Incarcerated FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is maintaining an iron grip on followers even as his prophetic proclamations fail to manifest. I say that only because it's 2013 and the world hasn't ended.
“The consensus seems to be that Warren is indicating that by the end of the year, the end of the world will be here," Brower said.
A CNN reporter dispatched to the community's main enclave in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, was rejected by FLDS members who refused to speak to him. Meanwhile, the abrupt closing of the area's only grocery story and "central gathering" point for the community has added to fears Jeff's followers are gearing up for doomsday, according to the report.
The global cataclysm appears to have been rescheduled after an earlier prediction that would have ended the world on December 23rd also failed to pan out.
There is nothing exactly new about Jeffs's apocalyptic prophecies. As his former FLDS follower Isaac Wyler points out, it's one of his best techniques for ramping up fervor in his followers.
“They are all supposed to make these grey or blue backpacks, 2x2x1, pack them with essentials,” Wyler said. “Be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Wyler said he’s heard it all before: “it’s just Warren whipping them up into another frenzy to gather money.”
And when the end doesn’t come? Wyler said Jeffs will still be right and blame his followers for not having enough faith for it to happen.
Yes, Jeffs seems to have hit on a winning formula for maintaining control. All of his failures can be blamed on his followers for not being obedient enough. They become more submissive than ever and Jeffs's inaccuracy is explained away.
The mutability of doomsday prophecy is hardly unique to Jeffs's FLDS. It's long been known that such spectacular failures can increase rather than decrease loyalty in cult followers. Originally published in 1956, When Prophecy Fails described the seminal research of Leon Festinger, et al., who infiltrated a UFO cult as they awaited alien rescue from a global flood. When neither event occurred at the appointed time, a new revelation from their prophet explained that by their demonstration of faith they had averted the world-ending cataclysm. The group's faith was not only renewed but intensified.
Festinger pointed to this case study as validation of his "cognitive dissonance" theory. As discussed here, when our thoughts, feelings, and actions, are in conflict, we need to resolve the disconnect and regain our equilibrium. When people have sacrificed much of their material lives -- jobs, families, education -- to wait for a prophesized UFO rescue that doesn't come, they are highly motivated to find validation for the tangible commitments they've made, rather than upend their lives again.
In the case of FLDS followers, the commitment is multigenerational. This is the only way of life these people have ever known and they are materially dependent on the continuation of the larger community. They're thoroughly acculturated to the beliefs and morés of the church. To let a little thing like the continuation of a world that was supposed to have ended overwrite the belief and commitment that not only defines but dictates their lives would be far more complicated than simply accepting Jeffs's explanations and trying harder to follow his edicts.
As discussed, FLDS has been subject to increasingly demanding edicts and called to dramatic demonstrations of devotion. FLDS schools now do almost nothing but indoctrinate fanatical devotion to their incarcerated leader.
You may have heard how the FLDS have been told their righteousness and faith will free their prophet, Warren Jeffs, from prison.
Attorney Roger Hoole on Wednesday showed reporter Jim Dalrymple and me a drawing that illustrates the point well. The drawing is of a rose with six words written across it.
"Uncle Warrens Deliverance Depends Upon Me!" The last word is underlined. And, yes, there should be an apostrophe before the final letter in "Warrens."
Hoole says he found the drawing in the Holm School, where many FLDS sent their children until the private school’s leader was excommunicated on Dec. 15, 2011.
As Jeffs becomes more and more demanding, the potential for just how far his followers go to resolve whatever disequilibrium has resulted from his continued incarceration has surrounding communities and law enforcement on high alert.
While much of Jeffs' predictions [stet] seem like the mere rantings of a man who will not have the opportunity for freedom until his 93rd birthday, former member Wyler said the continuing obedience of some in the FLDS community is unpredictable and frightening in its strength.
“There’s always that fear that Warren would see how far he could take them,” Wyler told KUTV. “I’ve got a brother-in-law who once told my sister ‘if the prophet told me to I’d slit your throat without even thinking about it."
Meanwhile, in the Amish sect that people have similarly compared to a potential Jonestown, followers await the sentencing of the unfortunately named Bishop Mullet and his merry band of haircutters. A number of the men and women convicted last October remain free on bond until sentencing but are busily making arrangements for their many, many children should they receive jail terms. As per the New York Times, it looks like sentencing was pushed back to February 8 -- I had recorded a date of January 24. They are praying for miracles like short sentences and probation for some members.
One hopes that Bishop Mullet at least will go to jail for a very long time. It seems likely. Judge Dan Aaron Polster has wide discretion due to the kidnapping charges and he has shown little inclination towards leniency with these defendants. He recently refused to grant Sam Mullet a new trial and affirmed his certainty that jury's verdict was correct.
“Suffice it to say, the evidence at trial conclusively established that defendant, as bishop of Bergholz, ran his community with an iron fist,” the judge wrote in a ruling on Dec. 6. “Nothing of significance happened without his knowledge and approval.”
Sam Mullet continues to claim that his only error was in not stopping the attacks once he learned of them. He now even claims that he might have been victimized by his own parishioners if he'd protested their behavior.
“I guess I didn’t want my beard cut off, and that probably would have happened if I had tried to stop them,” he said. “The only thing I did wrong was that I didn’t tell them to stop.”
The suggestion is risible. But Sam Mullet has been casting himself as a hapless victim from the beginning. To hear him tell it, he and his entire community were treated unfairly by all the other Amish, by the police, and now by the criminal justice system. But when push comes to shove, the Bishop is more than willing throw his followers under the bus. He is a victim among victims.
What strikes me over and over with Bishop Mullet is how not characteristically Amish he is. When I was reading up on the disturbing prevalence of sex abuse in Amish communities, one of the things I found most fascinating was the willingness of perpetrators to come clean when pressed. And not just within their own process of repentance and reconciliation. Even police have found them to be surprisingly open about these utterly shameful crimes against children. The Amish consider all sin forgivable and don't seem to see any reason to lie. Coming clean about transgressions is part of their process and part of their culture.
Sam Mullet, on the other hand, lies shamelessly, even when the evidence against him is overwhelming... which it was. He still claims that he did not endorse the haircutting attacks, despite having been caught on tape laughing about future raids and warning followers to keep their mouths shut. He relegates claims that he slept with other men's wives to "lurid rumor" by "rival Amish" despite the fact that when the FBI arrested him, he was in his bedroom with one Lovina Miller, whom he may have impregnated.
Sam Mullet is a "you gonna believe me or your own lying eyes" kind of a guy.
I was surprised early on at the Bishop's willingness to appear on camera. And as the above video demonstrates, his followers are also very open to being filmed and photographed. It seems the surrounding Amish are very aware of how far from traditional Amish values and practices the Bergholz clan is, and find them terrifying. But Bishop Mullet and his followers are convinced that they are the ones who are truly Amish and that it is everyone else whom "God is not with."
The Bergholz community is in a mutually reinforced version of reality that is very much at odds with the world outside of it. And that, even more than the degrading punishments, the sexual exploitation, and the attacks on "sinful" outsiders, is reason for concern in the months and years ahead.
It's very clear from the New York Times coverage that they are sticking by Sam Mullet and are still taking orders from him even as he regales them with sad stories about the horrors of prison life. Daughter Wilma explains, “No matter if he gets life in prison, he will still be our bishop here.”