When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back

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In When Men Become Gods, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Singular casts a light on a dark corner of religious extremism. He reveals a group of fundamentalists operating in the present-day United States, where teenage girls are kept in virtual bondage in the name of upholding the "sacred principle" of polygamy.

As the leader and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a sect of Mormonism based in isolated southern Utah, Warren Jeffs held sway ...

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When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back

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In When Men Become Gods, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Singular casts a light on a dark corner of religious extremism. He reveals a group of fundamentalists operating in the present-day United States, where teenage girls are kept in virtual bondage in the name of upholding the "sacred principle" of polygamy.

As the leader and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a sect of Mormonism based in isolated southern Utah, Warren Jeffs held sway over thousands of followers for nearly a decade. His rule was utterly tyrannical. In addition to coercing young girls into polygamous marriages with older men, Jeffs reputedly took scores of wives, many of whom were his father’s widows. Television, radio, and newspapers were shunned, creating a hidden community where polygamy was prized above all else.

But in 2007, after a two-year manhunt that landed him on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Jeffs’s reign was forcefully ended. He was convicted of rape as an accomplice for his role in arranging a marriage between a fourteen-year-old girl and her nineteen-year-old first cousin.

In When Men Become Gods, Edgar Award nominee Stephen Singular traces Jeffs’s rise to power and the concerted effort that led to his downfall. It was a movement championed by law enforcement, private investigators, the Feds, and perhaps most vocal of all, a group of former polygamous wives seeking to liberate young women from the arranged marriages they’d once endured. The book offers new revelations into a nearly impenetrable enclave---a place of nineteenth-century attire, inbreeding, and eerie seclusion---providing readers with a rare glimpse into a tradition that’s almost a century old, but that has only now been exposed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This ripped-from-the-headlines exposé uncovers the rise and fall of polygamist Warren Jeffs, former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Based on interviews with ex-members, newspaper stories and trial records, it provides a raw and bracing account of Jeffs's sex crimes and fugitive years. Unfortunately, Singular's account is not burdened by nuance or significant attention to history or theology, ignoring important prior research on Mormon fundamentalism and painting all polygamists with the same broad brush. Some of this could be forgiven if Singular's lapses in understanding Mormon fundamentalism were not exacerbated by his frequent tactic of comparing the FLDS to Islamic extremists, which evokes the intended fear response but remains tenuous. However, the book's second half, which hews closely to the chronology of Jeffs's flight from the law and the individuals who helped to bring him to justice, is more balanced than the first. Singular is a strong writer who uses pacing, dialogue and drama to good effect. Readers will find this a troubling and fascinating, if careless, account. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran journalist Singular (Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer, 2006, etc.) delves into the dark life and spectacular flameout of notorious Mormon preacher Warren Jeffs. The charismatic head of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, Jeffs was a polygamist of the highest order, taking countless wives and all but ordering his flock to do the same. For nearly a decade, he ruled over thousands of followers, coercing countless young girls into forced marriages with older men. Convicted of rape as an accomplice in 2007, he went on the lam soon thereafter. Here the book evolves from a behind-the-scenes expose of an influential cult into a gripping true-crime thriller, loaded with federal agents, car chases and courtroom dramas. Singular is a canny writer, and his prose is muscular and straightforward, never detracting from the power of the story. He also demonstrates an impressive ability to get inside his subjects' heads-dialogues or inner monologues never seem forced or false. Readers interested in learning how one man can bastardize spiritual doctrines for his personal gain-or those intrigued by the rise and fall of a patently evil person-will be fascinated by Singular's examination of religious corruption. But be prepared to take a shower after finishing the book, because Jeffs will make anybody with a semblance of morality feel dirty. A harrowing, well-written account of a frightening cult. Agent: Mel Berger/William Morris Agency
From the Publisher
Praise for Stephen Singular

“A gripping and chilling tale . . . A solid account that will both fascinate and horrify.”

—-Publishers Weekly on Unholy Messenger

“A chilling examination of American-born right-wing terrorism.”

—-Chicago Tribune on Talked to Death

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312564995
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/7/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 326,661
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Singular is a New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award nominee. His book Talked to Death was made into the Oliver Stone film Talk Radio. Singular has appeared on Larry King Live, Good Morning America, Court TV, and Anderson Cooper 360.
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Read an Excerpt

When Men Become Gods

Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back
By Singular, Stephen

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Singular, Stephen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312372484

Chapter One

Sex and Terrorism

THE BORDER CONNECTING UTAH AND ARIZONA, just below the canyons and mesas of Zion National Park and just above the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, is perfectly isolated and perfectly beautiful. Covered with red cliffs, wide-open vistas, endless fields of sage, and shafts of light shining down with an illuminating glow, this piece of the Southwest conjures up the desert landscape of the Old Testament or the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. It lends itself to the notion of mystical breakthroughs and heartfelt revelations, to nakedly worshipping the grandeur of God or embracing nightmarish visions of the Apocalypse. Black and blue clouds ride atop the cliffs, shifting and splitting during late-afternoon thunderstorms, rain and wind raging across the hillsides and leaving everything washed and altered. It is exactly the sort of place Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, might have imagined when first delving into the spiritual realm. From the start of his amazing journey toward faith, he lived in that space between what can be experienced and what can be proven to others. Ask three serious Mormon scholars about who Smith was or the nature of his mysticaladventures, and you’ll get three different answers. Nobody knows for sure where his ideas came from.

A conservative religion never had more unconventional origins. Official Mormon history tells us this: as a fourteen-year-old boy living in upstate New York in 1820, Smith saw two angels appear before him, one representing the Lord, the other Jesus Christ. The teenager was confused about what branch of faith to accept as his own, so he asked "the Personages who stood above me in the light which of all the sects was right. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage [representing Jesus] who addressed me said that all creeds were an abomination in his sight."

It was an extreme statement, and when Smith came out of his vision and told people what had happened, he angered other Christian believers. While suffering a "most bitter persecution" from those around him, he refused to stop talking about his discoveries. Three years later another angel, named Moroni, came to him.

"His whole person was glorious beyond description," Smith recollected, "and his countenance truly like lightning."

Moroni told him about some hidden golden plates, covered with hieroglyphic-like writing, and about two stones wrapped in silver bows, which would help the young man decipher the foreign text. Moroni eventually led him to the buried plates, Smith translated them into English, and these evolved into the Book of Mormon. They revealed an astounding tale that refuted the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Bible itself: 2,600 years ago, the lost tribes of Israel were not the Jews of the Old Testament, but a different group that had left the Middle East, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on wooden boats, and resettled in what would become America. Centuries passed, and following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Jesus appeared before the transplants and spoke to them of their special destiny. They’d reached the Promised Land of Scripture, where they’d create a new religion and restore Christianity to its earlier, purer form. This brand of faith would be driven by men like the spiritual giants of old, and they’d be called not mere believers or worshippers, but "Latter-day Saints." After Smith had finished translating the golden plates, he returned them to Moroni and they were never seen again, deepening the mystery of the teachings’ origins.

Many have suggested that when founding Mormonism, Smith was exposed to several other world religions and even borrowed key elements from the Muslims. Both faiths embrace a belief in divine revelation, delivered straight from the mouth of God to one chosen man, known as the Prophet. For Mormons, these messages represented the only true view of Christianity, and anyone failing to embrace them was an "apostate" or "gentile." When it came to dealing with apostates, "blood atonement" might be necessary. Converting others to your beliefs was also important; every good Mormon should serve time as a missionary and grow the new religion. Both Islam and the Latter-day Saints banned drinking alcohol and practiced polygamy. To be exalted in heaven, Mormon men needed at least three wives.

Smith initially had one intelligent, strong-willed spouse named Emma, and she and Joseph were partners in getting their religion off the ground. One day he told her that he’d received a divine revelation to the effect that a man needed to wed a handful of women, if not more, to achieve salvation. When he started practicing this "spiritual principal," Emma became enraged—and she was hardly alone. As word of Smith’s polygamy spread, he met resistance from other religious leaders and began moving his Mormon tribe west, all the way to Missouri, which he labeled "the new Zion." He chose Independence, Missouri, for the Promised Land and five thousand people followed him there. They were so unwelcome that the natives burned down their homes. Missouri issued an extermination order for the Mormons—the first in American history—and Smith himself was tarred, feathered, and driven out of the Show Me State. This established a pattern, as both persecution and the Biblical theme of exodus became central to the new faith. So did going to jail for one’s beliefs.

Smith then led his congregation into Illinois and resettled in the town of Nauvoo, where the locals were terrified of his efforts to baptize the dead and to marry more than one woman. Everything about polygamy ran counter to the nation’s puritanical roots. The "perfect theocracy" Smith hoped to create in Nauvoo was seen by others as a perfect threat to the government and its belief in the separation of church and state. Smith ignored public opinion, and in the early 1840s the Mormon Prophet deepened the hostility toward him by deciding to run for President of the United States. When the town’s newspaper, The Nauvoo Expositor, wrote about his practice of polygamy, he was charged with treason and faced with arrest. He had a chance to escape Nauvoo and keep running from his tormentors, but this time he decided to stay put. He was incarcerated, and prison would be his undoing.

An enraged mob—two hundred men with faces painted black—stormed the jail and murdered the Mormon founder in 1844, only fourteen years after he’d started the new church. But it had already gained traction, and a sense of victimization may have united the believers. They were bound together against a common enemy and for a common cause: their own survival and blood atonement for those who opposed them.

Another strong leader, Brigham Young, emerged as the next Prophet. He, too, lived out the "sacred principle" of polygamy, marrying as many as fifty women. Young felt that the Mormons should get farther away from the established order, so he pushed on, he and his followers marching across the Midwest in wintertime, on foot and in covered wagons, losing many along the way, until they reached the Great Salt Lake in the Utah Territory. It was a massive trek toward freedom, but no sooner had they resettled than the U.S. government began trying to end the Mormons’ sexual and marital practices. In the 1850s, President James Buchanan ordered one-fifth of the American military to invade the region and wipe out plural marriage. Force did not accomplish this goal but only left the faithful more determined to resist authority, driving polygamy underground.

At times, the struggle to survive and take control of their new land in the West overwhelmed the better instincts of the Mormons. In the summer of 1857, they learned of a group of emigrants—nearly 140 men, women, and children from Presbyterian and Methodist families—making its way from Arkansas to California. The Fancher-Baker wagon train was following the Old Spanish Trail, wending through the southern Utah territory and coming into a valley known as Mountain Meadows, thirty-five miles north of modern St. George. On the morning of September 11, 1857—what would much later be called "America’s first September 11th" by Mormons—John D. Lee led an assembled Mormon militia. He’d recruited a few men from the Paiute Nation, a Native American tribe based in the Southwest, while the Mormon warriors had dressed themselves up to look like Indians, so they could be blamed for what happened next. The militia attacked the traveling party with knives, rocks, hatchets, and "black powder weapons," killing 120 of the emigrants. Only seventeen children escaped with their lives. John D. Lee was eventually tried and executed for his role in the September 11 slaughter.

"It was," says western historian Will Bagley, the author of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, "the saddest, darkest, ugliest day in Utah history."

The strategy to blame the savagery on the Indians worked well for about a century, until a writer named Juanita Brooks began digging into the facts behind the Mormon propaganda, publishing The Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1950. The Paiutes’ role in the tragedy wasn’t entirely clear, but they were not the culprits in planning or carrying out the attack. Nor was John D. Lee the only Mormon villain, and in future decades some argued that Brigham Young himself bore a share of the guilt. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was painfully slow to acknowledge all this, and 150 years would pass before it began to come to terms publicly with the butchery at Mountain Meadows.

By 1890, the Utah territory was eager to become an American state, but the federal government said no—not until the Mormons gave up plural marriage. The majority went along with this demand, but others saw it as a direct attack on their faith and their survival. In the 1800s, six out of ten babies born in the region did not see their first birthday, so there was a Biblical need for the pioneers to "be fruitful and multiply." Hadn’t Joseph Smith himself married approximately thirty or forty women? Hadn’t Brigham Young? These men would never have accepted this kind of compromise. The entry in Young’s Journal of Discourses dated August 15, 1876, reads, "There are only two churches on the earth, only two parties. God leads the one, the devil the other...Apostates are literally tools of the devil." For the true believers, the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City was about to join forces with the devil.

When the church officially denounced plural marriage in 1890 and Utah achieved statehood six years later, the hard-core polygamists felt betrayed. How could their leaders have changed their views, denying the core tenet that most distinguished Mormonism from all other Christian denominations? Why had the one true faith caved in to a secular authority?

In a sense, the LDS Church wanted to have it both ways. While publicly decrying plural marriage, it never removed its founder’s divine revelation on polygamy or "Celestial Marriage" from the Book of Mormon. In 1831, according to the church’s Doctrine and Covenants, God had addressed Joseph Smith on the issue of "having many wives and concubines":

Celestial Marriage and a continuation of the family unit enable men to become gods...For behold, I reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then ye are damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory . . . And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

If Joseph’s wife did not want to go along with this revelation, God had some words for her as well:

And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to no one else. But if she will not abide this commandment, she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

If the Lord had told Joseph Smith that Celestial Marriage was the pathway to becoming a god, and if Brigham Young had lived out this principle, why should the faithful now behave any differently? Shouldn’t Mormons be prepared to sacrifice for their religion, as their founder had done, even if that meant going to jail?

A small but committed minority of believers, who would eventually be known as the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, refused to knuckle under to Utah, the American government, or the LDS power structure in Salt Lake City. They’d been sold out by the "corporate church," which had fallen under the control of "apostates" and "gentiles."They would side with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young no matter the cost. The time had come to break off from the LDS and begin looking for a new home—far away from both the official church and the long arm of the police. In the 1920s, they struck out for the southern part of the state and put down roots in the tiny village of Short Creek, called "Short Crick" by the natives or just "The Crick," which straddled the border between Arizona and Utah.

Because Short Creek was located in two states, its legal jurisdiction was more complicated than in most towns and enforcing the law there was more difficult—exactly what the locals wanted. They soon established their own city government and police department, both run by polygamists.

Excerpted from When Men Become Gods by Stephen Singular.Copyright © 2008, 2009 by Stephen Singular.Published in July 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.


Excerpted from When Men Become Gods by Singular, Stephen Copyright © 2008 by Singular, Stephen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I Sex and Terrorism 5

II One-Man Rule 35

III The Resistance 103

IV In the Shadows of Zion 133

V Fallen Prophet 239

VI Outlasting the Sun 257

Epilogue 285

Afterword 289

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2008


    Wow!! I thought this writer did an excellent job capturing the personalities of those he wrote about. Stephen Singular touched on so many of the issues that have been hidden/ shushed/ for so many years. The fact is Warren Jeffs and his cult are Mormon Fundamentalists. Like it or not the writer isn't making anything up. The person that people should be upset with is Warren Jeffs and his followers. And those that have allowed this to go on for so many years. Victims cries for help unheard by so many in the local governments. Corrupt police officers. Light sentences by Judges. Local politicians lack of involvement. Stephen Singular brought out events and connections that I've not read about in the press. The mind games/ the greed and the lengths to which people like Warren Jeffs use to gain control of not only the followers monies, homes but to control their minds body and soul. 12 year old marrying old men/ young boys cast from their homes/ families and towns is only just a part of this story. Fathers using their daughters as pawns to gain bigger homes/ a higher status in the community. For those that want to know MORE about the events that have taken place and are taking place and who some of the key players are players are involving this ongoing story please read the book. Thank you Stephen Singular for touching so many bases. A very pleased reader Walton

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2012

    Great Read!!

    This book had tons of information on Warren Jeffs and how the FLDS works. It was very interesting and I had a hard time putting it down!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Another good book about the FLDS and Warren Jeffs

    I read this almost immediately following ? by Elissa Wall. Very similar content, totally different perspective. Unlike "Stolen Innocence", which was written by a former member of the FLDS, this book was far more detached emotionally though fortunately not just an impersonal historical narrative of facts. I much preferred Elissa Wall's story because it gave so much insight into life within the FLDS rather than focusing on all details about the manhunt for Warren Jeffs. That said, this was still an interesting book and the subject matter was very fascinating.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013


    Amazing that this can happen in the United States. Can't believe it, but it makes a fascinating read.

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  • Posted September 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very enlightening

    This book really opens your eyes to just one of the religions in are world that we know barely anything about. The individuals who shared there story for this book were very brave. It was hard to read some of it because these people were so fooled by this man that they felt they had to do whatever he told them to. This man, Jeff Warrens, was manipulative and deceiving. He found great pleasure in forcing his followers into perverse situations. Very good research by the author. To many positive things to list about this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 8 Customer Reviews

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