KINGMAN, Ariz. — Anxiety is building for some 6,500 Warren Jeffs followers in northern Arizona and southern Utah as trial has begun in Texas for the polygamous church prophet.
Jeffs, 55, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is accused of sexually assaulting two teenage girls at the church’s YFZ ranch outside Eldorado, Texas.
Uncertainty of the trial outcome and the possibility of convictions and a long prison sentence has disrupted day-to-day life in the border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where the church is based.
“It definitely seems to be more tense,” said Sam Brower, a private investigator and author whose work has focused on Jeffs and the church for the past seven years. “Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it this tense before.”
Jeffs’ followers will follow custom in support of their spiritual leader, said Isaac Wyler, who was excommunicated from the church by Jeffs years ago.
“Warren’s going to have them fasting and praying probably sometimes for days at a time,” Wyler said.
The congregation was asked to pray when Jeffs was prosecuted separately in Utah and Arizona. Because of witness reluctance and other problems, Arizona dismissed its case last year, and Jeffs’ conviction and prison sentences in Utah were reversed on appeal.
Jeffs was prosecuted for arranging unions between underage girls and adult males in Arizona and Utah. He is accused of sexual activity with teenagers in the Longhorn state.
“Texas has a big hammer, and they have lots of evidence,” Brower said. “It’s a different ballgame.”
Brower, whose new work “Prophets Prey” is coming out on ebook Aug. 1 and in print Sept. 13, said revelations at the Texas trial could bring the church’s faithful to question their way of life.
“I think the FLDS had their heads stuck in the sand and for years they’ve said, ‘We just didn’t know,’ ” Brower said.
“They really did know. You know they saw pregnant little girls. They saw their daughters being married or disappearing at young ages. They really did know, but now it’s going to be time where they just can’t turn the other way.”
Wyler said many church members will remain blindly loyal to Jeffs, no matter what happens in Texas.
Mohave County attorney Matt Smith said turmoil from the Texas trial might be the beginning of the end for the Jeffs regime.
“I think the only way this empire’s going to come crumbling down is if it implodes from within, and I’m hopeful that’s what’s going to happen now because of all the infighting,” Smith said. “And if Warren gets convicted, there’s really going to be a power struggle up there.”