The latest sign that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, is falling apart comes in the form of the group losing its 53,000 square-foot building.
The building where the group used to gather for worship was claimed last week as part of government-ordered evictions that have taken away about 200 homes and buildings from members who have refused to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees.
Valued at $2.8 million and spanning approximately seven acres on the Arizona side of the remote red rock community, the building can house several thousand people.
Having been unused for at least six months with the FLDS leader being imprisoned, the facility includes a stage, a church-like setup for services and classrooms for religious education.
Members have been worshipping at home on their own as leader Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides and his brother Lyle Jeffs serving nearly a five-year sentence for his role in carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial.
With the organization lacking leadership, nobody acted on eviction warnings.
“It’s very sad for the FLDS. I’ve seen people cry over it,” community member Christin Katas said. “Both sides are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Everybody wishes there was a different outcome.”
Many FLDS members have been forced to either move away or take refuge in trailers around town as a result of the eviction. Members don’t believe they should have to pay for what belonged to a communal church trust that the state of Utah took over more than a decade ago amid mismanagement.
The evictions are part of the shifting demographics in the sister cities of about 7,700 people as non-sect members recently claimed control of the mayor’s office and town council through elections.
The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found past town and police leaders guilty of civil rights violations. Residences that used to belong to Warren Jeffs have been converted into beds and breakfast and sober living centers.
Despite the fact that Warren Jeffs has been in jail continually since 2006, group members still consider him to be their leader and prophet.
A legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, polygamy is no longer practiced and was abandoned by the mainstream church in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.
Jeff Barlow, the executive on a government-appointed organization, said the board of the organization he runs, called the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, will meet on Jan. 5 in a public meeting to discuss what to do with the building, constructed in 1986. One possibility is converting it to a civic center, though that would likely require seeking grant funds, but the final decision is up to the UEP board.