Born into the polygamous FLDS sect, Rebecca Musser claims that at 19, her father, Lloyd, forced her to marry 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs — the head of the church and considered a prophet by his followers.
After seven years of marriage, Jeffs — who was said to have as many as 65 wives — died in 2002, and that’s when Rebecca says she made her escape. Now 37, Rebecca, who recently authored The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice, sits down with Dr. Phil and recounts the abuse she alleges she endured at the hands of fellow FLDS members and the day she says she found freedom. How did she learn to assimilate into society, after being closed off from the outside world for so long? And, hear how she helped authorities build a child sexual assault case against Rulon’s son, Warren Jeffs — who took control of the church when his father died — and other church leaders, who are now behind bars. Then, Rebecca’s father confronts his daughter for what he says is a “book full of lies” and explains why he’s threatening to sue. Why does he say Rebecca had a “fairytale life”? And, how does he answer to her allegation that he forced her to marry against her will? Plus, Rebecca speaks out about breaking the cycle of abuse and shares her top “red flags” to look out for.
A Secret World with Child Brides?
Inside a secret world of polygamy in Utah, Arizona and Texas, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs allegedly arranged marriages between child brides, possibly as young as 12, and elder men of the church. Rebecca was a virgin bride at 19, who was married to an 85-year-old. After seven years of marriage, she says she escaped the sect in the middle of the night and became a star witness against Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault for raping a 12-year-old and impregnating a 15-year-old. The FLDS sect is still active, some say being run by Jeffs from prison.
Rebecca shares what her life was like as one of the virgin brides of the FLDS.
Rebecca has written a book, The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice. In it, she reveals what she says is the truth about her family’s lifestyle.
In a previous interview, Rebecca explains why she’s now estranged from her family. “In 2005, my mother disappeared with my two baby sisters,” Rebecca says. “I filed a missing persons report for my mother and my sisters. In 2006, when Warren was caught, my mother called me. She asked, ‘Do you have charges against our prophet?’ I said, ‘Mom, I don’t know who all has charges against him.” And she said, ‘Well, honey, I just want you to know, I’d rather see all of my 14 children laid in the grave than see any one of you stand up against our prophet.’ That was the last time I spoke to my mother. That speaks to the level of grooming and the mindset within this society that dictates the connection between a mother and her child. Once my family found out [about my book], I was surprised at the incredible amount of resistance. It was not ever intended to be an exposé of my family. I chose to write my book because this is not the first time a cult group has manipulated people. I wrote my book for that girl who has been sexually violated. I wrote my book for that woman who is being beaten. We can’t stop what we don’t know is happening. After my father found out about my book, without even knowing what was in it, he threatened a defamation of character lawsuit. I was getting attacked from my siblings, a few of them sending messages: ‘How dare you not get our permission to write this book?’ They feel like I violated them all because I chose to speak. It’s sad to me that my father, at his age, still denies the abuse. He still denies having any hand in what happened. I have broken the cult family rules, and I talked about things that we always understood should stay silent.”
Confronted by Her Father
Rebecca’s father, Lloyd, says his daughter’s book is filled with untruths. He says Rebecca wanted to marry the 85-year-old prophet and that she had a “princess” life with him.
Dr. Phil asks Rebecca if she wants to be onstage with her father.
“My father is here to tell me what I remember, what I can say, what I can talk about,” she says. “I have come to know that, in cases of abuse, when abuse has happened, very rarely does the abuser admit to that, and there’s nothing productive for me to be here with my father because I will not go back to that girl, to be silent, to be in my corner and to recant what I’ve said.”
“Oh, I don’t want you to be silent,” Dr. Phil tells her.
Rebecca is excused to the greenroom while Dr. Phil talks with her father.
Lloyd tells Dr. Phil that he wants Rebecca’s book to exist; he just wants it to be truthful. He maintains that after he discussed Rebecca marrying Rulon with his wife, they spoke with her about it, and she seemed very happy about it. He also says several incidents in the book characterize him as abusive, and he denies being an abusive or negligent father.
“She says the children were beaten viciously by your first wife, and you did nothing to protect them,” Dr. Phil says.
“That is not a true statement,” Lloyd says. “Irene is less than a 5-foot-tall woman. At that time, she probably weighed 110 pounds.”
“But assigned with righteousness of God, and raising children to believe you do not rise up against your parent, 5-foot 2 is 10-feet tall, and you know it,” Dr. Phil says.
“I agree with you on that comment,” Lloyd says.
Dr. Phil turns to Rebecca, who is watching backstage. “Did you or did you not want to marry Rulon Jeffs?” he asks.
“I did not want to marry him, however, I had been trained from birth what was expected of me, what my duties were as an FLDS girl, in order to get to heaven. Anything less than that would’ve equaled my eternal damnation,” she says.
Lloyd wrote notes about the passages in Rebecca’s book that he found untruthful.
In one passage, Rebecca alleges that she was molested by her half-brother, and when she got away, she ran into her stepmother, who beat her and called her a whore for what happened: “I looked up into Irene’s face. My stepmother looked down at me in surprise, her dyed black hair perfectly coiffed as usual, with French twist in the back.”
Dr. Phil points out that Lloyd’s response to that passage was, “Mom has never dyed her hair. What a cheap shot to demonize your mother.”
Lloyd explains, “Her mother never came to me. She never told her mother. I was not aware of any sexual abuse ever occurring in my family.”
“Do you believe her when she says this?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I have no reason to doubt it. It could’ve easily happened, but it was kept from me,” he says.
“Your wife never told you about it? She never told you she beat her bloody?”
Lloyd laughs. “I doubt that, but no, I was never told that,” he says.
Rebecca speaks up. “Again, for whatever reason, my father is not willing to acknowledge the reality. It’s convenient,” she says.
“Rebecca had very specific recollections about this,” Dr. Phil tells Lloyd. “Do you think she’s lying, and why would she do that?”
“Rebecca is lying, and the reason she’s doing it is she has to demonize me, and she has to demonize celestial plural marriage in order to fit the program for the rest of her book,” Lloyd says. “I don’t deny the horrendous story that she has to tell when she left our family and went into Rulon’s family. It was beyond my imagination that she was subjected to all that. Had I known, it would never have happened.”
“So, you’re sorry for that?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I’m extremely sorry,” Lloyd says. “It’s the one thing I wish I could do over again.”
“Have you told the two girls that you’re sorry about that?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I have not, and right now, I can tell Rebecca,” he says. Lloyd looks to her daughter. “Rebecca, I am deeply, deeply sorry that I got you involved with that marriage.”
“What do you want for Rebecca now?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I want Rebecca to correct some of those items in the book, make the timeline correct, and let this be the strongest advocate against sexual and physical abuse of women and children. I want it to be the best book ever written on it, but I want it to tell the truth,” Lloyd says.
“Well, there are clearly differences in what she recalls and what you recall, so is what you’re saying that you want her to write your book?” Dr. Phil asks.
“No, but what I’d like to see is Rebecca sit down with everybody involved, let them tell their side of the story — not me tell it for them — and correct it, make it right,” he says.
“You understand that she doesn’t need the men from her family or sect to tell her what she knows,” Dr. Phil says.
“I understand. Then let her go on a lie detector. I’m willing to do that,” Lloyd says.
“Let’s do it,” Rebecca says.
“Well, we may just take you both up on that,” Dr. Phil quips.
At the end of the show, Dr. Phil asks Rebecca if she has a final comment.
“I’m here to talk about the lessons that I’ve learned, not to set the record straight with my family,” she says. “I honor their journey.”
Dr. Phil thanks Rebecca for her “inspirational and courageous” book.
Rebecca now pays it forward by speaking to women about abuse and how to break the cycle.