In our last installment, we learned that Warren Jeffs was busy making everyone believe their every ailment could be cured by faith alone, leading many people to almost kill themselves and at least one to maim herself in the effort to follow
Warren’s God’s supposed will. Now we find out Warren in into survivalist shit as well. This allows some of the more concerning members of the community to indulge their sadistic sides.
Content Note for graphic animal abuse, brutal animal killing, spiritual abuse, ritual murder discussion, elder abuse, medical neglect.
Carolyn learns from Merril’s daughter Merrilyn that Warren has been running a series of survival classes at the FLDS’s private school in Salt Lake City. They mostly consist of Dee Jessop killing various animals in a variety of horrifying ways in front of the children. This includes ripping the heart out of a living pig as it screams in agony.
And no one says anything against it.
The more Warren gets away with without opposition, the stronger his hold on the community becomes. I wonder if these brutal “survivalist” classes were to see just how far people would go to comply with his orders. Was he using them to desensitize people? If you can get people to start doing more and more outrageous things, you can walk them into ideas that would’ve had them running away screaming if you’d thrown them straight in.
His father, the prophet Rulon Jeffs, begins having strokes in 1996, and Warren uses them to usurp his power. The community is told that Rulon’s mind is intact, but no one’s allowed to see him. This allows Warren to pretend his father is still mentally competent enough to perform his duties. He acts as Rulon’s mouthpiece. He gives the orders. And, with the community firmly in his grasp, he begins to squeeze. He tells the community that immoral men must be banished. And then he goes further:
Men were given pamphlets that spelled out the new moral code. All sex in marriage was forbidden except that which was for procreation. Immoral acts for which there could be no forgiveness were also named. Any person who committed these sins, such as fornication and adultery, would have to pay for them with “blood atonement.”
I had never heard of blood atonement before. Blood atonement is a murder. Warren claimed the ordinance of blood atonement dated back to the beginning of the Mormon Church. But he said that blood atonement could only be practiced in a temple that he said we would build in the near future.
I’m surprised Carolyn had never heard of blood atonement. It, along with polygamy, was one of Joseph Smith’s worst ideas. Brigham Young expanded on it, and too many Mormons in the early years of the faith treated it as a license to kill. It informed the death penalty options in Utah, which until early this century included the firing squad, and originally beheading as well. Like so many other hinky doctrines, the mainstream LDS Church loves to disavow any knowledge of it, but judging from the fuss kicked up when legislators first tried to do away with the firing squad, plenty of rank and file members believed in it. And since the FLDS was so keen to hold on to traditions like polygamy, I’m rather shocked that blood atonement doesn’t seem to have been a thing until Warren.
So things are getting rather bizarre and bloody already. Then Dee Jessop decides to bring his survivalist classes to Colorado City, complete with a demonstration at Centennial Park.
Carolyn suspects he’s going to get up to shenanigans and doesn’t want her kids anywhere near him, so she doesn’t go. Others who do aren’t suspecting anything particularly graphic – after all, children have been invited. And Dee’s going to demonstrate how the women folk can take care of themselves when FLDS prophecy comes true and all the men are gone. So the crowd gets treated to Dee’s wife tying up a cow. So far, not so outrageous.
But once the cow was restrained, she took out a handsaw and began sawing off the cow’s head.
The cow’s screams sounded like a woman’s. Children shrieked in terror. Those closest to the cow were sprayed by blood. Stunned parents grabbed their kids and started to run away. Some stayed, frozen in shock and unable to move.
People are outraged. Of course, they don’t turn their wrath on Warren, who was in charge of this stuff and knew exactly what Dee had been doing in his school up in Salt Lake City. Nor are they mad at Fred, the bishop of Colorado City. They scapegoat Dee, who is a twisted fucker but sure as shit wasn’t solely responsible for this fiasco.
Of course, the leadership doesn’t act against him. Nothing happens to him – until Ruth, in the throes of a breakdown that Merril has once again been ignoring, goes running down the road with her accordion one day, and Dee tries to grab her to bring her back home. She bashes him in the face with her instrument, and then starts raining kicks on him. Plenty of passers-by watch the show, happy to let Ruth deliver the justice they’ve been denied.
Poor Ruth still isn’t given any treatment. The most Uncle Rulon does is sends her daughter (and his wife) Merrilyn home to take care of her, which Merrilyn resents.
We get an appalling look at the family dynamic:
One morning Tammy came down for breakfast and heard Ruth screaming like a child. She walked into Merril’s office and saw Merrilyn beating her mother. Ruth finally sank into the corner of the office, sobbing and hugging herself.
Tammy was shocked. “Why are you slapping your mother like that?”
Merrilyn shrugged. “That’s the way Father handled her ever since I was a little girl. When she gets out of control, he beats the hell out of her until she comes to her senses.”
Needless to say, this is not how you treat mentally ill people. Beating them does not fix the problem.
Ruth eventually gets hospitalized, but I guarantee you, with a family and community like that, her life doesn’t improve. And Warren only makes it worse.
I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along. The full list of reviews to date can be found here. Need a chaser? Pick up a copy of Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume 1: Genesis, Volume 2: Exodus, and Volume 3: Leviticus today