14 May 2011

Twelve Tribes continue to reject cult label while physically, intellectually and spiritually abusing their children

Boulder Weekly   -  Colorado      May 12, 2011

Father, son & holy toast

By Jefferson Dodge

Rumors have been circulating that The Yellow Deli, which opened about a month ago near the corner of Ninth and Pearl streets in Boulder, is operated by a religious “cult.”

The establishment that took the place of Heidi’s Deli is part of a chain of restaurants that has been both lauded for its Reuben sandwiches and chastised for its fundamentalist Christian point of view.

The group behind the Yellow Deli is an international organization called Twelve Tribes. And an Internet search of Twelve Tribes turns up all sorts of claims, including allegations of child labor, racism and homophobia.

While the group has continually rejected the “cult” label, its members have been accused of suppressing women’s rights, abusing children and sending their founder money to support a lavish lifestyle.

But a visit to the Boulder Yellow Deli reveals a group that is open and eager to dispel what they say are misconceptions about the Twelve Tribes perpetuated by the media and others.


Gene Spriggs formed the Twelve Tribes in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The group created the Yellow Deli soon after because, according to the group’s website, they hoped to create “a place where they could work for a living and still be together, learning all about their Saviour and his Teachings.” The menu proclaimed, “Our specialty is the fruit of the Spirit. Why not ask?” Over the years, Twelve Tribes has been accused of both child labor and child abuse. Members attribute it to the anti-cult movement and their homeschooling practices, which include having kids do chores alongside parents and disciplining their children by smacking them with thin wooden rods, or “balloon sticks,” adhering to a biblical passage about using “reeds” for the same purpose.

They have been accused of forcing women into the roles of subservient wife and child-bearer, and forbidding contraceptives and the use of drugs during childbirth. New members are expected to give up all of their belongings and wealth once they join the Twelve Tribes, so that the entire community can share the resources equally. Some also give up their previous relationships. According to their website, new members get “new friends, a new job, a new hairstyle, a new address and, most importantly, a new Master, who will direct every aspect of your life.”

The group is known for being a sort of hippie Jesus commune, one in which all members live together, have an equal voice, share the work and share the rewards, a community in which no one is rich or poor. They take biblical passages literally, believing that they should recruit others to their point of view, that adultery and the use of drugs or alcohol are wrong. Outside influences such as television and video games are frowned upon.

The group reportedly wants to propagate extensively, so that there are 144,000 virginal males to serve as the bride of Messiah when Judgment Day comes.

In addition, the Twelve Tribes has been accused of lying to government and court officials to protect their own. They justify it by comparing it to lying to the Nazis about the location of Jews during the Holocaust, saying that the Bible does not require the truth to be told to evil men who aim to hurt the innocent.

According to a page on the group’s website attributed to a female member of the group, “God created woman to be a friend and a helper for man. She was created to be a wife and a mother, to raise children who would in turn know who they were created to be. In this she would find peace and rest. Sadly enough today though, many women strive to be something ‘better.’ But the good news that we’ve found is that there is nothing better than becoming who you were truly created to be. In this we are learning to have true modesty, that is, a true estimation of ourselves. We are not pitiful little housewives that are bossed around all day by overbearing men, but we are happy, liberated women who willingly submit ourselves to our loving husbands.”

According to a news article posted on the group’s website, Twelve Tribes marriages are arranged by the families of the bride and groom with their cooperation, and during the ceremony, the groom does not kiss the bride — she kisses him, as a symbol of her submission.

Former members say the group is, indeed, a cult that separated them from their family and friends. Websites like www.twelvetribes-ex.com and groups such as “Ithacans Opposed to the Twelve Tribes Cult” urge against patronizing their establishments.


One would scarcely detect any of these elements upon entering the Yellow Deli in Boulder. It resembles a number of local establishments, with its herbal scents and all-natural offerings. According to custom, all of the men sport ponytails and beards; the women have their hair pulled back and are dressed modestly. The restaurant features hippie-infused religious artwork and inspirational sayings on the walls, with partial thatched roofs jutting out over booths.

Each Tribe member has been given a special name.

Zach “Chaiyim” O’Keefe is one of the managers, although he is quick to point out that there are two others, since “a three-stringed cord is hard to break.” He is joined by another manager, Joseph “Dayag” Fisher. Both have come from the Twelve Tribes’ longstanding Manitou Springs establishment, the Maté Factor, where they met. Given the perceived mistreatment the group has received from other media over the years, they confer briefly before talking with a reporter. But when they return, they openly address the ques- tions that have been raised about their group in its nearly 40-year history.

While there are several piles of Twelve Tribes publications on shelves in the restaurant, Fisher says that Yellow Deli employees are not actively proselytizing.

“People can mind their own business, and we’ll serve them and not push anything on anyone,” he says. “We’re not putting what we believe on other people.”

They say the current community lives in two houses in the Boulder area, but they are looking for a bigger spot, like a farmhouse.

Curiously, the Yellow Deli is open 24 hours a day from noon on Sunday until Friday at 3 p.m. Fisher says the schedule is not intended to avoid the party crowd, but to serve as a place where “people can go and not worry about being chased out,” even in the wee hours. In the age of artificial communities created by Facebook, Twitter and email, he says, customers are sometimes “looking for a friend or someone to talk to, instead of popping on the headphones or getting on the computer. People are thirsty for that.”

They are quick to defend founder Spriggs against claims that he takes a percentage of all profits and jetsets around the world visiting his numerous mansions.

“If he gets any money, he uses it to buy shoes for the single brothers,” says Fisher, who lived with Spriggs for four years. “He helps widows and orphans.”

If there are any mansions, he says, “we all have mansions,” and Spriggs has many members living there with him. They insist that no money is sent to Spriggs, although one Twelve Tribes community might choose to help another community if it is in financial trouble.

“This stuff is no more true for him than it is for me or Zach,” Fisher says of the claims about Spriggs.

O’Keefe adds, “He spent the last two years busing tables at the Yellow Deli in Vista, Calif.”


The two say that men and women are given an equal voice in the community and are encouraged to speak their minds.

“Outspokenness is what keeps this lifestyle alive,” Fisher says.

And Deborah Wolfe, who has been a member of the group for 30 years, agrees.

“I would be happy to talk to any feminist women about the choices I made by having my six children,” she says.

Wolfe and her husband, Andrew, or “Sehyah,” were the first Twelve Tribes couple to arrive in Manitou Springs, traveling from a community in Island Pond, Vt., to establish a presence in Colorado because Andrew was born in Fort Collins. (It is custom for leaders to return to their birthplace to set up a community.) They now live with the new community in Boulder, but one of their sons is a manager at the Maté Factor in Manitou Springs.

They acknowledge that natural childbirth at home with a midwife is preferred, but hospital deliveries are not uncommon, especially when there are complications, and those deliveries are completely at the discretion of the couple. Four of Deborah’s kids were delivered at a hospital, as was Fisher’s 18-month-old son, Roeh.

“Nothing in our life is forced,” Fisher says. “We’re not into condemning.”

Deborah says natural, medication-free childbirth makes mothers even more connected to their babies.

“You work hard for that baby, and it helps that bonding process,” she says, adding that there are many alternatives for making childbirth more bearable, from relaxation techniques to having the support of family and close friends present.

As for contraception, Andrew Wolfe describes it as “limited, not prohibited,” and Deborah adds, “We want children.” Natural forms of contraception are used, they say, during the months immediately following childbirth, for instance.

When asked about the goal of creating thousands of virginal males to serve as Messiah’s bride on Judgment Day, Andrew says the idea is to have a critical mass of followers by the time Jesus, or “Yahshua,” as they call him, returns. It goes back to a biblical verse about the rest of the world witnessing disciples’ love for one another on that day of reckoning, he says.

They agree that while homosexuality is discouraged, gays are not expelled from the group. The group has had members “struggle” with homosexuality, they say, and gays have joined the group in the past, although their sexual orientation, like their belongings and wealth, is something they are expected to leave behind when starting their new life.


While the Twelve Tribes doesn’t subscribe to the strict biblical idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old, they don’t believe that man evolved from apes. They teach their home-schooled children about subjects like physics and biology, but special emphasis is placed on music and communication skills like reading and writing.

Twelve Tribes members use computers for things like communication, bookkeeping, research and shopping, but not for getting the latest celebrity news.

“Sitcoms are for people who don’t have an entertaining life,” Fisher says, explaining that his community gets satis faction from discussions, music, dancing, hiking and other wholesome activities.

Asked about the allegations of child labor, Fisher says the group “abides by the laws of the land” and that some have misinterpreted the Twelve Tribes custom of involving kids in chores at an early age, just as was common on farms in past decades.

As for the child abuse claims, Fisher says the group disciplines youngsters not out of anger, but to provide guidance. The word discipline, he says, refers to “being discipled, or being brought along by a master or a teacher. It’s not a punishment, it’s a correction, and it’s gaining access to the heart and the true bond made between student and teacher, parent and child.” As an example, Andrew Wolfe describes a 3-year-old who is told not to run into the busy street in front of his house. When the child heads for the street anyway, a quick slap from the thin wooden rod, or what he calls a “spanking,” is appropriate.

“The consequences of getting spanked are much less than getting hit by a car,” he says.

He adds, however, that the smack is immediately followed by a hug, reassuring the child that he or she is loved. The rod is used instead of the hand because the hands are used for love, for the hug that follows, he says. Deborah adds that a spanking might also be warranted when a child takes cookies that he or she knows are being saved for social time.


Spriggs has been accused of saying inflammatory things about Martin Luther King and about slavery being a result of the biblical curse of Canaan. Twelve Tribes leaders readily admit that they discourage interracial marriages, even though they say they welcome non-white family units to join their group.

Spriggs reportedly said King could not offer true freedom to blacks because of the biblical curse, but according to Andrew Wolfe, Spriggs simply meant that joining the Twelve Tribes is the only real path out of racism.

“We see this life of love as the ultimate way to do away with prejudice, and other efforts are not going to cut it,” he says.

Fisher says the Twelve Tribes has had some interracial marriages.

“If it’s true love, no one is going to stand between them,” he says.

But Andrew acknowledges that the group prefers to have blacks marry blacks and whites marry whites. He is quick to add that a black or Asian family is welcome to join the community.

“Our solution to the race problem is not to inter-marry everybody,” he says.

Fisher adds, “Our goal is not to create one gray human being. The creator allowed man to be so diverse for a reason.”

As for other, non-restaurant occupations that are acceptable to the group, Fisher lists wood-working, produce delivery, construction and tree care as vocations that have been held by community members.

What about being a lawyer? A professional athlete?

“Our life is a life of living for each other,” Andrew says. “We glorify one another, not ourselves. We wouldn’t all be able to be on your team if you were a football player.”

And while the Twelve Tribes dismisses all other denominations, Andrew says, “we do not believe we are the only ones who will have eternal life.”

People will be judged on their own deeds, their own conscience, how they treated others, he says. Fisher adds that it will be about what is in their heart. The group doesn’t subscribe to the traditional heaven/hell dichotomy, instead believing in “three eternal destinies,” including a “lake of fire” for the “filthy and unjust.”

But Fisher says those who are not members or who have never even heard of the Twelve Tribes are not necessarily headed for that lake.

“They’re judged on the highest standard they’re aware of,” he says.

Asked about whether members are expected to sever ties with their nonconforming family and friends when they join Twelve Tribes, Fisher points to his in-laws in an adjacent Yellow Deli booth, who do not belong to the group but remain part of his family’s life. He explains that joining the community requires you to put Yahshua ahead of everyone else, so that sometimes causes problems with people who used to exercise authority over you. In addition, he says, members sometimes don’t see their extended family and friends as much as they used to before joining the group.

If it gets to the point that family members are destructively set against Twelve Tribes, an individual may have to sever ties, they agree.

“Relationships with family are encouraged, unless the family is dead set against us,” Andrew Wolfe says.

His wife adds, “If it’s not bearing good fruit.”

Andrew delivers one final message, asking people to avoid judging Twelve Tribes on what they read online until they’ve had a chance to come into the Yellow Deli.

“We encourage people to come meet with us themselves,” he says.

Besides, Fisher concludes, one recent customer described their Reuben sandwich as the best in the world.

Divine, in fact.

This article was found at:


Twelve Tribes cult members exploited by reclusive leader living lavish lifestyle, corporal punishment controls kids

First generation of children born into a controversial communal theology called the Twelve Tribes 

Harsh discipline of children is a central tenet of Twelve Tribes cult 

Community Embraces Twelve Tribes 

Twelve Tribes: Community or Cult 

Twelve Tribes cult worries parents 

Twelve Tribes cult recruits at Easter show 

Despite controversy, Twelve Tribes continues to enjoy communal lifestyle 

Twelve Tribes cult continues to thrive despite violating rights of children 

NBC News Investigates Child Abuse Practices In Twelve Tribes cult 

The practices of messianic Christian sect The Twelve Tribes continue to divide opinion 

Spanish man claims his son has been kidnapped by Twelve Tribes cult 

Cults on campus: how to spot recruiting techniques of predator conmen 

1984 Twelve Tribes cult raid had similar judicial conclusion as Texas case

Pastor of Wisconsin house church charged for beating children with rods says he was just using biblical punishment

Corporal punishment slows the intellectual growth of children: researchers

Line between spanking and abuse difficult to determine

Controversial new study on spanking contradicts abundant research that it is counterproductive

Religion and Child Abuse

Forced into Faith: How Religion Abuses Children's Rights [book]

For fundamentalist Christian group there is No Greater Joy than biblically beating kids into religious submission

Fundamentalist parents using biblical discipline charged with murder & torture of adopted daughters

11 boys removed at faith-based Reclamation Ranch

"The Spanking Room – A Child's Eye View of the Jehovah's Witnesses"

Mormon dad beat daughter over her refusal to follow his faith, court told 


  1. Cops remove 40 kids from Christian sect

    DPA/AFP/The Local/hc Germany September 5, 2013

    German police swooped on a controversial religious sect and removed 40 children from their families early on Thursday, amid reports that they were being physically abused.

    Around 100 police officers sealed off the Twelve Tribes farm-based community in Deiningen, near Augsburg, Bavaria at around 6am on Thursday, and then moved in to take 28 children. They were removed in minivans and taken to foster families, under the custody of the authorities. Another 12 children were taken from a second location near Wörnitz

    A police spokesman said there was no violence during the operation.
    The dawn raids followed "new evidence pointing to significant and ongoing child abuse by the members", local officials were quoted as saying.

    The Christian sect, which has bases in countries around the world, and says it has several thousand members, regards both Old and New Testaments as God's direct word.

    They do not send their children to public schools, choosing to educate them within the community. Parents are taught that when children break rules, they are to "spank them with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and not damage," they say on their website.

    The Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper reported that the sect had often come to the attention of the public prosecutor which had investigated claims that five members had been involved in beating children. No charges resulted.

    The Bavarian state withdrew its education license from the Twelve Tribes school at the complex at the end of July due to a lack of suitable teachers, leaving the parents of 20 school-age children obliged to send them to outside schools.

    "The operation today did not have anything to do with topic of school attendance," a spokesman for the state education ministry told the paper.

    US-founded Twelve Tribes said in an online statement: "We are an open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity."


  2. Perry Bulwer: A couple things to point out about the response from Twelve Tribes members. They say that they live according to the Bible so would never tolerate abuse. That is an example of cherry-picking which parts of the Bible they live by. The Bible, of course, is filled with numerous examples of abuse, including horrific punishments for disobedience for example, so in reality the Twelve Tribes only live by certain scriptures.

    The second point is more disturbing. A Twelve Tribes mother says: "We just like to keep them sweet." The phrase "keep sweet" is used by fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sects to control the women and children. One survivor even titled her memoir Keep Sweet. See these two articles on this blog for examples of just how abusive and controlling the mantra of "keep sweet" is:



    The founder of the Twelve Tribes was delusional and his writings on corporal punishment encourages physical abuse of children in order to control and indoctrinate them.


    Members of sect react after children seized in German raid

    by ELIZABETH A. CONKEY, Staff Writer - Bennington Banner September 9, 2013

    CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- In the early hours of Thursday morning, German police raided the Twelve Tribes religious community in Klosterzimmern, Germany, taking 40 children, aged 1 1 2 years to 17, into foster care, on suspicion that they were physically abused by their parents.

    The event was reminiscent of a June 1984 raid of a Twelve Tribes community in Island Pond, Vt., during which time 112 children were similarly taken into custody by the state.

    Twelve Tribes members aim to live a life that mirrors the teachings of the Bible. In doing so, they believe it to be necessary to spank their children with a thin rod when they disobey or act in a manner which their parents deem to be unsafe or inappropriate.

    Tim Kroehler, a Twelve Tribes member and father of four, who live in the Twelve Tribes community in Cambridge, N.Y., said in an interview with the Banner on Saturday that the practice is based on what is said in Proverbs 13:24.

    "It says that if you hate your child, you spare the rod, but that he who loves him disciplines him diligently," Kroehler explained. "We don't spank our children to be cruel, certainly not to be abusive. Children need authority in their lives. They need direction. It's our job as parents to act as that authority."

    David Woodward, a longtime member of Twelve Tribes, father of six, and a teacher in the community, concurred, saying that their protocol helps to maintain the social stability of the community.

    "The foundation of our life together is the scripture," he said. "We believe it produces good fruit when we do what it says. We love our children. We would never do anything to harm them. By spanking them, it lets them understand that there are consequences for their actions."

    continued below

  3. Woodward said that, to his knowledge, and through his extensive experience as a teacher, spending countless hours with the children of the community, there has been no indication of a child feeling unsafe, much less abused.

    He went on to say that he is fairly certain the same can be said for Twelve Tribes communities around the world, including the Klosterzimmern community raided on Thursday.

    "Obviously, I was not there, I can't see how parents are acting, but all of our brothers live according to the scripture. We all believe in the same things," he said. "Abuse would not be something we would tolerate."

    Rachel Kroehler, Tim Kroehler's wife, agreed, adding that their community would react to abuse in the same way any other community would: by calling the police.

    She noted that the recent raid awakened memories of the 1984 raid in Pond Island, a community in which she lived during her formative years, before moving to Cambridge.

    Kroehler was 7 years old at the time and would have been the 113th child taken into custody if she hadn't been out of town with family.

    As a mother of four, she said she believes wholeheartedly in Twelve Tribes' way of life and admitted to following the same disciplinary tactics on her own children as those carried out by the parents of the German children seized Thursday -- the spanking with rods, deemed abusive by authorities.

    "I love my children. I do everything I do because I love them," Kroehler said. "I believe in dealing with issues when they're very small, so that a small measure (spanking) is sufficient and the children learn. The times that I get frustrated with my children, it's because I ignored something that I shouldn't have. Very small measures keep them in check and in a pleasant place," she continued. "I would rather deal with the little things so that I can enjoy my children, have them be in good spirits, happy, rather than have them act out like most children. We just like to keep them sweet."

    Tim Kroehler agreed, explaining that a parent becoming frustrated with their child is considered to be more abusive than any spanking ritual.

    "Anger is like abuse," he said. "Before we even get to that place of anger or frustration, though, we are helping each other so that things do not escalate."

    He reiterated that physical abuse has never been an act condoned within the Twelve Tribes community, and explained moreover that a recurring problem in society seems to lie in a gross misunderstanding of their beliefs.

    "When someone says abuse, people have a picture in their mind of slapping or shaking, anger, drunken wraths, and we are against that," Kroehler said. "We do not tolerate abuse in this community. We never will."

    continued below

  4. Kroehler learned of the raid in Germany at around 4 a.m. that same day, alerted his wife, and said his immediate reaction was to pray.

    The entire Twelve Tribes Cambridge community, children included, is privy to last week's events and Rachel Kroehler said everyone is deeply concerned.

    "We're all so upset," she said. "Just the thought of those children not being tucked in by their own parents, waking up in a strange house It's appalling," Kroehler continued. "Most of us can't even sleep or eat. We're just so distressed."

    Tim Kroehler noted that about a month ago, he visited the very community that was raided.

    "I met all of the children that were taken," he said. "They are just like ours, bright-eyed children."

    According to Kroehler, the main issue that needs to be addressed is that corporal punishment has been outlawed in Germany, which, in the case of the Twelve Tribes religious movement, is the equivalent of a lack of religious freedom.

    "In Germany, you are not allowed to home school your child, not allowed to spank your child in your own home, even if you are following the Bible," he said. "It's a pity that our government can make a law that would cause a parent to have to hate their child."

    Kroehler said he will continue to pray to "the Father" for wisdom in the coming days and weeks that lie ahead.

    "We believe all things work together for the good of those who love him. It says so in Romans 8:28," he said. "We don't know what that is right now, so we're trusting that God will deliver the children in Germany back to their parents and use this for his purpose."

    Members of Cambridge's Twelve Tribes community are hoping for an awakening in the German people, and for the country to realize that they, in their opinion, no longer have religious freedom.

    "What's happening to our (Twelve Tribes') children will happen to theirs, too if they try to follow the Bible," Kroehler added.

    Woodward expressed his understanding of outsiders and the curiosity that may have been sparked regarding their community and way of life following Thursday's events.

    He invites individuals from near and far to visit the Twelve Tribes community in Cambridge and to witness firsthand the love they have for their children.

    "You can tell when people, children are abused," Woodward said. "Our children are not abused. They are loved. I want people to see that, to visit. Personal experience speaks more than anything."

    Visit the Twelve Tribes community at 41 N. Union St. in Cambridge, N.Y., to learn more about their beliefs and way of life, or visit their website: www.twelvetribes.com.

    Woodward and the Kroehlers can be reached by phone at 518-677-5880 or by e-mail:timkroehler@twelvetribes.com.

    Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.


  5. In Germany's Twelve Tribes sect, cameras catch cold and systematic child-beating

    A documentary revealed the torture inflicted by a religious community on its young

    by TONY PATERSON The Independent September 10, 2013 BERLIN

    The little blond-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

    “Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

    Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

    They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

    The Twelve Tribes was formed in America over 40 years ago and has an estimated 3,000 members world wide.

    The fundamentalist organisation, which lives in isolated self-sustaining communities, has branches outside the US in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Australia, Argentina and Canada.

    In the UK, the Twelve Tribes’ website says it has been running a community near Honiton in Devon for nearly 15 years and has been “searching for and finding those who are not satisfied with their lives”.

    Its members consider the Old and New Testaments to be God’s direct word. The sect says it openly believes in “spanking” disobedient children to “drive out the Devil”. Its website insists: “We know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial, but we have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority.”

    The sect has also been accused of racism. “Multiculturalism increases murder, crime and prejudice,” the movement said in a statement. Gene Spriggs, its founder, has claimed Martin Luther King was “filled with every evil spirit there is”.

    continued below

  6. In Bavaria the sect has been investigated several times over the past decade following reports that its members beat children, which is illegal in Germany. Police and youth workers claimed each time that they had not found sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution.

    However, Mr Kuhnigk’s clandestinely obtained evidence prompted police and youth workers to raid two “Twelve Tribes” communities in Bavaria last Thursday. Forty children who had been living there were taken away at dawn and placed in foster homes amid suspicions that they had spent most of their lives being subjected to interminable abuse.

    Kuhnigk’s film strongly implies that they were. The evidence he collected at the sect’s community in a former monastery near the village of Deiningen exposes a dark world in which children have no rights and are subjected to round-the-clock surveillance and persistent beatings for the most trivial offences.

    Sven, a 19-year-old former Twelve Tribes members who ran away at the age of 14 recalls how he was beaten for imitating an aeroplane. In the hands of one of the sect’s “educators”, he was beaten for days at 2 o’clock in the morning because he kept wetting his bed. “They said I had lost control of myself”, he says in an interview.

    “I was told I would die if I tried to escape,” he tells Kuhnigk, “I was a child who was not allowed to be a child,” he added.

    The film shows how children are made to get up at 5am and stand though an hour-long prayer session. They are obliged to labour with adults in the community’s farm plots and workshops. They attend the community’s own strictly religious schools. “It’s normal to be beaten every day,” said Christian, another former member who escaped five years ago.

    The film also shows disturbing images of a baby boy being forcefully gripped by the back of the head in a practice referred to by sect members as “restraining.”

    Alfred Kanth, a spokesman for the Bavarian youth welfare service described the film as shocking. “We never had proof that they do this. It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children,” he told RTL. Sabine Riede, an official from Cologne who monitors the activities of religious sects agreed that the beatings amounted to torture. “Sometimes parents wallop a child, but this is different, it is cold and systematic,” she said.

    The Twelve Tribes frequently claims it is the victim of systematic persecution by the authorities. Similar allegations at a Vermont community prompted the police to seize 112 children in a raid in 1984. However, no charges were brought and the children were released.

    Kuhnigk’s film ends with the police raid on the Bavarian Twelve Tribes community and the attempts by two elderly and bearded male sect members to counter the allegations that they beat children. “We do not abuse our children,” insisted one repeatedly. He appeared unwilling to respond directly to the allegations of child beating. Bavarian state prosecutors said they were continuing their investigation into the sect’s activities.


  7. It is our right to use the willow cane: Inside the Twelve Tribes Christian fundamentalist sect at centre of childcare controversy

    The Twelve Tribes movement has been rocked by a child abuse scandal in Germany. But is the sect simply misunderstood? Jamie Merrill visits its British redoubt to find out

    by JAMIE MERRILL, The Independent UK September 16, 2013

    Tucked away down a quiet lane eight miles north of Honiton, the tea room and farm at Stentwood seem like just another tranquil spot on the east Devon tourist trail. The stone-built café is empty though, and the farm isn’t a holiday cottage. It is the home to 40 men, women and children of the Twelve Tribes sect.

    Founded in the US more than 40 years ago, the Christian fundamentalist group has only around 3,000 members worldwide. The community at Stentwood Farm was established 15 years ago and joins Twelve Tribes groups in the US, Germany, France, Spain the Czech Republic, Australia, Argentina and Canada.

    The setting is tranquil and surrounded by berry bushes and farmland, but the group in Devon, like their brothers and sisters around the world, believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible which controversially approves of chastising children with a willow cane to “drive out the devil”.

    In Germany last week, a larger Twelve Tribes community made headlines when, in a dawn raid, police took away 40 children from their parents and placed them in foster homes, amid allegations that they had undergone years of abuse.

    Jonathan Stagg, a senior member of the community’s council, gave The Independent a cautious welcome to the farm. “The whole community here at Stentwood Farm is in a state of shock at what has happened to our brothers and sisters in Germany; we’re just shocked that the German authorities have behaved like that,” he said.

    The allegations in Germany came to light after the 100-strong group in Bavaria was infiltrated by Wolfram Kuhnigk, a journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones. Kuhnigk filmed six adults in a cellar beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. He filmed 50 beatings in total.

    Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep – it made me think of my own two children,” he said later.

    Over coffee and a cookie from the community’s Common Loaf bakery business, Mr Stagg defended the German group. “The community there is very shocked at what the authorities did,” he said. “We feel it’s outrageous for them to take 40 children from their parents. We are a peaceful people and are baffled by the injustice of it and the inability of our family in Germany to respond within any legal framework.

    “We have known that there is a legal issue in Germany over chastisement, but we believed we need to do what is right in God’s law rather than what the law of any land or state said. That’s really the bottom line of it. We always knew this day could come.”

    The 40 members of Twelve Tribes at Stentwood include seven families with about 20 children, who all live together in one converted farm building with communal kitchens. According to Mr Stagg, they make their living operating the bakery, which sells bread at local farmers’ markets, as well as running the tea room and growing their own food.

    No children were evident when The Independent visited, leaving Mr Stagg, who declined to be photographed and has since refused to co-operate further, to speak on behalf of the group.

    “As a Christian community we take the Bible seriously and believe it’s the word of God,” he said. “And as you’ll see from our website it’s a fundamental right to use the willow cane, it’s what we all believe. We who live here believe the same thing.”

    continued below

  8. Mr Stagg would not confirm if he or other members used the cane, but said punishment “wouldn’t happen every day” and added: “I think you need to look at the website, because we explain this in detail there and it’s wonderful the way we’ve written it.”

    The group’s website states: “We love our children and consider them precious and wonderful. Because we love them we do spank them… When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod.” Mr Stagg insisted that the community is “still in the realm of English law”.

    At the nearby village stores in Dunkeswell, locals seemed unaware of the sect’s beliefs. “They keep themselves to themselves really,” said Vanetta Keitch, a shopkeeper. “It surprises me there are many as 40 of them there though, and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen any children; I didn’t even know there were children there. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen any women either. They have open evenings we keep getting invited to, but I’m far too scared to go.”

    She added: “They’ve been in here trying to sell their bread and use the post office, but we’d all assumed they were pot-smoking, tree-hugging hippies.”

    Ross Maidment, a local taxi driver, said: “I can’t recall ever taking a fare there. I really can’t say I’ve ever heard of the place.” At Honiton train station café, another local who gave her name only as Julie said: “I’ve heard about the bakery and apparently the bread is very good, but we’ve never heard of the Twelve Tribes. We didn’t realise there was a sect up the road.”

    Mr Stagg, who discovered the sect while on a cycling holiday to a pilgrimage site in Spain, explains that the group’s children are educated on the site and learn practical skills. He adds that the Twelve Tribes “don’t believe in higher education” and don’t send their children to university or to work away from the group.

    A spokesman for Devon County Council told The Independent it was aware of the group and that the children at Stentwood Farm were receiving their education at home.

    Locals may not be aware of the group’s views on multiculturalism and homosexuality either. The movement has said that “multiculturalism increases murder, crime and prejudice” and Gene Spriggs, the group’s American founder, has claimed that Martin Luther King was “filled with every evil spirit there is”. The site’s website states: “Homosexual behaviour is immoral and can be mortally dangerous.”

    Back at Stentwood, few other member of the sect present themselves and Stagg is uncomfortable discussing the group’s more controversial beliefs, instead focusing his anger on the German authorities.

    “If you want to look at German history in the last century you can see a lot of abuse of human rights and parental rights in the case of how they treated the Jews,” he said. “If somebody wanted to make a comparison between how we’ve been treated and the things that happened then, it would be very interesting for the German people to look at themselves and consider how they are treating us.”

    “Of course we are aware of the details of the allegations in Germany, but I know who we are and have lived in the community for 24 years, and I feel what we do is just normal parenting. We feel we are no different from families all over the country. There are many children here and they are all very loved and very secure.”

    This week the children in Germany, who are still separated from their parents, are due to attend state school for the first time. “I just hope that our brother and sisters in Germany get their children back,” said Mr Stagg. “They are loved by their families and we hope someone in authority comes to realise this.”


  9. Twelve Tribes community: NSPCC demands police inquiry into Christian sect that canes children

    The children’s charity calls on police to examine the activities of the community at Stentwood Farm near Honiton

    by JAMIE MERRILL The Independent UK SEPTEMBER 29, 2013

    The NSPCC has called for an investigation into the practises of a controversial Christian sect after an Independent investigation revealed allegations of physical child abuse.

    The children’s charity is calling on Devon County Council and Devon and Cornwall Police to examine the activities of the Twelve Tribes community at Stentwood Farm near Honiton, after the group defended its right to chastise its children with a willow cane in The Independent earlier this month.

    A former member of the sect, a worldwide movement founded 40 years ago in the US, has now come forward with allegations of widespread physical child abuse and use of the willow cane at the Devon farm. It has also emerged that a complaint about the community was made by a woman claiming to be a former member in 2005 and was investigated by local authorities.

    The call from the NSPCC comes after authorities in Germany took 40 children at the Twelve Tribes community in Bavaria away from their parents and placed them in foster homes after a journalist filmed six children being beaten with a total of 83 strokes of the cane.

    “Following the Independent story we have liaised with Devon County Council’s children’s services to… ensure that an appropriate assessment of the concerns are undertaken,” said Phillip Noyes, director of strategy and development at the NSPCC.

    Vicki, who says she is a former member of the community and spent six months at Stentwood Farm and did not want to reveal her full name, told The Independent: “There wasn’t a day that went by while I was there that children weren’t beaten with the rod. I beat my own son because that is what the group taught me to do.”

    Children were left “black and blue” according to Vicki, and parents were told by community elders that children had “to bend over” and be “hit on the bare bottom with the stick”. She added later: “You couldn’t do it without leaving stripes.”

    Vicki says that after leaving the community she made a complaint to Devon County Council in February 2005. Her complaint included allegations of child circumcision and home births carried out without medical supervision. Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed the allegations had been investigated but “no criminal proceedings were started against any individual”.

    Devon County Council refused to comment on whether an investigation would be carried out in light of The Independent’s investigation, but a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “We can confirm that Devon and Cornwall Police and Devon County Council are working together to thoroughly review the recent information received about the welfare of children in the Honiton area.”

    The Independent has also seen a document which purports to be a child training manual apparently produced by the sect. It states: “Parents are to chastise by using a rod or balloon stick that can cause stripes… marks like those left by a whip.”

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  10. The 2004 Children’s Act, which came into force in January 2005, clarified the defence of reasonable chastisement for parents who are charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding or grievous bodily harm, or cruelty to a child. Any hitting that causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches is punishable with up to five years in jail.

    The Twelve Tribes sect refused to comment for this article but Jonathan Stagg, an elder in the Honiton community, previously said it was the group’s “fundamental right” to use the willow cane and that the community was “still in the realm of English law”.

    It has also emerged that the sect, which believes homosexual behaviour is immoral and has been accused of anti-Semitism, runs Common Ground, a popular meeting point and café which has operated at Glastonbury Festival as recently as 2011. Vicki alleges the café was an important revenue stream for the sect and a source of new members. A Glastonbury Festival spokesman refused to comment and the group is still included on the festival’s website. However, The Independent understands the group, which rents a space from organisers at the Somerset site, is now unlikely to return to the festival in 2014.

    The group’s Common Loaf bakery, which is run from Stentwood Farm, also operates at numerous farmers’ markets in the region and ran a stall at the Devon County Show this year.

    The NSPCC spokesman added: “We’re grateful to The Independent for highlighting this issue and bringing it to our attention. Caning of children or the threat of caning is a completely unacceptable method of disciplinary action to take with any child.”

    Case study: ‘You are taught to hit them on the bare bottom’

    Vicki says she had been in contact with the Twelve Tribes community near Honiton for about a year and a half before she made the decision to move to Stentwood Farm with her seven-year-old son in 2004. Looking back, she regrets the decision.

    “Those kids are beaten for anything and everything; they are taught to be 100 per cent obedient. If that means a child is told to sit still and they move then, by the community’s standard you then have to take that child out and beat it,” she said.

    “I beat my own son as that’s what I was taught to do by the community elders. You don’t know this when you join, but you are taught to hit them on the bare bottom with the stick… it’s their doctrine”. Vicki said a boy with autism “got it worse than anybody else”. She said the group beat their children to “cleanse” their “conscience of the sin of disobedience”.

    Vicki claims she left the group after six months and now considers it a “cult”. When she told them of her reservations, she said, “they flew off the handle at me and told me I was full of demons. I came to realise this isn’t how Jesus would behave if someone came to him saying they were low and that the Twelve Tribes aren’t really Christian at all”.

    Vicki says she left the sect after smuggling a phone into her room and calling for a friend to collect her. She now lives in the north of England and attends a mainstream church.


  11. The Devon cult that canes tiny children to ‘cleanse their sins’: As social services launches an investigation, a mother’s shocking testimony lifts the lid on the mysterious commune squatting on a farm

    By DAVID JONES, Daily Mail October 4, 2013

    The first mists of autumn have descended on the Blackdown Hills, and next weekend one of the alternative communities who have gravitated to this moody, legend-steeped part of the West Country will attempt to lighten the spirits by staging a seasonal festival.

    The two-day event, at a rambling farmstead near the small Devon village of Dunkeswell, will feature such local traditions as circle-dancing and apple-pressing to make fresh juice, and it will end with a play — a homespun morality tale enacted by the group’s 20-odd children.

    To many villagers, news of this performance has come as a surprise. For although members of the Twelve Tribes, a controversial, US-based cult, began squatting at abandoned Stentwood Farm 14 years ago, and have built it into an impressive smallholding, with a quaint tea-room serving home-baked food, their children are so seldom permitted to leave the commune — hidden down a little-used lane — that few outsiders knew so many live there.

    While their baggy-smocked parents greet passing hikers and cyclists with a cautious wave as they do their chores, and the chosen few are permitted to sell their locally-renowned bread and cakes at markets and pop festivals (at the same time trying to recruit converts), for their sons and daughters, contact with non-believers is severely restricted.

    Dressed puritanically in bonnets and canvas trousers, they are not permitted to attend local schools, join sports teams or clubs, watch TV or use the internet, much less make friends beyond their closed community. Indeed, they are forbidden from playing any game involving imagination or fantasy.

    To most parents, this controlled upbringing alone would be cause for concern. Yet it is not the darkest trial facing the Twelve Tribes children, as they have to conform to the cult’s stultifying doctrine.

    In recent weeks, via an undercover TV documentary screened in Germany (where similar communes have been raided) and later by personal accounts of former members — including a British mother who escaped the Devon commune with her son — details of the brutal discipline to which they are routinely subjected have started to emerge.

    Supposedly to cleanse them of sin and prepare them for salvation when the world ends (the cult insists it will, within the next century or so), they are repeatedly ordered to bend over to be thrashed on their bare bottoms with a willow rod soaked in resin to make it more pliable.

    And as these so-called ‘correction’ sessions are central to the cult’s beliefs — a mishmash of Judaism and Christianity devised by its messianic leader Eugene Spriggs, a former carnival showman from Tennessee — the children are often thrashed several times a day.

    They are ‘spanked’ for even the most minor infraction, such as talking out of turn, and according to the former Devon member, Vicki (who wants her surname withheld) the thrashings are very painful, leaving ugly red and purple weals. The cult’s aim, she says, is to break their children’s resistance and it begins almost from the day they are born.

    As babies, if they repeatedly drop their bottle, for example, or won’t stop crying, parents are told to grasp their heads tightly and push them forwards and downwards — as if they were puppies being trained.

    Or they might be swaddled tightly to restrict their movement. Then, when they reach an age where they are deemed capable of understanding instructions — which might be before their first birthday — the ritual beatings begin.

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  12. Eventually they become a meekly accepted part of a cult child’s daily life, so that, by the time they reach their early teens, they are so totally conditioned to being hit that they not only accept their punishment but actually ask for it to be administered when they have misbehaved, fearing God will punish them if they don’t atone for their sins.

    ‘I want it to be clear we are not talking about the occasional smack for a naughty child here,’ Vicki told me.

    ‘I think every parent has the right to discipline their child as they see fit, and use the occasional smack if they wish, but this is something entirely different. This is systematic conditioning — a sort of aversion therapy of the most brutal kind.’

    In Germany, the child protection authorities clearly agree. Shocked by scenes in this month’s TV documentary, immediately after it was screened they raided the cult’s two Bavarian communes and took all 40 children into protective care, where they remain pending court proceedings.

    Given that the law prevents German parents from striking their children at all, and the film showed a four-year-old boy being led to a punishment cellar and caned until he screamed for mercy — simply for refusing to admit he was ‘tired’ — they are likely to remain in foster care.

    The NSPCC is sufficiently ‘anxious’ over claims that children are being similarly mistreated at Stentwood Farm that it has alerted Devon social services. This week a spokesman said it had launched a ‘review’ in conjunction with the police, and the Mail understands that they plan to inspect the commune.

    However, the 2004 Children Act allows British parents more latitude than Germany’s, permitting ‘reasonable punishment’, and as no action was taken when Vicki first made allegations of child abuse, after leaving the cult in 2005, she fears the beatings will continue with impunity.

    In the light of the story she told me this week, this would beggar belief.

    Like many of Twelve Tribes’ 3,000 worldwide devotees, Vicki was vulnerable when she was enticed into its gentle embrace nine years ago. Then in her 20s, unemployed, and caring alone for her six-year-old son, she was a disillusioned Christian searching for fulfilment.

    Attracted by the cult’s website, which promised a new way of living that would restore the spiritual and communal values of Israel’s original 12 tribes, she made visits from her home in Bournemouth to the Devon commune — always greeted with hugs and fruit in her room — and, in the summer of 2004, she was baptised.

    Up to that point, she says, she had not been told about the beatings, and certainly not that she would have to thrash her son. Whenever guests came to stay, members made sure they couldn’t hear the swishing of willow and muffled the children’s cries.

    But soon after her induction her allotted ‘shepherd’ — a bearded American named Lawrence Stern who remains among the commune’s hierarchy — told her it was time to begin ‘correcting’ her boy.

    ‘I can’t remember what he was supposed to have done wrong, but he was only six and it was something very minor,’ she recalls.

    ‘I was told he must touch the floor with his hands so his bottom was in the air. Because he was young and just starting to be disciplined, I was told “only” to hit him five times, and to explain to him beforehand why I was doing it: to cleanse his conscience. It’s all supposed to be done very calmly, never in anger.

    ‘But when you hit a child [with a stick] for the first time, they instinctively drop to the floor and curl up to protect themselves, so I went to Stern and said I was having difficulties.

    ‘He just said that if my son wouldn’t let me complete all five strokes I would have to keep going back to the beginning and starting again, even if I had got to number four, because a child who hadn’t willingly accepted the discipline hadn’t been cleansed.

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  13. Eventually, my son stopped resisting, but I had to hit him a lot of times. He had stripe marks and bruises.’

    Vicki says the willow rods would sometimes snap as a child was being beaten, but Stern’s wife, Chassida, kept a stock of replacements.

    Children weren’t only beaten by their parents, she says. If they were being looked after by another adult in the group, that person was also permitted to ‘correct’ a child with the stick.

    Today, living a new life in Yorkshire with her son (now in his teens and remarkably well-adjusted, she says) Vicki is clearly ashamed of her actions. But she was then so thoroughly ‘brainwashed’, she says, she was convinced she was ‘saving him from Hell’.

    Had she known the dark secrets she has since learned about the Twelve Tribes and its dubious leader, Spriggs — or Yoneq, as he prefers (all members have ancient Israelite names) — she might have been less gullible.

    Now a wizened 76-year-old with a straggly grey beard and shoulder-length hair, Spriggs was a high-school guidance counsellor as well as a carnival front-man before dropping out and living as a hippy in California, where he formed his own church.

    Then, 40 years ago, reputedly declaring himself to be a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, he decamped with 1,000 followers to Vermont and set up a commune, later sending missionaries to start 12 new ones in Europe, Australia and South America: each representing an original tribe of Israel.

    They are run on the profits of a string of bakeries, delis and small factories, and it has been reported that the cult has a sizeable fortune, stashed in offshore accounts. Though it must be said that by comparison with other American religious cult leaders, Spriggs appears to live relatively modestly.

    The scandal surrounding him concerns his private life. Along with homosexuality and racial equality (both of which go against Old Testament teaching, the cult claims) the greatest sin in the TT’s eyes is adultery, which is punishable by banishment. According to former members, however, the rules abruptly changed when Spriggs discovered that his younger fourth wife, Marsha, had enjoyed illicit affairs with at least two young ‘disciples’.

    Perhaps fearing a mass defection, Spriggs ordered her transgressions to be covered up, it is claimed. When the truth emerged, in an email from one of Marsha’s lovers, he forgave her.

    All this is documented on anti-cult websites. Among followers, however, their prophet is beyond reproach, not least for his stance in the Twelve Tribes’ greatest victory. It came in 1984 when, alerted to the child beatings and other alleged offences, state authorities raided the Vermont compound and took 114 children into care.

    Quoting Proverbs 13:24 — from which derives the adage ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ — Spriggs stood defiant, hiring a slick lawyer (who later joined the cult) to persuade a judge the state had acted unconstitutionally and order the children’s release.

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  14. Since then, the U.S authorities have tolerated the cult’s child-rearing methodology, which is now enshrined in a 147-page manual, littered with Biblical references which supposedly justify ‘spanking’, as the group call it.

    Entitled ‘Our Child Training Teachings’, the parental handbook is adorned with happy family photographs, glossing over another uncomfortable truth: that many Twelve Tribes families have been torn apart by their views over whacking their children.

    For Vicki, the iniquity of striking children in the name of religion dawned as she witnessed the fear of two of Stentwood Farm’s youngest infants.

    One was a four-year-old girl, whose ‘sin’ was to bundle up some rags (since dolls are banned) and pretend she was cradling a baby in her arms. The other, also four, was a boy who, though suffering from some form of autism, wasn’t taken for professional help, for the Twelve Tribes only resort to that in the most desperate circumstances (in France one couple were jailed for failing to seek medical treatment for a child who died of a heart defect).

    Instead, he was regarded as persistently naughty, and suffered the painful consequences. So after living amid this regime for six months, Vicki sunk into a deep depression, the cult-prescribed therapy for which was that she must ‘roar like a lion’. It only lifted after she and her son fled the farm.

    A few weeks later she gave a nine-hour statement to a police child protection officer, reporting not only the beatings, but circumcisions carried out without medical training and other apparent offences.

    Social services were alerted, but to her disgust nothing was done. This week, a spokesman for Devon council told the Mail: ‘They [the allegations] were looked into but we were unable to substantiate the concerns which were raised then.’

    Now, he said, a fresh review had been launched and they would ‘gather as much evidence as possible . . . from any possible source’ and decide whether to begin a formal investigation.

    But the commune’s elders told me they had nothing to hide and would gladly open their doors to the authorities. Yet they were deeply discomfited by my arrival, demanding I leave the supposedly welcoming tea-room.

    But before I left the farm, one of the elders — I believe he was Stern — told me: ‘We do correct our kids when they are wrong, but we believe this promotes love, like the Bible says. We want to learn to love one another. We don’t go out on the streets and tell other people how to live their lives. We’re not closed about our methods but we aren’t trying to shove them down people’s throats to change society.’

    Had I been permitted to meet the children, Vicki says they would probably have seemed deceptively well cared-for, having been cowed into an almost robotically tranquil state.

    This may also explain why, even as they were being snatched from their parents, the German children seemed devoid of emotion.

    So, next weekend, when they have the rare privilege of staging a play, villagers will doubtless be charmed by the seldom-seen tribal children — never suspecting how they might suffer once the curtain falls.

    Additional reporting by Simon Trump


  15. A note about the article above. What Vicky describes is very similar to how children were treated in the Children of God cult, now The Family International. The longest child custody case in the UK concerning that cult reveals many of the same abusive tactics used by the Twelve Tribes. see:


    This document was originally 295 pages long, prepared by the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Ward, and signed on October 19, 1995.

    It is a ground-breaking legal document which details not only a trial for custody of a child born into The Family and resident in the UK; not only how The Family were forced through the court's far-reaching international powers to comply with a significant number of fundamental changes and requirements placed on them by the court; but also how the writings, doctrines, practices, leadership and the group's treatment of children were placed under scrutiny. In effect, the entire Family was on trial.

    Leaving no stone unturned, the Court investigates 1000s of pages of never before revealed internal documents, employs the opinions of investigative experts and social workers, and personally interviews many witnesses.

    In a remarkable display of even-handedness, the Judge finds the Family lacking in frankness, and disingenous in its attempts to skirt the responsibility and blame for lives damaged by its doctrines and pracrtices.

    An interesting detail about the early days of the COG cult was the division of members into tribes. Did Spriggs copy that from David Berg, founder of the COG cult? Possibly. There is another chrisitian cult in the US referred to as the garbage eaters that also may have copied tactics from Berg. The early Jesus People and COG used to get tons of free food out of the garbage bins behind supermarkets. I did it myself many times. see:


  16. Secrets of the family

    Peace, love and mind control - one Sydney couple's journey through the Twelve Tribes religious cult.

    by Tim Elliott, Sydney Morning Herald December 14, 2013

    One Saturday in October 1996, Mark Ilich and his wife Rosemary did something they would regret for the rest of their lives. They attended the Newtown Festival. It was a warm spring day and the festival, in Sydney's inner west, was busy with music and people. Together with their daughter Undila, who was six, and their three-year-old son, Abraham, Mark and Rose wandered about, then sat down on a patch of grass in front of the stage, where various acts were playing.

    Mark, now 53, is originally from New Zealand, but moved to Australia in 1984. A glazier and professional musician, he is contagiously optimistic and compulsively friendly. Rose is more reserved, but highly curious. She grew up in Spain and Paris and speaks several languages. They describe themselves as "idealistic". "We have always been interested in trying to come back to what seemed like a more natural, sustainable, fulfilling way of life," Rose tells me.

    On that day in 1996, however, the couple were at a crossroads. They had just returned from two years in Spain during which they had struggled to find work. Now they were back in Sydney, living in an apartment in Coogee that belonged to Mark's brother. "We weren't exactly desperate, but we were at a loose end," Rose says. "We were hungry to make friends, to have a stable social life. I'd come to the conclusion that I didn't care who people were, I was just going to take them as they are."

    After a while on the grass, Mark got up to walk around. Half an hour later he returned, clutching a pamphlet entitled A Brotherhood of Man. A friendly woman in a long dress with long hair had given it to him, saying, "You look like you need a home."

    The pamphlet was produced by a group called the Twelve Tribes. "Where is the brotherhood of man that John Lennon imagined in his song?" it asked. "Where are the dreamers who have given up their possessions so that greed and hunger could be done away?"

    The pamphlet mentioned Jesus, "the ultimate dreamer", who was referred to by his Hebrew name, Yahshua; it also quoted the Bible. But it rejected mainstream Christianity, denouncing it as "the whore spoken of in Revelations".

    All this appealed to the Ilich family. "I'd always condemned the mainstream church," says Rose. "We'd also visited a few communes in Europe.

    I said to Mark, 'If these guys are what they proclaim to be, this could be the community we're looking for.' "

    A few days later, Rose called the number on the pamphlet and spoke to a woman called Shomrah, who invited them to visit the group at Peppercorn Creek Farm, a nine-hectare property it owns near Picton, south-west of Sydney.

    The Iliches drove down that Friday, arriving at 7pm, in time for the evening gathering. They were greeted by a man with a long beard called Asher. (Asher's real name was Andrew McLeod, but like all members of the Twelve Tribes he had, upon joining the community, been given a Hebrew name.) Asher showed them to a guest room in the main farmhouse, where they left their bags. He then took them to a big tent full of people dressed in simple clothes. There were lounges and chairs and tables set with flowers and candles. There was music, too, a piano and an accordion, and beautiful, home-cooked food.

    "I remember everyone was super interested in us," Mark says. "There was a guy called Yotham, who stayed with us all night, who was always telling me, 'I really like you, you seem like a really nice guy.' It was like we were part of an instant family."

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  17. Mark and Rose and the kids stayed that night and the next day and the night after that. In the morning they drove back to Coogee, got changed and went to the Glebe Street Fair, where the Twelve Tribes had a cafe stall similar to the one at Newtown. Yotham was there, with some of the musicians. Members of the group were dancing and they invited Mark and Rose to dance, too. "We are a family and you can be part of it," Yotham told Rose, as they spun about in the sunshine. "We can go grey together; our children will marry each other."

    Rose and Mark were sold.

    One of the first things the Iliches did was return to their flat in Coogee, accompanied by one of the community's "elders", a man named Israel. Israel told them what to keep and what to throw away. Most of their possessions - the kids' clothes, Mark's surfboard, books, toys - had a "spirit" about them and were deemed unsuitable. The Iliches had a small car, which they gave to the community, and some money in the bank, which they also handed over.

    In January 1997 they were baptised, or "washed for their sins", in the creek that runs behind the farm, and given new names: Mark became Qatan ("childlike", in Hebrew); Rose became Asarelah (meaning "virtuous"). There were about 70 people in the community, including a dozen or so families, some of them second generation. "That's one of the things that attracted me," Rose says. "I thought, well, people have grown up here and decided to stay, so it must be good."

    The Twelve Tribes group was founded in 1972, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by a former high school guidance counsellor and carnival showman called Eugene Spriggs, known in the movement as "Yoneq". The group has 3000 members worldwide, with communities in the USA, Canada, France, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and England. The Australian "tribe" was established in the early 1990s by an American named Scott Sczarnecki (who has since left), and William Nunally, or Nun (pronounced Noon), another American who remains a senior figure at Peppercorn Creek Farm.
    Following a hybrid of Judaism and Christianity, the group's aim is to re-create the 12 tribes of Israel, thereby ushering in the return of Yahshua, who will arrive like a "King coming for his bride when she is fully prepared for Him". Members use the Old Testament as a blueprint for their lives. The insistence on communal living, hard work and, most controversially, harsh child discipline, are all modelled on life in "the first church of Jerusalem", before the advent of the clergy, which the group abhors. Marriage outside the Tribes is forbidden, with elders and even Yoneq himself acting as matchmaker.

    The group has been likened to the Amish, with whom they share some similarities, particularly in regard to marriage and modern technology. Wives must submit to their husbands, and are encouraged to have at least seven children. Condoms and the pill are forbidden. Mainstream medical care is likewise shunned, something observers have linked to what appears to be a higher than normal rate of stillbirths. (Rose had a stillbirth in 2001 and says she knew of five in her time at Picton.)

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  18. Community life is strictly regimented. Members rise at 6am (except on Saturday, the Sabbath, when they rise at 7am), woken by a blast of the "shofar", or ram's horn. There is a morning gathering, or "minchah", at 7am, which includes prayers and singing, followed by work, either in the farmhouse, kitchen or fields. (One of Mark's first jobs was to tend the farm's 30-strong flock of merino sheep.) The community also operates many businesses, including bakeries, cafes, house painting and demolition crews, to which Mark, and later, his son Abraham found themselves assigned. Children, meanwhile, are home-schooled using specially approved texts printed on site. There is no TV, internet, magazines, newspapers or radio. Members are discouraged from contacting former friends or family and do not vote.

    Mark and Rose weren't particularly religious, but they were impressed by the group's commitment and the sense of the farm being "one big family". "One of their teachings is to 'Take counsel from the least', meaning everyone is listened to," Rose says.

    Early on, Mark and Rose were each assigned a "shepherd", a senior member whose spiritual insight enabled them to act as a mentor. "My shepherd was a woman called Bakhirah," Rose says. "If I had any problems in my marriage, any concerns or troubles, I'd go to her and open up."

    And there was a lot to open up about. The teachings, some of which come from the Bible and others from Yoneq, stress the deep iniquity of the outside world, a dark place in which the only light is one's conscience. Failing to follow your conscience inevitably sees one consigned for eternity to the "Lake of Fire". Members are encouraged to "renew your mind" - a phrase from the apostle Peter - and to be "an open book before your brethren", always "sharing" your sins, either with the elders, your shepherd, or at the gatherings.

    The Iliches' sins were considerable. Rose, for example, had slept with men before getting married; she had also "rebelled" against her mother. Mark, meanwhile, had played drums in a rock band ("I had a 'drum spirit', apparently," he says). He had also surfed and smoked marijuana. "They present a very high standard," Rose says. "It's all you hear, all the time, and so you start judging yourself by this standard. Your thinking becomes very black and white. At the same time, they present themselves as the only way to truly obey God, whose spirit they embody. So if you disagree with the elders or your shepherd, you're disagreeing with God himself."

    The pressure to confess was considerable. If just one member held back, God could not answer anyone's prayers that day. And so Rose would scour her mind daily for any hint of sin. "In the end you run out of things and your mind invents trouble." She also began examining Mark's conduct. "They told me Mark was 'worthless' because he'd been seeking 'worth' through other things, like performing music. In the past I'd thought his music was beautiful; now I started to see it as a sign of weakness."

    Rose became suspicious of Mark, thinking he was "full of sin that he wasn't confessing". At the end of each gathering, having tendered their transgressions "like a lamb to God", the group would join hands and engage in a screaming session that lasted several minutes. "At the time it felt therapeutic," she says.

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  19. Mark and Rose were under the impression the group's teachings were drawn from the Bible. In fact, the majority come from the group's founder. Spriggs, 76, is a mysterious figure: a former football player, boxer and soldier, a charismatic evangelist whose rejection of "rote religion" in the 1970s proved popular with the "Jesus freaks" of the counterculture. Though initially predicated on an open-door policy - there was "no leader", and everyone was a "priest" - his movement has become increasingly fundamentalist and authoritarian.

    "Spriggs regards himself as the Anointed One, with a direct pipeline to God," says David Pike, an ex-member of one the group's tribes, Manasseh, in the US. "He comes off as loving but is the perfect picture of a narcissistic cult leader. One thing I'll always remember is what he used to call a 'spirit check', when he'd come up behind a male disciple and slap his back as hard as he could and wait to see the person's reaction, whether he winced or jumped or brought his fists up. I hated it."

    Spriggs is thought to live mostly in Hiddenite, in North Carolina, in an antebellum mansion the group bought in 2006. But he also travels a lot, flying from community to community, his every word transcribed into "teachings" (or "the anointing") which are published in Intertribal News, the movement's in-house newsletter.

    Spriggs's teachings, some of which are withheld until members are deemed capable of "receiving" them, are frequently bizarre. He has said that "submission to whites is the only condition by which blacks will be saved" and that Martin Luther King was "filled with all manner of evil". (The group denies it is racist, pointing out that they have high-profile black members in America.)

    The teachings are also minutely prescriptive, shaping every aspect of members' lives. Spriggs insists that men wear beards, since it was only the Romans who started shaving. He forbids wristwatches, which he considers a vanity, and has decreed that all members eat with chopsticks in order to speed the group's movement into Asia. Diet is strictly regulated: no sugar, chocolate, coffee or tea, with plenty of flax seed, whole grains and millet, and an emphasis on cultured foods, like yoghurt and kombucha. "At one stage chilli was strictly prohibited," Rose says. "Then it was permitted again."

    All Twelve Tribes members are instructed to finish their showers with a cold rinse, which Spriggs believes boosts the production of white blood cells. When Rose asked her shepherd how cold it had to be, she was told: " 'Straight cold, even in winter, for one to two minutes.' If I tempered it with hot, I was allowing my 'flesh' to be stronger than me."

    Michael Painter, who spent 18 years with the Tribes in the US and rose to become third in command, has described Spriggs's approach as "teeth, hair and eyeballs". "It was thought that if God doesn't control your teeth, hair and eyeballs, he doesn't have you."

    But Spriggs's strictest teachings pertain to child-rearing. Children have a special place in Twelve Tribes eschatology, which holds that Yahshua can return only when God has, through the movement, brought forth 144,000 perfect male children, "so pure that fire comes out of their mouths". Raising obedient offspring then, is imperative. Children must at all times be "covered", a Twelve Tribes term meaning supervised by an adult. They must not play games (playing is "dissipation"). They must not have toys. They must not whistle. They must not engage in make-believe or fantasy, or possess books that anthropomorphise nature, depicting, for instance, a talking dog or a smiling sun. "At Picton, kids weren't even allowed to talk to one another unless covered by an adult, since this could only lead to 'foolishness', " Mark says.

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  20. According to Mark, unquestioning obedience is mandatory: children must reply "Yes, Abba" (Hebrew for father) or "Yes, Ima" to any parental command. Any breach earns a spanking with the "rod", a 50-centimetre-long plastic stick, one of which is kept above the door ledge in every room. Parents are instructed on how to use the "rod" in monthly child-training sessions and also in a 267-page Child Training Manual, a copy of which Mark and Rose received after their first year. Written by Spriggs, the manual insists that "you must make it hurt enough to produce the desired result" and that "stripes from loving discipline show love by the parent".

    "It's called 'the rod and reproof', " Mark says. "The kids are not meant to cry. They're meant to 'receive' their discipline quietly. Then you tell them why you hit them and they say, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' It becomes a ritual."

    Children aren't beaten only by their parents. Any "covering" adult can "correct" them. Abraham was beaten regularly, by numerous adults, either on the hand (six strokes) or bottom (12). "The more you cried, the more you got spanked," he says. "If it was a lady and I was beaten on the bottom, my pants were kept on. But if it was a man, he put my trousers down and beat me directly on my skin."

    The beatings started at the age of four. "The first time I cried a lot. But I stopped crying forever when I was 12." By then, he had decided to rebel. "I decided I would never do what they wanted me to do, unless I was beaten until I couldn't take any more pain, and then I would obey."

    In 1984, alerted to claims of abuse, US authorities raided the group's Vermont headquarters, taking 112 children into care. (The raid was deemed unconstitutional and the children later released.) The group has been investigated for child abuse several times over the past decade in the US, France and Germany. In September this year, Bavarian police removed 40 children from two Twelve Tribes communities following a TV program that showed footage, obtained with hidden cameras, of adults beating six children with 83 strokes of a cane in the space of a few hours.

    The group has repeatedly denied allegations of child abuse. Responding on its US website, it describes the Bavarian raids as "unjust" and suggests the authorities had been "manipulated by unseen spiritual powers".

    The Iliches found the child discipline particularly difficult. Their oldest daughter, Undila, was largely compliant and their youngest daughter, Lebana, who'd been born in 1998, was still a toddler. But Abraham was problematic. "He was a normal boisterous boy, which to them is unacceptable," says Rose. "I ended up having to spank him almost constantly, for everything." Abraham soon became labelled a "rebellious element", something for which Mark and Rose were blamed. "We were bad parents," she says.
    This became their signature stigma. In 2001, when Rose delivered a stillborn baby boy, she was told it was because she was "full of sin". "Mark's shepherd came into my room while I was still in bed and said it was 'God's kindness' that the baby had died, because it would be evil to bring a baby into the world with parents like us." Soon afterward, the elders forbade them from having sex altogether. "And we actually complied," Rose says.

    Many times during our conversations I ask Mark and Rose why they didn't leave. "Leaving is not an option," Rose says. "You have to understand how brainwashed you become. You lose the ability to think critically."

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  21. They were also afraid. The Tribes consider an ex-member someone who was once enlightened and wilfully chose darkness, and who is thus more evil than an ordinary non-believer. "Nun told us that people who leave become prostitutes or homosexuals, that you'll suffer sickness, die an early death and go straight to hell."

    One former member from Picton later told Rose how she had taken a flight to Auckland shortly after leaving. "She was terrified the whole time that God would make the volcanoes underneath them erupt, killing everyone on board."

    Besides, there was little time to think. "You work the entire time," says Rose. "The first thing I'd do in the morning was report to my 'covering sister', who would give me my chores for the day - cooking, cleaning, child minding." Mark, meanwhile, found himself assigned to painting crews and construction and demolition teams.

    The Tribes are nothing if not industrious. They own at least 24 businesses worldwide and are extremely well resourced, especially in America, where they operate furniture stores, kids' clothing outlets, a printing press, leather shops, soap factories, wholefood outlets, cafes, bakeries and several multimillion-dollar construction firms, the biggest of which, Builders of Judah, specialises in nursing homes and historic restorations. They also own a maté farm (maté is a tea-like herb) in Brazil, which according to David Pike, now makes "huge money for them".

    In Australia, as elsewhere, members are not paid for their labour. "I'd regularly do 12-, 15-hour days," Mark says. "I built their Common Ground Cafe in Rozelle and their Yellow Deli in Katoomba. Every year we'd build the Common Ground Cafe at the Royal Easter Show."

    The businesses were highly profitable. "Once I helped them carry $40,000 in cash out of the Easter Show. But I never saw a cent."

    When Abraham turned 13, he was taken out of school - "they told me I had a bad influence on the other students" - and set to work, digging trenches and chopping trees. By the age of 14 he was working with Mark in a bakery in Lidcombe, where the Tribes made buns to sell at the Woodford Folk Festival.

    "The bakery was the worst," Mark says. "For the first three weeks we slept on mattresses with doonas, on the ground, in a shed next to the bakery. We ate from the bakery, every night, doing 12-, 15-, even 20-hour days."

    After 18 months at the bakery, Mark snapped. "I just said, "F... this, I'm leaving.' I didn't tell Rose - anything I told her, she'd tell the elders. So my son and I just pissed off. We hitched a ride to Sunnyholt Road. I had some spare change in my pocket and I called my brother, Peter, who lived in the Blue Mountains and told him to pick us up."

    Mark and Abraham slept at Peter's house that night. But the next day, Israel turned up. "Israel had met my brother and he knew where he lived. He also knew that we had next to no money and that I'd be at Peter's place."

    Mark and Abraham surrendered and were driven back to the community.

    Mark's family, most of whom live in New Zealand, never had any suspicions about the Twelve Tribes. "They just thought we were in a nice Christian community," he says. But Rose's family was different. "We knew from the beginning that it was a cult," says Rose's sister, Cathy Cruzado, who lives in Paris.

    In 2000, Cathy and her brother Henry made plans to visit Rose in Sydney. But when Rose told the elders of their imminent arrival, all hell broke loose. "Nun became convinced my family was coming to get me," Rose says.

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  22. Within a week, Rose, Mark and the three children were on a plane to Spain, where they were installed in a Twelve Tribes community in Zeberio, in the Basque Country. Rose's mother lived nearby, in Laredo, just 20 minutes' drive away, but Rose was not allowed at first to visit her. Instead, she was instructed to call Cathy and Henry and tell them that she and the family were in Boston. "The whole time, one of the Spanish leaders, a guy called Yowcef Rodriguez, was sitting next to me," Rose says. Cathy was upset and cancelled her flights. But Henry decided to go anyway, visiting the community in Picton, where he was served tea and cake "by robotic looking ladies wearing large skirts".

    "I talked to the leader," says Henry. "He was courteous and charming until I asked him his reasons for hiding my sister, when he laughed in my face and replied that he had no idea of Rose's whereabouts."

    Henry would make a total of five trips to Australia over the next decade, often with Cathy. They contacted Matthew Klein, an ex-Twelve Tribes member, for help and worked with Melbourne cult buster Raphael Aron. "I travelled 100,000 kilometres and saw my sister once, for a total of 10 minutes," Henry says. "It was in 2004 and Rose had finally agreed to meet me at Peppercorn Creek Farm."

    Henry had brought a rolled poster of the Cruzado family tree since the 16th century, to show Rose that she already had a family. But Rose rebuffed him. "I was scared stiff of Henry, because the elders had been saying he was part of an anti-cult movement and that he'd kidnap me and the kids."

    The minute Henry appeared, Abraham and his sisters were whisked away by an elder and hidden in the roof of the main building. "I was devastated," Abraham later recalled, "because I knew I'd just missed the best and perhaps the last chance to escape."

    Dodging Rose's family was surprisingly easy: whenever Henry showed up, the family would simply be shuffled between a network of properties - an apartment in Leura, a house in Burwood, a hotel in Lithgow. At one stage the Tribes rented them a bungalow near Parramatta, then a house on the beach in Coledale, and later a home at Seven Mile Beach, near Gerroa. The elders were so paranoid about Rose's family finding them that they wouldn't allow Mark to renew his New Zealand driving licence. "They thought the authorities might use it to track us," Mark says.
    Mark enjoyed living at Gerroa; for one thing, it meant he wasn't slaving his guts out. It also meant he could go surfing again. "I'd found this board in the rubbish and repaired it," he says.

    But one day, when Mark and Abraham were out in the surf, some elders paid a surprise visit. "Man, were they angry," says Mark.

    The elders took the family back to the farm where they staged a meeting or "cohol", interrogating Mark for five hours. "They just hammered me," he says. "They were quoting verses from the Bible, telling me I 'loved the world', and that anyone who 'loves the world would lose their life'. "

    Their solution was to split up the family, sending Mark and Abraham away, firstly to Katoomba, then to Bargo, while the women stayed on the farm. "Rose was allowed to visit me from time to time," says Mark, "so that I could see Lebana, who was still only little."

    Throughout the mid 2000s, Mark and Abraham were allowed to come back to the farm from time to time to reintegrate. But Abraham would invariably do something "worldly" - cut his hair, smoke a cigarette, wear his trousers low - and be reprimanded. Then, when Abraham turned 15, the elders asked if he would like to "get washed", or baptised. "You can all get f...ed," he told them. "The elders almost had a heart attack," Mark says. "After that, they sent us away again, to this farm they own in Bigga."

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  23. The property, near Crookwell in the NSW southern highlands, was 460 hectares, with no power, water or house. "We just lived in this shed," Mark says. "Drank rainwater off the roof. They put a phone on for us and gave us gas cylinders to cook with. And every few weeks, Rose would visit." Their job was to chop wood, which was taken to Picton for heating. But Mark was increasingly disillusioned. "I was just so pissed off by then. Rose was in turmoil, too."

    Then, in 2009, the elders sent Mark and Abraham to New Zealand. "They just wanted us out," he says. "So they gave me a couple of hundred dollars and said, 'Your New Zealand family can look after you.' "

    It was in Auckland that Mark finally decided to leave the group. "I rang Rose and said, 'I think I'm leaving.' She said, 'My life is with you, I'll come with you.' "

    Mark had the family sent over, ostensibly just to visit. Once there, he told them of his decision. Abraham was thrilled: "That's the best thing you've ever told me," he said. But Undila was devastated. She didn't want to leave, and began crying. She was due to marry Erez, a young man who had been sent over from the community in France. So Mark let her return. "That was the stupidest thing I ever did," he says now.

    The family spent a year in Auckland before returning to Sydney. "We wanted to be closer to Undila," Mark says of the decision to return. "At that stage we thought we might have a chance of maintaining contact."
    But they were wrong. Undila, who had a daughter in 2011, has made it clear she wants nothing to do with her family. "When you ring her she says doesn't want to talk to us," Mark says. "When you go there, her husband comes to the gate and says, 'Look, I told you, you're not allowed here. Don't come here.' The last time we went there, Rose got very emotional. She was crying. Our little granddaughter was there, and a couple of elders came up to cover the situation."

    Mark and Rose now live in the Blue Mountains, with Lebana and Abraham, and are slowly putting their lives back together. Mark works in maintenance and has got back into surfing and music. He plays drums in a band called the Fabulous Shapelles and gives drum lessons at home. "I'm 53 years old, but it feels like I'm 21," he says. "It's like I'm starting over again, because you come out with nothing."

    Rose works as a cleaner. "It's a bit of a disappointment to my family," she says. "I don't want to spend my life being a cleaner."

    She has read about mind control, trying to come to terms with her experience. "When I look back, I can't believe it all happened. It's so bizarre. It's like I became a completely different person."

    In the cult, she notes, they decide who has the right to exist and who does not. "But here we are," she says. "We still exist. That's something."

    - The Twelve Tribes was approached by Good Weekend, but declined to comment.


  24. NOTE FROM PERRY BULWER: A warning about the following article. It is written by cult apologists who down play the abuse of children in what they refer to as New Religious Movements (NRM), more commonly known as cults. You will notice that they only refer to the rights of parents, but never to the rights of children. The dismiss outright or downplay well-documented physical abuse of children through corporal punishment, and do not even acknowledge the spiritual abuses or the rights of children to religious freedom, which includes the right to be free from religion. But when children are indoctrinated from birth into one religion, are isolated from society and are intellectually and spiritually abused, then both their inherent rights as children, and their future rights as adults to make their own decisions are completely violated. These apologists are intellectually dishonest in my opinion.


    Update on the Raid of the Children of the Twelve Tribes in Germany


    ("Susan Palmer (McGill University, Canada) and Liselotte Frisk (Dalarna University, Sweden) writing from the Twelve Tribes' farm in Klosterzimmern," February 7, 2014)

    On September 5, 2013 there was a massive police raid on the Twelve Tribes, a communal NRM in Germany. A hundred police (local and “criminal”) and around 60 social workers descended at dawn on the two farming communities of Klosterzimmern and Wörnitz. The raid came as a complete surprise to the sleeping families. The police seized 40 children from 16 families and drove off in 25 vans.

    This raid was prompted by allegations of physical abuse. But when doctors examined the children, they found no evidence. “But they can´t admit they made an error,” one father said. “They are trying to construct a case against us, inviting ex-members and sekt experts for information.”

    It has been almost five months since the Jugendamt (youth services) obtained a judge’s temporary injunction for protective custody order, which took away the parental rights of members of the Twelve Tribes. Today, in January 2014, twenty-three children (including babies and two or three year olds) are still in the custody of the German state, and the biological parents are allowed very little contact.

    As one father put it, “I have no right to determine the whereabouts of my own child.”

    A communal and millenarian new religion movement, the Twelve Tribes emerged out of the Jesus People movement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1970s. Its founder, Eugene Spriggs, and many of his disciples had roots in Christian fundamentalist churches, where spanking one’s children was (and still is) noncontroversial. The Tribes advocate disciplining their children with a “thin rod”, and quote Bible verses to support this practice.

    In Germany spanking children is against the law. In 2000 a law promoting “non-violent education” was passed, and it has been strictly enforced since 2008.

    The September 2013 raid was exceptional. Normally, when abuse is suspected, the Jugendamt (Youth Office) is required by law to send social workers to work with individual families to help them resolve problems. Only in extreme cases are children taken by the state. In this case, there was no warning. This emergency action was justified by the concern expressed that the “sekt” would flee.

    Three nursing mothers were permitted to stay with their infants and four older children in an institution. But on December 9 there was a second police raid - to the surprise of the institution’s care workers. Babies were seized and the all seven children were bundled into separate cars that drove off in different directions.

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  25. After the September raid, most of the parents did not see their children for four months. In January they were permitted visits, but only every two or three weeks, for an hour or two. These visits are supervised by a pair of social workers taking notes and parents are warned not to try to “influence” their children. At the same, the older children are obviously being exposed to anticult attitudes to the “sekt”. After four months, small children who live with foster parents are forgetting their mother tongue. Some fail to even recognize their own mothers and fathers. Promises made by social workers in the raid - that brothers and sisters could stay together - were later broken. The Jugendamt split up siblings so that children can be “free to develop their personalities”.

    The Tribes worry that foster parents are bribing or “defiling” their children with a pork diet, television, internet, candies and toys. Parents report that many of the exiled children are not doing well. Some are in convents, others in shelters for delinquent teens. Two boys, one diabetic boy and one who fell down a staircase, have been rushed to hospital. But a fifteen year-old lad who broke his wrist has received no medical care. Some appear traumatized by being separated from parents and family, and are constantly asking to see a beloved brother or sister.

    One 14-year old declared in court that he wanted to go home, but the lawyer assigned to him said, “He has clearly stated his will, but his will has been broken growing up in the Twelve Tribes, so this is not his will - and he should remain in custody “for the well-being of the child.”

    This same boy later escaped out through a window and took the train home. Police recaptured him the next day, His parents took him to the higher court to be able to “declare his will”, and he was forced to return to the foster home while awaiting the court’s decision. Then he escaped a second time. Finally, the court acknowledged it was his will (or else he was hopelessly indoctrinated?). Two other teens took escaped from their institutions and returned home. You can read the 17-year-old girl´s account of the raid, her escape to Switzerland with her younger sister, and their traumatic recapture by the police, (see “Diary of an Abused Child” on www.twelvetribes.com).

    The Jugendamt dates back to the World War II, when it was created to provide aid for war orphans. This expert advisory body exists only in Germany, with the status of a Guardian Council. It is independent and autonomous, and its power exceeds even that of the police.

    The Jugendamt can enter a family residence on the basis of an anonymous allegation and, even without a court order, can take a child into custody. This often leads to pre-emptive measures and scrambling for evidence in order to obtain post hoc judicial approval of arbitrary raids. Complaints concerning the Jugendamt have been brought to the attention of the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights - many claiming that its employees defend their own bureaucratic interests and the cultural norms of German social policy.

    Following the September raid, some parents were required by the court to undergo psychological testing. Although they scored high in the “personality” section, because of their biblically-based views on spanking they were deemed “unfit parents”.

    “What they don´t seem to get,” one mother said, “is that they're our children. They belong to us, their parents - and the German Government has no right to steal them!”

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  26. A closer study of this situation reveals a strong “anti-cult” bias at the heart of the conflict.

    Since 2010, a network composed of ex-members, social workers, journalists, sekt experts, and worried relatives has been forming, exchanging information about the fanatical, fundamentalist, patriarchal “sekt” where children are beaten. There was a strong Catholic and Lutheran “counter-cult” presence at the court hearings. Sekt expert, Klaudia Hartmann from the Augsburg Catholic Diocese testified at the September 13 court hearing for the parents from Wörnitz. A Mr. Behnck and other Protestant sekt experts were consulted. Before the raid, on August 21, there were two experts from Sekten-Info Nordrhein-Westfalen to support the Jugendamt´s application for the judge´s temporary custody order. Ex-members were also present at that hearing. Since 2010, ex-members, notably the Reip family, have aired their atrocity stories in the media.

    In June 2013, Wolfram Kuhnigt, a journalist from RTL, infiltrated the Klosterzimmern community posing as a troubled soul undergoing a painful divorce. He planted hidden cameras around the property and beneath the central meeting hall to capture on film the Tribes’ disciplinary practices.

    Kuhnigt stars in his own drama as the deeply concerned investigative reporter embarking on a dangerous mission.

    Scenes of mothers swatting their toddlers three of four times with flimsy balloon sticks are crafted into horror movie scenes through suspenseful music, lurid angles and a biased narrator. Edited out, we were told, are the “hugs of reconciliation” that normally complete the discipline.

    We see close-up shots of Kuhnigt’s face wincing in horror as he watches his own footage, and there is a long narcissistic scene of Kuhnigt shaving off his beard to return in “disguise” to the Tribes’ autumn festival (although they recognized him immediately). We follow the whistle-blowers’ progress as he shows his film to the Jugendamt’s director, and to a sekt expert - actions which set plans for the raid in motion.

    This journalist not only prompted the raid, he stars in the climactic scene - the raid itself. This film was aired on television shortly after the raid.

    Considering Germany’s recent attempt to pass a law against male circumcision, a similar stigmatizing film might have been made about the Orthodox Jews or the Hassidim - but the Jews are still a sensitive topic in Germany.

    Time is of essence for the parents of the Twelve Tribes, especially those with infants and toddlers. For even if they eventually regain custody of their children in the higher court, the court might decide it is in the best interest of the child to let them remain in foster homes - for the child’s “well-being” and “stability”.

    “They are trying to deprogram our children.” one father claimed. “They don´t want the children to go back to the sekt. They are not just worried about spanking. They accuse us of ´breaking the child´s will´ - of interfering with a child’s right to ´freely develop the personality´. An ex-member told them our spanking stops with the Bar Mitvah - but then ´psychological pressure´ begins. So, when we teach our children about Our Creator, to be true to their own conscience, the Jugendamt says we are brainwashing them.”


  27. Tom Olsen describes life as a Neo-Nazi thug and how he was ‘de-radicalised’

    by Debra Killalea NEWS.com.au APRIL 08, 2014

    TOM Olsen was just 16 years old when he joined an ultra-right Neo-Nazi group.

    The young Norwegian teenager had a fascination with world war history and began to sympathise with the Nazi cause.

    He immersed himself in Neo-Nazi literature, further fuelling his extreme views before eventually becoming the leader of a white supremacist group in the 1990s.

    But it didn’t stop there: He was soon involved in acts of violence, twice spent time in jail and he even plotted to kill non-sympathisers.

    His hatred spiralled out of control and he joined the KKK in the US and went to South Africa in 1998 to join the AWB, another white supremacy movement.

    “We enjoyed the respect and fear we got from people, it became quite violent,” he told news.com.au from Norway.

    “It went from fun and exiting to quite stressful and challenging. But we had ourselves, we were brothers and did not see other friends and extended family slip away.”

    He was so convinced his views were right, that he never questioned them or those of the white supremacists around him.

    “I felt like a born-again Christian,” he said.

    “I saw the truth that most people did not. I felt like I had been living a life in a tiny box and now I could see the world for what it really was. I did not question things at all.”

    But it took a lot of pain, suffering, jail time and ultimately learning about what it meant to be human to finally change his ways.

    Mr Olsen’s story tonight features on Changing A Mindset on SBS Insight program. The documentary explores de-radicalisation and changing extreme beliefs.

    He said it was while in South Africa that he began to see his extreme views for what they were, even if he wasn’t ready to leave them just yet.

    Becoming disillusioned with the back-stabbing and in-fighting taking place back in his group in Norway, he slowly began to question the ideology.

    But it wasn’t until he had his life spared by a black man who robbed him in South Africa that things really began to change. Even though Mr Olsen was wearing a swastika t-shirt, the armed black man chose not to shoot him ... instead, he spared his life.

    Mr Olsen went back to Norway and was jailed for another assault and it was while in jail for the second time that he decided he needed to de-radicalise his life.

    “I got time to think and found out I could not stand for this anymore,” he said.

    “So I decided to leave. I called my parents and said it was over. I’ve never looked back.”

    Now 39 and married with a young son, the crime prevention co-ordinator works alongside Tore Bjorgo, a man he once wanted dead, helping to change people who hold radical views he once held himself.

    continued below

  28. He said people could always change their views no matter how extreme.

    If he could talk to his younger self, he would say this: “Rethink your life, I know you don’t feel hate in your heart, life is too short to spend it hating.”
    Mr Olsen is not alone in learning how to change extreme views.

    Insight will also hear from other guests whose thinking and views were so radically different from today it’s hard to believe they are even the same people.

    Yeonmi Park was just a teenager when she escaped North Korea with her parents.

    Ms Park grew up believing North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il was a god who could read her mind and anyone harbouring bad thoughts about him would surely die.

    She was convinced her leader wasn’t even human — something she blames on the country’s propaganda system.

    “I had seen movies from the outside world and had learned some unapproved things, but still, I couldn’t think of them as being human,” she said.

    “In school, we learned that they had almighty powers and could make miracles. So basically I couldn’t think about them being normal people, they were like Gods.”

    Having a middle class upbringing, she enjoyed a comfortable existence in North Korea until her father got arrested and sent to 17 years in jail for apparently trading metals with China.

    “There is guilt by association in North Korea, so my blood was also considered to be tainted,” she said.

    Her family escaped and she was sent to the government-run ‘Hanawon’ resettlement centre, which aims to help defectors discard their old beliefs and integrate into South Korean society.

    But it wasn’t easy changing such a radical mindset.

    “The propaganda is there 24/7, the statues praising them are everywhere, the education system is built on brainwashing people from birth,” the now 20-year-old said.

    “I suppose some people will start to question it after they have the kind of bad experience that my family had, some others it will take time.”
    Matthew Klein and daughter Tessa will also appear on the program revealing how radicalised they were during their time within what he describes as a cult-like commune.

    The father and daughter were part of the Twelve Tribes commune on a farm at Picton, outside Sydney.

    Mr Klein reveals how he was attracted by the group’s reputation as a religious community based on Bible teachings.

    He joined the group with his wife and kids after selling all his family’s possessions.

    But he now believes the group is a cult, and draws on his experience to help others who want to get out.

    Matthew’s daughter Tessa also left the group but her mother — Matthew’s wife — has refused to leave.


  29. Investigation into Devon religious community accused of caning children concludes due to “insufficient evidence”

    By Exeter Express and Echo May 29, 2014

    A DEVON County Council and police probe into whether children have been beaten with canes at a religious community near Honiton has concluded due to “insufficient evidence”.

    In October officers started working with Devon County Council to “thoroughly review” information received about the Twelve Tribes community, which runs the Common Loaf Bakery at Dunkeswell.

    A team of council officers visited the commune on a number of occasions and spent a day with the families and the children alone.

    The information gathered led officers to conclude that there was insufficient evidence to take matters any further at this time.

    The investigation followed concerns raised to officials at the county council’s Children’s Services by the NSPCC.

    The children’s charity approached the council after the community’s belief in their right to use the cane as a form of punishment was highlighted in a national newspaper report.

    The article followed the removal of 40 children from two communities at Klosterzimmern and Wornitz in Germany, following an investigation by an undercover reporter.

    The Honiton community is one of several across the world belonging to the Christian organisation, which was founded in the US.

    It follows teachings in the old and new testaments of the Christian Bible as “God’s direct word” and says its vision is “to form a new nation – the 12 tribe nation of Israel”.

    On its website, the organisation explained “because we love them (our children) we spank them”, with a “small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain not damage”.

    It continued: “We have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority.”

    A Devon County Council spokesperson confirmed that a team of officers had been tasked with “looking very carefully” into the case.

    A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesperson said because the issue was a safeguarding matter the council remains the lead agency, and therefore they would not be commenting further.

    In October, police confirmed that no allegations had been received and there was no formal investigation.

    A member of the group, which call themselves the Community at Stentwood Farm, previously said he had no comment to make on the issue.

    At the time, Tony McCollum, manager of Honiton Market, where the group has a bread stall where leaflets about them are available, said the revelations about the police investigation came as a surprise to him.

    He added: “You couldn’t ask for nicer people.

    “They seem very family orientated – I find it hard to believe they would mistreat their children.”

    At the time, Phillip Noyes, director of Strategy and Development at the NSPCC, said: “Caning of children or the threat of caning is a completely unacceptable method of disciplinary action to take with any child.”

    A council spokesperson added: “The council takes all allegations of abuse extremely seriously.

    “A team of trained and experienced children’s officers have looked very thoroughly into allegations of child abuse at the community and have found insufficient evidence to take further action at this time.

    “If any further allegations are made to us, we will look into them.”


  30. Hate mail slammed at Wolseley public meeting

    Anonymous pamphlet targets religious sect

    By: Randy Turner, Winnipeg Free Press October 20, 2014

    Several Wolseley residents attended a public meeting Monday night to offer support to a local religious group that had been the subject of "hate mail" distributed in the neighbourhood by an unknown accuser.

    The anonymous pamphlet, either hand-delivered or left in mailboxes of several residents, accused the Twelve Tribes commune of a handful of child-related offences, including child abuse and child sexual abuse. The letter urged residents to contact local political representatives, the city police, Child and Family Services and media.

    In response, leaders of the Twelve Tribes group — which runs several businesses in the Wolseley area, including a café and shoe-repair shop — sent out a letter inviting the public and media to an open forum held at the Cornish Library to address the "hate mail targeting" their members.

    At that meeting, however, it became apparent that at least one of the persons responsible for distributing the accusations was, in fact, a former partner of one of the Twelve Tribe members. The two, no longer together, had a child. The pamphlet may stem from an ongoing domestic dispute.

    The man was believed to be delivering the pamphlet, telling residents his child was being harmed by members of the sect. The mother in question, who attended Monday’s forum, said the man has had little contact with the child. "He never was a member of our community," she said.

    Although Twelve Tribes leaders at first stated they had no idea who was responsible for the pamphlet, Maurice Welch, who organized the meeting, later conceded to a Free Press reporter: "We had our suspicions (about the father of the child). He’s made threats toward different members of the community. And he made threats about destroying the community at large."

    "These allegations are false," Welch added. "There’s no substance whatsoever."

    In fact, several Wolseley neighbourhood residents who attended Monday’s forum expressed their anger at the anonymous accuser and defended the Twelve Tribes members.

    "I was never more upset (than) to find this hate mail in my mailbox," said longtime neighbourhood resident Eugenia Ellie. "As far as I’m concerned, it was a real crackpot."

    Lawrence Spatch Mulhall, director of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, also supported the religious group, which has lived in the community for several years.

    "I’ve known these guys forever," Mulhall said. "I’ve been to their house for dinner. They’re probably the most kindly, loving, courteous people I’ve ever met. I was mortified to get that letter."

    Another resident, Cathleen Hjalmarson, said the pamphlet belied Wolseley’s reputation of diversification. "We’re famous for that," she said. "That’s what has made this whole issue even more shocking."

    The Twelve Tribes community was established in Winnipeg in 1993 and numbers about 120 members, including children. They describe themselves as "early Christians" and operate small businesses, which include moccasin-making, a beeswax candle shop and small machine shop. They also operate the Common
    Sense Store/Teahouse and Bakery in St. Boniface.


  31. My six weeks with Winnipeg’s Twelve Tribes community

    Author goes undercover to learn about insular group

    By Michael Welch, for CBC News OPINION October 22, 2014

    I have encountered the Twelve Tribes several times over the years, usually at the booth they would set up at public events like Ciclovia, or the annual Peace and Justice Festival. On one occasion I visited their restaurant on Sherbrook Street and had an enjoyable meal there. I had always had it in the back of my mind to visit their Friday gatherings at their homes in the East Gate area, but never quite got around to it.

    In the spring of 2013, I happened to cross paths with an old acquaintance, a young mother of two. I remember her being very active with the environmental community. We had collaborated on some actions together about six or seven years ago. Shortly afterwards she volunteered with us for a time as a reporter and host at the campus-based radio station CKUW. On one occasion, the two of us managed to gain admittance to a public talk in Winnipeg and managed to level some pretty tough questions at then US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

    This woman, who I’ll refer to as Stephanie, was now ardently involved with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. She had embraced a Hebrew name, embraced their lifestyle and religious views, and lived in the community.

    While I was surprised, I accepted her decision to live her life as she saw fit.

    A little later, I received an email from a friend who started referring to the Twelve Tribes as a child-abusing cult. He had been a regular visitor to the community’s get-togethers. As a health practitioner, he treated a few of them on site. Moreover, his partner, the mother of his child, had chosen to join the community.

    He filled me in on the details, and sent me a list of links detailing the nature of the abuse as he saw it.

    I took some time to study up on what was available on the internet about this group. The links I received from my friend spoke of the repeated spanking of children with wooden sticks, as well as a practice called 'scourging,' in which children would be hit repeatedly with a stick to the point of bruising.

    Entering the community

    I took a leave of absence from my work at CKUW and prepared to enter the community. If the allegations that my friend was making, based on testimonies from ex-members and a German documentary were true, then I owed it to Stephanie, her children and anyone else who may have entered this arena to ascertain the truth.

    By early July this year, I made the decision to reach out to them with a request to live among them. I talked to a 'shepherd' who I had connected with at a Friday gathering. I told one of the shepherds, as they are called, about the recent death of my father and how I was starting to rethink many of my life priorities. We started talking scripture. I was invited to stay with them for as long as I wished.

    continued below

  32. My very first night at their house on East Gate, I wandered around the premises a little to scope out the place. That very first evening I managed to find five of the rods that were described by ex-members. They are slender wooden sticks roughly 60 centimetres long. I found one above a cabinet in the main floor washroom, one in the classroom they turned into a guest bedroom for me, and three in the basement.

    Over the course of the next six weeks I would locate as many as 20 different rods. Usually they were in places you wouldn’t run across them as a casual visitor. It was unsettling to come across these rods and hold one in my hand. I was not anxious to see corroboration of this one unpleasant detail of community life.

    On a typical day, community members would get up early, in time for the 6 a.m. 'Minha.' This is a gathering in which the disciples receive teachings, pray together, and in which everyone is encouraged to openly share their thoughts and feelings. After a communal meal in fellowship, everyone would set off for the tasks of the day.

    Most of us, males anyway, would work at their five-storey building on Des Meurons Street in St. Boniface. The work was quite labour-intensive. Some of us worked in the deli part of the establishment. Others would work in the back either in the machine shop, the on-site bakery, or the room where they packaged their Yerba mate, a kind of tea. Winnipeg is one of the main distribution sites in North America.

    After the first week, I was moved to the farm near Rosser, Man. I took on a number of tasks there from milking goats to extracting honey from the beehives to general household duties.

    Members feel outside world has failed them

    For some people, the community does have a certain allure. The people are very friendly and hospitable, and seem to put a lot of emphasis on transcendent realities. They strive to be spiritual. During my time there, I got to meet members who seemed to be lost in the outside world. Some had come from damaged places. One man, as a twelve year old, learned of his father having an affair with a friend’s mother. Another had a history of drug abuse. Still another struggled with sexual addiction. A common theme was that they felt that the outside world, including and especially orthodox religion, had failed them.

    During my time in community I frequently felt conflicted about what I was doing. It was hard for me to see these sweet people as villains, and it felt wrong being not completely up front with them. It was most assuredly the most deceitful thing I’d ever done.

    I believe there were positive aspects to the community that deserve recognition. Parents spend more time with their children on average than a lot of parents on the outside. There are no iPods, televisions or other electronic gadgets interfering with relations between and among community members. As well, I for one see the merit in involving young people in all aspects of community life. I have a particularly fond memory of participating in a volleyball game where young and old got physically active together.

    The Tribes' views on corporal punishment do not sit well with me, however, and I would not recommend it as a place to raise my young nieces and nephew.

    continued below

  33. Moreover the Tribes subscribe to a very fundamentalist view of biblical teachings. Based on passages from the gospel, new disciples are expected to sell their possessions and contribute to the common purse. I am aware of at least one individual in the Winnipeg community who contributed thousands of dollars to the community when he agreed to join. The community, for whatever reason, felt compelled to expel him, leaving him angry at the loss of his funds.

    It goes without saying that they consider homosexuality a sin.

    Insular community

    The community is very insular, and seems to view outside authorities with suspicion. Every single day they would pray for the community in Germany which had their children taken away by the child welfare authorities based on a documentary depicting the spankings. They anticipate the same kind of persecution descending upon their community here.

    The community has control of what members have access to. No television, radio or newspapers. There is limited access to the internet as it is necessary for running their business. Likewise, certain members have access to cell phones, though their use is for the most part discouraged.

    Children are trained to be absolutely obedient to their parents.

    But they were in an environment that does not promote independent or critical thinking. It is an insular community that allows strangers to walk and work among them. High elders are rarely questioned.

    People giving over their life savings to their common purse cannot expect to be compensated if they choose to leave the community years later.

    They subscribe to a fatalistic view that the apocalyptic events of the Revelations and the book of Daniel will take place in the near future. According to prophecy, as they see it, the Tribes’ children are expected to do battle with the forces of the 'Evil One.'

    Members admit spanking takes place

    I entered the community in the spirit of a private citizen attempting to ascertain whether the people I knew and their children were in good hands. I left the community feeling remorseful about my deception, even though I reasoned, such deceit was a necessary evil.

    I am of the view that the people I knew and liked were decent for the most part. There is an allure to the place that I felt.

    However, Tribe members have admitted to me that spanking takes place. I came close on two occasions to catching them in the act, both times at the shop.

    But the insular nature of the community, the fundamentalist religious beliefs, the suspicion of outside authorities, the fact that strangers with checkered backgrounds are frequently invited in their midst, and the stories from ex-members in other communities around the world about physical and sexual abuse leave me concerned that this is not a place I would wish for children to be raised.

    Michael Welch is a Winnipegger, the News Director at CKUW 95.9FM and a long time community activist. He spent six weeks living within in the Winnipeg Twelve Tribes Community.


  34. Twelve Tribes defends use of sticks to discipline children

    Child and Family Services says it's looking into allegations children might be abused

    CBC News October 22, 2014

    A Winnipeg religious group called Twelve Tribes is defending the way it physically disciplines children, using a type of stick.

    Manitoba's child welfare authorities said they are looking into the group after CBC's story earlier this week.

    Twelve Tribes, a Christian sect with members around the world, defends its behaviour, even though using anything other than one's hand to physically discipline children can be considered assault in Canada.

    The group's spokesperson, Maurice Welch, said the law interferes with parental authority.

    "We are basing what we do on the word of God," he said. "The scriptures make it very clear that if someone 'spares the rod,' they hate their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."

    But a Winnipeg man who counted some of the community's members as friends is also raising concern about the group.

    Michael Welch (no direct relation to Maurice Welch) became concerned about similar allegations and joined the group undercover last summer to investigate for himself.

    Michael Welch said he lived with the group for more than six weeks in Winnipeg's Armstrong's Point neighbourhood.

    He said while he knew he was deceiving them by not telling them he was trying to learn the truth about how they treat their children, he felt he owed it to his friends in the group to find out.

    "If the allegations ... were true, then I owed it to Stephanie [his friend], her children and anyone else who may have entered this arena to ascertain the truth," he wrote in an opinion piece for CBC.

    Sticks easy to find in living quarters

    Welch said it didn't take long to find the instruments the group's critics allege were used on children.

    "That very first evening I managed to find five of the rods that were described by ex-members. They are slender wooden sticks roughly 60 centimetres long. I found one above a cabinet in the main floor washroom, one in the classroom they turned into a guest bedroom for me, and three in the basement," he said.

    He said he found 20 rods over the course of his stay.

    Welch said while the people were kind to him and he never saw children being disciplined with the sticks first hand, he is sure it was happening.

    "Tribe members have admitted to me that spanking takes place," he wrote. "I came close on two occasions to catching them in the act, both times at the shop [on Des Meurons Street]."

    In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Michael Welch maintained the children and adults in the insular community are at risk.

    "The kids seem very closed off from the wider world, so if there was something happening in the community I'm not necessarily satisfied that it would be dealt with in a responsible way," he said. "There's a risk to children and to adults."

    Group numbers about 70 people in Winnipeg

    The sect which has been around some 50 years, has about 70 members in Winnipeg, 20 of whom are children.

    They live in two homes in Armstrong's Point and they own in a farm outside of Winnipeg as well as a shop on Des Meurons Street.

    On Wednesday, the group declined to do another video taped interview, but did speak with CBC by phone.

    Maurice Welch was asked about whether he realized the group could be breaking the law by disciplining children with a stick.

    "We are aware of that," he said. "But we are basing on what we do on the word of God. And the scriptures make it very clear."

    Welch said Twelve Tribes welcomes Child and Family Services investigation.

    Welch maintains the group answers to a higher authority and has no plans to stop using rods to on its children.


  35. Controversy over childrens safety at religious community

    There are questions about child safety within the Twelve Tribes, a controversial religious group

    By Donna Carreiro, CBC News March 18, 2015

    A Queens Bench Justice was so "concerned" for the "safety" of a child in a controversial religious group called the Twelve Tribes that she banned a member of the group from bringing her child to any of their Manitoba locations.

    That condition was set at an emergency custody hearing last summer, and was finalized as permanent in February.

    The case came to light when Jo Hawkins — whose former wife joined Twelve Tribes — learned the group practised corporal punishment. But his biggest concern was when he learned they were hosting a man previously convicted of possessing child pornography.

    "For me personally, it was kind of a perfect storm," Hawkins said.

    "I easily had half a dozen reasons where my guard went up and red flags went up. And then you're getting corroborating evidence and statements. It's just really quite stunning."

    The man was convicted of possessing child pornography back in 2013 in a British Columbia courtroom.

    At the time, court was told he planned to live with the Twelve Tribes community in Winnipeg, once he was released from jail.

    Upon his release, he was ordered not to be around children for three years, unless he had special permission to be accompanied by a pre-approved adult. He was also ordered to register with the Sexual Offender Information Registration Act, ostensibly as a means of keeping track of convicted offenders.

    He then, as planned, moved to Winnipeg to join Twelve Tribes.

    Fast forward to the summer of 2014.

    During the emergency custody hearing, Hawkins presented the court with sworn affidavits by witnesses who said they saw the man interact with children at Twelve Tribes.

    Court was also presented with affidavits from past members who said they practised corporal punishment on their children.

    In response, a Twelve Tribes spokesperson presented another affidavit confirming the man had joined their group, but said he lived in a different location than the children. Their lawyer also said the children were not at risk.

    continued below

  36. Regardless the information presented by Hawkins so concerned the Queens Bench Justice that she banned the mother from bringing her son to any of their Manitoba premises. But close to 30 other children still remained there. And on the week of March 15, a Winnipegger who briefly lived at Twelve Tribes and was roommates with the convicted offender said he, too saw him in the company of children.

    "He had definitely been in all four locations when there were children present.They seemed to be very relaxed about his presence around the children," Michael Welch told the CBC.

    Child welfare officials only confirmed they launched an investigation into allegations of corporal punishment months later, after a member of the Twelve Tribes told the CBC about their method of punishment.

    "We discipline our children with a balloon stick, " Maurice Welch told the CBC in October. "It's a thin, reed-like rod."

    Child and Family Services officials did not respond to a request to comment on the current status of that investigation, nor whether they knew about the earlier concerns from last summer about the member convicted of possessing child pornography.

    And while the province dictates that anyone who suspects child abuse is obliged to report those concerns, in this case, justice officials said there was reasonable doubt.

    A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice told the CBC that because the information the Queens Bench Justice heard was hearsay and not legal evidence, involving the custody of a single child, she was under no obligation to report these concerns to the appropriate authorities.

    "A belief triggering an obligation under section 18 (1) of The Child and Family Services Act must be a ‘reasonable’ belief. Where conflicting evidence exists, as in this case, it may be neither safe nor justifiable for a Judge to draw conclusions from the specific to the more general," a spokesperson said in a written statement.

    A Twelve Tribes spokesperson would not comment, except to say the man convicted of possessing child pornography does not live with them anymore.


  37. Controversial religious group Twelve Tribes reported to Cybertip

    Co-founder of sexual exploitation tip line files her own report over group

    By Donna Carreiro, CBC News March 19, 2015

    The co-founder of a national tip line to report children at risk of sexual exploitation did what she said others should have done months ago: she reported her concerns on Wednesday about kids at risk at the Twelve Tribes, a controversial religious group.

    Roz Prober is co-founder of Cybertip.ca, an anonymous tip line to report suspected cases. She filed her own report with them in response to a CBC News story that revealed that the Twelve Tribes at one point hosted a man convicted of possessing child pornography.

    Prober was also disturbed to learn when that information came out in a child custody court last summer, neither the justice nor the witnesses themselves reported the information to authorities.

    "What they seem to have heard that there was an individual, um, who was potentially breaching his conditions … that should go to law enforcement," said Prober, who is also the co-founder of Beyond Borders, a national organization dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation of children.

    "When we have children who are at risk, it would have been really appropriate if somebody in the courtroom" had passed that information along, she added.

    The case came to light when Jo Hawkins — whose former wife joined Twelve Tribes — learned the group practised corporal punishment. But his biggest concern was when he learned it was hosting a man previously convicted of possessing child pornography.

    The man who was convicted of possessing child pornography joined the Winnipeg branch of the Twelve Tribes in 2013, shortly after his release from a British Columbia jail.

    Upon his release, he was ordered not to be around children for three years. He was also ordered to register with the Sex Offender Information Registry Act, ostensibly as a means of keeping track of convicted offenders.

    continued below

  38. That evidence came out in the custody battle, with sworn affidavits by witnesses who said they saw the man interact with children at Twelve Tribes. Court was also presented with affidavits from past members who said they practised corporal punishment on their children.

    In response, a Twelve Tribes spokesperson presented another affidavit confirming the man had joined their group, but said he lived in a different location than the children. Their lawyer also said the children were not at risk.

    Regardless, the information presented by Hawkins so "concerned" the Queen's Bench judge that during the custody hearing last June, she banned Hawkins's former wife from bringing their son to the group's premises. But close to 30 other children still remained there.

    A spokesperson for the courts told the CBC that the justice did not report the information to authorities because it was based on "hearsay" and not legal evidence.

    That, however, should not have been a factor, said Winnipeg lawyer David Asper.

    Asper, who is now a visiting professor teaching Canadian law at Arizona State University, said the justice did not have to assess the credibility of the information. Instead, she simply could have passed along the transcript from the court proceedings and let the proper authorities investigate it, he said.

    "Really, what difference does it make whether information is sworn in court or not?" Asper said.

    "A lot of times the information that comes to people that gives rise to a duty to report, isn't sworn information. You, you hear about it, you know, on the grapevine."

    A spokesperson for the Twelve Tribes would not comment on the story, other than to say the man in question does not live with them anymore.

    Manitoba Child and Family Services launched an investigation last fall, after a Twelve Tribes spokesperson told CBC's Information Radio that members use wooden sticks to discipline their children. But this week, the department did not respond to requests for an update into that investigation.


  39. Mind control experts monitor Twelve Tribes

    Experts warn extreme beliefs should not warrant extreme behaviour

    By Donna Carreiro, CBC News March 23, 2015

    Child welfare officials are not the only ones who are monitoring the actions of a controversial religious group here in Winnipeg.

    One of North America's leading experts on cults and mind control is also paying close attention to the community known as the Twelve Tribes. And he doesn't like what he sees.

    "One of the things that I am arguing ... is that freedom to believe does not mean freedom to behave in [a certain way]," said Steven Hassan, of both the Freedom of Mind Information Resource Centre Inc and the International Cultic Studies Association.

    "And so I am calling on officials to step into this area and see clearly behaviours that are very concerning."

    Hassan talked to CBC News about Twelve Tribes, which has communities throughout the world, in light of allegations that have recently surfaced about the Winnipeg group. Specifically, members are being accused of practising corporal punishment and disciplining their children with wooden sticks; as a member himself told CBC Information Radio last fall.

    Officials are also investigating allegations that the Winnipeg group hosted a man convicted of possessing child pornography, and let him interact with children.

    These kinds of allegations have dogged the self-described "Christian" group throughout the world; in fact, just last year German officials raided their communities and seized dozens of children from their care.

    But Hassan, who's written several books about cults and mind control, say they succeed, in part, because of both their recruitment and public relations efforts.

    "The appeal is that Armageddon is coming at any moment, and when Judgment Day comes, 'are you going to be with god? Or are you going to be suffering for eternity'?" Hassan said. "But there's also the love bombing feature: 'we're super friendly, we're brothers and sisters, we're living the true Christian life. '

    It's an alluring ideology, he said, especially when someone's in need of direction.

    "You give up everything," he said. "You give up your money, you give up your career, you give up your education ... they give you a new name and there's no stress of 'what do I do for a career?' or, 'how do I find a wife or a husband?' because one is pretty much picked for you."

    Things get sour, he said, when once inside the group, members find themselves taking part in behaviours that go against their own morals and judgments — and feel the wrath of disapproval if they openly show dissent.

    "And that's what my work is all about," said Hassan, who, in the past two decades, has helped ex-Twelve Tribes members and leaders transition out of the group. "(I help) people step back and re-evaluate. Is this really what you think it is? Or is this just a fantasy of what they told you to believe it is?'"

    That approach also drives the advice Hassan gives to those in the general public who interact with members of the Twelve Tribes. "We think it's very important that the community adopt a very respectful, kind attitude to the members," he said.

    "The last thing I recommend is for people to treat members poorly or call them names or to say that 'you're in a cult.'"

    Instead, he said, urge them to reach out to former members, who now live on the outside, and have a better perspective on the inside.

    "Ask them directly: 'what do you think about former members who have been speaking out about what has really been going on inside? Would you consider taking a time-out and exiting the group and ... communicating with people?'" Hassan said. "'Because there are people out there who would really like to help you.""


  40. Ex Twelve Tribes leader warns Winnipeg authorities about religious group

    Fear the mind abuse, not the physical abuse, says former leader with religious group

    By Donna Carreiro, CBC News March 24, 2015

    A former leader in the Twelve Tribes religious group said it wasn't the threat of beatings that kept him in his place. It was the threat of death if he didn't.

    And it's that kind of mind control that Winnipeg authorities need to investigate, he said.

    "I used to go sleepwalking through the house screaming bloody murder because I thought I was going to spin off and fall into the flames of a lake of fire if I ate a cookie or something," said the former leader, who asked not to be identified. "It's [no] wonder I had so many nightmares growing up."

    He was born and raised in the controversial religious community back in the southeastern U-S, where it first started. A close relative is one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Twelve Tribes and in fact, helped to launch the community in Winnipeg back in 1993.

    But while the former member said the original founders who started the community "had very good intentions", he also said in hindsight he knows it was "a cult. Definitely."

    "I was taught to think a certain way about everything," he said. "And so I didn't realize the level of mind control I was under until I left. But in my heart, I knew that something wasn't right."

    Winnipeg's child welfare officials are investigating allegations of corporal punishment against the children who live in the communal setting. But while the former member said "spanking" with wooden sticks was a common occurrence, authorities pay too much attention to that.

    "To me, if a Christian person wants to spank with a balloon stick, without anger, with leaving any marks, whatever, I believe that's their religious right," he said. "I'm just trying to say in regards to spanking … what's happened in the past is that media outlets do a story and it gets sensationalized … and then nothing happens because the Twelve Tribes just dismisses it as religious persecution."

    Instead, authorities need to worry about the mind control that goes on, and the techniques used to achieve it — in effect, creating rules that inform all aspects of their daily life like the current ban on using shampoo, playing the piano and reading books (unless it's The Bible).

    continued below

  41. Even their washroom needs are strictly regimented. But the biggest danger to one's sense of self? The ban on education. Children are only home-schooled and only until their teen years.

    "They want to give an image that they're this peace-loving community and they want to bring Jesus back to the Earth, and end selfishness through love. So people go, 'you know, wow, these are nice people,'" he said.

    "But what people don't understand is that this group does not properly educate their children and that's a big deal. That's a huge deal. That's the main reason that I left."

    But this sense of enlightenment didn't come easy and didn't come quickly for the former member, who only began to doubt the Twelve Tribes in 2008, after a stunning revelation that their leaders were mere mortals. A sex scandal involving one of the leader's wives was revealed.

    "It was like a light bulb went off. (The leader) wasn't God. He was just a man," he said. "That's when my doubts began."

    Through the years that followed, as the rules grew more strict, his own doubts grew too.

    He finally walked away, but it took months of intensive therapy to "deprogram" himself and trust that he could survive on his own.

    Today, he considers himself one of the lucky ones. His wife, also a former member of the Twelve Tribes, joined him in the outside world.

    His kids, for the first time in their lives, are in a public school and thriving. His small business is keeping food on the table.

    And someday, he said, if other relatives want to leave the Twelve Tribes, he'll open his home and take them in.

    As for authorities in Winnipeg still monitoring the community, the biggest favour they can do is to make sure the kids get access to education, he said.

    "That's one of the things the government should be investigating, is their education, because I looked at all my friends who had older children, who were so bitter at their parents for not providing them with an education," he said.

    "So here you got this burden on society because these kids are not educated."


  42. Monadnock Profile: Michael Poster

    By Martha Shanahan, Keene Sentinel Staff May 2, 2015.

    Sometimes, Michael Poster learned, it’s just a matter of trust.

    The Brattleboro-based photographer had taken photos of roller derby skaters, the ordinary lives of Scranton, Pa., residents, and members of a community that thrived, then struggled, through the beginning of a shale oil boom.

    Now the Philadelphia native was taking on another challenge: Basin Farm, the semi-isolated, idyllic farming community just outside of Bellows Falls that is part of the messianic sect of the Twelve Tribes.

    In his studio on the second floor of the Brattleboro Cotton Mill — a sprawling brick building on the outskirts of town — Poster, 64, has hung some of the pictures from some of his projects.

    The women in Poster’s roller derby photographs are unreserved and joyful. The people of Scranton pose and grin confidently. The residents of the rural Pennsylvania towns torn apart by the gas boom, Poster’s former neighbors, stand defintly in their backyards and on sidewalks.

    But, it seemed to Poster, the people living at Basin Farm would be a little harder to reach. For one thing, they wouldn’t respond to a single email.

    In 2012, when he first began trying to contact the community, Poster knew almost nothing about Twelve Tribes, a sect of Old Testament-based religion whose members live in the spirit of the biblical Twelve Tribes of Israel.

    The U.S.-based Christian sect, founded about 40 years ago, has been the subject of harsh criticism from critics who say members’ use of corporal punishment and their seclusion makes them an abusive “cult.”

    In September 2013, German police raided a community affiliated with Twelve Tribes in Bavaria and removed 40 children in response to reports of child abuse there. The members of the sect said they used thin rods to discipline their children, but not to harm them.

    More than 20 years earlier, state troopers and social workers took 112 children in a raid on a Twelve Tribes community in Island Pond, Vt., before returning them later that same day.

    Under a section on the official Twelve Tribes website titled “controversies,” the members dispute common claims that the group is racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and that Twelve Tribes women are subservient to men.

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  43. Because of those accusations several high-profile child custody cases and claims of child labor violations, the members of the Twelve Tribes, who number in the thousands, are notoriously camera shy, Poster said.

    “The people of Basin Farm have been under the microscope since the Twelve Tribes community started in the late ‘70s,” he said. “They feel as if they have not been fairly portrayed, quite often, so they’re always a little hesitant.”

    Poster had also just moved to Vermont a couple of years before, from Pennsylvania, with his wife and daughter. They were “refugees,” he said, of the fracking boom in the rural parts of the state that poisoned wells and families alike.

    When Basin Farm’s leader, a man named David, finally responded to Poster’s emails to say the community would consider his request to photograph them, Poster was surprised.

    “Finally, I did get a call, and things did develop fairly quickly,” he said.

    Poster, who lives in Dummerston, Vt., visited the farm; he showed them his other photographs, choosing not to include his roller derby shots.

    He told them his plans for the project. It would be long term, and personal. He would get to know the 40 or so members of the community and photograph them without judgement or agenda.

    They agreed.

    It became a two-year project during which Poster visited regularly and photographed the Basin Farm families at their most intimate and everyday moments.

    “I made pictures, but ... I don’t have a deadline, I don’t have any schedule,” Poster said.” “I could approach it in a fairly relaxed manner.”

    Poster was born in Philadelphia and became interested in photography as a child, working in the dark room with his much older brother.

    He studied painting at the Philadelphia College of Art for two years, and after putting down the camera for a long period of time, he took it back up again in 1999, going to train with the ((needs to finish the statement))

    He works on photography full time and mostly displays his work at museums and universities.

    “I do sell work, but not much,” he said. “This kind of work doesn’t tend to sell.”

    He’s drawn to subjects that have a reputation — deserved or otherwise. That’s why he chose his previous projects, he said.

    “Roller derby has misconceptions. And there were a lot misconceptions about people who lived in the city of Scranton. There are a lot of misconceptions about what was going on with natural gas drilling,” he said. “It’s that kind of thing.”

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  44. At Basin Farm Poster found a peaceful hardworking group of families whose lives centered around the worship of Yahshua, whom they consider the Messiah. They were loving, not violent, with their children, he said. They spent their days mostly farming and discussing their faith.

    Poster easily gained the trust and friendship of the group of men, women and children at the farm, a population that is constantly changing as people join and leave the community.

    The prints in Poster’s studio show freckled children in a garden, bearded men milking a cow, a young woman in a wedding dress.
    Poster said he didn’t go to Basin Farm looking for evidence of the things he had read online about the Twelve Tribes.

    He didn’t find any, either.

    “The first thing I heard about them was that they were an agrarian, white supremacist group,” Poster said. “That was a quote.

    “They were certainly not that,” he said. “They were agrarian, but they certainly were not a white supremacist group.”

    Poster and his newfound subjects disagreed on many things — including acceptable uses of corporal punishment — but they were able to talk about it at length, he said, and he came to understand them.

    “These people are really loving people,” he said. “I grew to like them very much, very quickly.”

    Poster became very close to one family, attending one daughter’s bat mitzvah in New York after the family moved from Basin Farm and watching another daughter’s blossoming relationship, then marriage, with a man in the group.

    Poster said he and the Basin Farm families developed a mutual respect. His only goal was to learn more about them and share their story with the people who would see the photographs.

    They only wanted to be portrayed in a different light than the controversial headlines and police raids had cast on them.

    “They would love for people to join them, and beyond that, they would love to change people’s attitudes about them,” Poster said. But, he said, “they were certainly not consumed with the notion that I was going to make things better for them. Frankly, I think, we just became friends. I was just there all the time.”

    A total of 42 of Poster’s photographs of the people at Basin Hill and a dozen essays debuted at an exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center in March. The exhibit, titled “Love, Labor, Worship: The People of Basin Farm,” will close after Sunday.

    Several members of the Basin Community came to the exhibit’s opening, and they have kept copies of the photographs he made. Poster said he plans to stay in touch with the families.

    While he finishes a more recent collection of photographs of a Vermont apple orchard, he said, he’s starting to look for another project that will challenge people’s misconceptions. Like the ones people have about roller derby skaters, for example. Or messianic religions.

    In the meantime, the photographs of Basin Hill remain on the wall, slowly coming down as pictures of the apple orchard take over more room.

    “It’s hard for me to stop living with them,” he said, gesturing to the faces of the farmers and worshipers who became his friends over two years. “As I work on this project, that project comes down.”



    by ROBERT WILDE, Breitbart News, June 2015

    San Diego police arrested three people for kidnapping a relative from a commune, who they say was being brainwashed by a religious cult

    Police Sgt. Patrick Yates said the suspects were apprehended on Friday at a traffic intersection after deputies followed them in a high-speed chase. The chase ended at the 1500 block of Foothill Drive at 5 p.m..

    “I saw two vans flying out of the entrance of the Twelve Tribes commune. A tan van was just feet from a red van and the the red van’s side door was still open,” said witness Tim Harwick.

    San Diego 10News reported that The Twelve Tribes Community, which has communes nationwide, has been accused of oppression, racism, anti-semitism. Commune leaders reject the accusations.

    Christian Joubert, a friend of some who live at the commune claimed the alleged victim married one of the members last summer. The man’s father attended the wedding and was unhappy about his son being part of the group. “I could feel the tension,” he said about the father’s visit.

    The three suspects arrested for kidnapping were Andrews Martinez-Manso, 51, Eliza Martinez, 25, and Robert Harry Matthew, 25, Yates said.

    Joubert said that the father and other family members went to the commune for a planned visit with an offering of 20 live chickens, then forced the son into the van, prompting a commune member to give chase.

    Joubert said that the son has been with the commune for nearly five years and is back now having rejoined his wife who is seven months pregnant.

    “We are extremely thankful that the young man was successfully returned to our community, unharmed. (As for his rescuer),that young man is a hero,” a Twelve Tribes leader stated.


  46. 3 arrested on suspicion of kidnapping member of religious commune in Vista

    By TONY PERRY, Los Angeles Times June 6, 2015

    Three people were arrested Friday night in Vista on suspicion of kidnapping a relative from the Twelve Tribes Community/Church because they feared he was being "brainwashed" by the devoutly religious group, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.

    The incident began with what looked like a hit-and-run traffic accident, according to Sgt. Patrick Yates. When a deputy stopped two vans that had fled "at a high rate of speed," he found three people had abducted a 23-year-old relative, Yates said.

    Andres Martinez-Manso, 51, Eliza Martinez, 25, and Robert Harry Matthew, 25, were arrested. The relative was released, apparently unharmed.

    Twelve Tribes is a religious community whose members live in a house in Vista which also serves as a church. Others live on a 66-acre avocado ranch in Valley Center. The group also runs the Yellow Deli in Vista and its members are often seen at farmers' markets selling produce.

    Saturday afternoon, Twelve Tribes identified the person who was allegedly kidnapped as Robert Martinez and said that he "became a part of our community almost five years ago."

    In a statement emailed to reporters, the group expressed sadness at the incident: "We are very thankful that he is back at home with his wife who is expecting their first child next month. We do not know of the motives for this action."

    The group is part of a national movement that began in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tenn., a breakaway from the Jesus Movement. The national leader refers to himself as Yoneq.

    In Vista and at the Morning Star Ranch, devotees live a communal and patriarchal lifestyle, with families working on the farm, children homeschooled, men often with full beards, and the women dressed plainly. Twelve Tribes follows certain Biblical scriptures but does not consider itself Christian.

    "We live as a big, extended family because we love one another," the Vista group said in its statement. "We love to work together in our Yellow Deli, where many, many people in Southern California come and continually witness our life and our relationships. We are not hidden or inaccessible."

    The investigation into the incident continues, the Sheriff's Department said.


  47. No charges filed against Vista kidnapping suspects who claim to be saving family member from cult

    10News Digital Team June 12, 2015

    VISTA, Calif. - The District Attorney's Office has declined to file charges against three people arrested for allegedly kidnapping a family member from the Twelve Tribes Community Church in Vista.

    Andres Martinez-Manso, Eliza Martinez and Robert Harry Matthew claimed they were trying to rescue a relative from being "brainwashed" by the religious group.

    They were set to be arraigned Monday. The DA sent this statement to 10News:

    We do not discuss charging decisions except to say we can only issue charges when we believe we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The suspects were arrested after deputies performed a high-risk traffic stop to end a high-speed chase between two civilian vehicles in the Vista area, San Diego Police Sgt. Patrick Yates said.

    The Twelve Tribes Community -- with branches across the country - has been dogged by claims of oppression, racism, anti-semitism, which commune leaders reject.


  48. Religious group blames deprogrammer for arrests in alleged kidnapping

    By TONY PERRY, Los Angeles Times June 17, 2015

    Vista religious group says member was victimized by 'cult experts' who 'prey on the fears of families'

    After the supposed victim declined to press charges, San Diego authorities decided not to prosecute three people arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a relative from a religious commune, according to commune leaders.

    The Twelve Tribes Community/Church in Vista, in a statement Tuesday, blamed the June 6 incident not on the three people who were arrested but on "so-called cult experts" who had promised to "deprogram" 24-year-old Robert Martinez, a member of the group for five years.

    , the San Diego County district attorney's office announced Monday it had decided not to file charges in the case. When arrested, the three had said they wanted to prevent Martinez from being brainwashed.

    The "cult experts" are "known to prey on the fears of families of those who get involved in new religious movements," according to the Twelve Tribes statement.

    An unidentified man "assisted with the abduction" but fled before sheriff's deputies arrived, according to the statement.

    "There were also two other vehicles in our driveway that also seemed to be connected with the incident," the group said. "This was not just a family affair."

    Martinez has rejoined the Twelve Tribes group, along with his wife, who is expecting their first child, the group said.

    Twelve Tribes is a religious community whose members live in a house in Vista, which also serves as a church. Others live on a 66-acre avocado ranch in Valley Center. The group also runs the Yellow Deli in Vista and its members are often seen at farmers markets selling produce.

    "Our hearts and prayers go out to Robert's family," said the Twelve Tribes statement. "We know this must be a painfully difficult time for them."


  49. The Twelve Tribes Cult accused of beating children in France

    By Taku Dzimwasha, International Business Times UK June 20, 2015

    The French chapter of The Twelve Tribes Christian fundamentalist sect was closed down this week after members were accused of abusing children in a climate of violent and racist extremism.

    The group's Pyrenean chateau in the village of Sus, near Pau was raided by police who arrested 10 adults and placed four children in foster care after doctors found bruises on their bodies.

    The children were beaten from the age of two by adults for even the slightest infraction or hint of defiance, alleges to Maitre Jean-Francois Blanco, a lawyer representing a former member whose lawsuit against the community prompted an investigation that led to this week's arrest.

    They were forbidden from crying or tensing their muscles while they were beaten on the buttocks, the palms or the soles of the feet.

    "I think this sect should be closed. The children are in danger," said the lawyer.

    The former member of the French branch of The Twelve Tribes who left a few years ago described how life in the community was torturous for children, the Times reported.

    "I was beaten more often than I can say," the former member – who did not want to be named – said. "I was beaten until I gushed blood. Once, I couldn't get out of bed for two weeks."

    Twelve Tribes was founded in the US in 1972 by Gene and Martha Spriggs, protestant fundamentalists who wanted to "restore the spiritual 12 tribes of Israel".

    It has an estimated 3,000 members across the globe who live in isolated communities. There are branches in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, Argentina, Canada and the Czech Republic.

    In 2013, the German wing of the sect made headlines after 40 children were taken into foster care after some members were filmed beating children in a cellar.
    The Twelve Tribes has faced accusations of racism and the former member said that followers were taught that the black race was inferior, according to the Times.


  50. Children of the Tribes

    In this country, we celebrate the First Amendment, which prevents the government from interfering with religious beliefs and practices. But what if those beliefs and practices make children suffer?

    by JULIA SCHEERES, Pacific Standard September 1, 2015

    Shuah Jones, 15, stuffed clothes under her bed blankets in the shape of a body, grabbed her diary and Bible, and crept downstairs. Wearing a long blue linen skirt and clunky buckled sandals, she opened the door, slipped outside, and paused to look back at her house: a historic residence in Plymouth, Massachusetts, known as the Blue Blinds, where she lived with other members of her church. Good riddance, she thought. On the street she broke into a run toward the only payphone she knew of, at a gas station near the center of town, half a mile away. She’d never been outside alone at night before. As she sprinted down the main drag, Court Street, men in bars called out and wolf-whistled. She was terrified. When she reached the phone, she called her brother Noah, who told her to wait for him in a parking lot next to the Blue Blinds, so she ran all the way back. He was an hour away. She hid in a bush, heart thumping. When at last he pulled into the lot, she leaped into his car.

    “Just breathe,” he told her as they drove away. “Breathe.”


    Today the Blue Blinds is a bakery, famous in Plymouth for its eggs-and-cheddar sandwich and its organic pastries. It has earned a loyal fan base by charging a little less than its neighborhood competitors for food that is consistently delicious. But generating a profit isn’t its only objective. Another is winning souls: The bakery is the public face of an otherwise reclusive and controversial religious sect called the Twelve Tribes.

    I visited the Blue Blinds one morning last summer. Business was brisk. As I stood at the back of a long line inching toward the entrance, I found myself staring at the employees’ garb. The women all wore long hair and baggy, floor-skimming dresses. The men sported trimmed beards and short ponytails, and rolled up their pants to expose their socks. A customer in front of me referred to the “cool hippie vibe” of the place.

    Inside, customers dined at small round tables and on dark leather sofas as peaceful Celtic flute music played. I ordered a coffee and sat under a dramatic three-wall mural depicting stages of the Pilgrims’ harrowing journey to America. I assumed the decor was just another nod to the tourists who flock to the neighborhood to buy their colonial cranberry sauce and take selfies at Plymouth Rock, a mere two blocks away. But the server who brought out my food, a Hoosier formerly known as Jeremy Johnson and who now goes by Yashar (Hebrew for “Upright”), set me straight. A short, earnest man with warm brown eyes, he sat at my table, welcome but unbidden, and seemed eager to talk.

    “We see ourselves as direct descendants of the Puritans,” he explained. He pointed to a section of the mural in which Governor William Bradford scowled in the foreground as colonists tended individual gardens behind him. “He’s distraught because everyone’s working their own field,” he said. “They should be working together. That was the goal they had when they came over—to live the life of the early church. And they failed.”

    Where the Pilgrims failed, the Twelve Tribes hopes to succeed. Members of the group, who number some 3,000 worldwide, live and work together, homeschool their children, and espouse a very literal interpretation of the Bible. Like the religious separatists who fled England in 1620 and dropped anchor down the street, the Tribes claims to practice a purer form of Christianity than mainstream churches.

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  51. After Yashar was called away, I browsed a side table filled with the group’s literature. Tucked among predictable testimonials from members who said they found purpose or “true love” in the group, one brochure stood out. Its cover featured a 1933 Norman Rockwell drawing of an overwhelmed mother pinning her small son facedown on her lap. At her feet lies a hammer, along with evidence that the boy has recently gone on a destructive spree: a shattered mirror, a broken vase, and a disemboweled clock. Unsure how to discipline her child, the mother grips a hairbrush in one hand, and a book on child psychology in the other. To spank or not to spank? That’s the question—and she doesn’t know the answer.

    But the Tribes does. When the Spanking Stopped, All Hell Broke Loose is the title of the brochure. It cites Proverbs 13:24 (“He who spares his rod, hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly”) to make the following argument: “If youlove your child you will take the rod and discipline him when he’s disobedient. It’s not optional; it’s a command.” The Tribes argues that progressive childrearing practices such as time-outs or taking away treats or screen time have resulted in a spike in juvenile violence and crime. The only way to reverse this trend, the Tribes contends, is by using the proverbial rod—early, often, and hard enough to leave marks. According to former and current Tribes leaders I spoke with, infants raised in the Tribes are hit with balloon sticks—thin wooden rods used to keep balloons from floating away—for “offenses” as minor as resisting a diaper change or throwing a bottle. Older children are whipped with bamboo canes. “Children are driven by their natural, innate nature to do what is wrong,” the group’s teachings state. “It’s better to go to heaven with welts than to go to hell without welts.”

    We Americans love our origin story, the notion that a tough band of Pilgrim non-conformists helped birth our nation and our freedoms. We celebrate the First Amendment, which prevents the government from interfering with our religious beliefs and practices. But what if those beliefs and practices make children suffer?

    Strange thing to ponder while you’re sitting in a sun-dappled cafe sipping Fair Trade-certified coffee. When I asked Yashar about the brochure, he casually mentioned that he spanks his two boys, ages two and four, several times a day. “In the community, it’s a regular way of life,” he told me, and I thought of Shuah Jones, who’d fled this same place 12 years earlier. “Children who are disciplined grow up to be disciplined adults.”

    That’s what the Tribes tells its members. But interviews with dozens of current and former members—along with a review of hundreds of pages of the group’s secret teachings, their public statements to the media, and their website and YouTube channel—tell a somewhat different story.

    The Twelve Tribes grew out of a Bible-study group in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1972, a former high school teacher and guidance counselor named Gene Spriggs and his fourth wife, Marsha, started a gathering of believers in their home. This was during the heyday of the Jesus Movement, whose adherents viewed Jesus as a counterculture hero. The couple recruited heavily outside of local schools and youth hangouts. Spriggs gave informal Bible lectures in his living room that held audiences rapt for hours, former members say. Many of the young people who turned up seeking enlightenment were runaways and drug addicts, whom the couple invited to move in. To support their growing household, the Spriggses opened a restaurant in 1973 called the Yellow Deli, where members worked for room and board but no paycheck. The restaurant featured booths crafted from reclaimed barn wood, and the menu delivered a subtle come-on. “We serve the fruit of the Spirit,” it read. “Why not ask?”

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  52. By 1978, Spriggs had opened six Yellow Delis and unofficially re-branded his Bible study as a church: the Vine Christian Community Church. Then came controversy. The Chattanooga Times published interviews with disenchanted former members. “We worked 16 to 18 hours a day, six days a week, until we were so tired we couldn’t think,” one complained. Those who questioned the leadership were told their doubts were “from Satan.”

    By this time, Spriggs’ followers considered him a modern-day apostle. “His teachings were considered fresh revelations from God,” said Joellen Griffin, a former member. And the revelations were extreme. Spriggs told his followers that God wanted them to cut themselves completely off from modern society. This meant no television, radio, books, or anything else that embodied secular culture. “Friendship with the world,” he preached, “is enmity with God.” Members were required to donate all their possessions to the group—homes, cars, money—in exchange, Spriggs told them, for eternal salvation. When concerned relatives raised objections, Spriggs told his followers to cut them off, too.

    Several parents hired a cult deprogrammer to forcibly extract their children from the church—with limited success. Besieged by bad press and desperate relatives, Spriggs pulled out of the Bible Belt altogether, relocating to a remote village in Vermont called Island Pond. Two hundred followers joined him, among them David Jones, the elder who had defended Spriggs in the Chattanooga Times; his wife, Patricia; and their infant daughter, Tamar.

    In this new setting, the group became increasingly reclusive. Spriggs decided he was destined to restore the ancient Twelve Tribes of Israel and produce an army of 144,000 male virgins, who would prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. To this end, he re-named the group the Twelve Tribes. To differentiate the Tribes from mainstream Christianity, he referred to Jesus as Yahshua, a variant of Jesus’ Hebrew name, and insisted members take Hebrew names as well. He called himself Yoneq—a play on his given name that he translated as “tender shoot or sprig.”

    The tenor of the sect changed now, too. Spriggs began to preach that blacks were destined to be slaves, homosexuals “deserved the death penalty,” and women—who weren’t allowed to use birth control—had to atone for Eve’s original sin by giving birth without painkillers. He drafted rules regulating everything from fingernail length to how married couples should engage in intercourse.

    A large portion of Spriggs’ teachings concerned children, though he never actually raised a child in the group. (He and Marsha have no children. He has one son, by his first wife, but he left them when the boy was young.) “If one is overly concerned about his son receiving blue marks,” he wrote to David Jones, “you know that he hates his son and hates the word of God.”

    “Blue marks” are bruises, of course, which members of the Tribes consider evidence of exemplary parenting. “I remember constant welts on my hands, thighs, and butt,” a woman who was raised in the Tribes told me. Children are expected to obey “on the first command,” without talking back or complaining. They are not allowed toys or bikes, and cannot engage in fantasy play. They read only the Bible and the group’s dogma. The former members I spoke to claimed most children were beaten multiple times a day, for transgressions as innocuous as forgetting to raise their hands at the dinner table and “dissipation”—the group’s term for horseplay. Responding to these descriptions, a current leader of their California communities, Wade Skinner, echoed the brochure I read in Blue Blinds. “That wouldn’t be how we portray our life,” he said, “but we do believe if you love your child, you will be diligent to discipline them, and if you hate them, you will withhold the rod.”

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  53. That’s the philosophy that guided an elder named Eddie Wiseman. In 1983, according to a former Tribes member named Darlynn Church, Wiseman whipped her with a balloon stick from her shoulders to her ankles for kissing a boy, leaving a ladder of bloody stripes. She was 13. Her father reported Wiseman to Vermont authorities, who charged him with simple assault. But then the father recanted, saying he had been pressured by “anti-cult” activists to exaggerate his claims, and the state was forced to drop the case. (Wiseman maintains the accusations were “greatly exaggerated.”)

    But the investigation continued. Because the Tribes children were so isolated, investigators couldn’t verify the abuse allegations through teachers and doctors, the usual third parties. They didn’t know the number of children living in the community, much less their names. So the district attorney’s office summoned seven Tribes leaders, including David Jones, who now had four children, to a county courthouse, to try to compel them to disclose this information. The men refused and were briefly jailed for civil contempt, then released. The state continued to marshal its forces. Three days after their release, 90 state troopers and 50 social workers descended on the group’s homes shortly after dawn. Under orders to do “whatever was necessary” to identify the children, police rousted members from bed and retrieved 112 minors, among them the Jones children. As police escorted the children to waiting buses, neighbors cheered. The families waited at an armory, while prosecutors sought a court order to have the children examined for signs of physical abuse. But the case fell apart when a district judge rejected the request, stating that the warrant was too broad—it failed to identify the children by name.

    The state prosecutor, Philip White, vented his frustration to the Burlington Free Press. “The first lesson is that it is still OK to beat their children,” he said, “especially if they have a religious justification for it. The second lesson is that we still have not found a satisfactory approach to preventing and addressing child abuse issues when they occur in closed religious communities.”

    The Twelve Tribes hailed the decision as a victory for religious freedom. God had delivered His people.

    Corporal punishment—which the United Nations defines as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort”—has been banned in 46 nations. The general consensus within the medical-research establishment, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, is that physical punishment, especially of children, can lead to increased aggression and psychological problems. Hitting a child in the home in the United States, however, is legal in every state as long as it doesn’t leave a mark.

    Religious and political conservatives have often thwarted efforts to advance children’s rights in this country. Consider the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which aims to protect minors from abuse and exploitation, ensure access to secondary education, and guarantee a child’s freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion.” The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history, but it has one holdout: the U.S. Although Madeleine Albright signed the convention in 1995, President Clinton never bothered sending it to the Senate for ratification because Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican, had galvanized opposition against it, declaring it to be “incompatible with the God-given right and responsibility of parents to raise their children.” More recently, a group called ParentalRights.org, led by evangelical Christians, has spearheaded resistance to the treaty while at the same time lobbying for an amendment that would protect parents’ ability to spank their children.

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  54. The biggest hurdle to the treaty’s ratification is our own legal system. In the past four decades, believers have lobbied for, and won, a host of religious exemptions and shield laws that have steadily chipped away at the basic rights of children. The CRC mandates, for example, that governments take steps to abolish “practices prejudicial to the health of children.” But in 1972, the Amish won a case before the Supreme Court that allowed them to pull their kids from school after eighth grade so that they could do farm work. In 1974, the Christian Science Church persuaded the federal government to compel states to enact a religious exemption to child-abuse laws, so that parents would not be adjudicated as negligent when they deprived their children of medical care on religious grounds. Rita Swan was one of those parents, and she now finds religious shield laws indefensible. A former Christian Scientist whose 16-month-old son Matthew died from a treatable bacterial infection despite prayer treatments, she now directs Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, which tracks cases of faith-based child abuse. “Religious shield laws discriminate against children, depriving them of protections the state extends to others,” she told me. “They should be repealed.”

    Since the 1970s, the number of religious exemptions to generally applicable laws has skyrocketed. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to circumvent laws that “substantially burden” a person’s free exercise of religion. Twenty-one states have subsequently passed their own versions, in effect granting an unprecedented license to discriminate against homosexuals, jeopardize women’s health, and deny housing to unmarried couples.

    Under the guise of freely exercising their religion, the constitutional-law expert Marci Hamilton writes in her book God vs. The Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, an increasing number of believers are finding ways to deprive their children of education, force them to work without pay, refuse them medical care, and even let them die as a testament to their faith. (Since 1975, Rita Swan has tallied more than 400 children who died from what she terms “religious medical neglect.”) Church pedophiles sometimes claim religious privilege to try to avoid prosecution, Hamilton writes, and they all too often succeed.

    Children are defenseless against abuse. They don’t vote. They don’t organize. They don’t have money to hire lobbyists or spin media campaigns to protect their interests. They don’t have a voice. They rely on adults for protection—and sometimes it’s those same adults who violate their rights.

    On June 15th, 1987, in Vermont, Patricia Jones gave birth to a fifth child, a daughter whom she and David named Shuah. These were what former members would later recall as the “glory days.” The Tribes owned property along the Saxtons River, and the Jones family would spend weekends camping beside it, swimming in the wide shallow stream and roasting hot dogs over a campfire. Little by little, however, Spriggs denied his followers such simple pleasures. He banned the celebration of holidays, even birthdays. Shuah was spanked for pretending that a rolled-up towel was a doll. The rod, she says, became a constant in her life—a claim corroborated by her siblings, other former Tribes members, and, eventually, a Massachusetts Department of Children and Families investigation. She was whacked for opening the fridge without permission, for leaving food on her plate, for talking too much—and not just by her parents, but by any adult who had authority. (The Joneses declined to address any specific claims for this article.)

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  55. “You need to be cleansed,” she was told. At communal suppers, parents were pressured to spank kids by other adults. “Spriggs was fond of saying we should be proud of these wounds our children bore,” a former member named Roger Griffin told me. “If you loved your children, you were not swayed by their screams.”

    Some adults did balk at the severity of these teachings. Mary Wiseman, the wife of Spriggs’ second-in-command, was one of them. She became furious when Spriggs paddled her six-year-old daughter, Kate, and threatened to leave the community with her children. She didn’t, though, and when she died, at 39, of cervical cancer, Spriggs declared that her “unconfessed sin”—criticizing his authority—had killed her. “Guilt and unconfessed sin is how you get sick,” Spriggs wrote in a teaching on the immune system. “This is why people die young.”

    Children have died because of the Tribes’ rejection of modern medicine. During a whooping-cough epidemic that swept the community in the late 1980s, Bruce Whittenburg grew alarmed when his 15-month-old became sick. He and more than a half-dozen former and current members say he consulted the elders, who told him, “If God wants her to live, He’ll save her.” She died a few hours later. “It was the worst thing that happened to us,” said Whittenburg, who left the Tribes in 2001.

    During her second pregnancy, another former member, Ruth Williams, developed placenta previa—a dangerous condition in which the placenta blocks the birth canal. She was told that if she prayed hard enough God would move the placenta out of the way. Despite beseeching God on her hands and knees, Williams started hemorrhaging when she went into labor and lost consciousness—at which point she was driven to a hospital, she says, and dumped on the sidewalk outside the emergency room. She woke to the news that her son had been stillborn. Another woman who labored for days was only brought to a hospital after her child died inside her.

    After Mary Wiseman’s death, Tribes elders began to judge parents’ ability to raise their children. When they judged parents inadequate, they split families up, often with devastating consequences, as the Jones family would learn.

    Their son Noah tells a distressing story from 1992, when he was nine and the Joneses were living in a community in St. Joseph, Missouri. One day, Noah says, he and his two brothers, Yoshiyah, 12, and Ezra, seven, were rappelling out of a tree when an elder’s wife told them to stop. The boys told her that their dad allowed them to do it and kept playing. So the elder separated them and locked Noah in the furnace room of an adjacent house—with David and Patricia’s support. The elder gave Noah a piece of paper and told him to write down his sins. Noah wrote down past peccadilloes, such as stealing a penny from his dad’s dresser, but the elder told him to think harder. This went on for a week. He slept on the cement floor, used a bucket as a toilet, and was fed one meal a day. When he cried and asked to see his father, he was told his father didn’t want to see him. Finally, the elder accused him of engaging in a homosexual encounter—with his brothers. Noah didn’t know what “homosexual” meant, so the leader described gay sex to him in graphic detail. (When reached for comment, Yoshiyah refused to discuss any details but said, “My siblings exaggerate these stories.”)

    The ordeal ended with the three brothers sent away to three different homes in Vermont. Shuah, who was four at the time, remembers a van driving off with her brothers as the other kids clapped, happy the “corrupters” were gone. Noah lived with a succession of single “brothers” who beat him and forbade him from socializing with other kids. “I kept hoping my parents would come rescue me,” he told me.

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  56. By the time he was finally allowed to re-join his parents a year later, his trust in them and the Tribes was shattered.

    The Tribes now has communities at 12 locations around the globe, most of them in New England, together intended to represent the original 12 tribes of Israel. The group owns not only restaurants but also businesses in construction, landscaping, body-care products, and tea. According to tax documents given to me by a former leader, the group’s sales were $26 million in 2012. These earnings are tax exempt and fueled by members’ free labor—including that of children. Like the Amish, the Tribes stops homeschooling children after eighth grade so that they can work, a practice they call “apprenticeship.” Younger kids are tapped if there is a push to fulfill a contract. “We make no apology,” Wade Skinner, the elder, said when asked about this. “It’s the age-old practice of families.”

    The Jones children were put to work at an early age. For several weeks when she was seven, for example, Shuah boarded a 15-passenger van at dawn with other grade-schoolers and drove to the Tribes’ Common Sense factory in Rutland, an hour away. One of the Tribes’ biggest clients was Estee Lauder, which contracted the group to make its popular Origins salt scrub. Shuah spent 10 hours a day labeling and packaging the scrub and other products. At a certain point, she told me, the elders passed out sleeping bags so the kids could sleep on the factory floor. “We’d take little breaks and run around and play and get spanked for it,” recalled Alicia Gonyaw, who worked at the factory when she was 12. “We weren’t allowed to be kids.”

    By the time he was 10, the youngest of the Jones siblings, Kepha, was working for the Tribes’ tree-trimming service in Cape Cod. He wore no safety gear, and one day a large pine fell on him, gashing his head and knocking him out. Instead of being rushed to a nearby hospital, Kepha was driven to a Tribes community in New Hampshire, four hours away, where a member who was an EMT used 60 stitches to close the wound. Now 25, Kepha has a scar and suffers from vertigo and blackouts.

    Noah Jones worked full-time from the age of 12, doing commercial millwork and building furniture, including handcrafted roll-top desks that were sold through Robert Redford’s Sundance catalogue. The work so exhausted him that he often fell asleep during the hour-long religious services he was required to attend twice a day. At 14, a supervisor beat him with a two-by-four at a construction site. When he turned 18, Noah left, vowing to do whatever he could to pry his younger siblings away from the Tribes. Helped by former members and sympathetic strangers, he found a place to live and work. He then sought out a former priest and critic of the Tribes who urged him to contact the press; outlets from the New York Post to CNN soon ran stories on the Tribes’ child-labor practices, prompting Sundance and Estee Lauder to cancel contracts.

    Shuah, who was 12 at the time, was deeply worried for Noah’s safety. Spriggs tells his followers that God will strike them down if they leave or speak out. Stories of defectors who died violent deaths circulate as warnings among members. (Indeed, several former members I contacted refused to speak on the record because they still feared divine revenge.)

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  57. Shuah’s diary reflects her inner turmoil. On one page, she describes the world as “dark, cold and empty.” On another, she fantasizes about running away. Plagued by nightmares about adults hitting children, she often wet her bed. Her jaw locked up for days, leaving her unable to speak or chew. To solve that problem, Shuah says, an elder hooked her up to a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit, a device that uses currents to treat joint and muscle pain. although the Food and Drug Administration explicitly warns against using such devices on the head, the elder applied two electrodes to Shuah’s jawline and two to her wrist. The pain was excruciating, she says—her head vibrated, and an acid taste filled her mouth. She ripped the leads off and noticed burn marks on her wrist. Her jaw remained locked until the following day, when it unlocked on its own.

    At 14, Shuah was working full-time at the Common Grounds restaurant in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in a downstairs kitchen with other underage girls. If anyone asked, they were instructed to say they were 18. Although she was working adult hours, she was still treated as a child. One day, an older woman accused her of stealing food. In the interrogation that followed, which lasted hours, Shuah realized she would only be released if she confessed. So she did. “You must be cleansed,” the woman said—and then ordered Shuah to lie face- down on a bed so she could whip her bare buttocks with a bamboo cane.

    Noah, meanwhile, had saved up enough to buy a car. He had the windows tinted so he could drive by the communal houses unnoticed, hoping to catch a glimpse of his siblings. One afternoon he saw Shuah walking alone between houses and rolled down the window. “Hey, how are you?” he asked. Shuah, overjoyed, jumped into the passenger seat. He slipped a CD into the player. “Listen to this,” he said, putting on Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be.” He knew better than to pressure her to leave. He let the lyrics speak for him: “In my heart there’ll always be a place for you /For all my life, I’ll keep a part of you with me / And everywhere I am, there you’ll be.”

    “Isn’t her voice amazing?” he asked. He wanted her to know that there was beauty in the outside world.

    Before Noah dropped Shuah off, he made her memorize two numbers: an untraceable AT&T calling card ID and his cell phone number. He knew that members’ belongings were routinely searched for contraband, such as money, chocolate, or bikini-cut “harlot” underwear, and that she could get in trouble for possessing his number.

    Shuah was torn. As a woman in the Tribes, a bleak future awaited her: She would be expected to marry young, be subservient to her husband, and produce as many babies as possible. But she was also terrified of the unknown.

    At about that time, Shuah was given permission to live with her older sister, Tamar, then pregnant with her first child. The two lived in the large commune the Tribes owned in Plymouth: a 9,000-square-foot mansion with 12 bedrooms and sweeping views of Plymouth Bay. The sisters had rarely lived in the same community and didn’t know each other well. Shuah looked forward to spending time with Tamar, who was married and possessed more freedom than rank-and-file members. Tamar bought Shuah ice cream, a forbidden treat, and took her to the library, a forbidden activity. Sitting in a hushed corner, Shuah learned about the country she was living in for the first time.

    But two days after Tamar’s daughter was born, the elders abruptly moved Shuah to the Blue Blinds, and her life became an endless loop of mind-numbing work and rote religious ceremony. She was put to work packaging boxes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Her jaw locked up again.

    These people can do whatever they want to me, she thought.

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  58. It was the last straw. A few days later, Shuah ran out into the street clutching her Bible and diary, called Noah, and made her escape.

    Although Gene Spriggs didn’t respond to repeated interview requests, I did wrangle an invitation to the Tribes’ commune in Plymouth—the mansion where Shuah spent several happy days with her sister and niece in 2002. As evening settled in, members gathered on a stone patio to sing and perform dances to acoustic guitar. A dozen or so children, all dressed in the same faintly Biblical garb as their parents, peered at me shyly. Afterward, individuals stepped forward to share whatever was on their minds.

    “The world is the fruit of Satan’s reign,” one man said, looking directly at me.

    “I’m just thankful we have a cause to live for,” said another man.

    “Deliver us from the schemes of the evil one,” a young woman added.

    A small boy fidgeted, swinging his hands back and forth, until his brother tapped him sharply on the shoulder.

    The sole African-American resident—a woman named Aisha Woodman, who has a degree in Film Studies from Columbia and teaches the children in a three-room schoolhouse at the front of the property—gave me a tour of the grounds. When I remarked on the balloon sticks I saw jammed into pencil holders in a classroom and resting on a wall-mounted coat rack in a bedroom, she nodded. “We strive for perfect obedience,” she said. Earlier that day, I’d asked a big-boned, blonde leader named Nehemiah Jayne to strike me with one. He obliged, whipping the palm of my hand. It stung; I fought the urge to curl my hand into a fist. As I took notes, he joked, “See, you can still write—you’re fine.”

    At dinner, I sat with Nehemiah and his silent three-year-old son at a table separated from the rest of the residents, on the veranda, overlooking the sparkling bay. Although members use chopsticks to eat—to appeal to potential Asian recruits, Jayne said—I was handed a fork to eat our simple yet tasty meal: steamed broccoli and cheese over brown rice. For an hour, we discussed the group’s more controversial teachings. As we wrapped up, Nehemiah sighed deeply and rubbed his face with his hands before giving me a tired smile. “We’re not even afraid of bad publicity,” he said. “We’ve had several people move in after they’ve read negative articles about us.”

    As our plates were cleared, a quiet game of tag was staged on the lawn directly in front of me. The children’s play seemed tentative, nothing like the rowdy versions of tag I’d witnessed my own kids play. Perhaps, as the Tribes contends, this is because its kids are more disciplined. Or perhaps, as former members contend, it’s because their children have never been given the freedom to act like kids. I thought of Sammie Brosseau, who broke with the group at 18, put herself through college, and now lives in Manhattan. “I was robbed of my childhood,” she told me.

    I gave Aisha Woodman a ride back to Plymouth, where she lives above the Blue Blinds bakery. Before opening the door to get out, she turned and said, “Be careful. There’s a lot of nightlife around here.”

    It was July 31—the same date Shuah escaped. I decided to re-trace the route she took down Court Street 12 years earlier. The night was warm; dance music wafted from pubs and restaurants; young people in shorts and boat shoes swarmed the sidewalks. The atmosphere felt anything but menacing.

    When Noah brought Shuah back to the house where he was living, his roommate was watching a concert on television. She stared at the scandalous blonde prancing half-naked across the stage, but she had no idea who it was— Britney Spears, then at the height of her popularity.

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  59. The next morning, Noah drove his sister to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where Shuah told investigators she’d been systematically beaten, denied an education, and forced to work without pay. She was sent to live with relatives in Tennessee, where she enrolled in high school and for a time went by a more mainstream name—Monica. She went to her first movie, wore jeans for the first time, idled an afternoon away. Noah didn’t criticize her when she caked on make-up or gained weight from gorging on mac-and-cheese; she’d been raised by domineering men, and he wanted his sister to figure things out for herself.

    Eventually, she did. In 2013, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of South Florida, and is now married with two children. She calls herself Shuah again.

    Last June, I flew to Clearwater, Florida, to spend four days with Shuah and her siblings. Now a statuesque 28-year-old with long hair, Shuah projects a calm yet intense air. She chooses her words carefully. Her left shoulder bears a tattoo of a lotus flower—a symbol of re-birth that’s popular among survivors of tough times. We were joined by Noah, Kepha, and Tamar, all of whom have left the Tribes, as has their brother Ezra. Only their parents and their oldest brother remain in the group.

    Over cups of coffee throughout the day, and bottles of beer in the evenings, the siblings discussed what it was like to grow up in the Tribes. Their conversations were often angry. Shuah, who still has nightmares about the group, takes medication for anxiety. She cried freely as she recounted the beatings she endured. She spent several hours in my hotel room one afternoon piecing together the story of her harrowing escape, then abruptly rose and locked herself in the bathroom. After a few minutes, I heard the shower running. “Phew,” she said when she emerged, smiling. “I feel much better now.”

    Kepha, who wasn’t allowed to ride bikes as a kid, recently graduated from the University of Florida, where he was a member of the cycling team. He credits Noah with starting a mass exodus of teenagers from the Tribes. Noah has employed dozens of them in his construction business, but they are the lucky ones. Others, without high school diplomas, work experience, savings, or a safety net, have resorted to prostitution, drug dealing, and, in one notorious case, robbing banks.

    The Jones siblings’ relationship with their parents continues to be strained. When David and Patricia heard their kids were talking to me, they threatened to stop communicating with them. One evening, I returned to the hotel with Noah and Kepha and found them waiting; they’d driven two hours from a Tribes commune in Arcadia, Florida. As the brothers headed to the bar to order beer—“to take the edge off,” Noah later told me—I sat down with their parents on the lobby’s small sofas. During a short, tense meeting, they questioned me about my intentions and deflected most questions. “The entire media is under the sway of the Evil One,” Patricia told me.

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  60. I turned to her husband, a tall, angular man with piercing blue eyes.

    “Do you really think it’s fair to spank an infant?” I asked. Kepha and Noah returned, beers in hand.

    “When a baby understands the word ‘no,’ they’re ready to begin their training,” he said, without missing a beat. “When the spanking stopped,” he said, quoting the title of the pamphlet I’d seen at the Blue Blinds, “all hell broke loose.” Of his broken family, he observed, “Our one mistake was not spanking our children enough.”

    This sparked a heated exchange between parents and sons. Patricia ran a hand through Kepha’s hair.

    “You were never abused,” she murmured. “Our life is full of love.”

    “You’re in denial, mom,” he shot back, leaning away from her.

    Noah pulled out his iPhone to show them photos of the granddaughter they’ve never seen. It was excruciating to watch.

    The Tribes continues to be dogged by negative press in England, Spain, and Australia, but the biggest blow to the group came in Germany, where corporal punishment is illegal. In 2013, a reporter for RTL Television infiltrated one of the sect’s communes and, over a two-day period, secretly filmed 50 instances of adults spanking children, including one small girl whose offense was refusing to say, “I’m tired.” After the footage aired, police seized 40 children and placed them in foster care, where most of them remain today. In France, a few months ago, a police raid of a Tribes community led to social workers rescuing four small children whose bodies bore evidence of recent beatings.

    Shuah and her siblings are bewildered that the authorities have not taken similar action in this country. Despite the media exposeìs that Noah triggered, Tribes members who have left the group in the years since have claimed that the Tribes continues to beat children, exploit them as free workers, and deny them access to education and modern medicine. “Where do our human rights as children begin and their religious rights end?” Shuah asked me during our time together.

    It’s not an easy question to answer. But Shuah plans to try. She’s been studying for the Law School Admissions Test and hopes to take it in December. She plans to become a legal advocate for children.

    “Someone,” she says, “has to speak out for us.”


  61. Elder of religious sect goes on trial in Germany on allegations he hit children with switch

    Fox News Associated Press November 16, 2015

    BERLIN – A 54-year-old elder from a Christian sect in southern Germany has gone on trial on accusations he hit children in his care with a 1.2-meter (four-foot) switch.
    The "Twelve Tribes" elder, whose name wasn't given, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of causing seriously bodily injury.

    As the Noerdlingen state court trial opened Monday, a 23-year-old, who was 14 at the time of the alleged offenses, testified that the sect's elders randomly "whacked their behinds," the dpa news agency reported.

    Authorities raided the sect in southern Germany in 2013 and took 40 children into foster care.

    At the time, the sect said there was no "direct evidence against any individual" but on the sect's website, the group said members believe in spanking their children.


  62. This Woman Was Raised By a Notorious Cult. Here’s How She Finally Got Away.

    by Kirstin Kelley, GOOD:Project Literacy March 15, 2016

    This story is part of an ongoing campaign called the Alphabet of Illiteracy. By using letters themselves—the foundation of reading and writing—Project Literacy examines the ways illiteracy underpins some of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Below, we explore the letter R for “radicalization.”

    For many of us, cults are a remnant of the ’60s or an interesting cultural oddity worthy of a send-up from Tina Fey. But for survivors, cults are all too real—and all too common. While it’s impossible to keep track of how many people are involved with cults around the world because of their secretive nature, the International Cultic Studies Association estimates that at least 2.5 million Americans have joined cults over the past 40 years, and many of them went on to raise children in those organizations.

    Cults are just one of many kinds of radical groups worldwide, defined as organizations that hold extreme social or political views. Such groups can be of any political or tactical persuasion; some of the most universally agreed upon include al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Army of God, and the Animal Liberation Front. These organizations seek out idealistic people, often very young, who are looking for simple answers to life’s biggest questions, as well as a sense of community. The most successful radical groups have figured out how to prey on those who lack the critical thinking skills to resist their propaganda and inappropriate demands.

    Illiteracy isn’t a prerequisite for joining a radical group, but critical thinking and literacy frequently go hand in hand. In fact, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism found that the areas where “perpetrators live or conduct pre-incident activity are generally characterized by low socioeconomic status,” and a 2013 study showed a strong correlation between literacy and socioeconomic status, indicating a relationship between illiteracy and radicalism. When people are exposed to more points of view—which occurs organically the more frequently someone reads and writes—they are better able to draw their own conclusions and become dissatisfied with the answers supplied by their group’s teachings.

    One radical group—called a cult by some, a fundamentalist religious sect by others, and a Christian community by its founders—is the Twelve Tribes, which has been accused of physically abusing children in hope of securing their places in heaven. The organization is particularly adept at exploiting vulnerable individuals by drawing them in for a visit to a Yellow Deli, one of their 24-hour cafes.

    Look up your local Yellow Deli on Yelp and you’re likely to find cheery, innocuous photos of delicious food and menus listing extremely low prices, all in a charming atmosphere. But the Twelve Tribes members who staff these restaurants, reportedly in exchange for room and board, are there to spread the group’s message to anyone who will listen. Diners rarely have a clue that these members were required to fully commit to the group’s specific religious worldview by giving up their families and friends, donating their every possession in the interest of supporting the group, and preventing other members from leaving.

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  63. Shuah Jones is an exmember of the Twelve Tribes; her father was a founding member, helping to launch the group in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1972. Today, the organization has compounds all over America and in several countries around the world. A 28-year-old insurance agent based in Florida, today Jones offers informal support to other former members of the cult, which she escaped when she was only 15 years old. As she described to Pacific Standard, Shuah:

    “...stuffed clothes under her bed blankets in the shape of a body, grabbed her diary and Bible, and crept downstairs. Wearing a long blue linen skirt and clunky buckled sandals, she opened the door, [and] slipped outside… On the street she broke into a run toward the only payphone she knew of, at a gas station near the center of town, half a mile away. She’d never been outside alone at night before... When she reached the phone, she called her brother Noah… He was an hour away. She hid in a bush, heart thumping. When at last he pulled into the lot, she leaped into his car.

    ‘Just breathe,’ he told her as they drove away. ‘Breathe.’”

    Jones’ youth turned out to be a surprising benefit, making it easier to leverage a support system as she got on her feet. “I had a chance to actually go to high school … When you’re 18, you’re an adult, you’re expected to live on your own. At 15, you’re a child.” After Jones left, she had access to aunts, uncles, and her brother, Noah, who lived outside the cult and were willing to take her in and support her so that she could earn a GED and eventually go to college.

    Jones credits most of her success to her young age and her father’s books, though he didn’t have many, and the ones he did have were hidden away. Like many other cults, the Twelve Tribes bans outside materials and offers only minimal education to children. According to Jones, a child’s education with the Twelve Tribes is supposed to end at age 12, but she completed the curriculum by the time she was 9 years old.

    Jones also states that school is often interrupted so that children can help meet quotas at the Common Sense Farm bodycare products factory in Rutland, Vermont, or to help with farm chores. Members learn biblical history, enough math to work in one of the cult’s restaurant recruiting stations, and usually enough English to read the Bible—though never enough to arm members with the critical thinking skills they need to question doctrine. Jones says she only recently realized just how poor her early education was when she noticed that a second-grade child she knows is far more advanced academically than she ever was during her 15 years with the cult.

    For ex-members only a few years older than Jones was when she left, such a limited education proves to be a massive obstacle in building a life outside the cult. Girls are expected to marry at around 18 years old and to become pregnant immediately, says Jones. When they leave, they are usually expected to find work to support themselves and their children as soon as possible, forgoing further education. Even among the general population, being both a student and a parent can be a challenge—53 percent quit college after six years without a degree. With statistics this daunting, for many members of cults, it seems impossible to leave, even if they want to.

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  64. Since she left Jones believes she has helped at least 300 other former members of the Twelve Tribes leave the group through an “underground railroad” of sorts that’s still informal, though Jones and some of the others dream of building a foundation specifically to help people going through the exit process. The group estimates that it has between 2,000 and 3,000 active members, and according to Jones, those numbers have remained fairly consistent since the Twelve Tribes’ inception more than 40 years ago. Two of the biggest things the survivors in her network try to offer one another are a place to stay and a job, so they can start building their employment history right away.

    A 2009 study showed that before joining cults, only 5.5 percent of members accessed public assistance, but 29.1 percent of survivors make use of assistance programs after leaving. Even with the support of other former members, survivors who need to start working immediately, rather than going to school to explore their options, are limited in their choices, often needing to take whatever job they can get. As Jones explains, “Going out and getting an education so you can choose a career—it almost never happens. I can count on my fingers how many of us have actually been able to do that.”

    While limited educational opportunities are daunting, a lack of social skills may actually be the hardest part of leaving. Jones says that when she left, she was utterly unprepared for the experiences awaiting her in the outside world. “I had absolutely no decision-making skills. I didn’t know how to protect myself, I didn’t know who to trust or that there were people that were untrustworthy.”

    Difficulty with social interaction also makes it very difficult for people leaving cults to navigate the resources that might be available to them. The Twelve Tribes teaches that pastors, social workers, psychologists, and anyone else who might be able to offer help cannot be trusted, and it’s extremely difficult for survivors to override their instinct to stay away from these types of people, says Jones.
    Jones believes that the most crucial things she and other survivors need in the first few years after leaving the group are a safe place to figure out what to do next and the time to implement a plan. There are very few cult-specific resources out there—the ICSA offers advice and a “safe haven network,” while Wellspring Retreat is a long-admired resource for those who can afford it—and survivors often rely on domestic violence resources, which are equipped to offer the support they need. This includes extended stays in shelters that sometimes allow for earning a GED. Still, those resources are simply too limited to be a reliable option.

    For survivors willing to seek faith-based support, religious groups frequently offer a variety of resources like counseling and shelters. But because they’ve seen religion used as a means of control and an excuse for abuse, many survivors are unwilling or unable to try these options, in Jones’ experience. A 2013 study by the ICSA found that only 42 percent of former cult members sought help from religious organizations, and of those, only 21 percent found the services particularly helpful. According to Jones, most members choose to disassociate from religion for the rest of their lives. Still, the longer survivors are out of cults, the more likely they are to consider the possibility of finding a supportive faith community.

    For Jones, finding a way to help a survivor get the time to receive an education is one of the most important forms of support she can offer. “Education is choice,” she says. “If what it means to be human is to have free will, which means to be able to make a choice, education is [part of] being a whole human being.”


  65. The Lil Yellow Deli hopes to help fill the void the Sleepless Goat left in Kingston

    By Mandy Marciniak, Kingston Heritage May 25, 2016

    When the Sleepless Goat closed in Kingston, many were upset; the downtown coffee collective was always thought of as an inclusive and inviting space and many were sad to see it go. Luckily, a new deli is hoping to bring those same types of aspects to their own space and maybe even attract some of the Goat’s old customers.

    The Lil’ Yellow Deli, plans to open in Kingston in June and one of its owners, Jason Shinduke, hopes it will bring love and acceptance to all those who frequent the establishment.

    “We are a group of families that are working together,” he explained. “We are part of the Twelve Tribes and our focus and goal is love. We want to express love and we want to manifest love. We care and we want to have care for each other and have respect; we want to bring that to people through the restaurant.”

    The Twelve Tribes network of communities has been around for almost 45 years. The groups in Canada were mainly in British Columbia and Alberta until a few years ago when they travelled to Kingston for a Tall Ships event. They made contacts in the area and soon members fell in love with the Limestone City and started their own community.

    Shinduke is part of that community and lives with two families and a bunch of single members on a farm off of Abbey Dawn Road in Kingston.

    “In our community, we believe in traditional, basic things. We believe in the bible, we don’t have any alternative text, but we want to get back to the roots of a real simple faith that produces an action,” he said. “That action is an expression of the creator’s heart to you in a way that you can tangibly feel it. We focus more on action than words and we work and grow together.”

    When Twelve Tribes groups originally formed, they purchased a restaurant to help them connect and grow together. They needed to make some money, but they also wanted to do it together.

    “The very first café we had was called the Yellow Deli. A restaurant was the perfect place for the community to be together because anyone can learn to make a sandwich or wash dishes and they could all work together,” said Shinduke. “The materials were sourced from wherever and the paint was yellow so the name came from that. It symbolizes our resourcefulness, that close to the ground connection and remembering what life is all about.”

    In Kingston, The Lil’ Yellow Deli, located at 647 Princess Street, is still under construction, but everything inside will be custom built with repurposed wood and a natural feel. The menu will also be very simple with soups, salads and sandwiches that are locally sourced.

    “The food and drinks at the café will eventually be sourced from our farm, but not right now because we are just getting started,” said Shinduke. “Everything we do is homemade. We make all of our own breads and soups and we make a special South American tea. Our own fingerprint is on a lot of what we do.”

    Shinduke hopes that the space will appeal to Queen’s students, especially since the deli is across the street from a major residence, and the residents of Kingston too.

    “Our goal in the restaurant is for people to be able to come in and find a place where they are very comfortable, where people are accepted and taken care of and nourished and they feel good about it,” he said. “It is not a high-pressure business system and we aren’t doing it for the money. Our goal is more of an expression of love.”

    For more information about Twelve Tribes and The Lil’ Yellow Deli in Kingston visit www.twelvetribes.com


  66. Into Darkness: Inside an American White Supremacist Cult

    by Brendan Joel Kelley, Southern Law Poverty Center August 05, 2018

    From the “God Hates Fags” vitriol of the Westboro Baptist Church to the white supremacist and homophobic totalitarianism of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to the violent neo-Nazi advocates of “racial holy war” in the Creativity Movement, examples of hate metastasizing via religious dogma abound.

    The Twelve Tribes, a Christian fundamentalist cult born in the American South in the 1970s, is little-known to much of the country, and on first impression its communes and hippie-vibed restaurants and cafes can seem quaint and bucolic. But beneath the surface lies a tangle of doctrine that teaches its followers that slavery was “a marvelous opportunity” for black people, who are deemed by the Bible to be servants of whites, and that homosexuals deserve no less than death.

    While homosexuals are shunned by the Twelve Tribes (though ex-members say the group brags about unnamed members who are “formerly” gay), the group actively proselytizes to African Americans, yet one of its black leaders glorifies the early Ku Klux Klan.

    The Twelve Tribes tries to keep its extremist teachings on race from novice members and outsiders, but former members and experts on fringe religious movements who’ve helped its followers escape paint a dark picture of life in the group’s monastic communities — especially for black members, who must reconcile the appalling teachings on race with their own heritage and skin color.

    Sinasta Colucci was born in Detroit in 1984 to a white “free-spirited hippie” woman and a dreadlocked black man of Cherokee ancestry. Colucci’s parents split when he was an infant, and he was raised by his mom, who moved him and his older sister to Northern California when he was three months old.

    As a mixed-race kid growing up in the conservative town of Redding, California, where barely more than one percent of the population is black, Colucci was both aware of and confused by his skin color. He remembers an incident where he tried scraping his arms with tree bark to make his skin whiter. His mom responded by telling him he should be proud of his Native American heritage.

    When Colucci was 10, he was at a park with his friends and witnessed two drunk men fighting, one white and one Native American. When police arrived, he remembers that the Native American man was handcuffed, beaten and pepper sprayed, while the white man walked away. He admits he didn’t know the context of what he saw — “I could have gotten the facts wrong,” he says — but the incident made a lasting impact. “From that time on I had been deathly afraid of being beaten or killed because of how I look,” Colucci writes in the memoir he self-published in early 2018.

    In Redding, Colucci was called a panoply of racial slurs by people who weren’t sure of his ethnicity: sand nigger, wetback and beaner, nigger, dirty half-breed …. But when he moved to Detroit for a brief stint in college after graduating high school in Redding, and was working at a Church’s Chicken, he was called “white boy” by some black customers. “I was too white for Detroit and too black for Redding, California,” he says.

    A few years later, at age 21, Colucci first encountered the community of the Twelve Tribes at their farm in Weaubleau, Missouri, where he had traveled hoping to find a simpler, idealistic communal lifestyle. He was heartened that the first person he met was an older black man working on the farm who called himself Joshua.

    “It was relieving,” Colucci recalls. “They all lived together, they didn’t seem separate in [a racial] way.”

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  67. Just a couple of years later at another Twelve Tribes community in North Carolina, Colucci would find himself with a black leader of the fringe religious movement who goes by Yohannan Abraham (real name John Stringer). Abraham extolled the virtues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early member of the original post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan, and tried to impress on Colucci the inherent biblical subservience of the black race to white men, slavery being a prime example of that holy dictum.

    As he recounts in his memoir of his seven years with the Twelve Tribes, Better Than a Turkish Prison: What I Learned from Life in a Religious Cult, the cult’s teachings about race are revealed slowly to converts as they’re indoctrinated into a lifestyle of microscopic control dictated by its leaders.

    The Community
    The Twelve Tribes grew out of an early 1970s youth Bible study group led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs and his wife Marsha in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is now an international network of several dozen religious communes that consider Spriggs, who is known as Yoneq, a modern-day apostle, and follow his teachings explicitly lest they risk being ostracized by the cult and damned to an apocalyptic lake of fire.

    Followers who belong to “The Community,” as members refer to the Twelve Tribes, surrender their earthly possessions to the group and live communally, often working at the Tribes’ restaurants or tea shops — called The Yellow Deli and Mate Factor, respectively — or simply laboring on the communes or for one of the other cult-owned businesses. The internet is highly restricted, and secular music, books and other “worldly” influences are verboten.

    Spriggs and the other leaders of the Twelve Tribes kept the bulk of the cult’s “teachings” private, and largely succeeded until Bob and Judy Pardon encountered the group in the mid-1990s.

    Bob Pardon holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Theology with a concentration on ethics, and with his wife Judy founded the New England Institute of Religious Research. Together they run MeadowHaven in Lakeville, Massachusetts, which Pardon says is the only long-term transitional facility in the world for former members of destructive cults and fringe religious movements.

    The Pardons first came across the Twelve Tribes when a former member contacted them about what she perceived as child abuse — a young child whipped with a long, thin rod like those used to hold balloons, which left ugly marks and bruises. Though she had brought child abuse charges that were eventually dropped for lack of evidence, the Pardons were intrigued by the group, which Bob Pardon says he initially thought was being unfairly maligned. “They had a pretty low profile, and we had never heard of them before,” he says.

    Because of their initial skepticism about whether Twelve Tribes was a destructive group, the Pardons were granted access to many of the communities in the Northeast, and conducted extensive research with leaders, members and ex-members. They also studied their printed materials — the “Freepapers” members distribute in order to proselytize — and any teachings they could get their hands on.

    But even with access to Spriggs and other leaders, the official teachings weren’t shared with the Pardons. “They said that we wouldn’t understand,” Pardon says, “that we were not under ‘the anointed,’ which means underneath Spriggs. I have two theological degrees and I have extensive training in biblical languages and Christian history, so I was always a bit dumbfounded by that.”

    Eventually, though, the Pardons met ex-members who had been at the highest levels, right underneath Spriggs, and they took all of the teachings and shared them with the Pardons.

    “Once we got those teachings, we knew there was a very seedy underbelly to the group,” Pardon says. “We began to realize that this was a really heavy thought reform environment; there was a lot of behavior control over the members’ lives.”

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  68. Indeed as Colucci recounts in his book, the group exerted control over everything from when single men should masturbate (“usually about every other day or every few days,” Colucci writes, “and you’re supposed to try not to think about anything as you’re doing it. It’s to be a ‘mechanical release.’”) to how to wipe one’s ass (“there really is a teaching about taking three to four squares of toilet paper, folding it to the size of one square, then wipe, fold, wipe, fold, and repeat until you have this tiny, poop-stained square that you flush”).

    Among the teachings, the Pardons discovered the rationale behind the extensive accusations of child abuse in the Twelve Tribes. “It’s part and parcel of the theology that the child has to obey authority and if the child doesn’t obey authority, then the child needs to have that [physical discipline],” Pardon says. “It used to be that only parents did that, but early on it began to shift over so that anybody that came into the group who thought your child was disrespectful could discipline them, and that would normally happen.”

    Also revealed were Spriggs’ teachings on homosexuality. “They must be put to death,” the teaching reads. “Homosexuality is a capital offense.”

    Colucci would encounter these teachings during his seven years as a member of the Twelve Tribes (though he says he personally never witnessed child discipline that he considered abusive). But the teaching that would cause him the most confusion and internal struggle regarded the role of the black race, known as the Cham teaching.

    The “Curse”
    The Cham teaching, or the “curse of Ham,” as it’s more commonly known, stems from Genesis 9:20-25. In the story, Noah’s son Ham (or Cham, in the Twelve Tribes’ Hebraic vernacular), sees Noah naked and drunk in his tent and tells his brothers, Shem and Japheth. The brothers respond by walking backward so as not to gaze on Noah’s nudity and covering him with a blanket. When Noah awakens and discovers what happened, he curses Ham’s son Canaan for Ham’s impertinence, damning him to be a “servant of servants” to his brothers.

    Though the Bible does not ascribe ethnicity or race to any of the characters in this story, over history Ham/Cham has been portrayed as black by many in the furtherance of white supremacy, hence black servitude to Shem (posited as white by racists) has been biblically justified by prejudiced individuals and religious denominations over the past few centuries.

    Hate group ideologies like Christian Identity and those of the Ku Klux Klan have incorporated the “curse of Ham” biblical misinterpretation into their racist theology (Christian Identity sometimes asserting that Jews are actually the descendants of Ham and Canaan). In the 19th century, Southern Christians in America used the belief to justify slavery.

    The Twelve Tribes’ teachings regarding Ham/Cham both excuse slavery and perpetuate its bigotry, going so far as to attack Martin Luther King, Jr. “Martin Luther King was filled with every evil spirit there is to say Cham doesn’t have to serve Shem. All manner of evil filled that man,” the teaching reads. “It is horrible that someone would rise up to abolish slavery. What a marvelous opportunity that blacks could be brought over here to be slaves so that they could be found worthy of the nations.”

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  69. The Twelve Tribes insist these teachings are not racist. Yohannan Abraham, the black leader who praised the early KKK to Colucci, wrote an article on the group’s website titled “Are the Twelve Tribes Racist?” under his given name, John Stringer. (Multiple requests by the Intelligence Report to interview Abraham/Stringer and other Twelve Tribes leaders were denied or ignored.) Addressing a New York Post article that quotes from the group’s Cham teaching (“Submission to [white people] is the only provision by which [blacks] will be saved”), Stringer wrote that the quote “is taken totally out of context and has no application within the Twelve Tribes, where blacks are saved like anyone else — by the blood of the Son of God.” He concludes, “The conclusion of the quote and teaching that the New York Post took out of context says this: ‘Slavery is over for those who believe and come into Messiah, but it is not over for those outside Messiah.’”

    The telling detail Stringer/Abraham dodges is that the Twelve Tribes believe only those baptized into their cult have “come into Messiah,” leaving every other black person “outside Messiah,” where Stringer/Abraham admits he believes slavery “is not over.”

    “First of all,” Colucci says of Abraham/Stringer’s article, “any time a group has to have ‘Are We Racist?’ as a frequently asked question, something’s going on there .… They’re saying you have to join their group to be saved by their messiah, and you have to accept that you have certain iniquities based just on your skin color alone. You only find this out after living there a long time; this is not something they’re going to tell outsiders.”

    Carolyn Figueroa, who spent a year with the Twelve Tribes and left in 2011, wasn’t exposed to the cult’s teachings about black people until she left the group. Juan Figueroa, her father, enlisted Bob and Judy Pardon as well as cult expert Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, to help extract Carolyn from the group, at which time former members of the Twelve Tribes explained to her the controversial teachings she had yet to learn.

    Colucci was baptized into the Twelve Tribes after a mere three weeks living at the Stepping Stone Farm but didn’t encounter the Cham teaching — which dictated that he, as a man with black lineage on his father’s side, was cursed to be subservient to whites — for nearly a year with the cult.

    It was a younger man, also mixed race, who introduced Colucci to the Cham teaching — “something to the effect that black people are cursed and their only hope of righteousness is to submit to the white man. I was like, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’” Colucci approached one of his community’s leaders and asked about what he’d heard, and the leader reasserted the teaching “in a more graceful way,” Colucci says.

    “I was offended at first, and looking back, I’m not sure why I eventually accepted it. I was focused on the positive. I was listening to the teachings, and part of me really wanted everything else they said to be true.”

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  70. Two years after he first heard the teaching, Colucci was sent to the Twelve Tribes community in Hiddenite, North Carolina, where many of the cult’s leaders were living, including Yoneq, the founder, and Yohannan Abraham/John Stringer, the African American leader who penned the “Are the Twelve Tribes Racist?” article.

    Abraham/Stringer picked Colucci up at the airport in Charlotte when he arrived. “At that time, I was fully inundated, I was brainwashed,” Colucci says. “It was like meeting a hero. I kind of idolized him. Here’s this strong, powerful black man who’s going to bring in more black people, because we need more diversity. That’s the way I thought about it.”

    But as he spoke to Abraham/Stringer, and heard him speak about how Nathan Bedford Forrest and the early KKK were righteous because they’d brought order to the out-of-control Northern blacks raping women in the South after the Civil War, another image from his pre-cult past came to mind. “He was like the black white supremacist from “The David Chappelle Show,” Colucci says. “I was kind of double-minded the whole time I was there, because I really wanted [the Twelve Tribes’ theology] to be true.”

    Colucci left the Twelve Tribes in 2012, getting on a bus with his future wife the day after President Obama’s reelection. He didn’t leave because of the cult’s teachings about black people, but rather had become disillusioned with their theology.

    Former Twelve Tribes member David Pike, who was part of the Twelve Tribes from 1997 to 2004, was offended by some of the cult’s teachings as well — he says he witnessed young children beaten extensively with thin balloon sticks. “I saw some kids gettin’ switched till they bled,” he says, but he finally escaped (and spent time at Bob and Judy Pardon’s MeadowHaven facility, which helps people recover from abusive cults) when he couldn’t reconcile their theology with his own studies any longer.

    Jenny Lynn Fiore, a member of the Twelve Tribes in the early 2000s, took issue with the cult’s racism and authoritarian discipline of children and its treatment of women. “I saw very controlling, overbearing husbands treating their wives pretty badly, and there was no real recourse… they were basically kitchen slaves,” she says, but she spent years in and out of the group before finally cutting ties.

    It’s remarkable that people of conscience like Colucci, Figueroa, Pike and Fiore become indoctrinated to the Twelve Tribes’ abhorrent teachings on homosexuality, black people’s subservience to whites and extensive corporal punishment of small children.

    “They really begin to control your internal reality, how you process things, how you see reality,” says Bob Pardon, who has helped many former members of the Twelve Tribes transition out of the cult over the last twenty-plus years. “There’s a lot of emotion control — you feel guilty about things you shouldn’t feel guilty about, and not guilty about things you should, and the same with fear, you fear things you shouldn’t and you don’t fear things that you probably should.”

    “We were immigrants,” Colucci writes in his memoir of his and his future wife’s bus ride away from the Twelve Tribes. “We were leaving one nation — the nation of New Israel, the Twelve Tribes Communities, a nation in which women must be submissive to men, blacks and whites are not equal, homosexuality is a sin which gays must repent of if they want to be accepted, where even differing beliefs and opinions are not allowed, where your daily activities are strictly dictated—and we were entering what is arguably the freest nation on the planet.”


  71. “They are evil”: Ex-Twelve Tribes members describe child abuse, control inside religious cult

    By Shelly Bradbury The Denver Post March 3, 2022

    On a fall day in 1999, 19-year-old John I. Post packed up his birth certificate, Social Security card, state identification, favorite blanket and pictures of his family and prepared to leave the religious cult into which he’d been born and raised.

    He’d been taught his whole life that anyone who left the Twelve Tribes would die. He had no money. Agonized over the decision to leave. But he couldn’t stay. He planned to walk into town and call a friend for help.

    When he finally stood up to leave the Vermont compound, some 15 cult members blocked his path outside, forming a wall. They prayed and warned there would be consequences if he walked out of God’s protection. He’d probably die. Post shook as he moved by them.

    “My heart was just pounding and pounding. Was something going to happen to me? I didn’t know,” Post, who is deaf, said in an interview through an interpreter.

    As he walked the mile into town, his father followed, imploring him to stay.

    “I finally said to my father, ‘Look, please, accept this is my decision,’” Post, 43, said. “And finally he didn’t say anything and he walked away.”

    Post was free.

    “I’ll never go back,” he said. “Never, not at all. I just feel like, the Twelve Tribes, they are evil.”

    The Twelve Tribes religious sect burst into the news in Colorado in January, when authorities confirmed they were investigating the possibility that the deadly Marshall fire, the most destructive wildfire in state history, might have started on the group’s compound off Eldorado Springs Drive in Boulder County. Investigators have not yet pinpointed the cause of the fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and are investigating other potential ignition points as well.

    Few on the Front Range know much about the insular religious group, whose 3,000-some members live communally in Colorado and across the nation and world, and take pains to present an innocuous front to outsiders.

    The Twelve Tribes attracts new members with a folksy peace-and-love, all-are-welcome message, but underneath that hollow promise of utopia lies a manipulative cult that seeks to maintain complete control of its followers, 10 former members told The Denver Post in 26 hours of interviews. The Post reviewed nearly 400 pages of Twelve Tribes’ teachings and combed through court, real estate, business and historical records in reporting on the sect.

    In a series of three stories over the next week, The Post will detail accounts of ex-members about living inside the Twelve Tribes, spotlighting three major problems identified by former followers: that the group requires excessive corporal punishment and fails to protect children from sexual abuse, exploits members for labor and money, and espouses racist, misogynistic and homophobic teachings.

    “Nobody understands the real horror underneath until you’ve lived it,” said Alina Anderson, a former member born into the cult who left in 2001 at age 14. Anderson, 35, now lives in Boulder and is going by her middle and former married names in this story to avoid being identified by current cult members.

    Leaders in the Twelve Tribes contacted by The Post either declined to comment or spoke only briefly, saying they were wary of publicity after past bad experiences with the press. The group also didn’t respond to emailed questions. But those who spoke defended the Twelve Tribes and its practices.

    “We try to do good to everyone,” said Tim Pendergrass, a current Twelve Tribes leader who lives in a Florida commune. “It’s amazing how everyone can think bad about you. It just comes with the turf.”

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  72. Physical restraint and discipline

    Founded in Tennessee in 1972 by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, the 50-year-old Twelve Tribes blends Spriggs’ personal beliefs with elements of both Christianity and Judaism.

    New members must give up their possessions and names, live in one of the Twelve Tribes’ three dozen worldwide communes and follow the cult’s strict rules, which, former members say, dictate everything from how much toilet paper a member should use (two sheets) to the shape of a member’s eyeglasses (round). Followers are encouraged to cut off all contact with the outside world.

    The Twelve Tribes moved into Colorado in the early 2000s, first establishing a compound in Manitou Springs before expanding to Boulder in 2010; members now run the Yellow Deli in Boulder and a café in Manitou Springs. An estimated 40 people live at the Eldorado Springs Drive compound, and another 25 or so in a house in Manitou Springs.

    The largest number of Twelve Tribes communities are in the U.S., but the sect also has a presence in South America, Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

    The group can be considered a cult because it has a charismatic authoritarian leader, extremist ideology, an all-or-nothing belief system, and uses coercion to control and exploit members, cult expert Janja Lalich said. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Twelve Tribes as a “Christian fundamentalist cult.”

    In recent years, the Twelve Tribes has experienced a mass exodus among the first generation of children born and raised in the group. Many — most, by some counts — of the first kids raised in the cult have left, driven out by the group’s practices and leadership’s increasingly tight grip on the shrinking membership that remains.

    For many ex-members, the decision to leave came with parenthood.

    “I was under no circumstances going to beat my kids the way I was beaten,” said a former member who left in his 30s and spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to protect family members still in the cult. “I just could not do it. And you have to if you are there. If you are not beating your kids, you are going to be in big trouble.”

    The Twelve Tribes taught that it was different from false religions — like mainstream Christianity — because “their children would follow them,” he said.

    But the Twelve Tribes’ children fled in droves. And now, as adults still working through the trauma of their childhoods, they worry for the kids still caught inside.

    When a toddler throws a tantrum in the Twelve Tribes, an adult might grab the girl, hold her tight on his lap — perhaps by throwing his leg over hers — restrain both her arms and put his hand over her mouth until she stops fighting back.

    The toddler might scream and cry and struggle for an hour. She will not be freed until she surrenders, former members said. The idea is to break her will.

    “Kids were supposed to be quiet. And when they weren’t, physical restraint over their bodies and mouths was expected,” said ex-member Jason Wolfe, 46. His brother, a leader in the Twelve Tribes, previously lived in Manitou Springs, and their father helped establish the Boulder community. Wolfe left the group in 2009 and now lives in Virginia; he was 6 when his parents joined.

    Restraint is part of the Twelve Tribes’ overall approach to child-rearing, which focuses heavily on physical discipline. The Twelve Tribes teaches that children must be spanked with thin, flexible wooden rods — a practice the group has been consistently criticized for but has steadfastly defended, saying it is rooted in Biblical principles.

    “Those are longstanding (concerns) that probably won’t be resolved until everyone comes to the understanding everyone will come to,” Pendergrass said.

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  73. A January 2000 version of the group’s 348-page Child Training Manual obtained by The Post says children as young as 6 months should be spanked, if they, say, wiggle away from diaper changes.

    “The pain received from the balloon stick is more humbling than harmful,” the manual reads. “There is no defense against it… The only way to stop the sting of the rod is to submit. That is exactly what the child will do — submit to his parents’ will and end his rebellion.”

    Ex-members who grew up in the Twelve Tribes described being spanked on their bare bottoms, on their hands and on the bottoms of their feet for the slightest perceived offenses; it was not uncommon for parents to spank their child 20 or 30 times each day.

    “We were basically beaten down into absolutely nothing so that they could build you up into what they wanted you to be. Asking for seconds at breakfast could get you a spanking,” Anderson said. Adults in the cult were taught to discipline on the first command.

    “If you have a 3-year-old son and you say, ‘Stop jumping up and down’ — the chances of that happening on the first time is zero. So that would be a spanking,” said a former 20-year member who previously lived with the cult in Boulder and left in 2016. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his family still lives in the group.

    Like most everything in the Twelve Tribes, discipline is communal and guided by social pressure. Offenses that warrant spanking might vary from community to community, or even from family to family, but there is tremendous social pressure to discipline harshly, ex-members said.

    Cult members meet once every morning and once every evening for mandatory “gatherings” — worship sessions at which leaders preach. They can be tedious and long, and children are expected to listen without fidgeting.

    “If you don’t take your child out and spank them during the teachings, then you’re thought of as not being a good parent,” said Luke Wiseman, 46, a former member who left in 2013 and now lives in Virginia. “People tapped me on the back when I had a 2-year-old son and said, ‘Your son is not listening.’ Then if I don’t take him out and spank him, I’m not ‘receiving.’”

    Adults considered to be out-of-bounds are ostracized, shamed and “cut off” from the community until they repent and leaders approve their return. Members who do wrong might also be the subject of a community-wide “public humiliation,” in which the community’s leaders shame the person during a gathering. Some wrongs might be codified into a new teaching that is sent to all Twelve Tribes communities, ex-members said.

    “Most people in the Twelve Tribes really live in fear,” said Post, who now lives in Maine. He became deaf as an infant after a bout with meningitis, but his parents didn’t know he’d lost his hearing until he was 4. He was harshly disciplined as a toddler because his parents thought he wasn’t obeying them, when, in reality, he just couldn’t hear their commands, he said. Both parents are still in the Twelve Tribes today.

    “Just last year, after 30 years, my parents approached me and apologized for what had happened to me growing up,” Post said. “It was over the top, it was severe and brutal.”

    Longstanding abuse allegations

    The first generation of children in the Twelve Tribes largely grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and former members described enduring extreme physical abuse during that time. The ex-member who left in his 30s remembered a practice called scourging, in which a child was stripped naked and beaten with a rod from head to toe.

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  74. Post and others said adults routinely withheld food from children as a form of discipline, sometimes for days at a time. When Anderson was 6 or 7, she was locked in a dark basement as punishment for taking from the refrigerator.

    “The one time that I was locked in the dungeon — it wasn’t a real dungeon but it felt like it — I think that was for more than a day, because we fasted every Friday, so I was used to starving, and it was longer than that,” she said.

    On a June day in 1984, authorities in Island Pond, Vermont, raided the Twelve Tribes’ commune there over allegations of child abuse. Police and social workers took more than 100 children into protective custody with plans to examine the kids for signs of abuse. But the plan fell apart when a judge determined the raid was unconstitutional because the search warrant was too general and not supported by concrete evidence of abuse. The children were returned to the commune within hours.

    “The raid that happened in 1984, what should have happened is all the children should have been taken and placed in foster care and that should have been the end of the group,” Wolfe said. “There was so much child abuse going on at that time.”

    For years afterward, the Twelve Tribes celebrated June 22 as a day of deliverance, a sort of Passover-like event in which God protected the group from the overreach of government. When the children in the raid grew up, some spoke publicly at June 22 remembrances to defend their parents and proclaim they had never been abused.

    The day before the 20th anniversary of the raid, Wolfe was included in a meeting with other first-generation kids ahead of the celebration to prepare for the next day’s speeches. Jeanie Swantko, a former public defender who joined the group and married Wiseman’s father after representing him in a child abuse case, told the gathered young adults that they needed to clearly say there had been no abuse. (Swantko couldn’t be reached for comment.)

    “I stood up and I was like, ‘You’re dead wrong,'” Wolfe said. “‘There was a (crap)load of abuse, it was everywhere and that was all there was. Why can’t we just say there was child abuse and we’re not OK with it?'”

    He was escorted out of the meeting, he said. His brother who is still in the Twelve Tribes, Peter Wolfe, said in a short phone conversation in February that he had a “wonderful upbringing.”

    “I did grow up here (in the Twelve Tribes),” he said. “…My wife grew up here. We don’t share any of those views as far as different things that other people might say.”

    Both Peter Wolfe and Pendergrass said the Twelve Tribes welcomed visitors and questions, but a local leader denied a request by The Post to visit the group’s Boulder compound. The organization also did not respond to emailed questions about its treatment of children.

    Police calls in Colorado

    For many years in the Twelve Tribes, physical discipline could be meted out by any adult on any child for any reason, former members said. Anderson was disciplined for wearing her ponytail too high and for looking around — not at her feet — when she walked.

    “There was no safe space,” Jason Wolfe said.

    In recent years, the Twelve Tribes seems to have shifted toward parents disciplining their own children with less emphasis on all adults disciplining all children, one of several modernizing changes the group has made in response to outside criticism. But ex-members say the Twelve Tribes would never fully abandon the practice of physical discipline, which is still a core tenet.

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  75. Logs of police calls to the Twelve Tribes’ compounds in Boulder County and Manitou Springs show that child abuse remains a concern. A 911 caller in May 2020 sent Manitou Springs police to the commune there after a young relative who had visited the group reported that children were being kept in a basement without electricity, according to records provided by Manitou Springs police.

    That caller, who asked not to be identified to preserve relationships with her relatives, said police told her they knocked on the door of the commune, asked a few questions and left without going inside. The Twelve Tribes was known to be peaceful and everything seemed OK that night, they told her. Manitou Springs police records show officers spent 13 minutes at the compound; a police spokesman did not know whether officers went inside the home.

    In September 2019, child welfare officials and sheriff’s deputies visited the compound in Boulder County and interviewed several people as part of a child protective services investigation, according to a report provided by the sheriff’s office. Deputies went along out of concern the group might be hostile, but the cult members welcomed the inquiry, the report says.

    “The children living on the property seemed to be happy and healthy, and they even sang us a couple songs while we were there,” Deputy J. Ryan wrote in the report.

    Police also responded to reports of teenagers who ran away from the Colorado properties.

    In September 2020, a 16-year-old girl fled the Manitou Springs compound in the middle of the night, according to a police report. In June 2018, a 15-year-old boy who was living in the Boulder commune ran away, sheriff’s records show. The teenager returned after about two days and told deputies he’d ridden his bicycle from the Eldorado Springs Drive commune to Westminster, slept the night on a patch of grass, then continued to ride his bicycle all the way into the 16th Street Mall in Denver, where he spent the day before cycling back to the commune.

    “(The boy) appeared very genuine in his statements saying he was not going to do this ever again and that he was sorry for putting his mother and father in such constant worry,” the deputy’s report reads.

    The police reports also detail the Jan. 5 arrest of Ron Williams, 50, on a year-old outstanding warrant for felony sexual exploitation of children after Boulder County authorities discovered more than 1,000 images of child sexual abuse in Williams’ possession in 2020. At the time, he was living in a home in Superior; that home burned in the Marshall fire. When he was arrested in January, he’d been staying with the Twelve Tribes, though it’s not clear for how long.

    As he was arrested a short walk away from the Twelve Tribes’ compound in Manitou Springs, Officer Ron Johnson described Williams to other officers as “a possible suspect in the Boulder fire” multiple times, according to body camera footage. But Carrie Haverfield, a spokeswoman for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, said Williams was never a suspect in the Marshall fire investigation.

    “He was someone that was staying on the property at the time and so was loosely associated with the property, so he was indexed along with everybody else, but never a suspect,” she said.

    Failure to report

    Sexual abuse of children is not condoned or allowed by the Twelve Tribes, former members said, but it does happen, and it is rarely reported to law enforcement when discovered.

    Sometimes, a man accused of sexual abuse will be kicked out of the cult, ex-members said. But sometimes, he will be forgiven and allowed to stay. How a case is handled often depends on how much status the abuser has within the cult. Frequently, children who report sexual abuse are not believed; some are punished or told the abuse was their fault.

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  76. Anderson said she as a young girl told a woman she trusted about being sexually abused. That woman brought it to other adults, and Anderson was questioned by a male elder. She kept silent. Another elder’s wife then took her aside and questioned her.

    “She said, ‘How do you have intercourse?’ And that is what threw me off. I said, ‘What is intercourse? And why would I have it?’ Then she said, ‘Is it anal or vaginal?’”

    Anderson didn’t know what those words meant, and the elder’s wife concluded that she was lying about being abused in an attempt to get attention, Anderson said.

    She still struggles to talk about it.

    After escaping the group at 19, Post went to college and in his sophomore year poured out his heart in a 10-page letter to his father in which he detailed sexual abuse he’d suffered as a young teenager.

    “He wrote me back and said, ‘I don’t believe anything in your story,’” Post said.

    In a Twelve Tribes leadership meeting sometime around 2011, Wiseman asked why a particular case of alleged child sexual abuse wasn’t reported to outside authorities. Leaders told Wiseman that the girl’s father didn’t want to testify in court, Wiseman said.

    He later followed up with the father, who said he was willing to work with law enforcement, but that a Twelve Tribes leader “told him not to testify because it would shame our Master’s (Jesus’) name,” Wiseman said, adding that the Twelve Tribes kicked out the accused abuser.

    “It’s been sustained, spanning multiple eras in the Twelve Tribes, and they bury it,” the member who left in his 30s said. “They don’t advocate for the kids who are abused. They’re much more interested in their image than they are in protecting children.”

    Inside the Twelve Tribes, sexual contact of any kind is forbidden outside of marriage. The punishment for young adults caught kissing or holding hands is marriage, ex-members said. Divorce is not allowed in the cult and interracial marriages are frowned on. Homosexuality is also forbidden; a 1990 teaching shared with The Post calls it “abominable,” and says gay or lesbian people “must be put to death.”

    After co-ed education was banned, enough young men experimented with bestiality that Spriggs, the cult’s leader, in 2006 ordered young men to kill the animals they’d had sex with. At least 30 sheep, and several cows, goats and chickens were slaughtered, Wiseman said. He estimated around 10 men and boys confessed to bestiality around that time, both in the U.S. and abroad.

    “That’s horrific psychological abuse,” Wiseman said. “These boys were repressed, not allowed to be normal kids, not allowed to talk to girls, and then when they confess their sin they’re made to go kill the animals.”

    Pendergrass said the Twelve Tribes is about love, not punishment.

    “Really all we are about, really, honestly, is loving people, loving our creator, loving our children and that’s really it,” he said. “All we know is if we love one another and we try to love everybody, it’s all going to work out. That might be kind of simplistic, but it sure does help me live a stress-free life and have lots of peace and be willing to do anything for love. That’s what I like.”

    Periodically, the Twelve Tribes’ treatment of its children turns up in newspapers or TV news specials. In 2004, the Broward Palm Beach New Times in Florida published a story that featured an ex-Twelve Tribes member who said her husband molested her children and that the Twelve Tribes leadership denied her a divorce and attempted to cover up the abuse. She left the group, went to authorities and the man was convicted of sex crimes in 2006.

    Around the same time, a criminal case was proceeding against a 25-year-old man after a 6-year-old girl told a child welfare worker the man fondled her in 2001, that story says.

    In 2007, a former Twelve Tribes teacher pleaded guilty to molesting two boys in the 1990s, according to The Boston Globe.

  77. In Germany in 2013, 40 children were taken from a Twelve Tribes compound amid concerns of child abuse, according to a story in The Telegraph.

    But abuse cases that lead to criminal charges are the exception, ex-members said, and many more allegations are handled behind closed doors within the Twelve Tribes.

    “The only time they’d ever consider taking it to the authorities is if it was already leaked out and they had no choice,” the ex-member who lived in Boulder said.

    When cases do garner publicity, the attention tends to quickly fade, and the Twelve Tribes continues operating unimpeded, ex-members said. Some find it frustrating to watch.

    “We believe in religious rights,” Wiseman said. “But at some point, there needs to be discussion of where does the line come in when religious rights start to psychologically manipulate and abuse children. This is a bigger discussion that needs to be happening.”

    High-profile betrayal

    Around 2008, the Twelve Tribes learned that its founder’s wife, Marsha Spriggs, had carried out a series of extramarital affairs. Eugene Spriggs, the founder who died in 2021, ultimately decided his wife should be forgiven. The scandal rocked members’ faith in the group’s leadership.

    “It wasn’t that she was a human and had fallen into sin, it was that she had personally been involved in sending away a lot of other families for much less serious infractions,” Wiseman said.

    The affair revelations accelerated people’s departures from the group, and leadership at the Twelve Tribes responded by clamping down even more strictly on the dwindling number of families who remained.

    In the past, followers could listen to traditional Irish music, go hiking or to the beach with their families on Saturdays, eat chocolate. Now, driving on Saturdays is forbidden, and Irish music and chocolate are banned. Women must part their hair in the middle; men must roll up their pant legs. Women can only wear dresses on weekends.

    “It has slowly evolved into a very harsh, authoritarian-type of system,” the member who lived in Boulder said, describing the leadership’s reaction to the affairs as “total lockdown.”

    Even before her husband’s death last year, Marsha Spriggs was the de facto leader of the Twelve Tribes, ex-members said, though the Tribes’ patriarchal organization would never formally reflect that.

    And there were subtle signs that Eugene Spriggs may not have approved of everything his group had become, ex-members said. In 2012, a year before Wiseman left the cult, he confessed to Spriggs, who used the name Yoneq, that he drank beer with his wife, against the cult’s rules.

    “He said, ‘Just don’t talk about it,’” Wiseman said.

    The ex-member who left in his 30s said he met one-on-one with Eugene Spriggs as a teenager in the mid-1990s and told the man about horrific childhood abuse he’d endured in the Twelve Tribes. He said the founder wept silently as he shared the details of the abuse.

    But after just five minutes, Marsha Spriggs burst into the room and sent the member out. She spoke to her husband briefly then cornered the member in the hallway.

    “She comes out and says, ‘If you ever tell Yoneq anything like that again, I’ll send you (away from us) that day,’” the member said.

    Years later, that member sneaked out of a Twelve Tribes commune in the middle of the night with a duffel bag of clothes. He waited in the bushes for a ride from a man who’d left the cult years before. That night, he slept on his friend’s floor.

    In the morning, he woke up.

    He drank a cup of coffee, forbidden in the cult.

    And he realized he was, for the first time in his life, completely in charge of his own choices.

    “I felt like I could float away,” he said. “That feeling, it’s impossible to describe. That feeling of freedom. And honestly, I feel some level of that every day.”


  78. Twelve Tribes’ businesses like Yellow Deli exploit cult followers for free labor, ex-members say

    By Shelly Bradbury The Denver Post March 7, 2022

    Frank W. spent five years working for the Twelve Tribes religious sect and never took home a paycheck.

    The 65-year-old Tennessean worked many 12-hour days in various jobs across the country for the religious cult. Never baptized in as a full member, he bent the rules at times, frequently leaving for work so early that he missed mandatory morning worship sessions.

    “You can get away with a lot when you are a good worker,” he said. But in 2015, the Twelve Tribes told him he was no longer welcome.

    “I said, ‘Well you need to settle up with me then,’” he said, using his middle name and last initial in this story to avoid being identified by current cult members. “And they said, ‘Oh we don’t do that.’”

    During its 50-year existence, the Twelve Tribes has distinguished itself among religious cults through its extensive business operations. The group has relied on food service, construction, soap-making, woodworking, farming, solar energy and even an Alaskan fishing operation to make money over the decades. Members live communally, sharing money and resources, and all of the sect’s businesses are staffed by followers who work without pay, ex-members told The Denver Post.

    New members must give the group all their possessions when they join, often signing over personal property to the cult’s limited liability companies. Many have nothing to fall back on if they later want to leave the group.

    “I messed up my life messing with them,” Frank W. said.

    The exploitation of members for labor and money is one of three major problems identified by 10 former members who spoke with The Post after the Twelve Tribes catapulted into Colorado headlines earlier this year when authorities began investigating whether the Marshall fire started on the group’s Boulder County property. Investigators have yet to conclude how the deadly wildfire started, and also are investigating other possible ignition points.

    In 26 hours of interviews with The Post, the ex-members also took issue with the Twelve Tribes’ treatment of children and the group’s teachings embracing racism, homophobia and misogyny. The Post reviewed nearly 400 pages of the cult’s internal teachings and is presenting ex-members’ accounts in a series of three stories this week.

    The Twelve Tribes’ estimated 3,000 followers live communally in about three dozen worldwide compounds. Now headquartered in North Carolina, the cult was founded in Tennessee in 1972 and made its way into Colorado in the early 2000s.

    The group has two established Colorado communities, one in Boulder County and another in Manitou Springs, and can be considered a cult because of its charismatic authoritarian leader, extremist ideology, all-or-nothing belief system, and use of coercion to control and exploit members, cult expert Janja Lalich said.

    “They act like they are so separate from the world, but they have the same issues,” Frank W. said. “They want the world’s money. It’s all about money when it really gets down to it.”

    Leaders in the Twelve Tribes contacted by The Post either declined to comment or spoke only briefly to defend the group and its practices. A leader with the Boulder County community declined to allow The Post to visit the group’s compound, and the organization did not answer emailed questions about its labor practices.

    “My perspective is it’s only wonderful and that’s really all I can say,” said Tim Pendergrass, a current leader who lives in a Florida commune.

    A 24/7 sandwich shop and a café

    In Colorado, the Twelve Tribes owns and operates the Yellow Deli in Boulder and Maté Factor Café in Manitou Springs.

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  79. The deli was open 24/7 before the Marshall fire but now operates with limited hours, and has long struggled to turn a profit, said a former 20-year member who once lived in Boulder and who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect family still in the cult. The café in Manitou Springs is one of the Twelve Tribes’ more profitable restaurants because it has a simple menu and can be run by just a couple of people, the ex-member said.

    In Kansas, the Twelve Tribes operates an organic sprouts farm and sells the sprouts under the brand name ChloroFields, state business records show.

    Most of the Colorado communities’ money comes from construction companies, the ex-member said. One such business, Commonwealth Services LLC, was formed in 2016 and registered to member Matthew Morgan at the group’s Boulder County compound on Eldorado Springs Drive, according to records from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The business uses the trade name CWS Excavating; its website says it’s a “family-owned and operated septic installation company.”

    It’s one of a number of construction companies the Twelve Tribes has operated during the last five decades. A Massachusetts-based company, BOJ Construction LLC, pulled in several million dollars a year at its height in the early 2000s and drove the group’s funding, ex-members said. Young men in the cult would travel the country for jobs, rent a little house for everyone and work nearly around the clock without pay until the job was done.

    Although the Twelve Tribes observes a day of rest on Saturday, their Sabbath, cult leadership would sometimes declare “pushes” in which working through gatherings — the group’s twice-daily worship sessions — or even on the Sabbath was allowed, Frank W. said.

    “Gene (Spriggs, the founder) would say, ‘If it’s for a good cause, God will forgive us for working all the time,’” he said. “What happened, basically, was everything became a push.”

    The business profits are used to pay mortgages and living expenses for the communities, the former Boulder member said. Any extra money must then be sent to the Twelve Tribes’ headquarters in Hiddenite, North Carolina, where leaders decide how it is spent.

    Although cult members spend long hours staffing the businesses, each individual has very little say over how the money is used. Within each community, one person is designated as being in charge of “personal needs,” and any individual purchases must go through that person, the ex-Boulder member said.

    A few years ago, he ran a construction company that made $3 million or $4 million in revenue annually, he said, which paid for about $10,000 in monthly expenses for the community he lived in at the time. Then he’d send whatever was left to Hiddenite, he said.

    “I started that business and ran it all, but I was having a hard time buying socks for my daughter,” he said. “That is what I mean about not paying labor. You’re eating millet for breakfast and you can’t buy clothes for your kids.”

    In the early days, cult members could keep property or assets in their own names when they joined the group, but that practice was frowned on after some members left and took their assets with them. The leaders of the Twelve Tribes began to favor limited liability companies instead.

    Vulnerable recruiting pool

    Frank W., who went to live with the Twelve Tribes during what he described as the “ultimate midlife crisis,” allowed cult members to sort through his belongings and take what they wanted when he went to live with the group. They nabbed items like a stainless steel table and his refrigerator, he said.

    “I was at my wit’s end,” he said. “Religion is the one thing I never really tried to get serious about. So I was like, ‘Oh, why not?’”

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  80. When the group kicked him out, leaders eventually agreed to give him a small sum of money, he said, on the grounds it was reimbursement for some improvements he’d made to one of the community’s homes before he went to live with the group.

    “They’ll overlook a lot of potential evil in a person if you have money, skills, property,” he said. “There’s a little bit of an obsession with it.”

    The Twelve Tribes tends to attract people who are down on their luck, struggling to function in society or even running from the law, ex-members said. The cult used to send a bus to follow Grateful Dead concert tours; Twelve Tribes members would offer first aid, cookies and tea to the band’s hardcore fans.

    “People would come on (the bus) and you’d hope they would say, ‘Who the (expletive) are you?’ And you could tell them,” said ex-member Lev David, who lives in Massachusetts. “You didn’t come out and say, ‘Hey we’re a religious organization, we’re looking for recruits.’ You didn’t preach to people.”

    David, 52, spoke on the condition he be identified by his Twelve Tribes name, not his legal name, because people in his life now do not know about his past. He joined the cult out of high school in 1987 and left in 2007, after marrying and having four children inside.

    During the last five years at the two compounds in Colorado, law enforcement has responded to reports of people arriving at the Twelve Tribes with stolen property and with guns, records show. Cult members have called for help removing trespassers. Family members with relatives in the cult have asked police to check on their loved ones.

    In April 2020, 48-year-old Christopher Walker was reported as missing from the Twelve Tribes’ compound in Manitou Springs after he packed a bag, went for a walk and did not return. When he was spotted by police five days after he’d disappeared, Walker said he’d been camping in a cave because he “needed a break from the Twelve Tribes.”

    Walker’s father, Ken Walker, said his son lives with bipolar disorder and struggles with homelessness. Christopher Walker lived with the Twelve Tribes for about 18 months, his father said.

    “For one-and-a-half years I knew he was safe; he gained 30 pounds,” Ken Walker said. “It’s my impression of the Twelve Tribes that they provide needed services, given how the homeless are treated. They will feed anybody, they will put them up, they will give them something to do.”

    He compared his son’s status in the group to that of an “indentured servant,” and said when his son decided to leave, the Twelve Tribes psychologically pressured him to stay, but did nothing else to try to stop him.

    “He went in with nothing and he left with nothing,” Ken Walker said. “It’s a great deal if you don’t have anything.”

    His son did not return requests for comment.

    Many in the Twelve Tribes are earnest, hardworking people who are genuinely trying to do good in the world, ex-members said. There’s a divide in the group between leaders and non-leaders, with constant shifts in the in-crowd and the out-crowd.

    “Had I not been in a position of authority or government, at all these (leadership) meetings, I might not have ever left,” ex-member Luke Wiseman said. “I was fine with the lifestyle. It was all I knew. We had a culture, a network, camaraderie, you had a sense that you weren’t all alone. They cared about you and cared what you were doing. But once you are not loyal or once you disagree, all that goes out the window.”

    Child labor allegations

    Twelve Tribes members’ lives are dominated by work from a young age.

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  81. The ex-Boulder member who left in 2016 worked in a factory beginning when he was 13, he said. He did not live in Colorado at the time. His days started with a mandatory 6 a.m. gathering, then he’d head to the factory until 5 p.m. He’d go to the evening gathering again at 6 p.m. and then back to work from about 7:30 p.m. until 10 or 11 p.m., he said.

    The Twelve Tribes eventually began referring to such work as apprenticeships.

    “What they call apprenticeships is just working in the industry,” he said. “We stopped school at 12 or 13, and that’s pretty much everybody.”

    John I. Post, a former member born into the group who left when he was 19, said he began working in the cult’s bakeries and restaurants at age 7.

    “School for the children wasn’t a real priority,” he said. “They encouraged all the kids to go to work. That was the focus.”

    Former member Jason Wolfe, 46, who previously lived in Colorado, said he began working construction at 13 and was running 40-man crews on commercial sites by 16. His young age was no secret; he remembered a meeting with the owner of another construction company after he turned 19.

    “He goes, ‘So Jason, how old are you now?’” Wolfe said. “And I said, ‘I’m 19.’ And he’s like, ‘Congratulations, after five years of being 18, you finally turned 19.’”

    The Twelve Tribes is highly patriarchal, and while boys worked outside of the communities, girls spent their time working inside the compounds.

    Alina Anderson, an ex-member born into the group who left when she was 14 and lives in Boulder, said she was kicked out of the sect’s homeschooling when she was 11. She is identified by her middle and formerly married last names to prevent current cult members from recognizing her.

    After she was kicked out of school, Anderson spent her time doing chores, including preparing meals for about 100 people each day and doing laundry for two single men.

    “When I say making lunch, it’s not as simple as going into the kitchen and everything is there,” she said. “It’s, OK, you’re making tomato sandwiches. You make the bread from scratch… then you run outside to the garden and you pick all the tomatoes, then you come in and you wash them, and you run out of time so you just set a cutting board on the table with a bowl of tomatoes… and you make the mayonnaise yourself, too.”

    When she left the cult and flew to Colorado just weeks after 9/11, she had no idea the terrorist attack had even happened.

    The cult’s labor practices have landed it in hot water in the past — the group faced citations for failing to pay the minimum wage in California in 2008, and for child labor law violations in New York in 2018 after “Inside Edition” obtained hidden camera footage of children working in a production plant.

    Cult leaders have defended their unpaid employees as volunteers, and said the “Inside Edition” footage was taken out of context. The Twelve Tribes also operates a nonprofit corporation called T.H.E. Community Apostolic Order. The Twelve Tribes did not respond to a request from The Post to provide the nonprofit’s tax returns.

    It’s generally not legal for anyone to work for free, said Scott Moss, director of the division of labor standards and statistics in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

    “There is no religious exception to the minimum wage,” he said.

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  82. Workers can’t be unpaid in exchange for room and board, he said. In some situations, Colorado employers can pay employees less than the minimum wage if they provide room and board, but only to a limited degree, and only if the room and board is optional for the employees. An employer also can’t pay employees with the expectation that employees then give their paychecks back to the company, he said.

    “Employees can donate to anyone, but if it is a requirement or expectation of keeping your job, and if, in reality, an employee would not keep their job if they did not ‘donate it back,’ then it is not a donation,” Moss said.

    Volunteers don’t have to be paid, but people who perform core work for an establishment that provides services to the public and competes with other businesses don’t qualify as volunteers, he said.

    “If you’re volunteering at a church’s soup kitchen, that is volunteering,” he said. “If you’re volunteering at a church’s pizzeria that is open to the public and competes with other pizzerias down the street and is doing what other pizzerias do, then that is work.”

    Moss added that while child labor laws vary, “under age 9, generally you cannot be employed at anything.”

    The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has no records of past complaints or investigations into the Yellow Deli in Boulder or the Maté Factor in Manitou Springs, Moss said. Neither did Boulder County’s Community Protection Division.

    In 2017, Boulder’s Yellow Deli faced potential closure after the building’s condo association attempted to amend the building’s constitution to prevent the restaurant from operating 24/7, citing concerns about homeless people gathering there, the Daily Camera reported. A year after that effort failed, the condo association considered doubling the money the Yellow Deli paid for its share of the building’s costs, the newspaper reported.

    At the time, Andrew Wolfe — Jason Wolfe’s father — told the newspaper that the restaurant was supporting seven families in the Twelve Tribes.

    Centralized control

    Businesses, like a person’s assigned community, were used as a means of control in the Twelve Tribes, ex-members said.

    Lower-status members were sent to poorer, less desirable communities. If a person’s business became particularly successful, leaders would give that person a new assignment. If leadership caught wind that a family was contemplating leaving the cult, they might separate the family, sending the wife and children to one community and the husband to another, ex-members said. Or they might fly in a person’s parents from another community, to try to talk the person into staying.

    “The only way to get out of there with a family is to sneak and make it so they have no idea at all you want to leave,” the ex-member who left in 2016 said.

    Money worked the same way. Wolfe remembered earning $350,000 on a construction project in the early 2000s and being ordered to send it to Twelve Tribes members in Florida, where several members were attempting to build two high-rise condo buildings in Fort Myers.

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  83. Dubbed the Cypress Club, that project flopped in spectacular fashion. In February 2002, three members of the Twelve Tribes spent $680,000 to buy a historic former American Legion building along the waterfront in Fort Myers, with public plans to turn the property into a community home for the group.

    Two months after they inked the deal, the 77-year-old building burned to the ground in what authorities deemed a deliberately-set fire, according to news reports in the Fort Myers News-Press.

    The Tribes members denied setting the blaze — “I loved that building,” one man told the News-Press — and no one from the group was charged.

    Within two years, the Twelve Tribes was selling buyers on a high-rise condo project on the property. Working under several limited liability companies, the group promised to build two 32-story buildings with 292 condos, and pre-sold a number of units to fund the project.

    Pilings went into the ground — and that was it. The real estate market crashed, and, in 2009, the Twelve Tribes offered buyers a quarter of their deposit money back as they conceded the project would never be built. Some funders sued, as did the bank that funded the project, for $11.8 million. The Tribes eventually sold the property.

    Nationwide real estate

    Across the United States, the Twelve Tribes owns at least 66 properties worth about $36 million, real estate records show.

    Most properties are held in limited liability companies. In the U.S., the group is affiliated with at least 30 limited liability companies that own 52 properties worth about $30 million, records show. Another 14 properties, worth about $5.5 million, are owned by 14 individual cult members.

    In Boulder County, the group’s property along Eldorado Springs Drive is owned by two limited liability companies. One belongs to a single member of the Twelve Tribes — Caitlin Toomim, the granddaughter of Houston couple Shirley and David Toomim, whose family helped found Star Furniture, a company estimated to have revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020.

    Caitlin Toomim joined the Twelve Tribes about 10 years ago with several million dollars in a trust fund, said the former 20-year member who lived in Boulder.

    She used the trust-fund money from her grandfather to buy the Boulder properties, said her mother, Penny Toomim. County real estate records show Caitlin Toomim’s LLC purchased the Boulder properties for $1.4 million in 2014.

    Penny Toomim said in a brief phone conversation in January that her daughter had a difficult childhood, and that she seems safe and happy with her life in the Twelve Tribes, where she married and has three “well-behaved” children. Caitlin Toomim used to live with the Twelve Tribes in Boulder, her mother said.

    “In the beginning, I was going to go kidnap her and bring her home,” Penny Toomim said. She moved from Texas to New York, where her daughter lives, to be closer to her after she joined the group. “But there is nothing wrong with them. I mean, other than some of their beliefs.”


  84. Twelve Tribes: A Black father’s struggle to pull his child from the racist cult

    Ex-members says Twelve Tribes religious sect espouses racism, homophobia and sexism

    By Shelly Bradbury The Denver Post March 8, 2022

    Cañon City resident Andre Shepherd has lived a delicate truce with the Twelve Tribes ever since his ex-wife took their 3-year-old daughter and moved into the group’s Manitou Springs compound five years ago.

    Shepherd knew little about the religious cult early on, but became uneasy as he learned more, particularly with the group’s teachings around race, which say that Black people are cursed to be subservient to white people.

    Shepherd, who is Black, went to court in 2019 to seek full custody of his daughter, objecting to both the group’s racism and its practice of physically disciplining children. A Colorado Springs judge denied his petition, and in December, his ex-wife, who is white, took their daughter and moved to California, despite their shared custody.

    “I’m going to try to fight it,” Shepherd, 31, said.

    While the Twelve Tribes carefully curates a harmless, idyllic public image when visited by outsiders, the group’s racist, misogynistic and homophobic teachings are well known to ex-members, who described the philosophies and other problems within the cult to The Denver Post for a series of three stories this week.

    In 26 hours of interviews, 10 ex-members said the Twelve Tribes requires excessive corporal punishment, fails to stop child sexual abuse and exploits followers for labor. The Post also reviewed nearly 400 pages of the Twelve Tribes’ internal teachings to inform this reporting.

    About 3,000 people are estimated to be members of the Twelve Tribes, which maintains about three dozen worldwide communities. Followers live communally and, ex-members say, work without pay at the Twelve Tribes’ assorted businesses. The cult, which began in 1972 in Tennessee, expanded to Colorado in the early 2000s and now has two communes on the Front Range, one in Boulder County and another in Manitou Springs, with an estimated 50 to 70 local members.

    The Twelve Tribes drew attention earlier this year when officials confirmed they were investigating whether the Marshall fire may have started on the group’s Boulder County property, though authorities have not yet announced any conclusions about the deadly wildfire’s origin.

    Twelve Tribes leaders contacted by The Post either declined to comment or briefly defended the group, which blends elements of Christianity and Judaism with its founder’s personal beliefs. Leaders did not answer a list of questions emailed to the group’s headquarters, and a local leader at Boulder’s Yellow Deli declined to let The Post visit the group’s Boulder compound.

    “I appreciate you calling me, but we just don’t really have a whole lot of interest in talking to the media,” said leader and longtime member Tim Pendergrass, who lives on a Florida commune.

    The group can be considered a cult because of its all-or-nothing belief system centered around a charismatic, authoritarian leader, cult expert Janja Lalich said. Cults have extremist ideologies and use coercion to control or exploit members, she said.

    Generally, Twelve Tribes members do not hesitate to mislead or lie to outside, worldly authorities when challenged by police investigations or in court — a tactic that Shepherd apparently ran into when he sought custody of his daughter.

    “They have no problem with lying, because everyone out here doesn’t need to know the truth,” said a member who left in his 30s and spoke to The Post on condition he not be identified to protect family still in the cult. “Whatever they need to say to keep on doing what they do is what they’re going to say.”

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  85. Custody fight

    Shepherd’s daughter lives two different lives. When she’s with her mother in the Twelve Tribes, she wears conservative clothing, lives communally, is barred from having toys or games and is only allowed to go swimming if she swims laps followed by jumping jacks.

    The Twelve Tribes gave Shepherd’s daughter a new name — he refuses to use it and still calls her by her birth name, which she now refers to as her “heathen name,” Shepherd said. When his daughter is with him, she wears modern clothing, watches TV, plays with toys.

    “One time, I went in there (to the commune), and they have this little closet, and in a little box, she had a couple toys,” he said. His daughter led him to the secret spot. “And she said, ‘OK, we just keep this in here for me.’”

    Over time he grew worried because his daughter, now 8, sometimes had unexplained marks and bruises on her body. Once, when she was 4 or 5 years old, she arrived for his parenting time with a particularly nasty scratch on her torso — nothing that needed stitches, but enough to leave a scar — and told him she’d been hurt climbing down a ladder from a roof.

    But it was when his daughter said she was “Cham” and had “Cham family” that Shepherd sat down and researched the Twelve Tribes’ teachings on race.

    The cult believes Black people are cursed to be slaves, according to a 2005 teaching obtained by The Post. The teaching comes out of a Biblical story involving Noah and his three sons. Under the Tribes’ interpretation, each son represents a race: one son is white, another Asian, and one, named Cham, is Black. In the story, Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. Cham sees his naked father and tells his brothers. They react by walking backward into the tent to cover Noah’s nakedness. Noah then wakes and curses Cham for mocking him, and says he and his descendants must be slaves to his white brother.

    The Tribes teaches that any poverty, unrest or problems affecting Black people today are because Black people are not subservient to white people and are living against God’s natural order. Only by joining the Twelve Tribes can Black people be freed from the curse, the cult asserts in its teachings.

    “The more men try to set Cham free, he gets worse and worse in his own soul… Slavery is the only way for some people to be useful in society,” a 1988 Twelve Tribes teaching reads. “They wouldn’t do anything productive without being forced to.”

    Once, as they talked about their daughter misbehaving, Shepherd’s ex-wife said, “‘Oh, we just say that’s the Cham in her,’” Shepherd recalled.

    In court, when he objected to the racism, and to his daughter being called a “Chamite,” or a descendant of Cham, Shepherd’s ex-wife testified that the teaching was about “one of Noah’s sons who went to Africa,” according to court documents.

    That’s not what the teaching is about, former members said. But Twelve Tribes’ members do not hesitate to lie to authorities to protect themselves, ex-members said. It’s a practice based on the Biblical account of Rahab, who in the Bible story hides two Israelite spies and lies to authorities about it, which the Tribes sees as a righteous act.

    District Court Judge Erin Sokol dismissed Shepherd’s concern about racism, court records show.

    “The Court does not find any credible evidence that the community is racist, but out of respect for Father asks Mother not to have anyone in the community describe (the daughter) as a ‘hamite’ (sic) or to use that description because it is offensive,” she wrote in an order. “The Court finds… this community has cross-cultural values and acceptance of people from all different cultures, ethnicities and races.”

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  86. The judge also approved disciplining Shepherd’s daughter with a wooden rod, with the instruction that only the girl’s mother could hit her. A child welfare investigator assigned to the case visited the Twelve Tribes and found no problems, court records show.

    “The children appear to be healthy, happy, well-socialized and musically inclined,” the order reads.

    Shepherd received 50/50 parenting time, though his daughter was in her mother’s care for a significant number of religious holidays and weeks-long religious festivals, which made the split less even, he said.

    His daughter has adjusted well to living in both worlds, Shepherd said. He hasn’t seen as many marks on her since the revised court order, and her early talk about sinners burning in lakes of fire has turned more toward spreading the good word. Shepherd is careful how he talks about the Twelve Tribes around his daughter, not wanting to disparage the life she’s in.

    “She’s adapted,” he said. “She’s going to be happy where she’s going to be.”

    The split parenting time worked until the end of December, when Shepherd’s ex-wife took their daughter to a Twelve Tribes community in California. Leadership at the Twelve Tribes routinely moves members around from community to community, ex-members said, in part to keep people from becoming too comfortable or connected to a particular place. Separating families is also a common tactic.

    Shepherd’s ex-wife originally proposed the idea as a temporary trip, maybe a week or two, but now says they’ll be staying in California permanently, despite Shepherd’s weekly visitation rights.

    He’s having trouble getting in touch with his ex-wife and daughter through the California community’s one shared phone, Shepherd said. The line will ring and ring, then say the voicemail is full. So he’s preparing for a renewed custody fight, trying to scrounge up another $5,000 to pay for a lawyer’s retainer. He’s looking into fundraising for an attorney or finding free legal help.

    Shepherd said his ex-wife told him she was moving because of “the community’s needs.”

    “That doesn’t come before my daughter,” he said.

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  87. Women must submit

    While every member of the Twelve Tribes is required to conform to the cult’s rules and subject to the edicts of leadership, women are particularly powerless in the highly patriarchal society, ex-members said.

    Alina Anderson, an ex-member born into the cult who left in 2001 when she was 14, remembered walking in on her father kicking her mother as she lay on the floor in the fetal position when Anderson was 10 or 11.

    “I freaked out,” she said. “…I went to get help for my mother. You know what they told me? They said, ‘Your father is the man of the house, so he can do whatever.’ Me trying to get help for my mother did nothing. It may have made the situation worse; in hindsight it probably did.”

    Anderson is identified by her middle and formerly married last names to avoid being recognized by current Twelve Tribes’ members. Women have little autonomy or authority in the highly-patriarchal cult, and are expected to submit to men, according to their teachings.

    “They believe women’s rightful place is in absolute submission to men,” the member who left in his 30s said. “…The girls raised there have been raised from birth to believe this. They have no-self worth, they have no value, except in reference to men.”

    Marriages are carefully curated and allowed only with the approval of leaders; divorce is almost never allowed, unless one spouse leaves the group. Single people in the Twelve Tribes usually share bedrooms, but married couples are given a private bedroom — a major perk.

    Interracial marriages are strongly discouraged, and homosexuality is considered a sin worthy of death, according to a teaching reviewed by The Post.

    “They must be put to death,” the 1990 teaching reads. “Homosexuality is a capital offense. They did what was detestable, and they became detestable.”

    In the past, children or teenagers suspected of being gay were interrogated and punished in inquisitions, ex-members said.

    John I. Post, who grew up in the Twelve Tribes, came out as gay after he fled the group and went to college, once he’d started to undo what he described as “brainwashing” about homosexuality.

    “(My dad) told me that I was going to hell for being gay,” he said. His mother supported him, he said, even though she is still in the group.

    Post hopes to see the Twelve Tribes end, though he and other first-generation children worry about what might happen to their parents if it dissolved. After decades in the cult, they’d be kicked to the curb with no retirement funds, no insurance, no homes.

    “I told my family we need to be prepared to support our parents,” Post said. “…I read a book about different cults — the average length is about 20 years and it falls apart. Now the Twelve Tribes, they’re still alive, barely. They will fall apart. They will.”