The FLDS Church is estimated to have 10,000 members residing in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona; Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colorado; Creston and Bountiful, British Columbia; and Pringle, South Dakota.
The FLDS Church headquarters were originally located in what was then known as Short Creek, Arizona, on the southern border of Utah, which settlement eventually expanded into Utah and became incorporated as the twin municipalities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Since 2004, however, news reports have suggested a possible shift of the church's headquarters to Eldorado, Texas, where a temple has been built by FLDS Church members.
It is currently unknown who is the leader of the FLDS Church. On November 20, 2007, after the conviction of Warren Jeffs, attorneys for Jeffs released the following statement "Mr. Jeffs resigned as President of the Corporation of the President of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Inc. this statement does not address his position as prophet of the church, but merely addressed his resignation from his fiduciary post as president of the corporation belonging to the FLDS Church. According to a Salt Lake Tribune telephone transcript, there is evidence that when incarcerated, Warren Jeffs made statements naming William E. Jessop, a former first counselor, as his successor or, alternately, that Jeffs had told Jessop on January 24, 2007 that he had never been the rightful leader of the FLDS. Many press accounts have suggested that Merril Jessop, who has been leading the Eldorado, Texas compound, is the de facto leader of the church.
Prior to November 20, 2007 the church was being led by Warren Jeffs, who succeeded his father Rulon Jeffs in 2002. For nearly two years, Warren had been wanted on sex-crimes charges. From May 2006, until his arrest in August 2006, he was on the FBI's Ten Most-Wanted List. On September 25, 2007, Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape and was sentenced to ten years to life in prison.
Since the purchase of land now called the Yearning for Zion Ranch northeast of Eldorado, Texas, there appears to be a shift in the headquarters of the church along with a large exodus of the "most faithful" church members. Other newer church settlements are southwest of Pringle, South Dakota and north of Mancos, Colorado.
The FLDS traces its claim to spiritual authority to accounts, starting with a statement published in 1912 by Lorin C. Woolley, of a purported 1886 divine revelation to then LDS Church President John Taylor. They see this 1886 revelation as precluding validity of the 1890 Manifesto, against new plural marriages by church members, issued by Wilford Woodruff, whom the LDS Church recognizes as Taylor's successor. After the formal abandonment of plural marriage by the LDS Church, many members around Short Creek and elsewhere continued, and even solemnized, plural marriages. In 1904 the Second Manifesto was issued by the LDS Church, which again renounced polygamy and was eventually followed by excommunications of those who continued to solemnize or enter into new plural marriages.
Short Creek soon became a gathering place for polygamist members of the LDS Church. In 1935, the LDS Church excommunicated the Mormon residents of Short Creek who refused to sign an oath renouncing polygamy. Following this event, John Y. Barlow began to lead a group of Mormon fundamentalists who were dedicated to preserving the practice of plural marriage. The location on the Utah–Arizona border was thought to be ideal for the group because it allowed them to avoid raids by one state by moving across the state line to the other.
Some of the locally prominent men in Short Creek, after being excommunicated by the LDS Church, later became leaders of the Mormon fundamentalist movement, including Lorin C. Woolley, J. Leslie Broadbent, John Y. Barlow, Charles Zitting, Joseph White Musser, LeGrand Wooley, and Louis A. Kelsch. In 1932, these leaders created the organization known as the Council of Friends, a group of seven high priests that was said to be the governing priesthood body on the earth. The Council of Friends became the governing ecclesiastical body over the Mormon fundamentalists at Short Creek.
The early years of the movement were contentious and saw many differing interpretations and opinions among leaders as to how plural marriage should be practiced. These contentions eventually led to the subsequent schisms that created the multiple Mormon fundamentalist organizations that now exist, including the FLDS Church, the Apostolic United Brethren, and the Latter-day Church of Christ or Kingston group. It is commonly believed by all of these sects that the early leaders of the fundamentalist movement received revelations from God commanding that plural marriage should not cease.
In 1984, a schism formed within the FLDS Church just before the passing of Leroy S. Johnson. A small group of FLDS took issue with the "one-man rule" doctrine, that altered the leadership structure of the church, that was implemented fully when Rulon Jeffs assumed his position as sole leader of the organization. These followers took up residence just south of Colorado City, in Centennial Park, Arizona, calling themselves "The Work of Jesus Christ", or in short "The Work".
Also in 2002, after Warren Jeffs assumed leadership, Winston Blackmore, who had been serving in Canada as the Bishop of Bountiful for the FLDS Church, was excommunicated by Jeffs in an apparent power struggle. This led to a split within the community in Bountiful, British Columbia, with an estimated 700 FLDS members leaving the church to follow Blackmore.
Musser led the community until a contentious appointment of Rulon Allred to a high position of authority in 1951 angered some members of the Short Creek community. Musser had appointed Allred to be his successor, but Allred was not accepted as his successor by the Short Creek community. This led to a schism, with many followers breaking off and joining Allred; this offshoot became known as the Apostolic United Brethren. The core group in the Short Creek area instead followed Charles Zitting as their leader.
Zitting died in 1954 and Leroy S. Johnson was chosen to lead the church in Short Creek. Johnson led the FLDS Church until his death in 1986. He was succeeded by Rulon Jeffs, who assumed the position of prophet, a title his predecessor refused to use. In Jeffs' later years, his poor health led to his son Warren serving as leader of the church in his stead, and upon Rulon's death in September of 2002, Warren Jeffs became leader of the FLDS Church. However, immediately after being convicted of being an accomplice to rape by the state of Utah, it was widely reported in the press that Warren Jeffs resigned his leadership of the FLDS Church, though the statement made by his attorneys only addresses Jeffs' resignation from his fiduciary post as "President of the Corporation of the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Inc.
Since no public statements have been made by officials of the church indicating a successor to Jeffs, it is not known who may be leading the FLDS Church, though is is quite probable that Warren Jeffs remains at the church's helm.
In 2003, the church received increased attention from the state of Utah when police officer Rodney Holm, a member of the church, was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old and one count of bigamy for his marriage to and impregnation of plural wife Ruth Stubbs. The conviction was the first legal action against a member of the FLDS Church since the Short Creek raid.
In November 2003, church member David Allred purchased "as a hunting retreat" the Isaacs Ranch northeast of Eldorado, Texas on Schleicher County Road 300 and sent 30 to 40 construction workers from Colorado City–Hildale to begin work on the property. Improvements soon included three 3-story houses—each 8,000 to , a concrete plant and a plowed field. After seeing high-profile FLDS Church critic Flora Jessop on the ABC television program Primetime Live on March 4, 2004, concerned Eldorado residents contacted Jessop. She investigated and on March 25, 2004, Jessop held a press conference in Eldorado confirming that the new neighbors were FLDS Church adherents. On May 18, 2004, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran and his Chief Deputy visited Colorado City, and the FLDS Church officially acknowledged that the Schleicher County property would be a new base for the church. It has been reported in the media that the church has built a temple at the YFZ Ranch, which has been supported by evidence including aerial photographs of a large stone structure (approximately wide) in a state of relative completion. A local newspaper, the Eldorado Success, reported that the temple foundation was dedicated January 1, 2005 by Warren Jeffs.
On January 10, 2004 Dan Barlow, the mayor of Colorado City, and about 20 men were excommunicated from the church and stripped of their wives and children (who would be reassigned to other men), and the right to live in the town. The same day two teenage girls reportedly fled the towns with the aid of activist Flora Jessop who advocates the escape of plural wives from polygamy. The two girls, Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm, soon found themselves in a broadly publicized dispute over their freedom and custody. After the allegations against their parents were proven false, Flora helped them flee state custody together on February 15, they ended up in Salt Lake City at Fawn Holms brother Carl's house.
In October 2004, Flora Jessop reported that David Allred purchased a 60 acre parcel of land near Mancos, Colorado (midway between Cortez and Durango) about the same time he bought the Schleicher County property. Allred told authorities the parcel is to be used as a hunting retreat.
In July 2005 eight men of the church were indicted for sexual contact with minors. All of them turned themselves in to police in Kingman, Arizona within days.
On July 29, 2005, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. The suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant. On August 10, former FLDS Church member Shem Fischer, Dan Fischer's brother, added the church and Warren Jeffs as defendants to a 2002 lawsuit claiming he was illegally fired because he no longer adhered to the faith. Fischer, who was a salesman for a wooden cabinetry business in Hildale, claims church officials interfered with his relationship with his employer and blacklisted him. The claim against the company was thrown out because he quit rather than being fired.
In July 2005, six young adult lost boys who claimed they were cast out of their homes on the Utah–Arizona border to reduce competition for wives, filed suit against the FLDS Church. "The [boys] have been excommunicated pursuant to that policy and practice and have been cut off from family, friends, benefits, business and employment relationships, and purportedly condemned to eternal damnation," their suit says. "They have become 'lost boys' in the world outside the FLDS community."
On August 28, 2006, Warren Jeffs was captured on Interstate 15 just north of Las Vegas, Nevada, after a routine traffic stop. Jeffs was tried in St. George, Utah and was found guilty by a jury of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.
The mayor of Colorado City, Terrill C. Johnson, was arrested on May 26, 2006 for eight fraudulent vehicle registration charges for registering his vehicles in a different state than he lived, which is a felony. He was booked in to Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah and was released after paying the $5,000 bail in cash.
The church currently practices placement marriage whereby a young woman of marriageable age is assigned a husband by revelation from God to the leader of the church, who is regarded as a prophet. The prophet elects to take and give wives to and from men according to their worthiness. This is also called the law of placing.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) has repeatedly emphasized that it is not affiliated with the FLDS Church. If members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engage in polygamy, they are excommunicated.
At the time of his death, church leader Rulon Jeffs was confirmed to have married 22 women and fathered more than 60 children. Current estimates state that Warren Jeffs may have upwards of 60 wives. Critics of this lifestyle claim that its practice inevitably leads to bride shortages and likely to child marriages, incest, and child abuse.
Critics assert that members of the church are violating laws when they participate in polygamy. Critics claim that incest and sexual abuse of children are prevalent among church members.