FLDS men kicked out, Jeffs tightens grip
Last year, Lorin Holm was a father who took his children on trips to Zion National Park and made sure they had cars and jobs.
Now, he is worse than a stranger to them.
"I drive up to the house and they all run into the house screaming ... they're all afraid of me," the 54-year-old said, his voice pained and frustrated. "It hurts, I cry, I can't even work for three days when I go there."
Holm is the father of 25 children with three wives.
He said their relationship flipped in one day early this year: Jan. 9, when Holm was excommunicated from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Holm is one of dozens men who have been cast out of the polygamous sect this year by leaders loyal to Warren Jeffs. That number could grow Saturday, said to be the deadline for FLDS people to be "re-baptized" under increasingly strict, insular rules or risk being destroyed when Jeffs' oft-predicted apocalypse comes.
It's the culmination of a tumultuous year for the group. Jeffs forcefully re-asserted his leadership even as he was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, 12 and 15, who he took as polygamous wives, and sentenced to life in prison. Some of those tossed out, however, have formed a small but growing opposition group.
There's been a flurry of construction and activity around the sect's meetinghousein Colorado City, Ariz., in the last week, said private investigator and author Sam Brower, with cars surrounding the building and men going in and out with bags of cement.
"Whatever it is they have a lot of stuff going on," he said. "I think the point is that he's keeping them worked up to a fever pitch."
Still, few expect fireworks Saturday from the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.
"I think the only thing that will really happen is Warren will give some sort of secret training reserved for the evening that made it possible for the world to continue another year, a few weeks, or a month," said former FLDS member Ezra Draper. "'Well you've been progressing and the Lord is merciful, so he's granted us a few more days.'"
Law enforcement is also watching, said Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap though this year he's also noticed more people from within the group questioning the leadership.
"I think there has been some movement of people to break away from the very controlling atmosphere and begin to think for themselves and ask questions where previously they wouldn't," Belnap said.
Jeffs was extradited to Texas late last year, after his accomplice-to-rape conviction in Utah was overturned. Shuttled between jails and prisons in Utah and Arizona since his arrest in 2006, Jeffs gained perhaps his greatest ability to communicate in years when he was transferred to a Texas jail where he had access to a pay phone. Former members and jail staff said he used the phone to preach to the FLDS congregation over a loudspeaker.
Around the first of the year, he began making his first rounds of excommunications including Lorin Holm. Holm said he was a faithful member of the sect who donated thousands of dollars and was even re-baptized in late 2010. But on Jan. 9, he was called to the meetinghouse, surrounded by about 25 men and told he "unworthy."
"There's no trial, you don't get a hearing or anything," he said.
He said didn't understand the "correction," but accepted it and did what was expected of him. He left town, walking away from his three wives and children.
"I got a hotel room in Vegas and cried for a week," he said. Seeking a return to the group and his family, Holm wrote some 30 letters to Warren Jeffs, according to court documents he filed in a suit seeking custody of his children. When bishop Lyle Jeffs told him the request had been denied, Holm started to question Warren Jeffs' leadership. He watched a jailhouse video made in 2007 in which Jeffs, suffering a breakdown, renounced his role as prophet.
The true prophet, Jeffs said in that 2007 recording, was a man named William E. Jessop. Jeffs later changed his mind and threw Jessop out of the sect, but this year Jessop emerged. Using Warren Jeffs' own statements from the video, he named himself as the true FLDS prophet and tried to wrest control of the FLDS Corporation of the President.
That attempt has failed so far, but Jessop stayed, drawing at last count a few hundred people to Sunday services in the twin towns.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, Jeffs was heading to trial, marking the first time he'd faced allegations that he himself had married underage girls.
Jeffs fired his attorneys and represented himself as prosecutors presented evidence that was more graphic and damning than many had expected. It included audiotapes of Jeffs preaching group sex to young girls and assaulting a 12-year-old plural "wife." They also showed DNA evidence he'd fathered a child with a 15-year-old.
Jeffs was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. In the months since, he's made more than a dozen apocalyptic "revelations from God," from his solitary prison cell prophesying natural disasters if he wasn't freed that his followers have sent to government officials all over the country. The restrictions on sect members' behavior have also grown stricter, lately barring most shopping at outside stores and restaurants, said Willie Jessop, a former sect spokesman who says he turned against Jeffs when he learned about the evidence against him.
He's concerned the FLDS is becoming "a society that's gone more and more underground, more freedom is being taken away. More emphasis is on Warren and less on responding to the long term care of the people."
Lorin Holm has since returned to Colorado City, though he's seen bikes and flowers he's brought his children dumped in the trash. He's seeking for custody of his 9 minor children who remain in the sect with two of his wives a third came with him. He's moved back into his home, though his family left before he got there.
An attorney for his wives, Rod Parker,said he's not seeking to block Holm from seeing the children.
But Holm is also hoping through his custody case to show his family the evidence against Warren Jeffs.
"If my wives knew what he was teaching, they wouldn't put up with it for five minutes," he said. "I'm going to go get my kids and teach them how to be children."
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