National Geographic : 2010 Feb
member who has emerged as one of the church leadership's most vociferous critics. In 2008 Fischer testi ed before a U.S. Senate committee about alleged improprieties within the FLDS, and he now heads an organization that works with people who have been kicked out of the church or who have "escaped." When Fischer broke with the church in the 1990s, his family split apart too; today 13 of his children have le the FLDS, while Melinda and two of her half siblings have renounced their father. "And that is not an easy thing," Melinda says so ly, "obviously, because I still love my father. I pray all the time that he will see his errors---or at least, stop his attacks on us." If there is one point on which FLDS defenders and detractors might agree, it is that most of the current troubles can be traced to when its lead- ership passed to the Je s family, in 1986. Until then, the FLDS had been a fairly loosely run group led by an avuncular man named Leroy Johnson, who relied on a group of high priests to guide the church. at ended when Rulon Je s took over following Johnson's death. A er being declared the prophet by the community, Rulon solidi ed the policy of one-man rule. Charges that a theocratic dictatorship was taking root in the Arizona Strip grew louder when, after Rulon's death in 2002, the FLDS was taken over by his 46-year-old son, Warren. Assuming the role of the prophet, Warren rst married several of his father's wives---and then proceeded to wed many more women, includ- ing, according to Carolyn Jessop, eight of Merril Jessop's daughters. Although many FLDS men have multiple wives, the number of wives of those closest to the prophet can reach into the double digits. A church document called the Bishop's Record, seized during the Texas raid, shows that one of Je s's lieutenants, Wendell Nielsen, claims 21 wives. And although the FLDS would not disclose how many plural wives Warren Jeffs has taken (some estimate property under a federal antipolygamy law, the LDS leadership issued a manifesto announc- ing an end to plural marriage. at certainly didn't end the practice, and the LDS's tortured handling of the issue---some church leaders remained in plural marriages or even took on new wives a er the manifesto's release---con- tributed to the schism between the LDS and the fundamentalists. " e LDS issued that manifesto for political purposes, then later claimed it was a revelation," says Willie Jessop, the FLDS spokesman. "We in the fundamentalist community believe cov- enants are made with God and are not to be manipulated for political reasons, so that pre- sents an enormous obstacle between us and those in the LDS mainstream." Upholding the covenant has come at a high price. e 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch was only the latest in a long list of o cial actions against polygamists---persecutions for simply adhering to their religious principles, in the eyes of church members---that are integral to the FLDS story. At various times both Utah and Arizona authori- ties attempted to crack down on the Short Creek community: in 1935, in 1944, and most famously, in 1953. In that raid some 200 women and chil- dren were hauled to detention centers, while 26 men were brought up on polygamy charges. In 1956 Utah authorities seized seven children of Vera Black, a Hildale plural wife, on grounds that her polygamous beliefs made her an un t mother. Black was reunited with her children only a er agreeing to renounce polygamy. MELINDA FISCHER JEFFS is an articulate, outgoing woman of 37, and she gives an incredulous laugh when describing what she's read about the FLDS. "Honestly, I can't even recognize it!" the mother of three exclaims. "Most all of what appears in the media, it makes us sound like we're some- how being kept against our will." Melinda is in a unique position to understand the con icting views of this community. She is a plural wife to Jim Je s, one of the prophet's nephews and an elder in the FLDS. But she is also the daughter of Dan Fischer, a former FLDS Scott Anderson is a war correspondent and novelist. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair spent more than a year documenting the FLDS community.