The Netflix documentary “Keep Sweet: Pray And Obey” tells the horrifying true story of Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and how he abused his position as leader of the church to perform underage marriages, rape underage girls, and many more unthinkable crimes.
If I were to write a full list and analysis of every horrible thing Warren Jeffs has done, this article would be longer than the Bible. I will instead be focusing on some of the most shocking crimes of Warren Jeffs and how he came into power.
FLDS before Warren Jeffs
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is an extreme sect of the Mormon church that practices polygamy. It was formed after the Mormon church banned polygamy in 1904, resulting in a group of excommunicated members who started their own church. Though FLDS is referred to as a church, many believe it’s a cult and shouldn’t be considered a part of Mormonism or Christianity.
Before Warren Jeffs took over FLDS as a prophet and leader in 2002, the church was run by his father and prophet, Rulon Jeffs. Rulon was estimated to have more than 20 wives and approximately 65 children. The documentary featured two of Rulon’s younger wives, Rebecca Wall and Alicia Rohbock. Rebecca married Rulon when she was 19 and he was 85, and Alicia married him when she was 20 and he was 86. Both women said they were disgusted at the thought of being intimate with Rulon and did whatever they could to avoid having sex with him.
When Rulon was in charge, it was up to women when to “turn themselves in” to the prophet to get married, and the prophet was the one to arrange matches. FLDS men believed that they had to have at least three wives to reach salvation, but the more wives and children, the better. Many of the matches were made between younger women and older men.
FLDS men believed that they had to have at least three wives to reach salvation, but the more wives, the better.
Under Rulon’s rule, FLDS was based mainly in Salt Lake City, Utah. FLDS families often stayed away from the outside world and believed that they were the one true people of God. Both men and women had to dress modestly with their arms and legs covered, and women and girls were told to “keep sweet,” which meant to obey and serve their husbands. They were taught to keep their emotions in check. Expressing or feeling any negative emotion was considered sinful.
Of Rulon’s many children, he believed his son Warren to be his successor. Warren survived a premature birth, leading both Rulon and his mother to believe that he was destined to lead the church after his father. He took on a leadership role early and restricted the education of FLDS children to books that were approved by the church, banning secular stories and literally cutting sexual education out of science books.
After Rulon had a stroke in 1998, Warren closely watched over him until his death in 2002. Though the rules under Rulon were archaic, things got much worse when Warren took over.
How Warren Jeffs Took Control
Warren took his first form of extreme control months before Rulon died. When the Olympics came to Salt Lake City in early 2002, Warren told FLDS members that the Olympics would destroy the city and bring the end of the world. He convinced FLDS members to sell their houses and businesses and move to Short Creek, Arizona.
After Rulon died in September 2002, Warren slowly convinced FLDS members that he was the new prophet and started marrying some of his father’s widows. His methods of control grew more severe, and he banned FLDS children from having any type of fun and putting on school plays. He also expanded the dress code for FLDS women by banning denim, prints, and the color red, so FLDS women were only permitted to wear pastel-colored prairie dresses over long underwear. He also made them wear their hair in elaborate 19th-century style braided updos, ensuring that they all looked the same.
Though Rulon was big on control and using his prophet status to instill fear in FLDS members, Warren took things to another level. FLDS members believed that the word of the prophet was the word of God, therefore, questioning the prophet was seen as blasphemy. One former FLDS woman stated that she would have rather died than disobey or disappoint the prophet, demonstrating the extent that FLDS members were brainwashed.
Warren made sure everything in Short Creek was owned by the church for him to control.
Warren also made sure everything in Short Creek — from FLDS members’ homes to the police department — was owned by the church for him to control. Owning FLDS members’ homes came in handy when prominent men in the community started to question his ways. The documentary features two men (including one of his own brothers) who were banned from the community for questioning him, their wives and children reassigned to other men. When they were banished from the community, their former wives and children were forbidden from speaking of them, essentially erasing their existence. Former followers believed Warren did this to exert more control by showing FLDS members that anyone who questioned him was destined for expulsion from the community and even their own family.
Another disturbing method of control used by Warren was how he would expel teenage boys from FLDS to make sure that there were more women to marry off to older men. These boys are known as the "lost boys," as Warren left hundreds of boys homeless and without their families because they violated the church’s “moral code.” Warren also exploited boys for free labor. One of Warren’s sons told Insider that his father forced him to work construction at 14 after accusing him of fantasizing about having sex with one of his father’s wives.
Forced Child Marriages and Sexual Abuse
Though there were arranged polygamist marriages under Rulon, Warren took the unorthodox practice to another (and much more disturbing) level. Young women were still allowed to “turn themselves in” (or their fathers did) to the prophet to be married, but Warren often hand-picked girls who showed signs of rebellion to marry them off while they were still underage. Two of them, Elissa Wall and Ruby Jessop, were featured in the documentary. They were both 14 years old at the time of their marriages. If there is a bright side to anything in this documentary, both Elissa and Ruby leaned on each other during this difficult time and remain close to this day.
A few years into her marriage, Elissa managed to escape FLDS and eventually took Warren to court after he was arrested for rape as an accomplice in 2006. He was found guilty and given a 10-year sentence, but he continued to run the church from prison.
Separating Families, the YFZ Ranch Raid, and More Child Sex Abuse
Shortly after relocating FLDS to Short Creek, Warren had the Yearning for Zion Ranch (a temple) built in Eldorado, Texas. The temple was essentially a compound where a select number of children were relocated to learn more about the faith (this was considered a huge honor), many of them separated from their parents against their will.
One of the mothers who was forced to send her children to the YFZ Ranch was Alicia Rohbock. After becoming Rulon’s widow, Warren allowed her to marry his eldest brother, LeRoy. Alicia was lucky in finding a true love match in LeRoy and had a couple of children with him, but her happiness was cut short when LeRoy was on the list of powerful men expelled from the community. Alicia and her children were forced to forget about LeRoy and were placed under the care of another of Warren’s brothers. Her daughters were two and four when they were taken away from her and sent to live on the YFZ Ranch.
Warren facilitated 67 underage marriages and married 24 underage girls himself.
In April 2008, police raided the compound under suspicion of child sex abuse. 416 children were removed from the ranch by Child Protective Services but eventually returned after Warren (who was in prison) and his team pulled off a successful PR campaign to convince the public that no children were harmed on the ranch.
After the raid, there was still a strong suspicion that something insidious was happening at the YFZ Ranch. Records were discovered at the ranch that proved Warren had facilitated 67 underage marriages and proof that he had married 24 underage girls himself. They also found proof that Warren raped his underage wives at the temple at the YFZ Ranch, the youngest being 12 years old.
Warren Jeffs was brought back into court, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison for performing underage marriages and sexually assaulting minors. He still runs the FLDS church from prison. Though the number of FLDS members has dwindled since his arrest, he still has thousands of followers who believe he’s innocent. All who have escaped the FLDS church have family members who are still in it.
From draconian methods of exercising control to child sex abuse, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey exposes some of the horrific crimes of FLDS church leader Warren Jeffs. Though he’s behind bars and many of his followers have broken free of his control, he still runs the church from prison with thousands of loyal followers. I can only hope his followers will learn the truth and break free from his control because Warren Jeffs is a truly horrific cult leader disguised as a so-called prophet.
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