Warren Jeffs' Father's Life Was Just As Disturbing As His

Warren Jeffs, the current leader of the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is serving a life sentence in prison for the sexual abuse of his child brides, according to AZ Central. Warren Jeffs has undoubtedly led a disturbing life — but his father, Rulon Jeffs, also led a polygamous lifestyle full of secrets and abuses of power. The story of Warren Jeffs is featured in the four-episode Netflix production called "Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run" (per Deadline). In the docu-series, Warren's wives were interviewed about their time in the polygamist FLDS cult, and about their marriages to the disgraced religious leader. But Warren Jeffs was not the architect of the alternative faith-based lifestyle. He was born into it. 

Per Deseret News, Rulon Jeffs was born in 1909 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He studied accounting in college and first became acquainted with the FLDS teachings around 1930. The organization was called Priesthood Work at that time, and Rulon rose through the ranks. By the 1940s, Rulon became a member of the priesthood council and put the groundwork into place for the United Effort Plan (UEP).

Rulon's rise to power

According to Distractify, Rulon was first married to a woman named Zola, but she divorced him in 1941. Rulon had decided he wanted more than one spouse, and Zola refused.

But Rulon had big projects in the works, and in 1942, per Apologetics Index, he helped finalize the United Effort Plan (UEP) commune. It was supposed to be a space for religious followers to share their property, and it grew over time to encompass nearly every property in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

Rulon Jeffs encouraged people to call him "Uncle Rulon" (via Distractify). And in 1945, he gained another title: High Priest Apostle. He started to share his holy visions with his followers, often saying that God had contacted him. Deseret News reports that Rulon officially became the FLDS president in 1986. In 1998, Rulon even moved to Hildale, Utah, a primary UEP hub, in order to be closer to his religious followers.

Misusing money

Rulon Jeffs's work had a significant impact on these cities — for example, in Colorado City, the FLDS church owns 85% of the property, reports The New York Times. The city is home to several thousand FLDS members, with few outsiders. FLDS suggested to its congregants that their children should attend church-run schools, and all the local public schools closed their doors as children moved to the religious schools instead. The FLDS leaders eliminated local movie theaters and fast food locales, leaving just a few essential businesses behind.

According to "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," the UEP towns were given millions of dollars each year in public funds, which Rulon attested were actually money from God, and not the "wicked government." But these millions were frequently misused; the children's school funds, for example, were instead spent on a private airplane for church leaders.

Evils of outsiders

The New York Times reports that the FLDS members were made to dress modestly, and women and girls were required to cover their ankles and arms and wear their hair long and in braids. Many of the families ran their own farms.

According to the book, "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," Rulon told his followers not to watch any TV news or read the newspapers. If he suspected someone had purchased a television or satellite disc, he would create a sermon around the evils of TV. Then, everyone in the community who was secretly watching the tube would have to quickly throw out their electronics, lest they face the wrath of Rulon and the UEP. Rulon isolated his community further by barring them from speaking to people outside the FLDS — even family members who never belonged to FLDS or those who had fled the commune.

Rulon ruled the community with an iron fist. One year, when a Rottweiler killed a young person, Rulon ordered his men to round up and kill every single dog that lived in the FLDS-run city.

Polygamist marriages

But the main issue with the FLDS towns was that they were big proponents of polygamous marriages — including the marriage of adults to children (via The New York Times). Some of the FLDS members have now faced legal fights over this, such as one FLDS member who had four wives, and married a 13-year-old as his fifth spouse. He got the child pregnant, and was later charged with rape.

According to "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," Rulon claimed to speak to a higher power constantly, and would scream at his followers under the guise of religious guidance. Most followers were way too scared to ever stand up to Rulon. 

One man, DeLoy Bateman, who snapped at Rulon, felt his wrath immediately. Since they all lived in a commune, wives and children were all shared with everyone, so Rulon simply gave Bateman's entire family to another member of the UEP. Then, within hours of their argument, Rulon took all of Bateman's property, which Bateman had bought and paid for with his own money. Rulon was making his rules clear: without the congregation, his followers had absolutely nothing.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Rulon's 75 wives

Rulon even claimed that God would not tolerate homosexuality or interracial relationships (via "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith"). To be involved in one of those types of relationships meant God would kill them immediately, he told congregants. Leaving the religion was one of the worst sins, and people who left were considered satanic.

The New York Times reports that Rulon Jeffs was an ardent polygamist, and he had at least 19 wives with whom he had 60 children. Estimates vary — Deseret News reports that he may have had as many as 75 wives — but no one knows for certain. According to "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," Rulon was especially active as an octogenarian when he married girls as young as 14 and 15. 

One of his young wives, Rebecca Jeffs, who was 19 years old when Rulon was 80, claimed that Rulon was abusive to her for years (via Distractify). She later married Warren Jeffs, based on a religious vision he had of their marriage. It was only after she had escaped the FLDS forever that Rebecca felt safe enough to disclose the Jeffs family's abusive ways.

Although he was certain he would live forever, and often told his congregants so (per "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith"), The New York Times reports that religious leader Rulon Jeffs died at the age of 93 in 2002.