Battle for Sect 'Blood Is Just Boiling' in B.C. Commune after Leader's Arrest

Toronto Sun [Canada]
August 31, 2006

Vancouver -- A woman who escaped from a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon commune says the group's leaders will be battling for control of the B.C. sect after the arrest Monday of so-called prophet Warren Jeffs in Las Vegas.

Jeffs will be prosecuted first in Utah, then in Arizona, on charges that he arranged marriages of underage girls to older men, authorities said yesterday.

Arizona officials filed charges first, but Utah prosecutors agreed to try Jeffs first because they believe they have a stronger case and more serious charges, including two counts of rape by accomplice, which accuse Jeffs of forcing a girl to marry an older man and submit to him sexually.

Debbie Palmer, who escaped from the commune, said in an interview that Winston Blackmore of Bountiful, B.C., will be assessing his options for taking power over the dissident Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Blackmore was removed as bishop of Bountiful by Jeffs and replaced with her brother, Jim Oler.

"I know that Winston has been positioning himself to be available as a leader for any of the ones who have become disillusioned," she said yesterday.

But that could be difficult. While Oler is Jeffs' point man and "enforcer" in Bountiful, he is also Blackmore's nephew.

"The fact that Jim accepted the position under Warren to be a bishop was quite a shock to all of us because Jim and Winston had been quite close.

Palmer also said switching allegiance is a delicate matter.

"The blood is just boiling over there. There's some really bad feelings right now," said Palmer, who fled from the B.C. commune in 1988 with her eight children after years of abuse. She still has relatives in Bountiful.


"Winston is in a position right now where he's bound to pick up -- well, he will be picking up -- quite a few of the people who are the casualties to do with Warren Jeffs' mad scramble to firm up his compounds in the States."

Jeffs, the self-proclaimed "speaker of God's will" and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was wanted in the two U.S. states on suspicion of sexual misconduct for allegedly arranging marriages of underage girls.

The renegade group has long been disavowed by the Mormon church.

About 1,000 people live on the B.C. land located a stone's throw from the U.S. border. Half are followers of Jeffs, the rest follow Blackmore.

The situation is so toxic that brothers don't speak to brothers or women to their mothers.

Palmer is dubious about what effect, if any, imprisonment may have on Jeffs' control of the group.

"Warren Jeffs has absolutely controlled every part of their lives including when they can have sex, who they can marry, where they can work if they can work and -- if they lose their wife and kids today. And if you're a woman -- who you're going to be married to next week."


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