book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: Sam Brower’s Prophet’s Prey…

Here’s a reposted exmo lit review for those who like that sort of thing.  It’s yet another review of a book I enjoyed and don’t want to have to review again. It was originally written for Epinions.com in November 2012 and appears here “as/is”.

I have been interested in reading about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) for several years, even before the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas was raided in the spring of 2008.  My fascination with fundamentalist Mormonism comes from being married to an ex Mormon.  The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) does not claim any kinship with the FLDS sect, which parted ways with the LDS church mainly over the issue of polygamy.  They are separate entities, with the FLDS sect mainly operating in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.  Other branches are located in Texas, Mexico, and Canada. 

Having already read Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven, I was intrigued when I saw that he had collaborated with author Sam Brower in writing the 2011 book Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints.  I knew if Krakauer had anything to do with the book, it would be well-researched and well-written.  So I ordered it for my Kindle.  A printed version is also available.

The premise

Sam Brower is a private investigator and Mormon convert who moved to Utah after having lived in southern California for many years.  He got involved with investigating the FLDS sect in 2004, when a family asked for his help in extricating themselves from the FLDS.  He accepted a payment of one dollar, which he, in fact, had to loan to the family because they were too poor to pay him.  When they became his paying clients, Brower was able to work on his clients’ behalf. That’s when he began to uncover Warren Jeffs’ amazing fiefdom which had been allowed to exist largely unmolested in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Colorado.

Brower became familiar with the people involved in fundamentalist Mormonism and had his eyes opened to the extreme control Warren Jeffs, the so-called FLDS living prophet, maintained over his flock.  He learned of girls as young as twelve being “married” to men in their 40s, even though these men already had other wives.  Brower writes of how members of the FLDS were compelled to do whatever Warren Jeffs demanded of them, lest they lose everything.  Jeffs was unconcerned about and unconstrained by federal law.  He ran his compound as if it existed entirely seperate from the rest of the United States.  Over seven years, Sam Brower learned about it all and wrote about his experiences in a comprehensive and well-written account.

My thoughts

I have read several books about Mormon fundamentalists, so I was already familiar with some of the sects’ practices and beliefs.  Nevetheless, it was interesting to read Sam Brower’s account of following the FLDS.  He writes in a personal tone which comes across as both matter-of-fact and occasionally disgusted.  I was definitely interested when he wrote about some of the techniques he used to get information and stop FLDS people from harassing him as he went about his duties. 

Sam Brower is clearly no friend to Jeffs.  He writes in vivid detail about watching Jeffs being loaded onto an airplane in Utah, escorted by Texas Rangers on his way to Texas, where he would stand trial for raping minors.  Jeffs is described as a bit of a nerdy pipsqueak, and yet he was able to command his followers to do his bidding.  I had a hard time reading some of the chapters, especially the one that had to do with Jeffs’ declaration that no FLDS family should own a pet dog and the ones having to do with young girls being forced to marry middle aged or even elderly men. 

Brower includes commentary about the raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch as well as the court case that followed the raid.  He writes about the incredibly incestuous nature of FLDS families, many of whom are intermarried and interbred.  Brower explains how the children, particularly the young mothers, who were taken from the ranch made it very difficult for investigators to figure out exactly what was going on.  He also writes a great deal about the way members of the FLDS sect use government programs and funding to expand their empire.  And he makes it clear that this sect has been allowed to do these things unbothered for many years– in part, because in Utah, there are many people who are related to FLDS members and are ambivalent about prosecuting them for breaking laws related to polygamy.  Brower also includes photos, which were clear as a bell on my iPad.

Overall

If you’re curious about the FLDS sect and want to know more about Warren Jeffs and his followers, I think Prophet’s Prey is an excellent book to read.  Brower is a good writer and has the backing of Jon Krakauer, who is also an excellent writer.  This book held my intention and informed me.  I think it rates five stars.

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Duggars, Ex, narcissists

“He’s just a little boy… let’s not condemn him to a life of fundie drudgery yet!”

Yesterday, I was hanging out in the Duggar Family News Facebook group when someone shared a cute picture of two of the Duggar grandchildren. I believe it was a picture of Josh’s second daughter, Meredith, and Jessa’s eldest child, Spurgeon. I think both kids are very cute, but Spurgeon appears to be especially adorable, despite his unfortunate name, which alternately reminds me of sturgeon or spooge. A lot of the people in the Duggar group called him “Spud” for short.

Anyway, I posted that I think Spurgeon is super cute and will be a “heartbreaker” when he gets older. Innocent enough comment, right? It’s the kind of thing people often say about attractive children. I didn’t realize what I wrote was controversial, but apparently, it was.

Here’s the conversation that ensued:

I was a bit non-plussed that my original comment, that I think Spurgeon is a “cutie” and will be a heartbreaker, turned into a prediction of the boy’s future. Spurgeon is only four years old; he turns five in November. And yet people in the Duggar group are already condemning him to a lifetime of being his grandfather’s “slave”.

“Here’s you some candy…” (actually, I have seen the candy challenge done by a lot of Mormons, too.)

Frankly, I find that thought very depressing. People in the Duggar group follow the pregnancies of the Duggar children with intense devotion and seem to cheer whenever a new pregnancy is announced. However, it seems that a fair number of them believe that the offspring of the Duggar “kidults” are doomed somehow. What a sad and limiting thought that is. Basically, a large group of people strongly believe that these kids have no minds of their own and no ability to make their own choices.

And yet, here’s Jill Dillard, wife of Derick Dillard and once considered the biggest Kool-Aid drinker of the bunch. She’s sending her son, Israel, to public school. She has a nose piercing, wears pants, and has even been photographed wearing shorts, sleeveless tops, and swimwear. Yes, it’s true that she and Derick are no longer welcome to come to the Duggar compound uninvited, but they are clearly making their own choices.

Jeremy and Jinger Vuolo, likewise, were able to escape Arkansas and live on their own out in California. They’ve been married a few years now, yet Jinger is only on her second pregnancy. She wears pants, has cut her hair, and colors it. It’s obvious that Boob no longer completely runs her life.

And finally, there’s Joy Anna Forsyth, who married her husband Austin a few years ago. Austin makes his own money flipping houses. It looks like they’ve largely removed themselves from the hopelessly dull Counting On series and are putting up their own videos on YouTube, for which they probably get paid directly.

I think these two might be living their own lives now.

But even if I’m wrong about Jill, Jinger, and Joy Anna, and their lifestyles are still completely under Boob’s control, I still think it’s within the realm of possibility that Spurgeon or any of the other Duggar grandchildren will bust out on their own and make their own choices. It’s happened in many families that are mini-cults.

Look at the people who have managed to escape Warren Jeffs, and other FLDS sects. I know I read a lot of books by women who were once sister wives– Irene Spencer’s excellent book, Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife, comes to mind. She was the second wife to Verlan LeBaron. Her sister wife, Susan Ray Schmidt, wife number six to Verlan, also wrote a book called His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy. I’m sure many people thought that Irene and Susan were trapped for life in the Colonia LeBaron FLDS polygamist nightmare, but they weren’t. They escaped and made new lives for themselves. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the Duggar grandchildren or children can’t also escape. In fact, if I were a betting woman, I would bet there will someday be a scandalous tell all about life as a Duggar. I bet there’s already a book in the works as I type this.

If there’s one thing I have learned from Bill’s experience with his hyper-controlling, narcissistic ex wife, it’s that people who are caught in these kinds of controlling groups DO sometimes wake up and take control over their own lives, even if the source of control is a close relative. My husband’s daughter did not speak to him for many years, mostly because her mother told her not to and she’d been fed a lot of lies. A lot of people thought it was hopeless that Bill would ever speak to his daughter again, let alone know his grandchildren.

I always somehow knew younger daughter would eventually come around. I figured she would do it before her older sister would, simply because she had a stronger personality. But I knew it would happen someday that she and Bill would speak again. I’m grateful that my initial predictions weren’t completely what came to pass. I figured she’d get in touch to spite her mother, because I was under the mistaken impression that she was just like her mom. I thought that she would try to use Bill, like her brother did. It turns out that, as far as we can tell, she’s much more like Bill, which is a wonderful blessing.

I still have hope that older daughter will also come around someday… but if there’s one thing Bill and I have BOTH learned, it’s that being “disowned” is not the end of the world. Yes, it’s extremely hurtful to be cast out, but the pain is definitely survivable. Some people truly would rather go through the pain of being disowned than surrender their free will to someone else. Many people are determined to make their own decisions in life, and choose to break out of extremely controlling family systems and do what they want. There is absolutely NO reason to believe that one of the Duggar grandchildren won’t do that.

Boob can’t control them all forever, and who’s to say that someone even more narcissistic or toxic won’t come along push him out of power? There are simply too many of them. Even Fred Phelps, creator of the damnable Westboro Baptist Church, was eventually ousted from his own family created church fiefdom. It takes a lot of energy and strength to control people, and the older and weaker a controlling person gets, they more likely it is that they’ll eventually be pushed aside by someone younger and stronger. Everyone– even Jim Bob Duggar– has a match. Moreover, most of us have never met the Duggars and only know about them what we’ve seen on TV and read in the media.

I truly hope that any of the Duggar children or grandchildren who want to live life on their own terms will eventually be able to do so. I refuse to sell any of them short. I disapprove of making predictions about how a child will turn out, particularly when the child is as young as Spurgeon Seewald is. He’s only FOUR. A whole lot can happen in fourteen years, when Spurgeon will be considered an adult. Let’s give him a chance to grow up a bit before we make predictions about his future.

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religion

Just heard about Roy Jeffs’ suicide…

Roy Jeffs, for those who don’t know, is one of Warren Jeffs’ sons. Warren Jeffs is currently in prison for sexually abusing his child brides. Roy Jeffs was born on June 5, 1992 to Warren’s third wife, Gloria Barlow. He committed suicide on May 29th, 2019, just days before his 27th birthday. Roy Jeffs was notable because he was treated even worse than most of Warren’s other family members, forced to separate from his mother at age 14 and go work in one of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ construction companies in Wyoming.

Roy Jeffs left the FLDS in 2014, realizing that he would never be able to please his father. He came out about how badly he and his mother were treated by Warren Jeffs. He told about how he was one of 50 siblings and his father shunned him and tried to turn his other siblings against him by telling them he was a “bad” kid. Roy was also molested by Warren and he spoke about it, which was likely why he was ostracized.

For all of Warren’s efforts to demonize his son, at least some of his siblings knew the truth. Roy’s sister, Rachel, shared a Facebook post about her brother’s death. It was full of touching memories and comments about how proud she was of him for his courage, and how loving and fun he was.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the FLDS. I haven’t read anything recently about the sect, mainly because I’ve kind of lost interest in Mormonism lately and have been reading about other things. Also, I no longer have the stamina for reading that I once had. Nowadays, I start reading and soon fall asleep, even when what I’m reading is excellent. I don’t remember reading about Roy, although almost every book about the FLDS has a lot of information about Warren, who continues to rule the roost even from his prison cell at Utah State Prison.

I don’t often wish death on people, but I think Warren Jeffs is one of those folks who is just very dangerous. I don’t know if I think he should be executed, but I do think the world would be a better place without him in it. He’s damaged so many people.

I hope wherever Roy is now, he’s in peace. It sounds like he really suffered during his brief time down here on Earth. I remember being 26. Life was just getting started for me. It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago… on the other hand, I was 26 when depression was at its worst for me. I can’t judge Roy for his last action. There’s just no telling what he’s been through. May he rest easy now.

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