REXBURG, Idaho — As East Idaho News has reported, Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell and her missing children, JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan, people who have known them say they have extreme religious beliefs and are members of a doomsday “cult.”
But the nature of the reported cult is hard to define, especially since the Daybells have not spoken to the media. (East Idaho News has tried.)
Chad and Lori are or have been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they are also affiliated with several informal groups whose teachings go contrary to what one would hear in a typical Latter-day Saint congregation.
East Idaho News reached out to several people in east Idaho who were or are part of these semi-secretive groups. Several have agreed to go on the record with their names, and others have agreed on the condition of anonymity, as they are still active Latter-day Saints or fear retaliation from other members of these groups.
There doesn’t appear to be any sort of formal organization or clear doctrine among these non-conventional groups of Latter-day Saints. In fact, many of the people interviewed by East Idaho News reported vastly different experiences.
None of the members of the groups East Idaho News spoke with have any idea what might have happened to JJ or Tylee.
Extreme Religious Beliefs
“I think ‘cult’ is such a weird word because it doesn’t accurately describe what’s happening,” a woman we’ll call Jessica said. “An ‘extremist group’ is a better term.”
Jessica’s experience with these groups started when she and her husband moved to eastern Idaho in 2015. A man in their new congregation — called a ward — approached her and said he was “spiritually prompted” to offer her a job.
She accepted the job and worked at the business, which was out of the man’s home.
She found her new boss had beliefs that were different than what’s typically taught in the church. For example, Latter-day Saints believe God gives people spiritual gifts to help them serve others. The man who hired her took this belief to an extreme.
He claimed to have power to see spirits and cast out evil spirits from people. He would counsel with people in his home who were supposedly struggling with evil spirits inside of them, and he would claim to cast the spirits out. She said he wasn’t fulfilling a church role or acting in any official capacity.
“His friends knew about his spiritual gifts, and they would tell their friends, so it was all word of mouth,” she said. “People came to him to be healed.”
He even appeared to heal Jessica of her celiac, blood sugar and thyroid issues. As a result, she stopped taking all her medications and supplements and ate gluten products again.
Her boss’s gifts seemed to extend into the digital realm too. Once when the business was having computer problems, he invoked his spiritual power to repair a broken computer server. Other times, if there was a bad internet connection, he might blame it on some sort of spiritual interference.
“I knew it was different, but at the time, I wasn’t going to judge what works for somebody,” Jessica said. “In my mind, I was working there because God wanted me too, and I wasn’t going to question God.”
One area she bonded with her boss over was emergency preparedness. Latter-day Saints are taught people should have a “basic supply of food and water and some money in savings” without going to “extremes” so they can support themselves and those around them in case of disaster or troubled times.
So when her employer gave her tickets to a Preparing the People conference in Rexburg on emergency preparation, she was thrilled. Before the conference, her employer introduced her to Chad Daybell, who was helping coordinate the gathering, and Julie Rowe, who was a speaker at the event.
Chad was Rowe’s book publisher. Both of them professed to have a close connection to the spirit world due to near-death experiences, and both claimed to have spiritual experiences that offered them a glimpse into what they believed was the future, Jessica said. They predicted a foreign invasion of the United States, plagues and massive economic collapse.
Chad and Rowe’s books were popular among some Latter-day Saints, and Jessica said that among some groups, Chad and Rowe were idolized. She recalls the Rexburg Tabernacle was packed with people on the day of the conference.
“The big thing I took away from (the conference) was that from Ucon north, there was going to be a city of light or city of refuge for saints to gather and be protected as the calamities come and things begin to fall,” Jessica said. “The thing that surprised me at the gathering is I’d never seen so many people that believed in the idea of tent cities. There were so many people.”
She said many in the group believed that one day, there would be a “callout.” Local leaders would stand up in church and issue a call for all the members that had followed the directive to store up food, to gather it and take it to locations for the building of these tent cities.
Jessica and her then-husband took these end-times predictions seriously. The couple cashed out their retirement to buy two large canvas tents and invest in a year’s supply of food, charcoal, fuel and a wide variety of survival gear. She estimates they spent between $15,000 to $20,000 on emergency preparation supplies.
“We believed there would be a time that we would be called out, and if we weren’t, there would be a time that these items would be needed,” she said.
Later, stress became a constant companion at her job, and she felt she was approaching a mental breakdown. She went to her employer for advice, and he set her up with a counselor — not a conventional therapist, but an energy worker who did counseling sessions twice weekly and even had her boss help cast evil spirits out of her.
Jessica said the counseling was helpful in that it helped her realize she had experienced some trauma in her life, and some of it was the result of her focused effort to be a perfect Latter-day Saint. That’s when she decided to quit her job, end her relationship with the radical group, and leave the LDS Church itself.
“During this whole period I was praying, I was seeking support and comfort from God, and so I ultimately decided this was the best thing,” she said.
This would ultimately lead to divorce with her husband and her leaving her job. She began to see a licensed psychotherapist and started talking about her experience with friends.
She came to the conclusion that her experience with the extremist group had been like an abusive relationship.
“I sat down with an active LDS friend, and she was dumbfounded by what I told her,” she said. “She told me I had been involved in a cult and none of this stuff was OK and that it was abuse. I didn’t believe her.”
She said it wasn’t until later that she realized that she had become involved in something that was contrary to what most Latter-day Saints experience or believe.
“I didn’t know I had been in a cult — I just thought I was a super faithful member of the church,” she said.
And years later, after further medical testing, she found her boss hadn’t healed her from celiac disease.
“I (had) started eating bread again and did an enormous amount of damage to my intestines and to my body,” she said.
Jessica says she’s speaking out to help others in similar situations.
“If there is another person in my shoes who is dealing with this and it’s under the guise of spiritual guidance, I want that person to see that they might need to look at things from a different angle,” she said.
‘Living a higher law’
Amber is a Rexburg resident whose marriage recently fell apart partly due to her husband’s involvement with a Latter-day Saint extremist group. We’ve changed her name to protect her identity too.
Unlike Jessica, Amber got involved with these groups online, and her experience was quite different.
“I was trying to make some friends,” Amber said. “Most of my friends from school aren’t LDS, so I wanted to make some more spiritual friends that I could discuss the scriptures I was reading with.”
She was introduced to books on energy healings, visions and prophecies about the Second Coming. Although she wasn’t attracted to the beliefs, her husband was. He began going to meetings where like-minded individuals gathered to discuss religion, and Chad attended some of these meetings, she said.
“Chad doesn’t have a big group of followers in eastern Idaho,” Amber said. “He just goes around to little groups and gives testimony, tells his story, and people believe in the visions he’s having.”
One aspect that seemed to fascinate her ex-husband was the idea of multiple mortal probations, Amber said. According to orthodox Latter-day Saint teachings, this life is a test or probation to see if people will live by God’s commandments. But both Chad and Rowe have taught that people can essentially be reincarnated and live multiple times — and have multiple probations — on earth. (Reincarnation is not accepted Latter-day Saint doctrine.)
In some of these groups, tied into this belief is the idea that a man and a woman might be destined to be together, even if that person is married to someone else. Like multiple probations, this is not a Latter-day Saint belief.
Contrary to LDS norms, Amber said her husband began to take another married woman to a Latter-day Saint temple to receive revelation from God. Temples are places of worship for Latter-day Saints where members perform marriage ceremonies and do spiritual work.
“These people go to the temple and make promises to be together,” Amber said. “They pray about it and feel like they are getting answers.”
In interviews with other former members of these groups, some said things went beyond just temple trips. One east Idaho man, who asked not to be identified, told EastIdahoNews.com that during his time in a group, he was approached by someone who claimed to have received personal revelation that he was supposed to marry the man’s wife.
(According to the church, personal revelation is meant “to help you with your specific needs, responsibilities and questions” often “through the whisperings of the Holy Ghost” — and is not generally given in behalf of other people.)
Amber said her former husband became convinced he was living a higher spiritual law than other members of the church.
“There is a train of thought, that they think that they are living a higher law and are better than anyone else,” Amber said. “That they are living the way Jesus wants them to during the Millennium, and if you disagree with their beliefs, they just tell you you don’t understand the law or you’re not ready.”
A concept of ‘chosenness'
"The internet has facilitated for these types of groups … a kind of church-within-a-church sensibility,” Utah State University Religion Professor Patrick Mason told EastIdahoNews.com. “They believe they really get it and understand the true church teachings. They are more than happy to go to church with (other) people who are nice church-going folks, but they view these people as not as committed as they are, or as people who just don’t get it.”
Like most major religions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen people with different interpretations on doctrine break off from the main body. Some of these groups don’t actually splinter from the church but remain quietly inside, Mason said.
“The church doesn’t do much to police people’s thoughts,” he said. “People believe lots of things in the church, and as long as people keep those things more or less to themselves, as long as they publicly express adherence to church leaders, they are allowed to have a pretty wide-ranging set of beliefs.”
Expressing these beliefs on forums or on social media allows the people to share these beliefs safely, Mason said, without running the risk of being alienated at church or being disciplined by church leaders.
“It … creates a special sense of ‘chosenness’ within the church, or of being part of an elect or select group of people within the church, and the internet has been absolutely crucial to that,” Mason said.
The internet appears to have strengthened these groups who appear to operate within various congregations in the mainstream church.
One common thread throughout nearly all of our interviews for this story has been the Another Voice of Warning or AVOW website. It’s a paid forum site run by Jefferson County resident Christopher Parrett for Latter-day Saints to have discussions or offer conjecture about their religion.
For the most part, that’s exactly what it is. The forum covers a variety of topics relating to the church and makes it clear that anti-religion or apostate material or doctrines should not be discussed. Yet plenty of material on the site goes beyond or even contrary to official church teachings and some are substantially different than what most members of the Church believe.
A large section of the site is devoted to discussions on emergency preparedness and prophecies, dreams, and visions.
Some of the most-read threads on the site are:
- The Callout is Coming: Replies from the Temple Dreamer…
- TENT CITIES: Further Light and Knowlege (sic)…
- Making our Calling and Election Sure.
- Why Prepare, when I can take it all from the Mormons???
EastIdahoNews.com reached out to Parrett for comment on the site, and his personal religious beliefs, but messages were ignored and then posted on AVOW.
A large number of current and former subscribers have reached out to EastIdahoNews.com about the site in recent weeks. Many of them say it is an enlightening place to gain a deeper understanding of their religion, while others such as Jessica and Amber say it is a place where Latter-Day Saint extremists find like-minded people.
Most of the people who contacted EastIdahoNews.com did so because Chad was a frequent contributor to the site, where he discussed his near-death experiences and thoughts on the future. He still has a lot of defenders on AVOW, who believe the current stories in the press about him are media sensationalism or a hoax.
Julie Rowe, the speaker at the preparedness event Jessica attended, tells EastIdahoNews.com she was introduced to Chad on AVOW.
After the death of his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, Chad stopped publishing on AVOW, but had reportedly remained in contact with Parrett. Several weeks ago, Parrett posted the following message on AVOW allegedly from Chad:
“Thanks for the update. The issue is that people are linking me to Julie’s (Rowe) beliefs, which I studied but rejected. Lori and I have been absolutely silent for three months. I am constrained by my lawyers from saying more until the legal mess is complete, but be assured I will be back. Hopefully, the subscribers will be there when I can fully return to GRI and tell my experiences. I appreciate your support. Chad.”
Parrett also posted these messages after a conversation with Chad:
Preparing A People
Preparing A People is an organization that says its mission is to “help prepare the people of this earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ.” On its website, the organization says it doesn’t represent any church or official church doctrines, policies or positions; however, many associated with Preparing A People and those who speak at their workshops are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the past, Preparing A People helped organize conferences for Latter-day Saints in Idaho, Utah and Arizona to hear speakers on a variety of religious topics. Michael James, the website operator, told EastIdahoNews.com in December that Chad was a popular speaker at some of their events, although Preparing A People has since distanced itself from him.
“He was one of our best speakers, and people really trusted him, (but) Chad evidently had some strange ideas about things we didn’t know about,” James said. “Occasionally, that happens, and when it does, you need to break with them.”
Rowe, who has also spoken at a PAP event, said Chad and Lori would meet at these events.
Preparing a People also hosted a variety of religious podcasts featuring Chad and Lori, Rowe, and even at least one with Jessica’s boss. PAP has since removed these podcasts.
Two members of Lori’s extended family, Kay Vallow Woodcock and Brandon Boudreaux, have spoken to national news outlets about Chad and Lori’s involvement with PAP. Woodcock said Lori’s behavior radically changed after becoming affiliated with the organization. Both identified PAP as a cult, although James said there nothing farther from the truth.
“I have no idea what Chad and Lori did in their spare time, but Preparing A People is not a cult,” James said. “It’s just LDS people that go to conferences.”
What we know about Chad Daybell beliefs
From the time of his Latter-day Saint mission up through his time living in the Rexburg-area, Chad has been well-respected, and described as a thoughtful and spiritual man by many locals.
The majority of his associates we reached out to declined to speak on the record, but many told us about the love they had for him, and expressed shock to the recent circumstances.
As the owner of Spring Creek Book Company, he published books about his near-death experiences, and he wrote an extensive body of fiction surrounding his beliefs about what the world will be like just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. See his Amazon page here.
Rowe said her relationship with Chad began in 2014 when he offered to publish her near-death experiences. She said they shared a belief in visions of the future, multiple mortal probations and in working with people’s energy.
“We would do energy sessions, and I would talk to him about some of my memories of previous lives, and he would talk to me about his past lives,” Rowe said.
Chad helped Rowe promote her books at speaking events, and the relationship continued for a number of years, but it eventually soured. In 2019, Rowe was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the church flagged one of her books as teaching false doctrine regarding the end-times.
Rowe said it’s been over a year since she has spoken with him, and although she initially defended him in the missing children case, she has since become more concerned about his actions, and has begun speaking out. She recently gave an in-depth interview regarding her relationship with Chad to Inside Edition.
Given that Chad allegedly told Parrett he has now rejected Rowe’s beliefs, its not clear exactly what he currently believes.
Lori Daybell’s mission
Lori’s beliefs are described in divorce documents filed by her former husband Charles Vallow several months before he was killed by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox.
The following is an excerpt from court documents filed by Charles Vallow’s attorney on Feb. 15, 2019, as reported by KSTU:
Mother (Lori Vallow) has recently become infatuated, at times obsessive, about near-death experiences and spiritual visions. Mother has told Father (Charles Vallow) that she is sealed (eternally married) to the ancient Book of Mormon prophet Moroni and that she has lived numerous lives on numerous planets prior to this current life. Mother also believes that she was married to James the Just in a past life and also lived as Mary French in the 1800s, who was Joseph Smith Jr.’s natural grandmother. Mother also informed Father that she is a translated being who cannot taste death sent by God to lead the 144,000 into the Millennium. Mother believes that she is receiving spiritual revelations and visions to help her gather and prepare those chosen to live in the New Jerusalem after the Great War as prophesied in the book of Revelations.
On January 29, 2019, during a phone conversation between the parties and after their physical separation, Mother informed Father that she was a God assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020 and that if Father got in her way of her mission, she would murder him.
The 144,000 people referenced in the documents are drawn from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Latter-day Saints believe the 144,000 are high priests who will “administer the everlasting gospel” to the world in the last days, according to the church’s Doctrine and Covenants.
April Raymond, a longtime friend of Lori from Kauai, said that after meeting Lori met Chad, she came to her and said she was helping to gather the 144,000.
“The basis seemed to be preparing for the end of times, and they believed that they were part of the 144,000,” Raymond said on Dateline. “They (believed) they were here to gather the other members to join them … she told me she was there because I was one of 144,000, and she was there to gather me and I just said, ‘I think I’m not, I’m just not … I know that I’m not one of those people.'”
Jessica said a number of people in the group she was in also said they were among the 144,000.
Dealing with extremist groups
EastIdahoNews.com reached out to the church, but spokesman Sam Penrod declined to comment on the issue.
But it’s likely that leaders are concerned. MormonLeaks, a transparency website that publishes unofficial church documents, shows local leaders asking general leaders in Salt Lake City for guidance in dealing with members who are preaching things not sanctioned by the church. Read more about the documents here.
“A lot of these groups continue to function without much oversight or much discipline from the church, even though we know church leaders know they are there,” Mason said. “The general church leadership is concerned about these groups, but they are not quite sure what to do with them or how to reign them in.”
Mason said the members of these groups are savvy about rooting their unorthodox beliefs in just enough mainstream teachings that they don’t call attention to themselves.
“They don’t openly challenge church leaders,” he said. “They get away with a lot because they try to put themselves into the tradition of church leaders, rather than contrary to them. They are skillful in trying to demonstrate that they are not just part of the church, but are actually the real true church.”