Lindsay Hansen Park told me something very surprising: FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs was raised LDS and even went to high school with Gordon B. Hinckley! Did you know that?

Lindsay:  Rulon Jeffs is a nice LDS boy. He went by Rulon Jennings as a little boy because he was a polygamist. He didn’t know his father was a polygamist until he was eight years old. That’s when he learns his name isn’t actually Jennings. It’s Jeffs.  His dad was David Jeffs. When he finds out, he’s embarrassed by it.  His dad’s a polygamist. That’s embarrassing. That’s not cool anymore. You don’t want to have a polygamist dad. You want to be like the cool monogamists.

Rulon Jeff’s really tries hard to join the church hierarchy. He’s in a prominent accountant. He’s hanging out with all the prominent families.  He marries Hugh B. Brown’s daughter. This is why I bring this up because I think that his generation is an interesting time period. Rulon Jeffs went to school with Gordon B. Hinckley. They went to the same high school together. He served his mission with Cleon Skousen in England. He was running with these people. He was one of them. He was on the track. He married Zola Brown. He got a little disaffected on his mission. He had a bad experience with his mission president in England.

Lindsay:  Rulon and goes down to Short Creek, and he joins what’s called the Council of Friends. Now, it’s just a bunch of dudes with some authority from the LDS Church who try to instruct members of the community and people that live around them and come to them for advice on matters of this.  Well, Rulon decides this isn’t good enough. We need to be more organized. We need to be like them [LDS Church.] There’s actually a prominent fundamentalist theory right now, which is really sad in the FLDS because they see their community as righteous until the Jeffs show up.  One of the conspiracies is that–this is bananas conspiracy. J. Reuben Clark calls Rulon Jeffs to go disrupt the priesthood, and it’s his goal to break it up. Of course, there’s no there’s no way to back that up. Rulon Jeff’s goes there.

Lindsay:  Now all of a sudden you have a Jeffs show up. He’s a prominent guy, married to Hugh B. Brown’s daughter. He’s kind of a big deal. So he carries the weight of institutional legitimacy. So he’s trying to streamline it and so it causes a split in the Council of Friends.  Because what he’s really asking is a radical thing.  He’s down there with them for a long time and he’s on this council and he’s gaining a lot of status. Now all of a sudden, he’s saying, “Listen, the church isn’t just out of order, they’re off their rocker. We need to start our own thing. We keep waiting for them to be put in order. It’s never going to happen. Let’s do it this way.” So there’s a break off. That happens much later.  I’m getting ahead of myself. So Rulon Jeff’s joins the council. He’s part of it for a long time.

GT:  [He’s part of] the Council of Friends, which holds this sealing power.

Lindsay:  Yeah, and so before Rulon Jeffs [becomes] one of the leaders of the Council of Friends, over the course of a few decades, the Council of Friends becomes more and more and more organized.  That’s what Mormon men do when they get together. They’re talking about priesthood. Who’s going to do this? Who’s doing land? Who’s the bishop? They start to organize slowly over time.

rom this council, you have a bunch of schisms and we could get into this, but it’s super complicated. You can listen to the podcast for this. Basically, the council breaks off into the Allred group where we have Rulon Allred who is a different Rulon, not Rulon Jeffs.  Rulon Allred is over the AUB[1] which is the Sister Wives show on TLC.  The Sister Wives, they’re from AUB. I call them Pinterest Polygamists because they look like LDS people. They have the blonde hair and the cute blonde kids and the matchy outfits and the vinyl walls and the chevron Maxi skirts.  Those are the AUB.  They followed Rulon Allred who broke off from the council. He was down in the Mexican colonies. That’s where the Lebarons break off of him. The Petersons broke off of him and the FLDS. The Centennial Park breaks off of them. The Nielson/Naylor group breaks off of them.  They just start fracturing and schism.

Lindsay  1:35:59  The FLDS gets the most traction because they’re a consolidated group and Rulon really consolidates power in the year 2000. He predicts that when the Olympics come to Salt Lake that the end of the world is coming. You have to understand at this time, it’s the Y2K scare.[2] Remember, everybody, everyone, Mormons or non-Mormons, it didn’t matter. People thought the world was going to end. So, he really uses that momentum to sort of say we need to gather. You have stories of fundamentalists who’d been living for generations in Salt Lake City, millionaires, owning companies, just like the LDS Church has a lot of prominent businessmen.  Fundamentalism and has the same thing. They’re selling their businesses overnight. Rulon says the end is coming.  Rack up your credit cards. Give it all to the church because it doesn’t matter anymore. They all meet at this park, waiting for Jesus to come.

[1] AUB stands for Apostolic United Brethren.

[2] Y2K stands for Year 2000.  Due to a flaw in computer code, the year was coded as just 2 digits.  Experts predicted that when the year changed from 1999 to 2000, computers would malfunction worldwide.  Many efforts were made in 1999 to patch computers and the problems were very minor compared with predictions of chaos.

We’ll learn more about Rulon’s background with polygamy expert Lindsay Hansen Park. After Rulon died, his son Warren took over the FLDS Church. While serving as prophet of the FLDS Church, Warren was arrested and is currently serving time in a Texas prison for a conviction of being an accomplice to rape of underage women who were married polygamously.  Lindsay Hansen Park has some strong words and pins some of the blame for the LDS Church turning its back on the FLDS community, making it possible for Warren Jeffs to attain power in the FLDS community.  Is that a fair charge?

Lindsay:  Here’s my indictment of the LDS people in the LDS Church. We are responsible for men like Warren Jeffs, I think we are complicit, at the very least and at the very worst, responsible for men like that.  Because what we did is we allowed something to be so marginalized and to turn the other way because we didn’t want to see how it reflected on us.  We can’t make the church look bad. We’ve got to protect the integrity of the church. So we’re going to ignore what’s happening down there. We’re going to make it illegal. So Warren Jeffs can say, you know what? You’re being molested by your father or your brother. You can’t report it to police, because if you do, your whole family’s going to go to jail. We can’t trust any outsiders because even the LDS are out to get us.

GT:  I’m going to push back a little bit on that. I mean, if Warren Jeffs is a bad guy, okay, he’s a bad guy. Don’t we believe in being punished for our own sins? How do you try to justify that the LDS Church is responsible for that? Because, yeah, I mean, tying this back to the policy, part of the justification was, well, the polygamists, basically say, “Well go join the LDS Church. Go on a mission. Get married in the temple and then come back to us and we’ll teach you the higher law.” So, I mean, I don’t like this policy. I don’t like it. But I can understand. If that’s what the polygamists are saying, “Oh, go join the LDS Church and then come back to us.”  I can understand why the church would be would have a problem with that.

Lindsay:  Of course.

GT:  So how do we then say, “Well, okay, now the LDS Church is responsible for Warren Jeffs corruption?”

Lindsay:  The FLDS is different. They’re not taking converts. Warren Jeffs has cut it off.  You have to understand. First of all, Rulon Jeffs, who shaped Warren Jeffs, was completely shaped by LDS culture, theology and doctrine. He planned his whole church and organizational structure as a reaction to LDS treatment of him personally and systemically. So there’s a whole history here.

GT:  So he had his own trauma.  You’re saying that Warren grew up LDS?  Is that what you’re saying?

Lindsay:  No, Rulon, his father did.

GT:  Rulon grew up and so that trauma that Rulon then transferred to Warren…

Lindsay:  That’s too simplistic, but that’s part of it, too. Here’s what it is.  Warren Jeffs has committed horrific acts. Horrific. I’ve had to get therapy for some of the work that I’ve had to do. I did not anticipate being involved with some of the most heinous interpretations of Mormonism. I mean, this guy has twisted, what I think is–my personal opinion is…

GT:  If these are heinous interpretations, how can you then say that this is legitimate theology? How can you say…

Lindsay:  Who gets to decide what’s legitimate theology and what’s not? If Mormonism is open to interpretation, we have no process or canonized [system.]  LDS people can’t even decide if the Proclamation [on the Family], even their own apostles [can’t decide] if it’s just a suggestion, if it’s a revelation, if it’s a policy.  There is no process for this. So that’s part of it. But here’s the thing, I get it. Warren Jeffs has done bad things. He makes us uncomfortable. But our response to the FLDS people, empowered men like him.  Warren Jeffs couldn’t even get a conviction in Utah.

Lindsay:  That’s how [bad it is.] With all the evidence that they had, they had a tape of him raping a 12-year-old girl in his car. They had that evidence. They couldn’t even bust them in Utah, because we don’t want to look at that.

GT:  We don’t want the bad news media.

Lindsay:  We have such collective shame about polygamy. We will do whatever we can to turn a blind eye. I cannot tell you.  I get I get super fired up about this because there are so many victims of really heinous things in fundamentalism. They can’t get police to take them seriously, because the topic alone, once they know they’re polygamists makes people so uncomfortable, so uncomfortable. So, it just allows men like Warren Jeffs to be like, that’s right. They’re not they’re going to stay away from us. We’re so isolated. I can do whatever I want, and he did.  Even still, it’s so interesting. As the town has been changing, I’ve been witness to this. I’ve been up close and personal, seeing this town reclaim themselves, try to get healthy. The LDS Church has been helping now, for the first time. They’re giving aid. There’s a food desert in Colorado City. There’s poverty. It’s like a developing country there. Now the Church has stepped up. Do you think they want people to know about it? Absolutely not. They want it quiet. They wanted it quiet for a long time. I’m just like, “Why? Why do we need to be quiet about it?”  Now they’ve [LDS Church] bought property in the town. There’s a huge land grab. I’m resentful about it. Because I’m like, “Oh, all of a sudden now that it’s sort of, it’s like, cool to go down there. Now we can like show that we have a presence.”

Lindsay:  That’s kind of petty and reductive. There’s a mission president down there.  That area was part of his mission and he got really invested and he’s done a lot of good work. So I don’t want to denigrate what he has done. But I’m talking about collective attitudes.  My attitude where I thought I was better than them, where Mormons still think that they’re better.  “Oh, we’re not polygamists. We don’t do that. That’s something that they do.”  That attitude empowered Warren Jeffs.  I think we are complicit in that. We allowed a man like that to do those things to those people. And because of the stories that we inherited from our grandfathers and their grandfathers about who was right, whose priesthood was right, which practice is right. It’s allowed him to just go crazy with sickness.

Do you agree with Lindsay?