The FBI’s most recent Ten Most Wanted List was published on May 6.  In this, the fifth year of our Global War on Terror, it may come as a surprise to some that the latest addition to the list isn’t a terrorist or even a murderer, but Warren Jeffs, the leader of a bizarre sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), whose members have lived more or less peacefully in obscure corners of Utah and Arizona since the 1930’s, practicing the polygamy abandoned by the Mormons in 1890.  Jeffs’ alleged crimes?  “[A]rranging a marriage in 2002 between a 28-year old man and a 16-year old girl” and “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.”

Americans might wonder how this desperado ended up on the Ten Most Wanted List, but they probably know more about Jeffs than about any other outlaw on that list—except Osama bin Laden.  Jeffs has since been the subject of an episode of Larry King Live, another prime-time CNN special by Anderson Cooper, a breathless report on NPR, and over 600 additional reports in other media outlets.

The reason Jeffs is on the FBI’s list has little to do with his alleged crimes—even serial child molesters never receive the national publicity Jeffs has—but with his views.  Jeffs had been targeted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which named the FLDS a “hate group” in May 2005.  Of course, the SPLC highlighted Jeffs’ views on race, noting in a 2005 report that Jeffs “teaches his followers that blacks are the descendants of Cain, ‘cursed with a black skin’ and selected by God to be ‘the servants of servants.’”  (This, like Jeffs’ view on polygamy, is derived from traditional Mormon doctrine, abandoned by the LDS church in these latter days.)  Although there is no evidence that the FLDS has ever done anything to blacks except say harsh things about them in the confines of its lonely desert outposts, the publicizing of its views had the predictable effect of bringing it to the attention of the government.  When the group contemplated a move to Eldorado, Texas, the local paper, the Eldorado Success, reported that Texas Rep. Harvey Hilde-bran “introduced legislation targeting the FLDS” and cited Hildebran as saying that “It is saddening that there are people in the world who can hold such xenophobic beliefs.”  The paper also interviewed FBI Agent Bill Endorff, who told it “that the FBI routinely tracks hate groups” and “said that he was aware that the FLDS church would appear on the SPLC watch list.”  One can only imagine J. Edgar Hoover’s reaction upon learning that the FBI is now following the lead of Morris Dees’ fundraising apparatus.

The SPLC objects to more than Jeffs’ outré views on race, noting in its report that the women of the FLDS are “Clad in frocks and simple dresses” and “appear trapped in an endless episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”  The SPLC lamented that the drugstore in the FLDS’s hometown was “devoid of condoms but offers $1.00 ovulation testing and free popcorn.”  (The popcorn undoubtedly had butter and salt, too.)  The report also claimed that “Mental illness among the women of Short Creek is common,” a result, no doubt, of “relentless pressure to produce as many children as possible.”

On its website, the SPLC highlights Jeffs’ claim that homosexuality is “the worst evil act you can do, next to murder” and has an audio file in which you can hear Jeffs advise wives to “Turn to [your husband] with a full heart and give him the opportunity to lead you right.”  Most of the media reports on Jeffs have also focused on his views on wives submitting to their husbands.

To be sure, all the evidence suggests that Jeffs is a typical cult leader, an egomaniac who ruthlessly exploits his followers and inculcates bizarre and even reprehensible beliefs.  But there is no doubt that the SPLC and its media friends would view someone advising that “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” and that “A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control” the same way they view Warren Jeffs.  Saint Paul has not yet ended up on the SPLC Watch List, but anyone who takes his words literally risks being branded a hate criminal.

The evidence also indicates that Jeffs broke the law in arranging polygamous marriages for the members of his cult.  But Jeffs’ actions in marrying off his isolated desert followers posed far less of a threat to the institution of marriage or the rule of law than did the spectacular lawbreaking of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who illegally issued nearly 4,000 marriage licenses to homosexual couples in 2004.  Despite his studied defiance of the law and open contempt for Western tradition, no one ever suggested that Newsom be placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.  And, if anyone had suggested that, he would have generated the sort of publicity that would have increased his chance of joining Warren Jeffs on the Ten Most Wanted List, ahead of the myriad criminals who menace ordinary Americans but do not violate any of the increasingly numerous strictures of political correctness.