To me, it's a cult. And the more control they gain over the people, the more cultish it becomes.
HILDALE, Utah — A new crackdown on followers of Warren Jeffs by his own lieutenants and a ban on everyday items such as children's toys have triggered turmoil in the FLDS community.
Former members of the group say a large-scale purge is under way in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Many followers of the imprisoned polygamist leader are being forced out, and many others are said to be leaving voluntarily because they're disturbed by what's going on.
"A lot of people are scared. A lot of people are just getting tired," said former FLDS member Isaac Wyler.
Among the new edicts, according to Wyler, is a ban on children's toys.
"Also, they have been told to get rid of their bicycles and trampolines," he said.
Observers say it's part of a program to cleanse and purify FLDS members before a Dec. 31 deadline. FLDS faithful reportedly have to profess their loyalty to Jeffs and to show they're obeying his moral edicts. If they don't do so by the end of the year, they're out.
Attempts to reach FLDS leaders for a statement were unsuccessful.
Jeffs, who was sentenced in November to seven years in prison for bigamy and child sex assault, reportedly is still pulling the strings from his cell in Texas. Former members say his edicts are passed on through phone calls to FLDS leaders. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, appears to be the most powerful FLDS leader outside of prison.
Tensions are on the rise, according to private investigator Sam Brower, who has tracked the group's activities for years.
"I think Warren's getting them wound up pretty tight," Brower said. "I worry now more than I ever have before."
More than 100 used bikes are for sale at a business alongside the highway in the FLDS community. Brower said he knows an ousted FLDS member who tried to give bicycles as gifts to his estranged children who are living with their mother under FLDS control.
"He brought brand-new bicycles to his kids," he said, "An hour later, they were in the Dumpster."
Former member Carlos Holm, who has numerous relatives in the group, said many FLDS members are quitting or expecting to be forced out by Dec. 31. Holm said FLDS leaders are cracking down on entertainment and outside sources of information, enforcing bans on DVDs, news media content and the like.
"They've completely banned the Internet from Colorado City," Holm said. "They don't talk to anybody on the outside unless it's for business reasons."
FLDS members have been ordered to make a list of their personal possessions, he said.
"And they're supposed to write down everything they had," Holm said, "every last item in their house, from a dish cloth to every butter knife — everything they owned. And if they owned any movies, they were supposed to write that too. But they'd obviously lie about it so they wouldn't be kicked out."
FLDS families reportedly have been told to turn over $5,000 to the church, Brower said, and all members have been told they must be rebaptized by the end of the year.
Wyler said members also are required to profess their loyalty to Warren Jeffs in personal interrogations by Dec. 31.
"They're going to ask them if they believe that Warren Jeffs is the prophet of God and will they obey him 100 percent and things like that," Wyler said.
Interrogations have been so intense, focusing on intimate sexual matters, that many are quitting before they're kicked out, he said.
"They're just leaving," Wyler said. "They're just saying the questions they ask are way too personal, and they feel violated when they're done."
He predicts that hundreds will have quit or been kicked out by the end of the year. Typically, departing members leave behind fractured families because church leaders reassign their wives and children to faithful FLDS members.
The disruption of family life could put FLDS leaders in danger, according to Holm.
"There will be violence," he said, "because … their whole entire life has been completely destroyed by Warren Jeffs."
Wyler and Brower said the bans on toys and bicycles stems from printed declarations by Jeffs. He has taught that children should not be encouraged to play but should be put to work and, in the case of girls, be turned into mothers.
"His purpose is to take all the joy out of life," Brower said.
Wyler said a ban on toys is not a surprise. Similar bans have been in effect for years at the FLDS ranch in Texas, he said.
"They'll do anything in a cult," Wyler said. "To me, it's a cult. And the more control they gain over the people, the more cultish it becomes."
Brower said he worries that increasing pressure by Jeffs on his own followers is a sign of a dangerous tendency.
"They're having meetings every day. He's backing them against the wall," he said, comparing Jeffs to such notorious religious leaders as David Koresh and Rev. Jim Jones. "It's getting really weird. The rabid Warrenites are taking over."
On Monday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff received a mailing of purported revelations from Jeffs. The writings claim that God wants imprisoned polygamists released. They also predict death and destruction to countries that don't "cleanse" themselves, including the United States.
Brower said he has information that three truckloads of "revelations" were mailed last week from Colorado City, presumably copies of the documents received by Shurtleff.
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