — is demanding even sheep-like behavior from members of his 10,000-member fundamentalist church.
And he is, apparently, getting it.
Jeffs has banned his followers from having sex until he is released, Joni Holm, who has relatives in the cult, told the Salt Lake City Deseret News. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon since Jeffs, 56, must serve at least 45 years before he can be paroled. Still, Jeffs has ordered his followers to reaffirm their faith (and loyalty to him) by handing over control of most of their worldly possessions to his lieutenants.
Children must give up their toys, girls under 18 aren’t allowed to work or have a cellphone, and access to media outlets and the Internet is banned, the Deseret News also reported.
Many of Jeffs’ followers were told to give his cult $5,000 by New Year’s Eve or face expulsion from his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is a breakaway faction of the Mormon Church. Jeffs’ edicts would be laughable — especially his ban on sex in a cult where men are allowed to take multiple wives — if it were not the product of a twisted mind that is capable of much worse.
Jeffs is starting to behave a lot like Jim Jones, the religious cult leader who coaxed more than 900 of his followers to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide and sedatives in 1978. The mass suicide came shortly after the ambush killing of Rep. Leo Ryan, D- Calif., who went to Jonestown, the commune Jones created in Guyana, to help some disenchanted followers leave.
The prospect of losing control of his flock while spending the rest of his life behind bars appears to have Jeffs ratcheting up his demands for sacrifices from his followers, particularly given reports of a growing exodus.
Jeffs claims to be God’s prophet. I don’t know if such talk is the hustle of a con man, or the ranting of a religious zealot. But it’s a good bet that if God is saying anything to him it is: “Cut it out.”
Like all cult leaders, Jeffs demands a blind allegiance to him that is the measure of his followers’ religious faith. And when his dominance of those who succumb to his questionable teachings is imperiled, he tries to tighten his control of them. That’s what Jones did when he moved the members of his Peoples Temple from San Francisco to Guyana.
And it is what Jeffs, who allegedly has forced young girls into illegal sexual liaisons with older men, appears to be doing now from his prison cell as he commands his followers to greater acts of acquiescence.
What worries me is that if prison officials don’t find a way to stop him, Jeffs — who has predicted the end of the world — could order his followers into some kind of Jonestown-like act of self-destruction.