Defiance is one of the most powerful actions that can be taken by a person. The ability to stand up in the face of adversity tests our courage and in some cases our morale fiber. Rebecca Musser exemplified both as she faced former tormentor and leader of the Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Warren Jeffs. Musser is the former wife of Jeffs’ father Rulon and a major defector from the FLDS church. As she testified, she say stoically in a stunning red dress that surely drew the ire of the once powerful Jeffs. Today Jeffs continues to serve a life sentence at the Louis C. Powledge Unit in Anderson county, Texas. The FLDS continues to operate under the watchful eye of State and Federal authorities in Utah and Texas. Their investigations have shed light on the behind the scenes movements of the secretive and secluded religious faction. Assisted by defectors from the FLDS, authorities pieced together a disturbing pattern of sexual abuse of both children and adults and forced child labor. Their efforts culminated in the conviction of Jeffs.
When Rulon Jeffs died, his son Warren seized power and began to enforce an even more draconian system of arranged marriages for himself and others. In the process he married several of his father’s widows. And some of the brides were as young as fourteen years of age. As Jeffs made his descent into insanity, his rhetoric became even more radical and his decrees even more bizarre and restrictive. Without his father there to control his radical beliefs and actions, Jeffs became a dictator drunk on power. His greed and paranoia would lead to his downfall and the exposure of the secretive community. Musser was a witness to this but the basis of her story is the relationship with his father Rulon as his nineteenth wife. The true number of wives and children held by Rulon Jeffs will probably never be fully known. But what is known is that many teenage brides were forced to marry him even though he was long past his eightieth birthday. To some reading this now, it seems beyond comprehension that a nineteen year old woman was forced to marry a many several decades her senior. This is no practical joke nor is it a fairy tale. It really did happen and this story tells us what it was like on a daily basis. Teaming up with author, speaker and activist M. Bridget Cook, Rebecca takes us back in time to an era where she was a normal child like the others she called her friends. Her nightmare begins as she assigned to marry the elderly leader of the church. The misogynistic atmosphere and behavior of the senior Jeffs is not only disturbing but in some cases dumbfounding. Her resistance is formed early in her plight and throughout it all she and Jeffs remained bitter enemies. Unable to get her to bend to his will, Musser became public enemy number one in the eyes of the next prophet. Their battle culminated in the courtroom where the woman in red helped seal his fate.
Musser’s sister is Elissa Wall, the author of Stolen Innocence, which tells the story of her marriage to her own cousin and defection from the church. The sisters have become leading voices in exposing the dangers faced by children in the FLDS and their stories are incredible in their own ways. They both received satisfaction in knowing that Jeffs will never again walk the streets a free man. And although the FLDS still operates, it is no longer a secret kept in place through intimidation or complicity. The days of her marriage to Rulon Jeffs and his indiscretions are long gone. But the memories of that time and the system of dysfunction and exploitation remain as reminders of her former life. She is now a best selling author and continues to make her voice heard with regards to child exploitation and the practice of underage marriage. If you want to know more about this phenomenal woman and the ordeal she endured on her path to freedom, this is the place to start.