ST. GEORGE The voice of Warren Jeffs, leader of the nation's largest polygamous church, can be heard on various news media Web sites today, and that is causing quite a stir.
The Eldorado Success, a weekly newspaper in Schleicher County, Texas, first posted the audio clips of Jeffs on its Web site, www.eldoradosuccess.com.
The tapes feature a soft-spoken man's voice saying the black race is a cursed, immoral, filthy people devoid of blessings.
"It's not going over really well here in Schleicher County," said Randy Mankin, publisher of the Eldorado Success. "A lot of folks worked pretty hard to improve race relations here, and this is kind of unsettling."
Jeffs is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices plural marriage as a central tenet. Over the past year, the FLDS church bought 1,600 acres about four miles outside of Eldorado, a town of around 1,900 residents, and began building a community that could house hundreds of people.
Jeffs named the property the "YFZ Ranch," which stands for Yearn For Zion. Construction of a large temple soon followed, which brought even more speculation and attention on the reclusive ways of Jeffs and his followers. Dozens of reporters are in Eldorado today because of that speculation, Mankin said.
"We've got 10 news crews in town, along with radio and newspaper," he said.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said he would be on the ranch today with a Texas Ranger and a couple of other observers.
Most of the recordings, which some news organizations are calling "secret tapes," are actually copies of church history lessons given by Jeffs while he was principal at the Alta Academy, a now-defunct private FLDS school.
"Those aren't secret tapes. Warren made hundreds of those, and nearly everybody has one," said Ross Chatwin, an excommunicated member of the FLDS church who still lives in Colorado City, Ariz., on church property.
Chatwin said he secretly recorded some of the FLDS church meetings by hiding a small tape recorder in his shoe. Those recordings also were provided to several news organizations.
None of Chatwin's recordings feature Jeffs discussing African-Americans or the FLDS stance on the history of the black race. Jeffs can be heard on one audio clip admonishing girls to prepare themselves for marriage to an honorable man and to be submissive to him.
"We've had thousands of hits and thousands of page views," said Mankin. "We had 15,000 page views yesterday and 50,000 hits."
The level of public interest in Jeffs and the church he leads surged this week when rumors of an impending doomsday began circulating. Once Mankin posted Jeffs' audio clips on his Web site, interest in the story virtually skyrocketed, he said.
"I think we've had more interest from readers in Utah and Arizona than we have in Texas," said Mankin.
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