Nonfiction — print. Bloomsbury, 2011. 323 pgs. Purchased.
Subtitled “My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints”, Brower details the years leading up to the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ Ranch) in Eldorado, Texas he spent as a private investigator working for those expelled from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) embroiled in a civil dispute over property rights.
The FLDS holds all the land around their original home of Short Creek, a community that straddles the Utah-Arizona border, in an economic trust and those expelled from the faith also lose their homes and jobs in addition to being shunned by the only community they have ever known. This civil investigation quickly morphed into a criminal as Brower, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), learned more about this separatist religion that maintains polygamy as a main tenant of its faith.
My interest in fundamentalist religions makes it impossible for me to pass up any book on the subject even when I think I’ve learned all there is to learn. I’m glad I didn’t pass this book up because while I was familiar with most of the topics covered in the book, the particular details forming Brower’s investigation were new to me. It was also interesting reading about the raid on the YFZ Ranch — the event that familiarized most of my friends with the FLDS — because it was so spun by the FLDS and swept under the rug by Child Protective Services in Texas. The review of the raid, as cited by Brower, stated that all of the children were returned to the YFZ Ranch despite the fact that:
“…a total of 439 children had been removed from the YFZ Ranch, and that 274 of them, from 91 families, had been the subjects of abuse and neglect. One in four prepubescent girls was involved in an underage marriage.” (pg. 287)
Except I never saw any of these shocking statistics in the coverage of the 2008 investigation. In fact, Brower’s book was actually the first time I learned of the outcome for the children removed from their home. And Brower spends the majority of the book detailing how the FLDS make up one the largest organized crime syndicates since untold tens of thousands of people (the FLDS won’t allow themselves to be counted in the U.S. census) support a religion that participates in child abuse, rape, interstate and international sex trafficking, and welfare theft. It’s an organized entity complete with safe houses that officials from Utah, Arizona, Texas, and the United States government have turned a blind eye to.
The most interesting part of this book, though, is the profile of the FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs spun by Brower. Using Jeffs’ own writings, interviews with former members of the FLDS, and his own interactions with current FLDS members as well as Jeffs, Brower creates an absolutely horrific description of a man who abused children of all ages and sex either by his own hand or through his performance of marriages for other men in the upper hierarchy of his church. Brower continually interjects personal stories or those of his clients to illustrate his points and connect so-called past practices with current events within the religious sect.
Although this book is technically a personal memoir, it could have benefited from additional editing to turn it into a better investigative report. I liked hearing about the FLDS’ response to Brower because it does illustrate how closed off the FLDS are and what lengths they will go to maintain that break. However, the timeline gets a little lost as Brower tries to group events around themes and then repeats those events when he tries to go back to a timeline. I would have prefer him to stick to one format so I did not have been left muttering about how he already talked about this so many times. But it’s a minor complaint given how much information Brower brings to the reader.