I do worry about more and more demands being placed on these members. —Gary Engels, investigator
There's mystery, worry, and new indications of turmoil among followers of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
At least three of his followers' most prominent businesses were suddenly closed in the Fundamentalist LDS Church's twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The closures involved the community's only grocery store, the hardware store and a Radio Shack.
"Warren would have told them to do that," said former FLDS follower Isaac Wyler. "They wouldn't do that on their own. They wouldn't dare."
It's not known if the closures are related to a doomsday prophecy Jeffs reportedly issued last weekend.
"It's scaring the hell out of people in the United Order," said private investigator Sam Brower, referring to the most loyal members of Jeffs' church. Brower said FLDS leaders read a statement to followers last Sunday that was purported to be Jeffs' own words from a Texas prison where he's serving a life sentence for rape of a child.
According to Brower, Jeffs' statement said, "If you don't all come clean and confess your sins and wrongs, the Lord will send a scourge of death among the people of the United Order."
Wyler said Jeffs apparently predicted an apocalypse. "From what I've heard," Wyler said, "there was a prophecy that the 'lifting up' would occur before the end of the year."
In FLDS theology, the "lifting up" is a literal, physical event. "All the righteous FLDS people would be lifted up, and everybody else would be destroyed," Wyler said.
It's not clear if the end-of-the-world prophecy is what prompted the FLDS faithful to shut down the businesses. It was one of a series of edicts coming in the past few days, according to Wyler. Among them was a ban on consumption of oatmeal, corn, turnips and dairy products.
The imprisoned leader also ordered each faithful FLDS member to "build a backpack," Wyler said. The backpacks are supposed to be either gray or blue in color, Wyler said, and FLDS members are ordered to be "ready to leave on a moment's notice."
Some longtime FLDS observers are not alarmed by Jeffs' doomsday preachings.
"He's made these prophecies before, and they've come and gone," said Gary Engels, an investigator for Mohave County, Ariz., who set up an office in the community several years ago. "I've not seen anything that would indicate this prophecy is different from the others."
On the other hand, Engels admits that recent pronouncements from Jeffs are a concern. "I do worry about more and more demands being placed on these members," Engels said.