The Horrifying True Story of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey

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The Horrifying True Story of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Tal Fox
The true story of "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" is truly horrifying. For this video, we'll be delving into the facts behind Netflix's shocking docuseries about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its president Warren Jeffs. Our video includes Elissa Wall, Warren Jeffs, Brielle Decker, and more!
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The Horrifying True Story of Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re looking at The Horrifying True Story of “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey”.

For this video, we’ll be delving into the facts behind Netflix’s shocking docuseries about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its president Warren Jeffs.

Did you watch the series? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) drew national attention in the late 2000s, when its leader was put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. The police raids and trials that followed made international news. Although over a decade has passed, the FLDS has experienced renewed public scrutiny in the wake of the 2022 Netflix docuseries “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey”. Described as a real-life “Handmaid’s Tale,” the series exposes the crimes, corruption, and horrifying culture of this polygamist cult.

A splinter group of the Mormon Church, the movement was founded by men who’d been excommunicated for continuing to practice polygamy. Under pressure, the Mormon Church had advised against polygamy in 1890 so that Utah would be granted Statehood. When some members continued to enter into plural marriages regardless, the Church issued the Second Manifesto in 1904, threatening them with excommunication. Claiming that God wanted them to have multiple wives, excommunicated members went on to form their own community in Short Creek, now Colorado City, Arizona, in the 1930s. The community also included the nearby town of Hildale in Utah.

The Church had incredibly strict rules for members, who lived in relative isolation from the rest of society. When Warren Jeffs took over leadership in the 2000s, these rules became even more draconian. Women were forced to wear long prairie dresses that covered every inch of their bodies, and their hair had to be drawn back in a bun. They were reportedly made to pray every hour. In fact, the docuseries’ title “pray and obey” comes from a brick pattern featured on one of the community’s buildings. Women had two purposes only: to be submissive wives and procreate. They were controlled and coerced, forced into underage marriages, and made to engage in non-consensual acts.

Members were taught to “keep sweet,” which essentially meant to tamp down their emotions and do as they were told. Girls who were considered unruly were married off in order to subdue them. In many cases, the men they were married to were significantly older.

Warren Jeffs arranged all the marriages and controlled physical contact between husbands and wives. He decided which men were allowed to father children, and punished male followers by “reassigning” their wives, children, and homes to other men. He himself reportedly had around 78 wives, although some have claimed 87, 24 of whom were underage at the time of their marriage.

Punishments for breaking the rules were dire and could include being kicked out of the community and even one’s home, without a dime or any knowledge of life beyond the cult. In the Netflix series, women who escaped the cult bravely speak out about their harrowing experiences under Jeffs’ authoritarian rule.

Much of the docuseries focuses on the man at the center of these horrifying accounts, Warren Jeffs. But who is he, and how did he come to hold such intense and terrifying power?

Warren Jeffs took over leadership of the Church from his father, who died in 2002. He consolidated his power by marrying most of his father’s widows. Under his rule, the cult became even more cut off from the outside world. He even ordered that children be pulled from public schools and homeschooled instead. Expelling dozens of senior followers, including the Short Creek mayor, Jeffs achieved total control, and started aggressively exploiting young girls.

As one survivor explains, Jeffs completely isolated them; they didn’t know a life beyond the cult walls. He called himself a “prophet” and declared that all his decisions came from god.

However, one of the cult’s victims, Elissa Wall, bravely blew the whistle. She had been forced to marry her cousin as a minor. In 2005, Jeffs was indicted by a grand jury, but he was nowhere to be found. He’d gone on the run, becoming one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals. Reportedly, he continued to rule from afar, instructing his followers to send him money that was brought to him by his brother Seth. Supposedly, Jeffs, who had fled with some of his wives, used that cash on extravagant trips and fancy parties. Ultimately, he was arrested during a routine traffic check in Las Vegas.

It’s important to note that this was far from the Church’s first run-in with the law. In 1953 Arizona state police officers and National Guard soldiers raided the community, arresting everyone, including 236 children. 150 were not returned to their parents for over two years, while others were permanently removed from their parents’ custody. However, the church continued regardless, leaving history to repeat itself.

In April 2008, federal law enforcement agents raided the community’s compound in West Texas. Over 400 children were removed in what became the largest child custody case in US history. However, a Court of Appeals ruled that Child Protective Services had to return the children to the compound due to insufficient evidence. Later that year, 12 FLDS men were charged with offenses related to underage marriages, and six were eventually convinced of felonies.

Meanwhile, Jeffs was held in prison for two years while awaiting his trial. There were several delays, but in 2011, he was finally sentenced to life in prison.

Between 2007 and 2011, there was some confusion over who was now in charge of the church. In 2007 Jeffs’ attorneys released a statement declaring he had resigned as “President”. He announced William E. Jessop as his successor. However, he reasserted legal control in 2011, and continued to run the cult from prison.

Today, Jeffs is incarcerated at the Louis C. Powledge Unit near Palestine, Texas. He won’t be eligible for parole until at least July 2038, by which time he’ll be 82 years old. Supposedly, he still believes he was wrongly convicted, and has many supporters who agree.

These days, FLDS numbers have dwindled, but remarkably, the cult is still around, although it keeps a low profile. Its devotees believe that Jeffs is a wrongly incarcerated prophet, and there are offshoot communities in Mexico and Oklahoma.

The Church’s compound in Texas was seized by the state in 2014, having been deemed contraband as a place that had been used to facilitate criminal conduct. Another of Jeff’s compounds, in Phoenix, Arizona, was obtained by his former wife, Brielle Decker, who managed to escape the cult. With pastor Luke W. Barnett, she transformed the mansion into a refuge for people in need, including former members of the FLDS.

Netflix’s docuseries tells the story of these women and their suffering under FLDS control. The director, Rachel Dretzin, explained that she wanted to show how brave and “badass” they were for leaving everything they knew behind and starting over. This is their story.
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