HILDALE — Concern is rising over a new burst of activity by followers of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
According to outside observers, there has been a flurry of church meetings almost daily, a set of mysterious construction projects and widespread re-baptism as thousands of followers react to apparent prophesies of doom from their imprisoned leader.
"Right now, Warren is prophesying that the end is nigh, that the world's coming to an end at any moment," said Sam Brower, a Cedar City private investigator who has spent years probing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "They're trying to live up to Warren's predictions and prophesies and trying to prove to him that they're obedient and that they're going to follow his instructions, do whatever he tells them."
Some believe the renewed fervor and emphasis on loyalty is a prelude to an exodus of the faithful to an FLDS outpost in another state.
There have also been concerns that large numbers of people will be kicked out or will leave the group voluntarily, putting stress on social service capabilities in southern Utah.
Former FLDS member Isaac Wyler said "the word is all over town" that Jeffs spoke to his congregation from prison during a church meeting on Christmas Day.
"The special part of the meeting was that Warren called in," Wyler said. "And then he told everybody, if they weren't 'chosen' by the end of the year, they would be destroyed."
Texas corrections officials have confirmed Jeffs made two calls from prison on Christmas Day. They've launched an investigation to determine if he called his congregation and, if so, whether he broke the rules.
Prison regulations allow calls up to 15 minutes in length only to "friends and family listed on the offender's visitor list." Such calls are authorized only to land-line home phones, not cell phones or business phones, and no forwarding of calls is allowed.
Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the department's inspector general will determine whether Jeffs "violated or circumvented" prison regulations.
Brower said he's seen indications of unusual construction activity at the FLDS meeting house in Colorado City, Ariz. Pallet-loads of concrete were taken into the building, he said, possibly for construction of a baptismal font.
Brower said baptismal facilities have recently been installed in a school building a few blocks away, on the Utah side of the border in Hildale.
On Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of men, women and children were observed gathering first at the meeting hall on the Arizona side and then driving across the border to the school. As they entered the building, many were carrying bags that may have contained clothing.
Several sources said Lyle Jeffs, the imprisoned leader's brother, has been conducting intensive interviews of members to test their loyalty. Brower believes those who pass the loyalty test are being re-baptized. He predicts that the most faithful members, perhaps thousands of them, will soon be ordered to move to "places of refuge."
Brower said there has been a recent upsurge in construction activity at other FLDS properties. The group is known to have outposts in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and South Dakota.
"Warren's calling them to repent, prove their loyalty, pay as much money as they can get their hands on and then to leave and go to these places of refuge and start concentrating there waiting for the end. And that's kind of a scary thing," said Brower, who recently authored a book on the group called "Prophet's Prey."
This week, Brower obtained copies of purported revelations and prophesies attributed to Jeffs in November. They say, among other things, "I am soon to cleanse all nations. … Let this be as a final warning."
Brower said the message seems to focus on Jeffs' imprisonment.
"The end is coming," Brower paraphrased the documents, "and unless they let God's servant, Warren, free, everybody will be punished. The people of the Earth will be punished."
Wyler said many members of his former church take such statements literally.
"These people honestly believe that the end is here and that everybody's going to be destroyed within the next few days," he said.
Wyler had an encounter Tuesday that underlines rising tensions in the FLDS community.
He said he was delivering notices of unpaid property taxes to many FLDS residences on behalf of a court-appointed fiduciary whose authority is not accepted by FLDS leaders. As he went through the community posting the notices, Wyler said he was attacked by "FLDS teens throwing rocks."
Wyler said he called police, even though no one was hurt.