A primer on the abusive FLDS church, from its self-proclaimed prophet to forced underage polygamy

What you need to know about the radical denomination of Mormonism as seen in Netflix's "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey"

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published June 9, 2022 9:33PM (EDT)

Alicia Rohbock (right) in "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" (Netflix)
Alicia Rohbock (right) in "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" (Netflix)

In recent months, Netflix has released a collection of harrowing true-crime content, from the "Conversations with a Killer" series surrounding the John Wayne Gacy tapes to the "Our Father" documentary on disgraced fertility doc Donald Cline.

The streaming giant's latest installation is the docuseries "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey," which revisits the unthinkable horrors of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a radical denomination of Mormonism.  

Regarded as the "one true prophet," Warren spent years brainwashing the close-knit community into spiritual submission, promoting child sexual assault, bigamy and unlawful marriage.

Over the course of four episodes, the series features several survivor stories from former members of the polygamous and abusive sect led by Warren Jeffs. Regarded as the "one true prophet," Warren spent years brainwashing the close-knit community into spiritual submission, promoting child sexual assault, bigamy and unlawful marriage all in the name of religion.

RELATED: Inside the diaries of polygamous wives: Life as an early Mormon woman

The documentary notes that Warren himself had 78 total wives, 24 of whom were underage. In 2011, he was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault, for which he is serving life in prison and an additional 20 years.   Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:

Today, the FLDS is regarded as both a designated hate group and "a white supremacist, homophobic, antigovernment, totalitarian cult" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here's a closer look at the church's history, from its inception in 1890 to its practices and preachings.

The church's founding

The FLDS was established in 1890 after a group of nonconforming adherents broke away from the Mormon church in order to continue practicing polygamy. Since polygamy was deemed illegal in the state of Utah (and nationwide), the group decided to settle in the towns of Hildale and Colorado City located on the Utah-Arizona border. The remote locations allowed them to follow their customs and expand their following with little to no backlash from state law enforcement agencies in either jurisdiction.  

During the 20th century, the FLDS endured several crackdowns from the local government that inadvertently made the denomination stronger rather than weaker. On July 26, 1953, all the FLDS members residing in Short Creek, Arizona — including 36 men, 86 women, and 263 children — were arrested during a pre-dawn raid ordered by the state's governor, John Howard Pyle. The raid's outcome, however, didn't go as planned as it garnered negative media coverage and botched the governor's own political career. Instead, it bolstered public support and sympathy for the growing sect of polygamists.

Rulon T. Jeffs' reign

The first leader of the FLDS was John Y. Barlow, followed by Joseph White Musser and then Charles Zitting, following a brief scuffle within the community. Zitting was later succeeded by Leroy S. Johnson, who led the sect until his death in 1986. That same year, Rulon T. Jeffs took over as prophet. Prior to his FLDS leadership role, Rulon served as a High Priest Apostle in Salt Lake City after moving back to town in the spring of 1945.

Among his followers, Rulon was commonly known as "Uncle Rulon" and he "oftentimes made decisions based on visions he claimed he received from a higher power," per Distractify.

In "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey," one of Rulon's many wives, Alicia Rohbock, recounted the prophet's dining room wall, which organized each picture of Rulon's partners in the order he married them. At the time of his death in September 2002, it was reported that Rulon had more than 75 wives and fathered approximately 60 children. Many of Rulon's wives were also believed to have been underage at the time of their marriage — Rohbock, in particular, was just 20 years of age when she married Rulon, who was 86.

"Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" (Netflix)

Warren Jeffs takes over  

Rulon's son, Warren quickly assumed his position as prophet shortly after his father's death. What was once Rulon's now belonged to Warren, including Rulon's 70+ wives. Warren married all but two of his father's partners and additionally, took on his father's previous responsibility of assigning wives to their designated husbands.  

Warren stripped women and girls of their autonomy, ordering them to don a new kind of prairie dress that covered them from head to toe and style their hair in a specific fashion.  

Many former members of the FLDS recalled that Warren's leadership marked a dark period within the church's longstanding history. Under his reign, rules for the sect's members became stricter with Warren dictating what they wore, who they married and what they ate. Warren also forced members to turn over their personal property to the church's leadership, required that children be homeschooled and even prohibited members from voting by telling them that he was the President of the United States . . .

Warren also banned the use of items that were the color red (even though he owned a red Cadillac Escalade) banned different kinds of entertainment – like "dogs, toys, television, newspapers, the Internet, birthday and Christmas celebrations, festivals, parades, camping and fishing" – and encouraged members to tone down their emotions. 

A handful of his rules served to control the girls and women in the group. Warren facilitated numerous underage and incestuous marriages, forcing girls as young as 14 years old to tie the knot with their distant relatives. The so-called prophet also adhered to his own rules and had 78 wives, 24 of whom were underage.

Additionally, Warren stripped women and girls of their autonomy, ordering them to don a new kind of prairie dress that covered them from head to toe and style their hair in a specific fashion.   

Warren's arrest

Warren became a sought-out felon in 2005, when he was first indicted in Arizona on felony charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man, who was already married. The following year he was arrested as an accomplice to rape for performing another unlawful marriage involving a 14-year-old girl.

In 2007, Warren was found guilty of two counts of rape and in 2008, he along with other FLDS members were indicted on charges of bigamy and sexual assault.  

Three years later, on August 4, 2011, Warren was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 14 and sexual assault of a child under the age of 17. He is currently serving a life sentence for the former and an additional 20 years for the latter.

"Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" is currently streaming on Netflix. 

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By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon, covering Culture and Food. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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