Polygamy Cult’s New Idol

Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for child sex—but that’s not stopping his flock from secretly erecting a giant statue of the cult leader. By Carol McKinley

08.10.11 5:46 AM ET

It took a West Texas jury less than half an hour yesterday to sentence polygamy cult leader Warren Jeffs to life in prison for the rape of a 12-year-old “wife,” plus 20 more years for the sexual assault of another “wife,” this one 15. Of Jeffs’ 78 known “celestial” wives, prosecutors revealed 24 were under age, with 12 under 16. “Hallelujah!” said one of his many brothers, many of whom Jeffs, fearful of rivals, exiled from his sect. “I hope I never have to see him again in this lifetime.”

But many of his followers still think Jeffs did nothing wrong. Despite a new recording revealed Monday, which documents Jeffs having group sex in an alleged baptismal font with five females including a 13-year-old and two of his own sisters; despite the new testimony of a nephew who says his uncle raped him when Jeffs was still a church school principal; despite the now-convicted felon’s nasty habit of ripping families apart, and reassigning them to other men like chess pieces—his flock is now constructing a three-story statue of their self-proclaimed prophet, according to a trusted source, who has confirmed the details from two different people involved in the edifice’s construction.

The statue, according to this source, is planned to go up next month at the activity center of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints’ (FLDS) compound in Short Creek, on the Utah/Arizona border. At 38 feet, it will tower over a town where most of the buildings are one-story ranches and trailer homes.

The gargantuan metal prophet is being constructed in seven pieces in a clandestine warehouse whose windows have been papered over in San Angelo, Texas, where Jeffs’ trial is being held, according to the source. The project is secret, or as FLDS term it, a “heavenly hush,” which means that anyone who discusses it will be kicked out of the sect. The inside source says that those building the statue believe that this their “way of showing them that they can’t take him away from us.” 

Ex-FLDS members who live in Short Creek, and have been abused by Jeffs for years, are not happy about the prospect of his likeness looking over their high-desert home.  And they say the mere idea of dedicating a statue of any kind is akin to blasphemy.  “This flies in the face of their religion!” says former sect member Isaac Wyler. “It is just as much against their principles as group sex! The FLDS can’t have idols. Idols are absolutely forbidden!” 

Jeffs himself once ordered a granite stone dedicated to another prophet pulverized. The stone was a modest three-foot hand-made monument commemorating Leroy “Uncle Roy” Johnson, who led the FLDS for some 40 years before Jeffs and his father took over. Says Wyler, “Warren had that thing powdered to dust.” 

“Remember what happened to Saddam Hussein’s statue,” says Willie Jessup, a former Jeffs’ bodyguard, who left the sect in December after viewing the child sex evidence, when told about the new statue. “That same thing will happen to this one.”

Apparently, most of Jeffs' followers still don’t know about the evidence presented against him. As The Daily Beast has previously reported, a goon squad patrols the compound to enforce a no-media policy, including an Internet ban.

That wasn’t an issue for the jury of 10 women and two men, who decided yesterday that Jeffs should finish his life in prison. Directly after his sentencing, Jeffs was flown under heavy security to an intake facility in Huntsville, Texas, 60 miles north of Houston.  There he’ll be interviewed, photographed, and given a physical exam.  After a week, he’ll be sent to a permanent prison home to be decided later, where it will be tough to get holy messages to his followers, or view images of the statue apparently going up shortly.