Culture Pick: A look at the elusive FLDS through Netflix’s “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey”  

Maddy Reda, Assistant Culture Editor

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, described by CNN as a “radical offshoot of Mormonism,” has been known for maintaining a notoriously closed polygamist society, sometimes spanning far beyond city limits under the guise of “religious freedom.” 

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” a four-part docuseries on Netflix, is one of several popular TV shows that has entered the mainstream to chronicle the rise and fall of cult leaders Rulon and Warren Jeffs, as well as their subsequent followers and enforcers. 

It is the second television show to be released this year that highlights the disturbing realities of the FLDS, which alleged “prophet” Warren Jeffs referred to as a “benevolent dictatorship” in the docuseries. 

Under The Banner of Heaven,” a Hulu miniseries starring Andrew Garfield, was released in April and tells the true story of the tragic murder of a mother and child by two devout Mormon brothers who claimed they received divine orders from Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, to do so.  

Released in June, “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” outlines and depicts the disturbing practices of the FLDS. 

The group, which has used numerous legal loopholes to evade local and federal law enforcement, was thrust into the public eye in 2011, when Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life imprisonment for two felony counts of sexual assault of a minor. 

Jeffs took over as the self-proclaimed “prophet” and leader of the group following the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002. 

Despite only having two felony counts, it is estimated that out of Jeffs’ 78 wives, at least 24 of them were under the age of 17 at the time of his arrest, according to The Sun. 

The show presents testimonies from survivors as well as unsettling home footage filmed at three of the main FLDS settlements: Colorado City, Colorado, Short Creek, Utah and the “Yearning for Zion Ranch” in Eldorado, Texas.  

Because the FLDS is notorious for operating in isolated sects on the fringes of society, most of the documentary’s footage came from eerie home videos recorded in the confines of various FLDS settlements. 

Viewers are exposed to unsettling imagery of young girls and women wearing the same elaborate dresses and braided hairstyles and singing songs of “obedience” and “keeping sweet,” while the fourth part of the series shows disturbing photos of new mothers posing with babies, some as young as 12 years old. 

While it may seem puzzling to understand how people wouldn’t be able to escape a fenceless settlement without any real security efforts, attorney Roger Hoole told CNN the pressures that FLDS members face within their closed society are “far more powerful than physical restraints.”  

According to a report by Freedom of Mind Resource Center, undue influence is any act of persuasion that overcomes the free will and judgment of another person.  

This form of mental abuse and manipulation was heavily documented throughout the docuseries, likening the brainwashing tactics of the FLDS to the ill-fated People’s Church and Heaven’s Gate cults, led by Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite, respectively.  

“People can be unduly influenced by deception, flattery, trickery, coercion and other techniques including hypnosis,” the report said. “When undue influence is used to cheat people out of their inheritance or property, break up families, deceive members into thinking that extreme shunning of close family members and friends is a loving act [ … ] threaten parishioners with shunning if they report child molestation or domestic violence to the police or tell anyone about it, these kinds of influence are a significant threat to basic human rights and a free society.” 

The docuseries familiarizes viewers with a multitude of FLDS rules, which are rooted in misogyny, pedophilia, gaslighting and other abusive tactics, which are rigorously hammered into FLDS children as soon as they are born. 

These tactics were accelerated after Jeffs rose to power and began exercising a totalitarian style of authority over everyone and everything in the “community.”  

According to ABC, two former FLDS members said Jeffs banned most forms of typical entertainment, including “dogs, toys, television, newspapers, the Internet, birthday and Christmas celebrations, festivals, parades, camping and fishing.” 

While the documentary makes it clear that men in the FLDS community are free to do as they please with as many women — or girls — as possible, the “prophet” is the only one who can determine who marries who. 

“All FLDS marriages need to be arranged by the prophet (which in this case is self-proclaimed “prophet” Warren Jeffs),” the article said. “At the end of your life, the prophet must give his approval before you enter heaven.” 

Men of the FLDS only maintain “ownership” of their wives and children as long as they are part of the church. Should a man be excommunicated from the FLDS, his wives and children would be “reassigned” by Jeffs to another family within the organization. 

While Jeffs is still serving his life sentence, the FLDS still views him as the prophet and supreme leader over their group, meaning the community is still alive despite being riddled with controversy and legal action.  

The docuseries brings justice to the many survivors of Jeffs’ torment over the past decades, although the insurmountable evidence against him hasn’t dulled the shine of the “prophet’s” halo in the eyes of his most loyal followers. 

In 2015, Former FLDS member Joe Broadbent told ABC that FLDS followers are supposed to “stop every hour during the day, no matter what they’re doing, to pray for Warren Jeffs to break out of prison.”