Netflix’s latest true crime offering, Keep Sweet: Pray And Obey, uncovers the story of a dangerous cult leader who led an abusive, polygamist offshoot of the Mormon church.
In April 2008, federal law enforcement agents raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas. What they discovered generated attention around the world: evidence of sexual, physical and psychological abuse within a polygamous sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a denomination of Mormonism. Over 400 children were rescued from the ranch, resulting in the largest child custody case in US history.
Now, Netflix is uncovering the horrifying true story of the secretive religious cult, and the self-professed prophet who enabled the generational abuse of countless underage girls and women in its network.
Directed by the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Rachel Dretzin, who also directed Netflix’s 2020 series Who Killed Malcolm X, this four-part documentary series Keep Sweet: Pray And Obey gives viewers an in-depth look into the radical sect led by one of the most dangerous, under-the-radar cult leaders of modern times, Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs, who inherited the role of “president and prophet” of FLDS from his father Rulon Jeffs, who died in 2002, used his Mormon beliefs to justify polygamous relationships with multiple women, which resulted in him fathering a significant number of children.
The sect was riddled with horrifying manipulation and abuse. Over the course of Jeffs’ dictatorship, he accumulated 78 wives, 24 of whom were below the age of consent.
Featuring never-before-seen archival footage, the docuseries chronicles Jeffs’ rise to power and the cult-like practices he employed to secure devotion from his followers, as well as the increasingly disturbing events that led to his arrest.
“From forced underage marriage and pregnancy to a complete unravelling into an oppressive criminal cult under Warren Jeffs’ rule, the story uncovers extraordinary bravery battling tyrannical control in modern America,” reads the official synopsis.
However, Keep Sweet isn’t solely focused on the story of one ego-crazed man. Much like Netflix’s recent documentary Our Father, the series looks to give voice back to the victims of Jeff’s abuse by sharing stories from some of the courageous women and men who escaped. They include interviews with survivors and former wives of Jeff, including one who was wed to him at the age of just 14.
The trailer for Keep Sweet: Pray And Obey pulls the curtain back on the abuse in FLDS as we hear first-hand from former members on its oppressive rule.
“In our minds, the police, even the president of the United States, had no authority over us,” one woman recalls. “Warren Jeffs was our president. He was the prophet. And how could you place a human over God?”
Another commentator gives an insight into how Jeffs justified the polygamous practices: “The more the wives, the more children you have, the higher in heaven you will be”.
In a statement, Dretzin praised the women and men who bravely shared their stories of life within FLDS for the docuseries.
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“The women in our series managed to leave the FLDS with no real education or skills, no money, no support whatsoever,” she said.
“For their whole lives, they had been valued solely as plural wives and as breeders of children. To leave meant saying goodbye to everything and everyone they loved to start over in a society they didn’t understand. ‘Badass’ doesn’t begin to describe how fierce they are. I am proud to be connected to them and grateful to have had the opportunity to tell their story.”
Jeffs is now serving life plus 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting two minors he had taken as polygamous brides. He will have to spend at least 45 years in prison before being eligible for release.
Keep Sweet: Pray And Obey is available to watch from 8 June on Netflix.
Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit www.nhs.uk/SARCs to find your nearest service.
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