Self-proclaimed FLDS leader accused of taking child brides is attempting to splinter Warren Jeffs' cult

  • Samuel Bateman, an FLDS leader accused of child abuse and polygamy, is repeating history.

  • A son of the sect's longtime "prophet" says Bateman is following in his dad's footsteps.

  • While most FLDS members still follow the imprisoned Warren Jeffs, some now follow Bateman, he said.

Wendell Jeffson, the 22-year-old son of the infamous cult leader Warren Jeffs, told Insider that an up-and-coming FLDS leader being accused of keeping 20 wives — most of them under 15 — "took a page out of my dad's playbook."

After years of trying to get as close as he could to the Jeffs family, the 46-year-old Samuel Bateman has declared himself "prophet" and has been accused of similar abuses as his former idol, Jeffson told Insider.

Jeffs, the longtime "prophet" to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, continues to run the sect — largely considered a cult — while serving a life sentence on child-sexual-abuse convictions related to marrying off young girls to his older male followers.

But since 2019, Bateman has garnered about 50 followers and 20 wives. The FBI says his wives are mostly children, many of them under 15.

Bateman, too, now stands accused of preying on girls, including his own teenage daughter, whom the FBI says he told he wanted to marry and impregnate.

The FBI made that claim in an affidavit filed in a case out of US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, where Bateman and two of his followers are accused of transporting girls across state lines for sex.

"He's taken the same message that Warren Jeffs used but is putting it in his own words," Jeffson said. "It's the same thing repeating itself."

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a radical group that splintered from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 93 years ago. The larger church, also known as the Mormon church, abandoned the practice of polygamy over a century ago and isn't affiliated with the FLDS.

Wendell Jeffson
Wendell Jeffson left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when he was 18.Provided by Jeffson

Splitting the church

In 2007, Jeffs was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison for his role in marrying off a 14-year-old girl to a one of his followers against her will. While that conviction was later overturned over improper jury instructions, Jeffs had already been extradited to Texas, where he was convicted of the rape and sexual abuse of two of his child brides.

Despite being behind bars for over 15 years, serving a life sentence, Jeffs continues to lead a group of FLDS followers from prison. Early in his imprisonment, his calls — in which he gave orders to his church — would be broadcast over loudspeakers at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a massive FLDS compound that Jeffs built in remote part of Texas while avoiding law enforcement, his son told Insider.

Law enforcement raided and seized that ranch in 2014, but Jeffs released a new edict to members as recently as August, the Salt Lake City outlet Fox 13 reported.

Jeffson, who abandoned the church and condemns his father, said many FLDS members still considered Jeffs the prophet.

In recent years, though, Bateman started calling himself the new prophet, claiming to have replaced Jeffs.

In 2019, Bateman was married to only one woman, but their marriage became troubled after he told her he was the prophet, which she didn't believe, FBI documents say.

At that point, the FBI has said, he told the woman he was meant to marry their daughter, who was a minor. The FBI says he constantly talked about wanting to touch and kiss the minor. The FBI says that on one trip home to Colorado City, Arizona, from Canada, Bateman told the girl he wanted to marry her and make her have a child — bribing her with $50 and bags of Doritos.

In their affidavit, federal investigators say Bateman and his followers refer to Jeffs as "Uncle Warren." Bateman is said to tell them that Jeffs' status as prophet has translated to him.

Jeffson told Insider he'd heard from his brothers and other people still in the church that Bateman had tried to take control of the FLDS but had collected only a small group of people in Arizona.

"Most people in the FLDS still consider Warren Jeffs prophet. Sam Bateman has come in and try to take that away," he said. "I don't know too much about it, but it sounds like it's been an interesting situation that's been developing over the last few years."

Jeffson told Insider that he and his family remembered Bateman from their time in the church and considered him "mentally sick."

He said Bateman was always trying to get close to his family, which was treated like royalty among the FLDS, with the community tithing to the family to keep them in luxury cars and living an elite lifestyle.

He was trying to advance his own position in the church for as long as Jeffson can remember, he said.

"You know when you have a group of friends, and you have that one person and they really want to join the group of friends?" Jeffson said. "That's how he was toward my brothers, trying to get into the circle of the Jeffs family."

Jeffson accused Bateman of taking the depravity even a step further than his father, with whom Jeffson is estranged from and condemns. That's because Jeffs never married any of his daughters — though he talked about it.

The FBI affidavit that details allegations of child abuse by Bateman doesn't say he married his 14-year-old daughter but says he kissed her repeatedly, sent her sexual messages, and told her mother that they were meant to be married.

Jeffson, however, said it was understood by some members of the FLDS that Bateman "married" his daughter by FLDS standards.

Plural marriages are illegal in the United States, though they are practiced unofficially by some groups like the FLDS.

Wendell Jeffson posing for a photo with his mother.
Jeffson and his mother.Provided by Wendell Jeffson

History repeating itself

Jeffson — who changed his last name from Jeffs to symbolize his new beginning — left the FLDS when he was 18.

In the FLDS community in Colorado City, on the Utah-Arizona border, his father married off couples — some of whom were children, according to court records and media reports. When the police began investigating the rape of a minor in the community, authorities began looking for Jeffs as an accomplice in the abuse.

There, Jeffs took on dozens of additional wives as young as 12 years old. Jeffson said he grew up in a home as large as a hotel with more than 50 siblings and was made to call those 12-year-olds "mom."

While members of Jeffson's immediate family — his mother and his sister — left the community, several of his brothers remain in the sect.

Bateman's followers, though, tend to be people who remained in Colorado City. Jeffs' followers and children largely grew up in Texas at the ranch, Jeffson said.

"We're separated from it entirely," he said.

Editor's Note: This story was first published December 6, 2022, and has been updated with additional information.

Correction: December 9, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It also misstated who's pictured in the third photo. It is Wendell Jeffson and his mother; his sister isn't pictured.

Read the original article on Insider