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SALT LAKE CITY — A new crackdown on followers of Warren Jeffs by his own lieutenants, and a ban on such everyday items as children's toys, have triggered turmoil in the FLDS community.
Former members of the group say a large-scale purge is underway in the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Many followers of the imprisoned polygamist leader are being forced out and many others are said to be leaving voluntarily because they're disturbed by what's going on.
"A lot of people are scared; a lot of people are just getting tired," said Isaac Wyler, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "With the numbers of people that are being kicked out right now, yeah, I'd say it's a purge."
With the numbers of people that are being kicked out right now, yeah, I'd say it's a purge,
–Isaac Wyler, former FLDS member
Among the new edicts, according to Wyler, is a ban children's toys. "Also," Wyler said, "they have been told to get rid of their bicycles and trampolines."
Observers say it's part of a program to cleanse and purify FLDS members, with a deadline of Dec. 31. FLDS faithful reportedly have to profess their loyalty to Jeffs and to show they're obeying his moral edicts. If they don't do so by the end of the year, they're out.
Attempts to reach FLDS leaders for a statement were unsuccessful. One person who has acted as an FLDS spokesman in the past said he believes the leaders would have no comment on the new developments.
Convicted child-rapist Warren Jeffs is reportedly still pulling the strings from his prison cell in Texas. Former members say his edicts are passed on through phone calls to FLDS leaders. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, appears to be the most powerful FLDS leader outside of prison.
Tensions are on the rise, according to private investigator Sam Brower who has tracked the group's activities for years. "I think Warren's getting them wound up pretty tight," Brower said. "I worry now more than I ever have before."
More than 100 used bikes are for sale at a business alongside the highway in the FLDS community. Brower said he knows an ousted FLDS member who tried to give bicycles as gifts to his estranged children who are living with their mother under FLDS control. "He brought brand new bicycles to his kids," Brower said, "An hour later they were in the dumpster."
They've completely banned Internet from Colorado City. They don't talk to anybody on the outside unless it's for business.
–Carlos Holm, relative for FLDS members
Former member Carlos Holm, who has numerous relatives in the group, said many FLDS members are quitting or expecting to be forced out by Dec. 31. Holm said FLDS leaders are cracking down on entertainment and outside sources of information, enforcing bans on DVD movies, news media content and the like.
"They've completely banned the Internet from Colorado City," Holm said. "They don't talk to anybody on the outside unless it's for business reasons."
He also said FLDS members were ordered to make a list of their personal possessions. "And they're supposed to write down everything they had," Holm said, "every last item in their house — from a dish-cloth to every butter knife — everything they owned. And if they owned any movies they were supposed to write that too. But they'd obviously lie about it so they wouldn't be kicked out."
FLDS families have been told to turn over $5,000 to the church, Brower said, and all members have been told they must be re-baptized by Dec. 31.
Wyler said members are required to profess their loyalty to Jeffs in personal interrogations by the end of the year. "They're going to ask them if they believe that Warren Jeffs is the prophet of God and will they obey him 100 percent, and things like that," Wyler said.
Interrogations have been so intense, focusing on intimate sexual matters, that many are quitting before they're kicked out, Wyler said. "They're just leaving. They're just saying the questions they ask are way too personal and they feel violated when they're done," he said.
He believes by the end of the year, hundreds will have quit or been kicked out. Typically, departing members leave behind fractured families because church leaders reassign their wives and children to faithful FLDS members. The disruption of family life could put FLDS leaders in danger, according to Holm.
"There will be violence," Holm said, "because people have been, their whole entire life has been completely destroyed by Warren Jeffs."
They're having meetings every day. (Warren Jeffs is) backing them against the wall.
–Sam Brower, private investigator
Wyler and Brower said the bans on toys and bicycles stems from printed declarations by Jeffs. He has taught that children should not be encouraged to play but should be put to work and, in the case of girls, be turned into mothers. "His purpose is to take all the joy out of life," Brower said.
Wyler said a ban on toys is not a surprise, since similar bans have been in effect for years at the FLDS ranch in Texas. "They'll do anything in a cult," Wyler said. "To me, it's a cult. And the more control they gain over the people the more cultish it becomes."
Brower also worries increasing pressure by Jeffs on his own followers is a sign of a dangerous tendency. "They're having meetings every day. He's backing them against the wall," Brower said, comparing Jeffs to such notorious religious leaders as David Koresh and Rev. Jim Jones.
"It's getting really weird," Brower said. "The rabid 'Warren-ites' are taking over."
On Monday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff received a mailing of purported revelations from Jeffs. The writings claim that God wants imprisoned polygamists released. They also predict death and destruction to countries that don't "cleanse" themselves, including the United States.
Brower said he has information that three truckloads of "revelations" were mailed last week from Colorado City, presumably copies of the documents received by Shurtleff.