Prophet or Predator?

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Some of the longstanding and commonly accepted explanations we’ve been given about human nature are simply wrong. Worse, believing them leaves us vulnerable — both individually and as a society — to the manipulations of predators among us. And there are predators among us. They are not “sick.” They are just disturbingly different and unfathomably dangerous.

Recently, a jury in Texas convicted Warren Jeffs of the systematic rape and abuse of several young girls as young as 12 and sentenced him to life in prison. We may never know the full extent of his victimization or how young some of his victims might have been. One of his victims, who also happens to be his niece, has asserted to the press that Jeffs is exactly where he needs to be. Otherwise, he would still not only be on the prowl, but also most likely successfully garnering more victims.

Jeffs is regarded by some as a “prophet” in the extreme polygamist offshoot of the Mormons known as the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. Devoted followers believe his will reigns supreme and is to be unquestionably obeyed. And some were even willing to joyfully offer their young daughters to him for a supposedly God-inspired “spiritual” marriage.

When my first book In Sheep’s Clothing debuted nearly 16 years ago, some of the assertions I made about the most manipulative of characters were not only shocking and ground-breaking, but also regarded by some as theoretical heresy. There are people, I argued, who are not really who they purport to be. They’re not obvious bearers of any unconscious malevolent or unseemly intent. Rather, they are intelligent, deliberate, crafty predators who know well the vulnerabilities most folks possess, and are adept at manipulating the impressions others have of them as well as their behavior. Some of these individuals have such a malignant sense of superiority over others and such an emotional disconnection from the human race that they regard other, inferior human beings as rightful prey. Hence, I gave these folks, sometimes alternately labeled sociopathic or psychopathic, the label predatory aggressive personalities. I wasn’t the first to take notice of these perplexing individuals, but I was among the very few to challenge many of the traditional assumptions about what makes them the way they are. In my current book, Character Disturbance, I examine these and other problematic personalities in even greater depth.

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If you happen to be an adult fixated pedophile (i.e., someone with an unrelenting and/or exclusive sexual attraction to pre-pubescent — or in the case of ephebophilia, near and just post-pubescent — children), you undoubtedly know you can’t simply arrange time alone to “hook-up” with the objects of your desires in the same manner that adults and teens secure “dates.” Instead, unless you want to resort to abduction (as some have), you have to keep your true intentions carefully veiled, come up with a variety of clever schemes just to gain access, and craft an incredible arsenal of far-fetched yet believable lies that will convince others and your intended victims to let you have your way. And there isn’t one thing Warren Jeffs did that many psychopaths and/or predatory pedophiles haven’t done before him. Jeffs’ niece believed him when he told her she was “special” and that what was taking place between them needed to be kept secret. He was an authority figure who appeared to care for her and to be trustworthy and who also brought ready words of comfort and acceptance to a young person searching for validation. His niece’s retrospective account indicates he was already quite skilled at manipulating his intended child targets long before he put on the cloak of religious prophet. But he eventually hid his true nature behind the most powerful manipulative tool ever devised, the word of God, to convince trusting, yet spiritually thirsty souls that he had been given exclusive access to the waters of redemption they sought. Still, his actions prompt the question of why, in this day and age — when so many authors have now broadcast the same message about predators that many found unbelievable and unacceptable 16 years ago — there are still plenty of folks out there who succumb to this vile type of victimization. I think the reasons are primarily threefold:

  • predators are often extremely good at their manipulative craft;
  • the legacy of traditional and still dominant psychology metaphors — such as that most behaviors are unconscious, everyone tends to be loving and caring unless scarred by past abuse or neglect, etc. — often sets us up to form incorrect impressions about some people;
  • and it’s extremely painful (and therefor prompts “denial”) to think that there really are heartless, conniving predators out there who are very different on every level from most of us.

As long as I am able, I will continue the drumbeat I sounded many years ago. There are predators among us. There’s something qualitatively different about them. They use powerful tactics (some of which can be extremely convincing) to make you abandon your natural fearful instincts about them and allow yourself eventually to become captive. The proof of my assertions about their true nature often comes to light when the jig is up for them. It happened with Phillip Garrido when he was finally convicted for abducting Jaycee Duggard. (He also initially appeared to have some unusual religious beliefs motivating him but gave up the ruse upon conviction.) I predict it will also happen with Jeffs. But whatever happens, we simply have to do a better job of recognizing and reckoning with the predators among us. We have to overcome our reluctance to accepting the seemingly unacceptable, and we have to set aside some of the longstanding and commonly accepted explanations we’ve been given about human nature that set us up to misunderstand them. They are not “sick,” just disturbingly different and unfathomably dangerous.

Many are now coming to believe that there simply is no possibility of change for a psychopath or sociopath. And while this belief is rooted in some truth, I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were to so firmly “cast the beam out of our eye” that the “prophet” some still see in a creature like Jeffs would be revealed as no more than the heartless predator he really is.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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