Ever since authorities in Eldorado, Texas, raided the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) compound there, Denver-based author Stephen Singular's schedule has been filled with TV appearances and interviews. The release of his new book, When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back, has made him something of an expert on the group.
But none of the media attention prepared him for a recent phone call. At his wife's suggestion, Singular had mailed his book to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who is also the country's highest-ranking Mormon.
"Two weeks later, he called on a Monday and said he spent the weekend reading the book," says Singular, "and he was very fired up."
That conversation led to an e-mail from Reid's office inviting Singular to testify on Thursday before a Senate Judiciary Committee investigating the sect.
"I'm very eager to do that," says Singular. "When I wrote the book, I never imagined that I'd be testifying in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee, or that someone at [Reid's] level would read it and take action."
Still, Singular is no stranger to high-profile stories. His 18 other nonfiction books include several on Front Range crimes, such as the 1991 Colorado Springs murder committed by Jennifer Reali, who said her lover Brian Hood used the Bible to convince her that killing his wife was justified.
"I'm very interested in the place where religious beliefs meet criminal behavior and how we can respond to that," explains Singular.
His current book details the rise of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, who was convicted on two counts of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Singular says the power Jeffs wields over his followers comes in part from the fear that if they disobey Jeffs who is revered as their "prophet" they risk losing their eternal salvation.
"He would literally sit down and say, "God has just told me to break up this family,'" says Singular. "Then he would get one of his henchmen in there and say, "Go tell so-and-so to turn loose his wives and children.'
"The really extraordinary part of it was that the men would do it," says Singular. Once a man left believing that if he confessed his sins, he would earn his way back home his family would be assigned to another man.
The story's not likely to fade anytime soon: Tuesday, a Texas grand jury indicted Jeffs and four followers on charges of felony sexual assault on a child. Also, Singular notes, the FLDS has purchased land in Westcliffe and other parts of Colorado, and members are moving in.
"It's a very relevant story here because wherever they go, they tend to bring in public policy issues ... whether it's welfare payments to the plural wives, medical problems through genetic disorders [caused by intermarriage], or school systems that go defunct," says Singular.
"It's a bigger, more powerful, more resonant story than I understood at the start," he says. "People say, "It's about religion,' or "It's about polygamy.' But it's about choice. What choice do you have when you're forced into marriage at 12 years old? And then impregnated? And then impregnated again? Who has the right to decide those things?"