Described as a hard-hitting but compelling watch, the new Netflix documentary Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), delves into the charismatic and cult-like leadership of its head, Warren Jeffs, who presided over years of abuse in the secretive organisation.
The church, which has been called a “polygamous cult”, made national headlines in the early 2000s, when its illegal practice of polygamy, as well as incest and marrying female children to much older men came to light after Jeffs’s arrest for sexual assault on a minor.
By the time US law enforcement caught up with the man who had become one of the FBI’s most wanted, Jeffs had more than 78 wives, the youngest being 12.
What is the FLDS church?
The church is a fundamentalist Mormon organisation that emerged as a splinter in the early 20th century.
It split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) after a row over plural marriage, which the LDS renounced, but some members wanted to continue.
Followers believe that a man should have a minimum of three wives in order to get to heaven.
The FLDS is led by a succession of men who regard themselves as prophets, and who have convinced their followers that they have been ordained by God to lead them.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre has designated the church a “hate group”, and “a white supremacist, homophobic, anti-government, totalitarian cult”, quoting Jeffs’s disturbing views on women, ethnic minorities, law enforcement and the apocalypse, which he previously insisted would come in 2012.
Where is Warren Jeffs now?
Jeffs, 66, is serving a life sentence at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Louis C Powledge Unit and is ineligible for parole until 2038.
Despite being imprisoned, many in the FLDS still regard him as their “president and prophet”.
Having been accused by numerous women and men of rape and sexual assault, including family members and his own children, Jeffs was found guilty on August 9, 2011, on two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison.
The FBI’s most wanted
In June 2005, Jeffs was charged with sexual assault on a minor and with conspiracy to commit sexual misconduct with a minor.
The following month, the Arizona Attorney General’s office released wanted posters offering $10,000 for information leading to his arrest.
In April 2006, Utah issued an arrest warrant on him for accomplice rape of a teenage girl aged between 14 and 18 years old, and on May 6, the FBI put Jeffs on its Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, offering a $60,000 reward.
In June 2006, Jeffs travelled to Colorado City in Arizona to oversee some child-bride marriages. On August 28, his car was pulled over because of number plate issues, with a highway trooper discovering him inside, along with one of his wives and his brother Isaac.
Also found in the car were four computers, 16 mobile phones, wigs and sunglasses to be used as disguises, and more than $55,000 in cash.
Is the FLDS still active?
As shown in the four-episode Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, the church remains active despite Jeffs’s incarceration.
Many members claim he is still running the organisation from behind bars and exerting influence over his remaining congregation.
In the documentary, former members claim they have become estranged from their families over their decision to leave.
“Three of us are out,” says Lola Barlow, who was in the group as a child. “The rest of everybody’s still in. I could just drive to their house and talk to them but they won’t talk to me.”