Since succeeding his father
as FLDS leader in 2002, Warren Jeffs has tightened the grip on his followers in part by casting out "sinners".
As principal of Alta Academy for 22 years, Warren Jeffs was a stickler for the little things. Sloppy handwriting, an untucked shirttail, a bad grade -- all were signs of a personal flaw that needed to be confessed, corrected and often punished.
Now, as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the scope of his dominion has grown from 300 students in the Salt Lake Valley to 10,000 people on the Arizona Strip.
His discipline has hardened into law, and his goal is perfection on earth. To err is to risk one's eternal salvation.
"I believe Warren is trying to accomplish something that even God hasn't heretofore," said a close associate. "To be able to pull together a captive group of followers who are measured by a mortal man as being perfectly united in mind and body and purpose."
The church he heads is one of Utah's largest, and most insular, fundamentalist faiths that follow early teachings of LDS Church
founder Joseph Smith, including plural marriage
Jeffs assumed leadership of the FLDS church in 2002 after the death of his 92-year-old father, Rulon Jeffs
But he has helped shape the sect for many years, first as an educator, then as spokesman for his ailing father and now as its leader.
In one 1995 tape, Jeffs lectures on the need to be "perfectly obedient and come out of the world" to avoid apostasy and reiterates a well-worn theme about following a single, God-anointed leader -- at the time, his father. "That one man is as God over the people and has the right to rule in all areas of life," Jeffs says.
Today, Jeffs is intent on making it clear he is that one man -- even as some dispute his claim to authority -- and on defining what perfect obedience entails.
Jeffs is a tall, lanky man whose church-sermon cadence is described as mesmerizing; even critics compliment his skills as an orator.
He is estimated to have around 40 wives, at least a dozen of whom were formerly married to his father, and about 56 children. Most of his time is spent managing church affairs, but he also is described as an accomplished singer/songwriter.
Among Jeffs' credits are "Zion from Above" and "He Will Be Renewed," an ode to his father. He has embellished several well-known LDS hymns with new verses.
And, accompanied by some wives, he has produced tapes and CDs that are available to followers.
Rulon and Warren Jeffs moved to Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. in 1998, when they began to predict that the Apocalypse
was near and the Salt Lake Valley had a bull's-eye on it. More pointedly, some say Warren pushed the move as a prelude to taking over the church.
Age and a series of strokes were taking their toll on Rulon Jeffs, and Warren Jeffs began to deliver messages that routinely began with the words: "This is what Father wants me to tell you."
Some directives came over the pulpit. Others were delivered in personal interviews, as many as 50 a day, with families or individuals who made sure not a button or collar was out of place, that sleeves were pulled just so to reveal a bit of the long undergarments worn by the faithful. Some sessions were recorded, including those in which members were challenged about misdeeds.
Critics view Jeffs as a usurper and believe some of Rulon's last "decisions" were merely his son's machinations, such as the 2000 demand that followers pull their children from public schools and an order that Salt Lake City FLDS members move to Hildale and Colorado City before the 2002 Winter Olympics, which, it was said, would forever corrupt the state.
Another example: Some say Warren orchestrated Rulon's dismissal of Winston Blackmore as leader of the FLDS' Canadian branch in 2002, removing both a rival and a more senior leader.
With Jeffs' ascendancy, the mantle of authority passed not to the next most worthy senior man, as it has historically, but in the father-to-son ascendancy of a monarchy.
"What we witnessed was a power play," said Ezra Draper, one of Rulon Jeffs' many grandchildren, who moved last June from Colorado City to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, after becoming disillusioned with Jeffs.
"Through careful manipulation he was able to disqualify, on false accusations, one person after another."
So it may not be surprising that Jeffs travels with an entourage of bodyguards.
Under Warren, Rulon's admonishments have become gospel, which some find unnervingly difficult even as they are cast as the way to salvation.
Rulon Jeffs advised people to limit television viewing and suggested getting rid of their TVs if that proved impossible. Warren Jeffs demanded they toss out their sets, along with VCRs, video games and Internet connections. Period.
Jeffs also banned community recreational activities, such as basketball games, that take members away from home. (Schoolyard basketball standards were removed within a day of that edict, some say.)
"Everything he has done was to take things to an extreme," said Richard Holm, one of dozens of men Jeffs has banished in a series of "adjustments" that are becoming the hallmark of his presidency.
Parents were told to scrap most children's books -- including Bible and Book of Mormon storybooks -- and videos, particularly those involving fantasy or that depicted animals with human characteristics.
Women especially feel pressure to keep their homes tidy, their children in check, behavior controlled -- pressure that often is unbearable.
Jeffs has instructed adults to quit patronizing distant restaurants, calling it a waste of time and money. He has scrapped community and holiday celebrations -- from marking past leaders' birthdays to Pioneer Day festivities -- along with dances, socials and other get-togethers.
And people have been warned that laughter causes the spirit of God to leak from their bodies, amplifying an obscure tenet in Joseph Smith's Doctrine and Covenants
In a kinder light, Jeffs' actions can be seen as attempts to fulfill the long-standing prediction of his ecclesiastical forefathers: In order to be spared the Apocalypse that will precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the church needs a select group of true believers who are pure and perfect in following its teachings.
Of late, Jeffs is said to have suggested that members not bother reading scriptures or listening to tapes and instead rely solely on his instructions, which, he says, are inspired of God.
Most FLDS members are willing to do whatever it takes to be part of that great event regardless of how their actions may be interpreted by outsiders.