*. It’s such an old con you have to wonder how it still works. The prophet or spiritual leader who is really just an oversexed fraud, their power degenerating into megalomania. It’s not like Jim Jones didn’t get enough press, or more recently the Church of Scientology.
*. Prophet’s Prey is a documentary directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil, West of Memphis) that takes as its subject the case of Warren Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The most significant “fundamental” being polygamy, and that at a very young age for the brides. As it’s explained here, women and children were the church’s currency. Not that Jeffs didn’t help himself to everyone’s money too.
*. It’s obvious what was going on here, and eventually the law caught up to Jeffs, who is now serving a life sentence in a Texas state prison. But as I said in my notes on Holy Hell, a documentary on an even more obvious fraud, these cases always leave outsiders shaking their heads. How could anyone not see through someone like Jeffs?
*. The followers here had some excuse. Jeffs had institutional support, and the grooming/indoctrination/brainwashing was multigenerational and took place in a totally closed environment. All factors that contributed to making the FLDS community a happy hunting ground for predators. That it’s still in operation is testimony to the strength of its roots.
*. I can’t give high marks to the film though. Berg handles things well, in the manner of an extended 60 Minutes feature, but the guiding forces behind the project were the two figures who appear most on screen: Sam Brower (who wrote the book of the same name from which the film was adapted) and Jon Krakauer, who had also written a true-crime exposé of the Mormon Church. Though I respect the work they put into it, they also give the film a bit of the feel of a vanity project.
*. Jeffs remains a cipher, hidden behind his prison screen and a repetitive invocation of the Fifth Amendment in response to all the questions put to him. I suspect, however, that there’s really not much to him anyway. He inherited leadership of the church from his father and seems mostly to have just been a surprisingly uncharismatic creep who worked the levers of power in lots of nasty and secret ways. His flat voice recordings have a bit of the air of Jim Jones on his last day, but they’re more weird than hypnotic. I don’t see what the attraction was. But then that’s usually the case.
*. As Krakauer puts it at the end, it all all “speaks to something disturbing about human nature.” The need to follow others, for certainty and easy answers, exploited by individuals driven by lust and greed. A story so old it can safely be called timeless as well as deathless. As we sign off, the church is still going, being run by Jeffs’ brother as a proxy.