Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run with Warren Jeffs is the latest documentary to tell the story of Warren Jeffs, the now-imprisoned leader of the Fundamental Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), an off-shoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (widely recognized as the Mormon Church) that still practices polygamy. The mainstream LDS Church officially gave up polygamy in 1890, then actually gave it up in 1904. Peacock’s Preaching Evil uses audio recordings of Jeffs, photos and interviews to tell the story of his rise and fall from power. What sets it apart from previous documentaries are new interviews from some of Jeffs’ former wives and children, including his once-favorite wife and personal scribe, Naomie Jessop. Jessop proves to be a vexing figure, neither wholly sympathetic nor wholly villainous.
Jessop has never given such an interview before Preaching Evil, and she has the unique perspective of having been with Jeffs while he was on the run from law enforcement. Between 2004 and 2006, multiple charges were brought against Jeffs, including child sex abuse and rape as an accomplice, and he made the FBI’s Most Wanted list. While he criss-crossed the country evading arrest, Jessop traveled with him and continued her duties as Jeffs’ scribe.
While on the run, Jeffs visited 48 states and went on trips to the Grand Canyon, St. Louis Arch and New Orleans. But Jessop maintains in Preaching Evil that this wasn’t a vacation for her or Jeffs and that he believed he was being guided by the hand of God the entire time. Jessop shares some insight into what it was like wearing mainstream fashion and clothing for the first time in her life, but she insists that she never doubted, during this time, that Jeffs was anything other than what he said he was: a prophet of God being unduly persecuted by the outside world, which all of his followers had been taught to fear.
One of the few times Jessop discusses pushing back against something Jeffs’ commanded is when he showed her pornographic videos. Pornography was abhorrent to her, despite having observed and recorded, as his scribe, Jeffs’ “heavenly sessions,” which included sexual acts with multiple wives at once and the sexual abuse of underage girls, inlcuding 12-year-old Merriane Jessop, who Naomie Jessop claims was like a daughter to her. “I just push those things to the back of my mind,” says Naomie in Preaching Evil, something she continues to do even after Jeffs excommunicated her from the FLDS church. She now identifies as a mainstream Mormon, according to the docuseries. Preaching Evil allows the viewer to decide for themselves if Naomie is another indoctrinated victim, an accomplice in horrific crimes or both.
Other participants in the documentary include Vicki Thompson, another one of Warren Jeffs’ former wives, and her two children by Warren, Wendell and Sarah, as well as members of Texas and Arizona law enforcement and Nate Carlisle, former reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. The latter are much less generous toward Jeffs and Naomie herself, some going as far to question why she isn’t in jail.
Vicki’s son Wendell spoke with Salt Lake magazine and categorically disavows his father and condemns his actions. In the documentary, he shares the story of being separated from his mother at least twice on Warren Jeffs’ command and once by law enforcement, throughout his life. “I think it took a while for me to get the courage to share those things,” says Wendell about his participation in the documentary. “The thing that drove me to have that kind of vulnerability was that I have family members still in those situations being controlled by Jeffs. Me being vulnerable could be the voice people need to hear to start changing their own lives,” he says.
Wendell’s mother and sister are all out of the FLDS as well, and he feels pity for his family members that refuse to leave. “I don’t blame them,” he says, but he’s frustrated that they still choose to believe, even after everything that’s been revealed about Warren Jeffs. As such, he says he appreciates the amount of attention the FLDS and Jeffs have received in recent documentaries and other media, saying, “They need to be 100% exposed for what they are. I don’t think there can be too much truth out there.” He hopes the stories of people like him, who have broken free of FLDS, will inspire others to leave abusive relationships and communities and make their own way. Wendell also plans to write a book about his experiences.
Now independent, going to school and no longer under the control of the FLDS, Wendell decided to change his last name from Jeffs to Jeffson. “I wanted to make that statement for myself,” he says. “That I’m moving away from the Jeffs name and agenda. I no longer want that association. I’m blazing my own path.” He’s blazing his own path when it comes to faith as well. “It took me a few years to sort that out. I think I can have a relationship with a greater being without another human being in between us,” says Wendell. “I think that I have the independence and ability to do that for myself, and I don’t need anyone else to control that or manipulate that. Unfortunately, a lot of people are misled, because they rely on another human being to control their relationship with God.”
The freedom found by Wendell and the other participants who have, by one way or another, left the FLDS, gives the docuseries its bittersweet conclusion to the story of Warren Jeffs’ rise and fall as told by those who were once closest to him. “I am so grateful to be where I am, to have the opportunity and freedom to control my own destiny,” says Wendell Jeffson.
Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run with Warren Jeffs is a 4-episode docuseries that premieres Tuesday, April 26, 2022 on Peacock.
PREACHING EVIL: A WIFE ON THE RUN WITH WARREN JEFFS, an eye-opening docuseries that tells the story of polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs through the lens of his favorite wife Naomie Jessop, will premiere on Peacock on April 26. The 4-episode series gives a unique perspective into one of the most notorious cults featuring an exclusive interview with Jessop, who was Jeffs’ personal scribe and was by his side for every step of his dramatic rise to power and his fall from grace. The series features interviews with Jeffs’ former wife Vicki Thompson and their children Wendell and Sarah, members of law enforcement who were instrumental in the raid on the Zion Ranch and the lawyers involved in Jeffs’ sentencing.
Salt Lake magazine has also covered FLDS documentary KEEP SWEET and Netflix’s Murder Among the Mormons and spoke with a journalist who covered Mark Hofmann’s 1985 Salt Lake City bombings.