Warren Jeffs' grip in polygamous church likely to remain

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 10 2011 5:30 p.m. MDT

"I think they may get frustrated and then there's a long grieving process that you have to go through before you can come to the reconstructive state," Jessop said. "That's a long ways down from where we are today."

Jeffs rose to power in 2002 following the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, who had led the church for nearly 20 years. The faith's basic principles are rooted in polygamy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and excommunicates members who engage in the practice.

An estimated 40,000 fundamentalists have continued to practice plural marriage across the West. At roughly 10,000 members, the FLDS is the largest and arguably the most embattled of the organized fundamentalist groups.

In 1944 and 1953, authorities raided the sect's twin polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz. — known then as Short Creek — jailing dozens of men and women and putting their children in foster care.

The raids cemented a mistrust of government, sending church members further into their insular society.

The 2008 Texas raid on the church's Yearning for Zion ranch that led to Jeffs' current conviction likely galvanized a whole new generation of followers against outsiders, experts say.

There is a history of the devout — across various religions — remaining loyal to their faith even in the face of serious crimes, said Philip Jenkins, a professor of humanities at Penn State University. "It fits very well into the scholarly literature on failed messiahs," he said. "Maybe all the charges were bogus, or maybe all the things he was doing were done as some prophecy."

Church dissidents say Jeffs' reign has been anything but benevolent. They say that under Jeffs, the number of underage marriages increased dramatically and families were fractured. Dozens of teen boys and men were excommunicated for alleged acts of disobedience, with their wives and children being reassigned by Jeffs to new husbands and fathers.

Some former members remain bitter.

"I think he's a religious pervert," Richard Holm, who was thrown out of the church in 2003, leaving behind his three wives and 17 kids, said in a previous interview with the AP. "His leadership has totally disrupted whatever was good about the church."

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