Title: The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice
Authors: Rebecca Musser and M. Bridget Cook
Publisher, Date: Grand Central Publishing (New York), 2013
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced…” (page 321).
In her compelling and heartwarming memoir, Rebecca Musser, with a startling clear memory—her co-writer refers to it as “nearly eidetic”, takes us on a journey of self-discovery and intense emotional struggle. We follow her from before she learns her family (1 father, 2 mothers, and nearly 20 children) will be moving to the Jeffs compound so the children can attend Alta Academy to the final testimony she gives to bring several of the leaders to justice for polygamy, underage marriages, and sexual abuse.
However, Mainstream Mormonism let go of the polygamy aspect of their religion to secure statehood back in the 1890s, FLDS members believed they were siding with the Gentiles, becoming apostates in the eyes of God. Apostates are believers who knowingly turn away from the LDS truth of how to get into God’s Celestial Kingdom and inherit the earth as gods of equal standing—able to create your own worlds with the coming of the Lord.
Check out my other TWWR blog post at collected. to purchase copies.
Even though ending life that way sounds lovely, I believe Rebecca’s father’s desire to join FLDS was in the hope of securing a big family for his children so they would never grow up as he had, alone. Not born into the polygamous faith as her mother had been, her father came out of mainstream Mormonism from a broken home and negligent mother. Of course, the beauty of three mothers and numerous siblings must have appealed to him. Never realizing the darker side of how badly holding two (or multiple!) families together can go, especially when conflicting personalities and jealousies arise.
“I stepped reverently from that chapel [Our Lady of Grace Carmelite Monastery] with a startling realization. Man was fallible. No one, not the Dalai Lama nor any Prophet, pope, or minister, was beyond reproach. To follow blindly was to shut down our sacred voice of reason and deny the God that lived in each of us. I had to realize that everyone, even I, had the capacity to be a tyrant. And every one of us had the capacity to embody charity, love, and mercy. Nobody was all bad, and nobody was all good. We were human.” (Page 284)
Rebecca articulates this perfectly as we follow along in her footsteps growing up on the compounds with her. She’s an easy guide, letting us directly into her mind, into her heart with no filter. Only when she discusses the “intimacies” shared between husband and wife does the reader get a sense that she’s pulling back, holding back, but that only reflects her personality. She shuns the pursuits of sexuality, and rightfully so as she’s told her entire life to think of those thoughts as nasty, disgusting—only to later on be told it’s the most important way to keep her husband, the Prophet, happy.
On September 17, 1995, two days after my 13th birthday, 19-year-old Rebecca Wall became the 19th wife to the Prophet of the FLDS Church, Rulon Jeffs. Taught to revere and even look forward to being just one of the many wives of an honorable man, Rebecca never would have presumed that she would end up the Prophet’s wife or what it would ultimately mean for the direction of her life. And when Warren (now her “son”) had laid out the harrowing future before her after her husband’s death, “Mother Becky” made her escape. In a swift decline of the organization, Warren took his father’s place and girls no older than I was back then would become the wives of not only Warren, but of men he found worthy for the eternal connection.
From the very beginning, little Becky Wall loved to ask questions and think about things. It was one of the aspects of her storytelling that hooked me. I was that same inquisitive child, and it often got me into trouble because I never really knew when to quit. I just wanted to know everything, and when Becky began being introduced to instances where God offered assistance or provided help to Gentiles—she began to question the very foundation of the religion that made up her entire life.
Making the choice to be in a position of power over her own life, she has become a beacon of hope, sharing the inherent power of one’s voice and one’s choice. Just experiencing what she sacrificed—the love, respect, and honor of her people—in order to meet the expectations of her heart, to meet the logic drumming in her mind. Rather than welcome her inquisitive light, Warren threatened to quash it—unwittingly sealing her fate and his.
“As I learned more about choice, and looked over the extensive evidence in all of the cases I had testified in, I realized that what was happening in the FLDS was human trafficking–both for labor and for sex. In mainstream society, money and lust are the currency. In the FLDS, salvation and position are the currency, but the forced acts of labor and sex are the same–the very definition of slavery. And whether greed or God is the currency, it is not right to own another’s free agency.” (Page 327)
A powerful journey littered with the obstacles of blind faith, anger, ignorance, and fear, Rebecca and Bridget take us through the darkened halls and glimmering temples of the FLDS ideology—it’s power, it’s inherent light, and the potential for securing a place at the right hand of God. But what can a person do when the structure of their entire lives crumbles beneath them? What can a woman do when she’s faced with the chance to save an entire generation of women from a fate they seemingly have no control over? How does a woman cope when her husband, mother, and father tell her that she should just let it go?
“In the trials I had allowed the brutal barbs of family, friends, and media make me feel small, and guilt to make me feel worthless. But I didn’t have to make that choice any longer. It was okay for me to treat myself with respect. It was not wrong, egotistical, or selfish as I’d been taught. Just as it was the right of every one of those girls I testified for to live a life of dignity, it was my right, too.” (Page 306)