Polygamist prophet Jeffs writes to Utah lawmakers a lot
Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs frequently sends revelations and calls to repentance from his Texan prison cell to a special group of people: the Utah Legislature.
"We've seen a few more of late," after a bit of a lull, says Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "But two years ago, it was like I was receiving one a day."
Niederhauser says that while he read some of the early letters in the stream of correspondence, he hasn't bothered with the most recent ones because "there seems to be a consistency, not necessarily in content but the style."
He describes that as "mainly warnings, the day of reckoning is at hand, let my people go, don't hassle us anymore, that sort of thing," but containing no overt threats. "It is kind of in scriptural format, thus saith the Lord, and that type of stuff."
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is serving a life plus 20 years sentence in Texas for child sexual assault related to underage marriages.
Instead of using inexpensive email to communicate with lawmakers, Jeffs' messages are delivered via U.S. mail. They often stack up in Capitol mail slots when the part-time legislators aren't in session.
"Somebody is paying a lot of money for that," says Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. "It's amazing to me, with all their problems, that this is such a priority to them that they mail this to us."
Far from building support or sympathy, Jeffs seems to have managed to offend or scare off many lawmakers with his writings in recent years.
"One letter was basically arguing for eugenics," says House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City. "It talked about how people who are disabled are indicators of poor breeding habits in human beings."
She calls that "absolutely horrible" and says it offended her personally because "my sister is blind. She was born blind."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, remembers Jeffs "really went after gay people with a vengeance in one" letter. Dabakis is gay and jokes, "It sealed the deal that I will not be joining Mr. Jeff's group."
Weiler recalls the first letter he read from Jeffs "said I couldn't have any relations with my wife. I decided I wasn't going to follow that, so I haven't read any since."
While legislators may not have much interest in Jeffs' writings, Weiler says he's found that the public has an eager curiosity about them. For example, he says, he often gives tours of the Capitol for his constituents and usually stops to check his mail, where he often finds letters from Jeffs.
"I say, 'I just got hot off the press one of Warren Jeffs' latest revelations, do you want it?' One hundred percent of the time people say, 'I would love to see that, just out of curiosity.' "
Weiler found one of Jeffs' mailings a bit enriching at least for the Salt Lake County Republican Party. He says the GOP called seeking donations for a silent-auction fundraiser, so Weiler offered a hardbound book of revelations that Jeffs had sent.
"They sold it for $30," he says.
Each year, Jeffs sends such a hardbound book of all his revelations from the previous calendar year "kind of a collector's edition," Weiler says.
Niederhauser says several lawmakers became concerned this past year that the books might exceed the $10 gift limit for lobbyists. "Many of our legislators didn't feel comfortable accepting it," Neiderhauser explains, "so we sent them all back at least the staff attempted to."
While lawmakers joke about the letters, Dabakis says they may raise a serious question.
"When prisoners are incarcerated in most places, they lose their ability to influence criminal operations," he says. "But he has continued to run the compound with an iron fist. ... These revelations have continued, and, as they have, he has continued to rule the roost.
"It seems," Dabakis adds, "as though if someone is incarcerated, they ought not be able to exercise that kind of control."