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Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs

Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs

by Debra Weyermann


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The compelling story of the struggle by law enforcement and activists to dismantle the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is finally told. In 1953, when police raided the Short Creek compound of the FLDS, it soon became a political and publicity nightmare eventually costing the governor of Arizona his job. Thus began 50 years of skittish public officials turning a blind eye to heinous offenses such as child abandonment, kidnapping, statutory rape, and incest, as well as massive tax and welfare fraud. Warren Jeffs became the new FLDS prophet and president in 2002, and anti-FLDS activists watched in horror as he used his boundless authority and the resources of a tax-supported community to devastate thousands of lives on cruel whims. This exposé presents a detailed, chilling account of how a hostile, destructive group can manipulate the U.S. judicial system. It is a mesmerizing journey into one of the United States's darkest corners, a story that stretches over three states and deep into the history of the powerful Mormon Church.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780913705391
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 16.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Debra Weyermann was an award-winning journalist who wrote for numerous publications, including the Arizona Daily Star, the Denver Post, Harper’s, and the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Read an Excerpt

Answer them Nothing

Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs

By Debra Weyermann

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2011 Debra Weyermann
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-915-7



Sisters, do you wish to make yourselves happy? Then what is your duty? It is for you to bear children in the name of the Lord, that are full of faith and the power of God — to receive, conceive, bear, and bring forth in the name of Israel's God. — Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9

The devil uses a certain weakness. He whispers selfishness, and that weakness in a girl — since I am talking to girls — is vanity, wanting to be noticed, wanting to be looked at. Vanity is something useless where you want it, but it gets you nowhere, and when girls want to be where the boys are, look at them, that is called vanity. The good boys won't even pay you any attention. Faithful and good Priesthood men won't pay you attention and try to get you to like them. The boys that pay you attention and tries [sic] to get you to like them are the boys that would destroy you, and you can see that difference. — Warren Jeffs, lecture to eighth grade girls, November 1, 2002

I just want to eat sugar or drink a cup of coffee without asking permission. I want to take my kids across town to the park without being followed. I want to get off all the welfare and be a real person. I want to be free and my kids to live free and I want my kids to have an education and have hope. I just want to be a real person. — Journal of Ruth Stubbs, nineteen-year-old plural wife, June 2001, Phoenix

On a night nearing Christmas 2001, a resolved Ruth Stubbs stroked the perfect faces of her two sleeping toddlers, reviewing her deliriously dangerous plan to save their lives. If it worked, and that was a big qualifier, the plan would save her life as well, but Ruth didn't care about her own messed-up life. Looking back on the eternity of her nineteen years on earth, she understood she had never cared. FLDS had tricked her into self-loathing from birth, and tomorrow they'd begin hunting her like an animal.

The last three years had been the most monstrous. So monstrous it was sometimes hard to remember what had come before the prophet, out of the blue, "gave" her to a guy twice her age whom she didn't know. Until that surreal day almost exactly three years ago, Ruth felt she'd enjoyed a pretty OK childhood despite living it around the utterly twisted Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with "around" being the operative word. Looking back on it, Ruth realized she'd never truly been in FLDS. Until recently, her life had not been the physically battering, emotionally hopeless existence that she'd handed her own children, but in her defense, Ruth never imagined there would be any children in this picture. She'd only just turned sixteen when they'd literally thrown her in a pickup truck and driven her to hell.

That her father had helped them had been completely out of character and very difficult to accept, but Ruth didn't really blame him anymore. David Stubbs was FLDS raised. He'd acquired the three wives needed to enter the celestial kingdom and rule a planet after death before Ruth was born in 1982. That was lucky, because not so many men got a shot at the celestial kingdom after Rulon Jeffs and his son Warren took over Short Creek in 1986. After that, you had to be on the good side of Uncle Rulon, as he was called, to get the not-quite-ripe young girls assigned to you, and the Jeffs had some high-handed notions about strengthening Israelite bloodlines when making the assignments.

Until the Jeffs happened, David Stubbs had been kind of like FLDS royalty, being descended from one of the oldest polygamist families since The Work — as FLDS used to be called — got started in Short Creek during the 1930s. Consequently, the Stubbs family had some of the best lands with the most water rights — very important in the desert. Stubbs women had married into all the important Short Creek families who were also there from the beginning, and everybody was cool with the Lord and one another. Not to be too profane or anything, but Ruth had observed that the bonds of a more terrestrial nature could make the day-to-day business of living go a lot smoother.

Which was probably why David Stubbs wasn't too impressed with the Johnny-come-lately Jeffs family when they moved from Salt Lake City to Short Creek after the former prophet, Leroy Johnson, died. Naturally, Ruth hadn't known Uncle Leroy personally because she was just four years old when he died in 1986, but she did know he was beloved by a lot of Short Creek people, her dad included. When Rulon Jeffs just up and announced he was the new prophet when he'd lived in his Salt Lake all that time, a lot of Short Creekers didn't buy it. The first prophet, Joseph Smith, said that only God selects the prophet, and Uncle Leroy, who was the only one talking to God at the time, hadn't said squat about Rulon Jeffs before he passed on.

Plus, it was very cheeky, the way Uncle Rulon moved down from his big house in Salt Lake to take over Short Creek. Rulon and his favored son, Warren, had always been a little snotty to the Short Creek folks, who were still in shock that the prophet Leroy Johnson had died at all. Like all the prophets before him, Uncle Leroy said he'd never die until the apocalypse, which FLDS people have been expecting just about any day now from the beginning. Uncle Leroy predicted the end of days about three times, even anointing with sacred oil the ATVs God's chosen people — FLDS people — would need to hightail it to higher ground once the wholesale butchery of all the disbelievers started.

The descriptions of it could just make you sick with all the Gentiles' guts and blood flying everywhere and getting on your clothes. FLDS held survivalist skills classes where you learned how to slit cows' throats and everything, but nothing ever happened. People were disappointed when the world didn't end, but they felt even worse when Uncle Leroy explained that it hadn't happened because the FLDS people hadn't been pure enough for Joseph Smith and Jesus to ride their heaven cloud back to earth. The people felt really bad they'd let Jesus down that way. Uncle Leroy said that everybody had to double down and do better to help end the world, but he never said anything about the stuck-up Rulon Jeffs being elevated.

There was a big fight over it with a good number of people, Ruth's dad included, saying that Rulon Jeffs was not the prophet. But Uncle Rulon had his supporters too. They got kind of ugly about it, forming what some dubbed enforcement "God squads"— men who did what Uncle Rulon told them to do, including men in the police force. Uncle Rulon started "poofing" people, sometimes in the middle of the night, which meant they were excommunicated and driven away. Their wives and kids got reassigned to guys Uncle Rulon liked, and nobody could ever say the other guys' names again.

There were too many dissenters to poof them all, though, and it might have turned into a standoff, except the people on the wrong side of Uncle Rulon were alarmed about the rough exuberance of his support, so the dissenters banded together and moved onto land adjoining Short Creek. They were still fundamentalist Mormon polygamists, but they called themselves the Centennial Park group, later naming their town Centennial Park City. The men were allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts, which Uncle Rulon said just proved how they already had one foot in hell.

David Stubbs still didn't accept Rulon Jeffs as the prophet, but he didn't want to abandon his choice lands by moving to Centennial Park either, so he stayed put. This was unheard of. Living in Short Creek without acknowledging Rulon Jeffs as God's prophet pretty much made David Stubbs an apostate, and everybody knew that those who renounced FLDS were stripped of everything they owned and run out of town. But David Stubbs didn't take the hint, so in 1986, Jeffs sent notices all over Short Creek that FLDS folks were "tenants at will" of the prophet, and it was the prophet's will that Ruth's father and twenty other guys get the hell out of town. When this legal-sounding declaration, along with all the preceding threats and harassment, still failed to persuade the upstart FLDS men to abandon their lives, Rulon Jeffs was stumped. He'd never needed a backup plan in the past, but before he could fully consider his next move, Stubbs and the others hit Jeffs with the unimaginable. They filed a lawsuit against Rulon Jeffs in federal court claiming that they actually owned their lands under the terms of the UEP trust.

This was a lot more serious than the Centennial Park insurrection. That had been a stone shocker too, but those people had run away like they were supposed to. If people who didn't believe that Rulon Jeffs was God's prophet were allowed to live among those who did, it could really mess up Jeffs's power, which was utterly dependent on blind obedience coupled with Jeffs's ability to destroy the lives of anyone who opposed him. If the twenty-one families refusing to leave their lands won, what kind of message would that send? If Jeffs couldn't take away a man's home and family, would people still fear him? Would they still do what he told them to do? Jeffs didn't want to know the answer to those questions, so he dialed up FLDS's trusty Salt Lake City law firm of Snow, Christensen, and Martineau and the most dedicated FLDS attorney of all: Rod Parker.

Like he always did, Rod Parker just blistered the apostates led by David Stubbs in court, saying that a religion is untouchable in America, and religious leaderships — not the courts — have the right to decide who stays and who goes. This argument had always prevailed, so you could have knocked everybody in FLDS over with a feather when, after years of battling, the Utah Supreme Court ruled against Rulon Jeffs in 1998, meaning that David Stubbs and the others got to stay put without declaring Rulon Jeffs the prophet.

Sure, the court had ruled only on a small technicality concerning the definition of the trust. It had not addressed the overall religious questions, which were still open for the legal hunt. But technicalities — life's little details — have a strong historical track record of tipping events in one direction rather than another, and so it was with the 1998 decision in Jeffs v. Stubbs. In seven years, the case would act as the explosives in a legal bomb that would leave the FLDS leadership fighting for their lives in three states, or at least fighting to retain control over every aspect of the members' lives, which was more or less the same thing.

Though they weren't planned or intended, the unrelated actions of three members of the Stubbs family would undo fifty years of FLDS untouchable status imparted by the disastrous raid of 1953. On the night nearing Christmas 2001, Ruth hadn't a clue that her desperate bid for freedom would be the timer set upon the ticking bomb, but Ruth and David Stubbs hadn't been the only family rebels. Ruth had another example from which to draw strength.

WHEN RUTH WAS five years old, her full-blooded sister, Pennie, accomplished the impossible. Threatened with the prospect of an intolerable marriage, Pennie fled Short Creek and got away clean. She'd been fourteen years old with flashy blue eyes, a beautiful brunette child with a woman's full figure, one that had not been overlooked by Rulon Jeffs. Without fanfare, Jeffs gave Pennie to a fifty-eight-year-old loyalist the girl absolutely detested, a swaggering bully with five other wives and something like seventy kids, many of them far older than Pennie. Ruth expected the guy must have been a serious Uncle Rulon fan to be given this juicy young girl, but Pennie wasn't having it.

In FLDS fashion, Pennie had only twenty-four hours to get herself together. As their mother worked on the wedding dress with other FLDS women, Ruth could just barely remember Pennie's loud despair, screaming at their mother, who was urging her to obey the prophet in the strongest terms. In an astonishing display of independent thinking, Pennie shrieked that her life was worth something and she would not forfeit her future to become a pedophile's concubine. Their mother, Sally Stubbs, told the girl to hush up and accept her place like all FLDS women before her. Sally did not go after her daughter when the girl stormed from the house. Where on earth could she go?

Even today there is no public transportation in Short Creek, not even taxis. Girls are closely monitored. A girl even walking alone on the streets would be reported to the cops, who'd come pick her up.* Even if she managed to get to the main road and hitchike, the first person who stopped would be driving her straight back to town. Walking out of the desert southwest was laughable, and even if, wonder over wonder, she did get past Short Creek, they'd be coming after her for sure. She might get flat out kidnapped from wherever she landed. Or FLDS would sic one of their law firms on her. Parental rights were tried and true. If she had kids, they'd go after them through her husband. If she were a kid, they'd come after her through her parents. If all else failed, some women had been legally committed to insane asylums.

But Pennie Stubbs beat them. Keeping to the bushes, flattening herself against walls when camouflage was scarce, the scared but steady girl made her way though Short Creek's dark streets to the two-lane blacktop leading out of town. In those days, getting past the polygamy-sympathetic town of St. George forty miles away was imperative. A fleeing girl had to make it almost to Las Vegas to be truly clear of FLDS influence. Between the FLDS police, the members, and the fact that nobody outside of these two groups would be afoot at the late hour in the remote area, Pennie's chances were as close to zero as it got.

But as a confident Sally Stubbs continued the wedding dress as she waited for her daughter to be returned, the impossible materialized behind a lone set of headlights on the highway, illuminating a quivering, bedraggled teenage girl with a tear-stained face and her thumb out. The driver who should have been an FLDS cop or member was instead a businessman who'd elected to take the back roads on a whim, then decided he felt fresh enough to push through the night to his Las Vegas destination. Most staggering of all, the man knew all about FLDS, and he didn't like anything he knew. Although the businessman was inviting big trouble by driving a runaway minor girl across state lines without parental permission, that is exactly what he did. The man Pennie still regards as heaven-sent risked his own arrest rather than return her for the rape and misery that awaited her. He drove out of his way to bring her to a women's shelter, which would not report her presence, and left her with all the money in his wallet, $200, and an order to have a good life.

That is exactly what Pennie intended. Today, she is Pennie Petersen, happily married mother and a scourge for FLDS, one of a half-dozen people denounced from FLDS pulpits by name. Her outspoken public activism is irritating enough, but it has been her success in helping dozens of young girls escape Short Creek that has proved most devastating for a sect that needs to keep every single female born into the cocoon available for its older men.

WHEN RUTH STARTED thinking about leaving, she was sure glad she had Pennie for a sister because everybody knew that getting out of town was just part of the fight. Like most FLDS girls, Ruth had been pulled from school, such as it was, in the fifth grade. With abbreviated educations, FLDS girls have no job or social skills. More insurmountable than that, they don't know anyone in the outside world who can offer support and guidance. They've nowhere to live and have never handled money outside of food stamps. They end up frightened and destitute, usually with small, wailing children for whom they cannot provide. Disoriented, confused, terrified, it is usually not difficult for FLDS to lure them back with promises of forgiveness and love.

For the less persuadable, there were always the FLDS lawyers and the polygamy-friendly Utah courts bordering Short Creek. Going after a girl's children killed two birds with one stone, because once FLDS lawyers got custody of a woman's children, she almost always returned to the sect. Ruth was sure she'd react to losing her kids the same way other FLDS women had: unable to bear life without her children, she would return.

When she did, there would be terrible punishment. The loss of eternal salvation wasn't always deterrent enough for the most desperate FLDS girls. Elders had to be certain potential runaways suspected more corporeal consequences. The possibilities were whispered shadows, elusive as snow on the wind. Women weren't supposed to know anything at all about FLDS worldly workings, and damn few men did either, but Ruth figured the elders let just enough slip out, oopsy-like, to give the community a shudder of what "uppity" women could expect. Maybe you'd be stuck up in one of those caves in the vermillion cliffs with not enough food or water. Cold, hungry, scared, with only sporadic visits from these gnarly old men who would yell at you or even hit you. You might be shipped off to some other FLDS settlement for the same treatment. After a few weeks of that, girls would be just begging for that sealing ceremony. It was known definitely that if you had kids, they'd be taken away, maybe forever. This was a measure that could be taken in the open, with the full support of folks who agreed a hell-bound, disobedient woman shouldn't be taking her kids with her.


Excerpted from Answer them Nothing by Debra Weyermann. Copyright © 2011 Debra Weyermann. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents

Map ix

Note on Sources xi

Prologue: The Raid 1

1 Ruth Crosses the Rubicon 9

2 Section 132 38

3 Bill Walker and the First Case 65

4 Judge Shumate 79

5 The New Sheriff 92

6 Dan Fischer and the Lost Boys 106

7 Roger Hoole and the Lost Boys Lawsuit 122

8 Short Creek 128

9 Warren Jeffs 142

10 Texas at Bat 161

11 Arizona at Bat, Again 172

12 Answer Them Nothing 183

13 The Whip Comes Down 188

14 The End Begins 197

15 Fun on the Run 208

16 Cops and Taxes 219

17 Satan's Accountant 226

18 Nailed 236

19 Conviction 245

20 Texas Pulls the Plug 254

21 The Courts 268

22 Emergency Wars 276

23 Utah Fades 289

24 Arizona Rising 305

25 Three Strikes in Texas 317

26 The Lives of Others 325

27 The Light 333

28 End Game 343

Epilogue: Ruth Across the Rubicon 360

Acknowledgments 363

Bibliography 365

Index 372

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