Chapter 13: Ari Levin, July 14th to September 11th, Year 0

As soon as the construction crews were done, I focused on getting intelligence on the FLDS. If I hadn’t had to deal with the zombies, I wouldn’t have needed a fortress. My fortress was finished. It was time to get to know the community around me. When I had terrorists to deal with, having paranoid neighbors had been a good thing. Now that I had to worry about zombies, my unusual neighbors were a potential threat. Threats needed to be studied.

I had done some superficial research on the FLDS before I bought my ranch. The FLDS or Fundamental Latter Day Saints split off from the rest of the Mormons or LDS in 1890 when the mainstream Mormons discontinued their practice of plural marriages. At first, there were minimal differences between the FLDS and the LDS other than the practice of polygamy. With the passage of time, major differences formed. The LDS became a mainstream faith and the FLDS became a cult. There were about 6 million LDS throughout the world. There were less than 10 thousand FLDS members spread over a couple small towns in the US and Canada. The highest concentration of them, around 6 thousand, lived 20 miles north of me.

Rulon Jeffs became the FLDS prophet in 1986. While prophet, he had a vision that the second coming of Jesus would occur in his lifetime. Jesus was on his way to bring the FLDS directly into heaven. Rulon also predicted that he would live for 350 years. Rulon had the entire FLDS congregation gather twice in the 1990’s to greet Christ. Rulon must have been a charismatic man because even though those two prophesized days came and went without Jesus showing up, he didn’t lose followers. Rulon died in 2002; he was 92 years old. Rulon and the rest of the FLDS had been absolutely certain that he would be their last prophet. There was no succession plan.

Rulon had 19 wives and over sixty children when he died. One of his sons, Warren Jeffs was Rulon’s first counselor. Shortly after Rulon’s death, Warren had a vision that his father’s spirit entered his body. He was no longer Warren; he was Rulon. This vision solved the succession crisis. Rulon lived. There was still time over the next 258 years for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Warren announced that he was now married to all of his dad’s wives. All but two of Rulon’s wives bought Warren’s vision and accepted him as their husband. I don’t know if one of the two women was his biological mother. Knowing the FLDS, I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

A man willing to marry his fathers’ wives is not normal. Rulon Jeffs was a prophet who kept making predictions that didn’t come true. But by all accounts, he was an effective and well loved leader. Warren wasn’t. Two years after Rulon’s spirit entered Warren, he excommunicated 20 prominent FLDS men including the Mayor of Colorado City. He took away their property and their wives and gave them to other men. That same year, three of Warren’s nephews claimed that he had sexually abused them when they were small children. A video tape was taken of Warren admitting to having sex with one of his biological sisters and a biological daughter.

Rulon married underage girls to grown men but it appears that all of those girls were willing brides. The girls he married off didn’t complain and law didn’t get involved. Warren forced unwilling underage girls to marry older men. Some of the girls ran away. In 2004 a warrant was issued for his arrest; he went into hiding. In 2005 he got on the FBI’s most wanted list. A sixty-thousand dollar reward was posted for information leading to his capture.

In 2006 Jeffs was arrested. Despite his arrest, he kept control of the FLDS. After Warren was in prison, one of his brothers, Nephi, claimed that Warren had confessed to him that he never really had a vision. Rulon’s spirit hadn’t really entered Warren’s body. Nephi’s attempt to displace Warren as prophet failed.

In late July, I put up an advertisement on a Colorado City message board that I was looking for teenage boys to work as ranch hands. I offered room and board along with minimum wage for a 40 hour work week.

When men marry multiple wives, there never are enough women. According to Warren Jeffs, a man couldn’t get into heaven unless he had at least 3 wives. Most of the FLDS hierarchy had a dozen. The FLDS had a habit of excommunicating boys starting at age 14 for sinful things like watching a movie, talking to a girl, or having a bad attitude. The excommunicated teenagers were called ‘lost boys’. Once a boy was excommunicated his family had to treat him like he had died. None of the FDLS would speak, touch, or have any other contact with him. Lost boys usually had no marketable skills. The FLDS raised their children to believe that the excommunicated were damned for eternity. Boys that had jobs and could bring money back to their families were less likely to be excommunicated.

The next day I had 60 applications. When I interviewed the applicants, I looked for smart, strong, aggressive, young men, the kind that would make older FLDS men uneasy. None of boys I chose looked like they had ever gotten positive attention from an older man. A couple of the kids I interviewed seemed like favored sons; I didn’t want them. I hired eight boys aged 16 through 19 and brought them to my ranch. All of them got to stay in their own mobile home. Having come from huge families, they never had this much privacy before.

All of my hands knew I wasn’t FLDS. I didn’t do anything in their presence that was frowned upon by members of their faith. They called me Mr. Levin. I dressed like I was FLDS. Even when performing manual labor, I stayed in character. I didn’t drink alcohol or curse in their presence. Trust is instinctive. It’s easier to trust someone who looks and acts like you.

One of the easiest ways to make a teenage boy like you is to give him a gun. I gave each of the boys two. They were ranch hands. Ranch hands were cowboys; cowboys had guns. I explained to them that these weapons were not theirs to keep, but as long as they were working for me, the guns were theirs to use. I gave each of them a Marlin lever action Guide Gun Model 1895. It looked like exactly like a rifle a cowboy would carry. It shot a 45-70 big game rifle round and could carry 6 bullets in a tubular magazine. I also gave them .44 Magnum Ruger Redhawk double action revolvers with a 6 inch barrel. Recoil is an issue with .44 Magnum rounds especially for beginners. I had them use .44 Special rounds.

Our first project was to put up a nine foot high chain link fence around the perimeter of my ranch. My property had a square layout. To surround all 200 acres, I needed 1.2 miles of fencing. I explained to them that I was going to turn the ranch into a private hunting preserve for deer, wild boar, and prong horn antelope. A private reserve needed to be fenced. We used gas powered two man post drillers. All the fence posts were secured with cement. I explained to the boys that if all things went well we would use the fence to keep our animals in. If things didn’t go well, the fence would help keep zombies out. It was hard, dirty, sweaty work. The boys expected me to ‘watch and supervise’; that’s how it worked among the FLDS, the top guys laid back and the peons worked. I sweated and got dirty with my ranch hands.

We started every morning with a simple breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Everyone took part in the meal preparation. Before every meal I said grace. Subtlety is wasted on teenage boys. I called all of them “son” as often as I used their given names and whenever I said grace, I used the phrase, “Our Heavenly Father bless the family that we have created here.”

Lunch was always sandwiches and canned soup. After work we ate dinner together. There was a lot of wildlife on and around the ranch. The boys carried their guns everywhere. A few probably slept with them. It wasn’t unusual for one of the boys to be able to take down a rabbit while we were working. If a rabbit was shot with a 45-70 slug, most of the edible meat was destroyed. The boys were taught to shoot at the ground in front of the rabbit so the spray of dirt and rocks from the bullet stunned or killed it. A few times we got a feral pig.

The work was strenuous and the temperature was burning hot. Through most of July and August at noon it was in the high 90’s to low 100’s but all of us put our backs into it. Every day we could see the progress that we had made.

After a days work, we all jumped into the moat and swam. After we swam, I let them fire up to a hundred rounds each with their rifles and their revolvers. Every couple days, I gave the boys a martial arts lesson with a particular emphasis on Jujitsu and Aikido techniques. I treated these boys like I wanted them and needed them; their families didn’t.

FDLS men usually don’t cook. It was women’s work. There were no women around and I made it clear that I thought it was a man’s job to cook what he killed. If I had been trying to change how these kids practiced their religion or had tried to convince them that their faith was wrong, they would have rejected me. Hunting, cooking, and eating with me wasn’t something that they had any real reason to resist.

Food and the memories of food are the basis of some of our strongest memories and emotions. The smell of food that you haven’t had for years will bring back a memory and the emotions you had at the time of that memory. Men, who want women, take them to dinner. Women, who want men, cook for them. Tight knit families eat together. All cultures use food to bond without consciously thinking about it.

We ate rabbit or feral pig in the evenings. On days we didn’t have any wild game, we cooked store bought chicken, steaks and hotdogs. As hot as it gets during the days, the nights become cool in a desert. I taught the boys how to cook over open fires. After a day of strenuous labor, it was wonderful to relax and talk around a fire while we waited for our meals to cook. I knew the boys would remember these meals and conversations for the rest of their lives.

Around 9 at night, I went back into my tower. The boys usually fell asleep an hour or two later. I had every mobile home bugged. I listened to their conversations.

Graydon Miner, the second oldest boy at 18 years, was their leader. He understood instinctively that good leaders are responsible; he took care of the other boys. He was the first to decide that I was the answer to Warren Jeffs’ prophesies about the next prophet. The morning after he told this to the other boys, I made him my foreman.

None of the boys said much about the FLDS in my presence. They had been taught since birth to keep their mouths shut around non-FLDS. The boys talked about their homes and families when I wasn’t around.

An apocalypse is a cult’s wet dream. God was using zombies to punish sinners. The FLDS weren’t sinners; God wouldn’t let zombies hurt them. The FLDS expected prophets to make prophecies. Jeffs was in jail. The FLDS wanted to know who was going to take Warren’s place. They didn’t want to have another succession crisis. Warren obliged with the necessary visions. He gave the FLDS prophecies that described the third incarnation of his father. This was the prophet who would witness the second coming of Jesus Christ. He would be born in the Holy Land and would be able to kill by word and by touch. He would have eyes filled with flame. Warren’s prophecies made it impossible for any of the FLDS elders to take his position as prophet.

The boys were all believers. They had been trained to be gullible since they were born. They were headed toward excommunication because there wasn’t enough women and because they had personalities that made the older FLDS men nervous, not because they didn’t believe. None of the boys had ever been more than 50 miles away from Colorado City. They had never met a man who had been born in the Holy Land or a man whose eyes flashed red from time to time. It didn’t hurt that in a few weeks, I’d become a father figure to all the boys.

My cover identity was born in Israel. I have unusual eyes. They are light brown almost golden and if the light strikes my eyes just right, they flash red, much like ‘red eye’ you see in photographs. I learned how to make my eyes flash red at will when I was a stage magician. In the Middle East, when I was trying to be inconspicuous, my unusual eyes had been a problem but not now. I had “eyes of flame.” Graydon was sure that the prophecy of being able to kill by touch meant the next prophet would be an expert in unarmed combat which I was. Learning that I was a close match for Warren’s prophecy was intriguing.

I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life in the Middle East mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The main difference between Middle East and the US is the absence and presence of the rule of law and abject poverty. US laws are mostly fair and evenly enforced; the powerful may get away with more but no one is above the law. The laws on the books in the Middle East are fair on paper but the powerful are above the law; the weak can’t get justice. The most common medical diagnosis among the poor in the US is obesity; in the Middle East it’s starvation. Everyone steals when they are starving.

It’s possible to be a loner in a country where laws are enforced and starvation is rare. At present, here in rural Arizona the probability of a stranger trying to kill me for my house or my supplies was almost nonexistent; in the middle of an apocalypse the likelihood was high. Currently all I had to do to buy food and supplies was to go to a store. In a disaster I would have to gather or grow all my own food.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re nothing if you don’t have a tribe. Tribes are essential when your government cannot or will not enforce its laws. If/when society broke down I needed help growing and gathering food. I couldn’t adequately defend my ranch by myself. Eight ranch hands weren’t going to be enough. I needed more men. Becoming the next FLDS prophet would solve my need for manpower.

Every Saturday after breakfast, the boys went back home so they could go to Sunday Sacrament services. They came back late Sunday evening. I let them use one of my vehicles to drive back and forth. The FLDS didn’t have much in the way of entertainment. They didn’t watch movies. Only a few privileged members had access to computers and the internet. There were no game consoles. If a book, newspaper, or magazine wasn’t approved, the FLDS didn’t read it.

The only entertainment the FLDS had readily available was gossip. The boys went back every Saturday night with stories about me. Within a week or two everyone in Hildale and Colorado City knew that I was born in Israel and that I could speak and write Hebrew. They knew that my eyes flashed red and that I was an expert in martial arts. They knew I lived and acted like I was FLDS. I matched Warren’s prophecies exactly.

By August, the entire world except for the North and South American continents were overrun by zombies. People were panicking. Almost every business and organization was short staffed. People throughout the country were taking vacation and sick leave time to prepare for zombies. Some just stopped showing up for work. In late August Utah State Prison stopped letting Warren have phone calls without explanation. It may have been due to lack of personnel or lack of funding; it could have been purely arbitrary. His visiting times were also decreased. I got the feeling that he was getting worried about me. The change in the prison rules must have driven him crazy.

He was probably regretting his prophesies. I could picture him wondering, “Now, how do I convince my followers that my last five visions were vivid dreams caused by bad prison food?”

His father Rulon had gotten away with making multiple incorrect prophecies; his father had been loved. Rulon was a dirty old man who liked having sex with willing women. Warren was a sexual deviant that preyed on his own family and people. Warren wasn’t loved. He was barely hanging on to his position. He clearly didn’t think he had the ability to have his prophesies go wrong and still stay in power because he didn’t try to change them. He sent men to check on me. A couple times a week, some of the higher up FDLS men came to my place to visit the boys.

My ranch hands were constantly being asked about me. My audio surveillance revealed that they had all been told to spy on me. They hated to do this, seeing it as a betrayal. All the boys had been questioned extensively by the FLDS hierarchy. They denied telling me anything about the FLDS community. They were telling the truth. Everything I had learned about the FLDS was gained without their knowledge. The next morning when I said grace over breakfast I said, “Lord, teach us that truth cannot be a betrayal. The young instruct the old with truth and their truth will be our salvation.”

I could see the awe and relief on the boys’ faces. Awe because somehow I had known that they were told to spy on me and relief because I had given them permission to tell their elders the truth about me. The boys were becoming more and more convinced that I was the new prophet. I knew too many things without being told. Almost every night after I left, they discussed Warren’s prophecy.

Graydon had the prophecy memorized. “The beasts will come to our nation and the sinners will die. Look deep into your heart and in your brother’s for some of you will turn to the dark. The faithful will endure but to do this they must destroy the minions of evil. Those who hesitate will fall into damnation.

After the first beast, there will come another, more deadly and monstrous. These demons will not be solely of the dark. They are fallen angels given a chance to redeem themselves. Feed them the sinners. They are sent not by the adversary but by the light to cleanse the earth. If they succeed they will be allowed to return into our Father’s grace. A saint ordained by the Father can release them from the earth to return to their once and future home in the Celestial Kingdom.

Seek the third risen prophet; he will guide you. You shall know him by his eyes which burn with the flames of God’s wrath. He has been born of the Holy Land from whence our savior Jesus Christ came. His soul has traveled twice to the halls of the Father and has been cleansed of all sin. He has been gifted with the powers of heaven. He will see into men’s hearts. He will be able to destroy by touch and word. He will cleanse the chosen; he will harvest the saved and cast out the damned. He will lead you out of the darkness and into the Garden of Eden.”

To me, the prophecy sounded like generic crap, but the boys believed it was the roadmap of the future. They had decided the first beast referenced zombies. They had no idea what the following monster would be but they were certain that one would come. They were excited to be living through the end-of-days and they were constantly arguing about how I would ‘destroy by the word’. Graydon thought that I would just shout “die” and then the sinner would collapse. Tom, the youngest of the boys, was convinced that a super powerful sound wave would come out of my mouth and blow up whoever was in my way. He was of the opinion that my voice worked like the trumpets that blew down the walls of Jericho.

Periodically I slipped facts into my conversations that I shouldn’t have known. Months before, I set up a video camera on the highway just outside Hildale that could read the license plates of the vehicles leaving and coming back to town. The cameras were linked to software that tracked the movements of all the vehicles owned by the FLDS. I knew when the FLDS left and came back into town. I planted bugs in the heels of my boys’ shoes so even when they were in town I could hear their conversations.

In late August, I asked one of the FLDS sent to check on me, Lavel Sondermann, how his trip to Warren Jeffs had gone. There was no way I or the boys could have known that Lavel had recently visited Jeffs. I knew the Utah State Prison’s visiting hours and knew about how long it took to drive to the prison in Draper. I made an educated guess that Lavel had gone to visit Warren. Lavel’s face went white. He didn’t know what to say. I was turning Lavel into a believer.

The FLDS leadership in Colorado City and Hildale split into two camps. One camp, which I named the ‘assholes’, claimed I was a false prophet sent by the devil. The other camp which I called the ‘go-alongs’ was open to the idea that I was the next prophet.

The assholes liked the way things were. They liked abusing power. They didn’t want anything to change and if someone besides Warren became prophet, things would likely change. They were looking for every excuse to get rid of me.

Rulon Jeffs, the best I could tell, was an honest nut who truly thought that he would live to 350. He liked to have sex with multiple wives. Although some of them were underage, all his wives looked mature and all were willing. I’m not saying that it’s right to have sex with underage girls; it’s not necessarily completely evil. Rulon wasn’t evil.

His son, on the other hand, raped at least 3 young boys, married his father’s wives possibly including his biological mother, and admitted to abusing a sister and a daughter. He liked abusing the weak and less powerful. In 2004, when he excommunicated 20 men, he was got rid of the guys who were like Rulon and promoted the guys who were like him. Warren Jeffs and the rest of the assholes were evil fucks.

A truly good man would have never stayed with the FLDS, but most men aren’t truly good. The go-alongs weren’t evil. They didn’t approve of what Warren was doing, but they didn’t have the strength or passion to resist their god-chosen-prophet. My fortress showed them that I knew how to prepare for the worst. My boys claimed I did everything well. In the FLDS hierarchy, there were more go-alongs than assholes but the assholes were more passionate and forceful. The world wide zombie outbreak was making go-alongs anxious and the idea of having a competent leader was looking good. Everyone including Warren’s strongest supporters knew he wasn’t competent. The FLDS in Colorado City and Hildale were on a knife edge about what to do about me.

On the morning of September 11th, the boys and I were eating breakfast when the emergency broadcast signal came on the radio. I turned on my TV and saw live video of Manhattan being overrun by zombies. According to the reporters, in under an hour, half the NYC population turned into zombies. Every news channel I could find from the local St. George stations to the cable news networks showed footage of outbreaks all over the US. St. George was less than 50 miles away. The zombies were close.

We all went on top of my tower and tried to use binoculars to see into Colorado City. It was too far to make out many details but we could see plumes of smoke from multiple fires. We could make out the faint sounds of gunfire. The boys all wanted to go back home to help out. I told them that there were thousands of armed men in Hildale and Colorado City. A few more men wouldn’t make any difference. We needed to wait until things calmed down and until we knew how to help. None of the boys liked my decision but most were willing to listen to me. They were convinced that I was the prophet. I had to know what I was doing.

Tom Marsden, the youngest boy at 16, was the only one who refused to follow orders. When I interviewed him and all the rest of the boys, I went by instinct. I didn’t have anything else to go on. All the other ranch hands were exactly what I had been looking for. If I knew then, what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have hired Tom. Tom was a good kid. He was intelligent and had a natural understanding of the way things worked. Although he was the youngest, he was the quickest to figure out how to use new equipment and to fix on mechanical problems.

If Tom had been raised like all the other ranch hands with moderately benign neglect, he would have been fine. Tom had been severely abused. He tried his best to avoid undressing in public but he had to take his shirt off when he went swimming. His entire back was a mass of scars from old beatings. His right leg from the mid calf down was covered with burn scars. It looked like he had been dipped into boiling water when he was a small child.

From my audio surveillance, I learned that he had been abused by both parents. Not surprisingly, he hated them. He loved his younger sister and brother. I suspected his sister and brother were the only reasons he hadn’t run away. He was the only ranch hand that didn’t seem frightened of being excommunicated. None of the other boys were surprised by Tom’s scars. They lived in a small community. Malachi Marsden, Tom’s father was high up in the FLDS hierarchy. There were no consequences for a man in his position. I learned that Tom’s father and mother abused their entire extended family including some of the other younger wives. Rachel Marsden, Tom’s mother was a willing partner to Malachi. Malachi was the leader of the “asshole” camp.

Despite these signs of abuse, Tom usually had an easy temperament. On rare occasions, Tom lost his temper and went berserk. When he lost it, the only way he could be controlled was for the other boys to hold him down. Every Saturday, I could tell that he was reluctant to go home. Only his love for his younger sister and brother kept him going back. I could tell that when he returned to the ranch Sunday night, he was filled with guilt about leaving his siblings behind. I liked Tom but his tendency to go berserk was a liability that I didn’t need.

Tom lost it. His anxiety about his brother and sister set him off. The rest of the ranch hands started toward him. I motioned them off and stood to face him. I’m 5 foot, 8 inches tall and I weigh 155 pounds. I’m strong for my size but since I’m small, I’m not that strong. I am very, very fast. At 16, Tom was 6 feet tall and was 180 pounds of solid muscle. His ability to think was gone. He didn’t feel pain or fatigue. He didn’t have a chance.

Aikido is a martial art that was invented by the Japanese samurai to protect themselves on the rare occasions when their opponent had a sword and they didn’t. In its classic form, it is a primarily defensive art; it is all about not being where your opponent expects you to be. If an opponent can’t hit you, he can’t hurt you. An Aikido master avoids an attack by stepping closer to his opponent. Most attackers don’t expect someone to step toward them. Tom wasn’t thinking or planning. He was operating on instinct. Instincts are easy to predict. I knew what he was going to do before he did.

He threw a haymaker at me. I put up my hand and gently guided his fist away as I pivoted on my front foot and stepped around with my back so we ended up standing back to back, facing away from each other. Almost no one expects this move. He turned toward me. I could feel his torso moving through the pressure of his back on mine and I mirrored his movements.

If Tom had not been completely out of control and trying to kill me, or if I had a smile on my face, the rest of the boys would probably have started laughing. It can be amusing to watch someone trying to grab an opponent who is flat against their back and is mirroring all of their movements. My face was calm, concerned. With my body language, I made it clear to the rest of the boys that this wasn’t a time to laugh. While I mirrored Tom’s movements, I spoke, “Tom, our Father has a plan. Our lives on earth are just a tiny unimportant fragment of our eternal lives. He has been watching you. He knows what your brother and sister are going through. FLDS have lost their way. I promise you that Bret and Danielle are in our Father’s heart.”

As I spoke, he began sobbing; he didn’t stop trying to fight. After a couple of turns to either side to get at me that didn’t work, I could feel Tom’s body tense as he prepared to throw himself backward on top of me. As he pushed back against me, I dropped low. In a normal fight, as his center of mass tipped past me, I would have stood causing Tom’s head to whip toward the concrete slab under our feet. Instead I lowered my body. I guided him gently so he lay on his back.

It would have been easy then to choke him into unconsciousness. I didn’t. I allowed him to get up. He threw himself forward, trying to tackle me to the ground. Tom was so focused on his attack; he didn’t even put out his arms to protect his face as he fell. Before he hit the floor, I caught his wrists and pulled up so his head didn’t strike the floor. I ended up standing, facing him, holding his wrists while his body and arms were fully stretched out. He didn’t have the leverage to do anything but pull his arms toward him. I let his wrist go. Less than a minute had passed since he first threw a punch at me.

“Tom, our Heavenly Father has watched as the world has lapsed into sin. I have been sent to show you the way. Your suffering has not been in vain. You are not alone. There is a reason. There is a plan.”

Tom screamed. He had no words. All his life he had been abused by those who should have protected him. Despite this he had kept his faith in a loving God. He screamed with the pain and anguish of an abused child. Tom Marsden had been beaten so severely and so often that he had learned to cope by going berserk. Love has more power than fear or pain. Tom stopped fighting. For the first time in his life he was certain he was loved.

I pulled him up. I hugged him as if he were my son. I kissed his forehead, “Tom Marsden, I bless you. You are my first disciple. Our Heavenly Father loves you. He will not allow you to throw your life away. God has plans for you my child. It’s not yet time for you to enter his halls. I promise you that your brother and sister will soon be in a better place.”

I looked around, the rest of the boys. They had been watching in silence. Most had tears in their eyes. They all knew Tom’s history. I motioned them to kneel. “We are at the apocalypse. I have been sent to cleanse our people and lead them into the light.”

I walked to each boy, “I anoint you, upon you and your brethren I will rebuild God’s church.”

Chapter 14