This could be the end of the infamous Yearning For Zion ranch as Texas moves to seize the large property holding from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS. The State contends that the ranch was used to further a criminal enterprise, one aspect of which was the crime for which FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was convicted last year -- molesting underage girls.
Investigators filed a warrant to seize the 1,600-acre ranch in West Texas under state law that allows seizure of property used to commit or facilitate criminal conduct.
According to a 91-page page affidavit in support of the search and seizure warrant served on the ranch in Eldorado, about 300 miles west of Dallas, church members purchased the property for about $1.3 million in 2003 with laundered money and used the property to sexually assault children and hide Jeffs in 2006 while he was a fugitive on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List.
According to the attorney general’s office, the ranch was purchased by church members at the order of Jeffs, who was based in Utah at the time but, “sought a rural location where the FLDS could operate a polygamist compound where the systemic sexual assault of children would be tolerated without interference from law enforcement authorities.”
Jeffs's own records make clear that the ranch, originally referred to under the code name R17, was designed for criminal use. It's far enough from main roads and infrastructure to allow him to skirt everything from building codes to other "wicked laws, un-righteous laws passed by the government that could put us in jail..." I'm guessing those would be those pesky laws against polygamy and sexual abuse of minors.
As discussed, there have been indications that FLDS was removing itself from the extensive property -- such as constructing and then dismantling a sizable watchtower. Perhaps they saw the writing on the wall and decided against defending the stronghold against an impending State takeover.
Where have they all gone, is the bigger question.
The church's numbers are dwindling due to excommunications, arrests, and deliberate fleeing. But there are also indications of organized relocation due to Jeffs's cryptic warnings and proclamations.
The State seems to determined to shut down Jeffs's Texas footprint completely and keep him incarcerated for the duration.
Officials call their attempt to seize the group's compound "the final chapter" in a multimillion-dollar battle against the polygamist sect, which authorities believe was centered around sexual abuse and funded through money laundering.
Authorities say Jeffs used the compound's temple to commit his crimes, saying it "was constructed in a special manner so that Warren Steed Jeffs could perpetuate sexual assaults in the Temple building."
And they quote from Jeffs' own designs and the group's "Priesthood Records": "There is a table, but it will be made so it can be a table or it can be a bed. It should be made so the tabletop can come off. It will be on wheels… This will be made so that it can be taken apart and stored in a closet where no one can see it. When I need it, I will pull it out and set it up… It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it."
So at least the mattress was safe. Young girls may have been raped and defiled on it. But the mattress was definitely safe.
And I definitely feel a little sick. The thing about FLDS and its creepy leader is that as bad as you think it is, it's so much worse.
A recent "20/20" report went behind the scenes and interviewed excommunicated members, shedding light on the increasingly restrictive control the imprisoned leader exerts. Many lives have been shattered by Jeffs's recent proclamations and paranoid weirdness. Not even his own brother has escaped banishment and the reallocation of his family. I guess he wasn't one of the lucky fifteen men still allowed to procreate. He and other "sons of perdition" have been removed from the dwindling gene pool. Meanwhile, numerous women have been excommunicated for the vile sin of having miscarriages. If that isn't a perfect storm of inbreeding disaster, I don't know what is.
While some long for the life they knew and worry for their immortal souls, others are enjoying their new-found liberation. A nineteen year old boy, freed from the 7-9 hours a day of forced labor he enjoyed in his childhood, can finally learn to read. They are all learning surprising things about history and government like that Warren Jeffs is not, in fact, the president of the United States. A sweet, little girl is finally able to wear a tiara and play with dolls. She says matter-of-factly, "We're considered apostates and wicked."
There is a little more insight into Jeffs's increasingly bizarre demands as he blames his followers for his incarceration and forces them to share in his suffering. Dietary restrictions like giving up corn and dairy products are part of their collective penance. The labor-intensive building of a million dollar home for Jeffs was supposed to cause his prison bars to melt and free him. It didn't.
I highly recommend viewing the episode, which can be found here. The commercials make it a little glitchy and you may need to reload it once or twice but it's well worth the effort.