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Twelve Tribes

“…Religious group moves to Bohemia after conflicts in Germany”
“The Twelve Tribes religious group, infamous for its four-year-old scandal over an alleged maltreatment of children in Germany, their homeland, has moved to central Bohemia and settled on the outskirts of the village of Msecke Zehrovice, [D]aily [contributor] Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today. …The situation peaked in 2013 when the German authorities took 40 children away from the group over maltreatment and a court in Augsburg sentenced the responsible teacher to two years in prison. Immediately after the raid, a part of the community moved to the Czech Republic, and the rest followed in late 2016 and early this year. They joined the Twelve Tribes Czech community established some ten years ago, the [D]aily writes. …The German newcomers welcomed … that home schooling is far from rare in the Czech Republic and the Czech approach to child punishment is more lenient than that of Germans, the [D]aily writes. Twelve Tribes are easy to distinguish from the rest of the locals by their clothing. They say they adhere to an alternative lifestyle and can support themselves by producing and growing all they need, the paper writes. …The community follows strict rules. They call the life under one roof ‘a grape.’ Several families live in each of the local houses owned by the community. Single persons each have a single room in the house. Everybody meets for prayers in the mornings and evenings. All earned money goes to common coffers, from which the community pays everything as needed. They say their faith is derived from early Christianity. Following the first Christians’ example, they mark Shabbat and important Jewish feasts, the paper writes. …‘They also make excellent cider and ice cream, I have never tried any better,’ a local resident said, referring to Twelve Tribes. He said he cannot complain about them as neighbours. ‘They work through the day and they go to bed early in the evening. They are ideal neighbours, causing no problems,’ he told the [D]aily.” (Prague Daily Monitor, 04/10/17) [8.3]

Elder in Germany convicted of hitting child

In Southern Germany, a 54-year-old Twelve Tribes elder has been convicted of abusing a child in his care by hitting him with a 4-foot switch. He was sentenced to 6 months’ probation and also fined 2,000 euros by the Noerdlingen state court in Bavaria. In 2013, authorities raided the sect in southern Germany and placed 40 children into foster care. The sect denied abuse charges, saying that there was no “direct evidence against any individual.” The group’s website, however, reveals that members believe in spanking their children. (ABC News, AP, 11/23/15) [IT 7.1 2016]

Three arrested on suspicion of kidnapping member of religious commune 

Andres Martinez-Manso, Eliza Martinez, and Robert Harry Matthew were arrested in Vista, California on June 5, 2015 on suspicion of kidnapping Robert Martinez, a relative from the Twelve Tribes community/church. The men feared that Martinez was being brainwashed by the group. The incident began with what looked like a hit-and-run, according to Sgt. Patrick Yates. A deputy stopped two vans that were speeding, and Martinez was released unharmed. A June 12 report said that the District authorities had decided not to pursue charges because they did not believe they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. (Los Angeles Times, 6/6/15) [IT 6.3 2015]

Controversy over children's safety at religious community

A Queens Bench Justice in Manitoba, Canada was so concerned for the safety of children in the religious group called the Twelve Tribes that she banned a member of the group from bringing her child into any of the group’s Manitoba locations. The case came to light when Jo Hawkins (former husband of a Twelve Tribes member) learned that the group practiced corporal punishment and had hosted a man who was previously convicted of possessing child pornography in 2013 in British Columbia. Upon his release, the man had been ordered not to be around children for 3 years unless accompanied by a preapproved adult. After his release, he moved to Winnipeg to join the Twelve Tribes. Mr. Hawkins provided sworn affidavits from witnesses who said they had seen the man in the presence of children and other affidavits attesting to corporal punishment. Child-welfare officials confirmed they had launched an investigation into allegations of corporal punishment. CBC learned that discipline sometimes involves a balloon stick, which is a “thin, reed-like rod.” Twelve Tribes says that the man convicted of possessing child pornography no longer lives with them. (CBC News, 3/18/15) [IT 6.3 2015]

Twelve accused of beating children in France

The French chapter of The Twelve Tribes Christian fundamentalist sect was closed down in June after members were accused of “abusing children in a climate of violent and racist extremism.” Police raided the group chateau in the Pyrenees, arrested 10 adults, and placed four children in foster care. Doctors found evidence of bruises on the children. Maitre Jean-Francois Blanco, attorney for a former member of the group, alleges that “children were beaten from the age of two by adults for even the slightest infraction or hint of defiance.”  Blanco’s client, who has sued the group, said, “I was beaten until I gushed blood. Once, I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks.” (International Business Times–UK, 6/20/15) [IT 6.3 2015]

Twelve Tribes defends use of sticks to discipline children

The Winnipeg-based Twelve Tribes has defended its physical disciplining of children using a type of stick, even though using anything other than one’s hand in this context can be considered assault in Canada. The group’s spokesperson Maurice Welch said the law interferes with parental authority.
Manitoba’s child-welfare authorities are looking into the group after CBC’s story in late October. A Winnipeg man, Michael Welch (no direct relation to Maurice Welch), who counted some of the community’s members as friends, also has raised concern about the group and joined it undercover for more than six weeks last summer to investigate for himself. Michael Welch said he knew he was deceiving the group in his efforts to learn the truth about how they treat their children. But “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. Michael said it didn’t take long to find the instruments that allegedly were used on children. He said he found 20 rods, slender wooden sticks about 60 centimeters long, in numerous locations over the course of his stay. He said he never saw children being disciplined with the sticks firsthand, but he was 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...” In an interview with CBC, Michael maintained the children and adults in the 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, even though he also said the people were kind to him. The sect has been around some 50 years and 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. Maurice Welch was asked 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.” He said Twelve Tribes welcomes a Child and Family Services investigation. He maintains the group answers to a higher authority and has no plans to stop using rods to on its children. (CBC News, 10/22/14) [IT 6.2 2015]

Three-masted, 1700s-style, tall ship docks at Peanut Island

For a few short days in February, a 150-foot-long, three-masted, tall ship planned to call a dock outside Peanut Island’s maritime museum home. The vessel, called the Peacemaker, first launched in 1989 and has a mast that towers 126 feet above the water. Inside, it boasts brightly colored stained-glass windows, mahogany-finished staterooms, and custom finishings, and it houses a garage in the stern that’s meant for storing a helicopter. Originally built as a personal yacht for a Brazilian industrialist, it’s now owned and run by the Twelve Tribes communal religious group, who purchased it in 2000 from the private owner. By 2007, they were setting sail for the first time. Since then, many visitors have toured it in cities around the country, according to news reports about the ship’s travels. The group sails the ship in the old-fashioned way to ports across the United States and opens it to visitors eager to get a look inside. “To see something like this that looks the way it was back in the 17th century is fascinating for a lot of people,” said Anthony Miller, the director of Palm Beach Maritime Museum, which sits on Peanut Island. “You can see exactly how they used to run these boats, and these boats used to join together all the continents.” Added Peacemaker Capt. Lee Philips, “There’s just something about these kind of ships that draw people.” The Twelve Tribes members on board don’t push their beliefs on guests, but will discuss them if asked, they said. “The ship is something that serves us well,” Clinton said. “We like to let others enjoy it, too.” (Sun Sentinel, 2/6/15) [IT 6.2 2015]

Forty children who were taken in September from two Twelve Tribes farming communities in Germany following charges of child abuse remain in custody, although doctors who examined the children found no evidence to support the allegations. The Tribe advocates disciplining children with a “thin rod,” finding support in the Bible for the policy. In Germany, spanking children is against the law. Babies and 2- or 3-year-olds are among the children in custody, with whom parents have been allowed very little contact. After 4 months in foster homes, some of the children do not even recognize their biological parents. Several teenagers in custody have tried to escape but were captured. The Youth Services (Jugendamt), which is in charge of the case, is an independent and autonomous agency more powerful than the police. (Worldwide Religious News, 2/7/14) [IT 5.2]

Insufficient Evidence Ends Investigation of Devon Community

In October 2013, officers started working with Devon County (England) Council to “thoroughly review” information received about the Twelve Tribes community, which runs the Common Loaf Bakery at Dunkeswell in East Devon. At the time, police confirmed they had received no allegations and there was no formal investigation.

However, 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 investigation followed concerns raised to officials at the county council’s Children’s Services by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). The children’s charity approached the council after a national newspaper reported the Twelve Tribes community’s belief in the right to use the cane as a form of punishment and following the removal of 40 children from two of its communities in Germany after an undercover reporter’s investigation.

Tony McCollum, manager of Honiton Market where the group has a bread stall and leaflets about it are available, said in October that the investigation came as a surprise to him, adding that “You couldn’t ask for nicer people. They seem very family orientated—I find it hard to believe they would mistreat their children.”

The information the Council officers gathered on their visits led the Council and police officers to conclude there was insufficient evidence to take matters any further at this time. A council spokesperson added, “The council takes all allegations of abuse extremely seriously. … If any further allegations are made to us, we will look into them.” (Exeter Express and Echo, 5/29/14) [IT 5.3]

Idealistic Australians Mark and Rosemary Ilich’s involvement in the Twelve Tribes religious cult began in 1996 when, with their two young children, they attended the Sydney Newtown Festival. Their story details the couple’s recruitment and assimilation into the regimented lifestyle of the group’s commune, where they took new, biblical names; regularly confessed their sins; learned the rationale for beating their children; and studied the evils of materialistic mainstream society—all the while working for nothing in the Tribe’s businesses. They studied the teachings of Twelve Tribes founder Gene Spriggs, called Yoneq, who has said, among other bizarre pronouncements, that “submission to whites is the only condition by which blacks will be saved,” and that Martin Luther King was evil. When Mark and the couple’s son Abraham would not fully conform to the Tribe’s regime, it sent them away to a remote settlement; and when this did not succeed in reforming them, they were sent to the tribe’s New Zealand branch. “They just wanted us out,” Mark says. This was 2009, and Mark decided to leave; when he phoned Rosemary with his decision, she said, “My life is with you. I’ll come with you.” But their daughter, who was set to marry a Tribes member, refused and even now will not to speak to her parents and bother. (Sydney Morning Herald, 12/14/13) [IT 5.1 2014] 

Twelve Tribes members passed out newsletters filled with “religious craziness” following a Bob Dylan concert in Charleston, South Carolina in early May. The cult’s obsession with Dylan seems to stem from an interview the singer did with Spin in 1985 in which he speaks of the coming Messianic Age. The Tribe’s literature [cited at length here] interprets the lyrics of Dylan’s songs as prophesies of that age. The group is “pretty open about being racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic.” (Vince Johnny Lambo, 5/8/13) [IT 4.3 2013] 

An overview of the history, economy, and communal life of the Twelve Tribes concludes: As awkward as the public feels about that which is different and as ugly as any controversy can be, inhabitants of The Community appear to be a happy and peaceful lot—including women with whom I have the pleasure to interact. Despite what they could very well view as persecution, The Community still chooses to contribute positively towards society by providing wholesome products and services and administering to those in need. (San Diego Reader, 3/10/12) [IT 4.3 2013] 

Ross Haynes Sandwell, 42, was given a 45-day jail sentence by a British Columbia provincial court in July for possessing child pornography. He told British Columbia police in 2011, unasked, that he had viewed child pornography online, and indeed they found images of child pornography on his computer. Sandwell said at the time that he was sorry for his crime, which he said stemmed from a “depraved way of thinking.” An elder of the Twelve Tribes with whom Sandwell now lives told the judge that they believe he was changing his way of life, “from his thoughts to his personal habits,” and that going to jail would “remove the one in need from the people who care enough to help him.” (Prince George Citizen, 7/3/13) [IT 4.3 2013] 

The private school of the Twelve Tribes group in Klosterzimmern (Bavaria) is likely to close because of the lack of qualified teachers. A group member admitted that children have been flogged at the school, but the public prosecutor says the accusations are not precise enough to enable courts to act. [IT 4.3 2013] 

The cultic event that shook the public most during recent months was the removal by the police, on the order of youth welfare authorities, of 40 children of the group known as Twelve Tribes (in some countries also known as Tabitha’s Place, and earlier as Vine Christian Community or Northeast Kingdom Community Church). The court confirmed the withdrawal of custody of these children from the group. As previously reported, there have long been rumors that this group flogs its children. But there was no evidence, and the authorities could not act until a reporter finally infiltrated the group and managed to place hidden cameras at the punishment sites. Thus, 40 children were placed in foster care. However, this action was not quite successful because some of the children escaped and returned to their original families. In other places, the cult tried to avoid similar actions by the authorities by transferring the children abroad. [IT 4.1 2013] 

The Twelve Tribes, characterized by an ex-member as “a total control religious cult mixed with Jewish Old Testament and the Christian Gospel,” is running the Yellow Deli restaurant in Vista, California. The servers all had unnatural vacant smiles and dopey grins. A glance at the group’s Web site says that women must be submissive and that slavery is the only way that some people can be useful to society. They beat children who aren’t quiet and obedient, and don’t allow them access to TV, the Internet, or libraries. (San Diego Reader, 9/12/12) [IT 3.3 2012]

The Twelve Tribes commune in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont folded up about ten years ago following a decade-long presence. It appears that many of the members went to other Twelve Tribe settlements, in Colorado and Missouri. The group’s website claims 26 settlements in the U.S. and others in Europe. In 1984, Vermont authorities raided the sect’s Island Pond “spare the rod and spoil the child” community following allegations of child abuse, but the children they removed were soon returned and no action was taken against their parents. [csr 8.1, 2009)

Twelve Tribes
After seven years in town and the failure early on to disarm local suspicion and hostility at a community forum, the 50-member Twelve Tribes branch in Plymouth, MA, recently held a weekend festival and open house that indicates apparent wide acceptance in the area for the controversial religious sect. The communal group, which owns a construction business and a café, also takes part in many civic events.[csr 5.3 2006]

The German state of Bavaria, where home schooling is illegal, has granted the Twelve Tribes (Zwölf Stämme) the right to teach its children in a private school financed by the group, using its own teachers, at least for the next year. The group has for a long time objected to the curriculum of state schools, in which some Tribe children were forced to enroll. Many Tribe families were assessed fines — unpaid — for not enrolling their children. The state approved a curriculum for the new school, which is to be subject to state supervision — in which sex education is absent but ethics, rather than religion, must be taught. Green party politicians say the children’s best interest is not served when a “questionable religious community is given the freedom to educate outside the system.” [csr 5.3 2006]

Mormon Church
The Mormon Church is adjusting the interpretation of its holy scriptures in light of DNA evidence — brought forward by apostates —suggesting that Native Americans did not, in fact, originate as one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but rather that they stemmed from East Asia. The church is now arguing that only a small group of Jews came to Central America and that their DNA can no longer be discerned. [csr 5.1 2006]

Arrest in Child Custody Dispute
Lynn Delozier, 48, a member of the Twelve Tribes commune near Brattleboro, VT, has been arrested for keeping her daughter away from Michael Ossip, the now 24-year-old girl’s father, despite a 1988 court custody and visitation order. The group, which has been involved in several child custody conflicts elsewhere — members have allegedly hidden children from authorities — was fined for child labor violations in New York in 2001. There have also been investigations of the deaths of newborns in the group due to lack of medical care.[csr 3.3 2004]

The Twelve Tribes, with settlements in a number of countries, and described by some observers as a cult, is planning to open a storefront café in Plymouth, MA. (Mike Kalil, Brattleboro Reformer, Internet, 4/17/04; Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, 5/8/04) [csr 3.3 2004]

Group founder and leader Elbert Spriggs advocates corporal punishment of children who are home schooled and not allowed toys, candy, or television. Adults must give up all their assets to the group before they join. Former members, some of whom were deprogrammed, say Spriggs is getting rich off members’ labor and assets. (Dennis Tatz, Patriot Ledger, Internet, 5/8/04) [csr 3.3 2004]

Arrest in Child Custody Dispute
Lynn Delozier, 48, a member of the Twelve Tribes commune near Brattleboro, VT, has been arrested for keeping her daughter away from Michael Ossip, the now 24-year-old girl’s father, despite a 1988 court custody and visitation order. The group, which has been involved in several child custody conflicts elsewhere — members have allegedly hidden children from authorities — was fined for child labor violations in New York in 2001. There have also been investigations of the deaths of newborns in the group due to lack of medical care.

The Twelve Tribes, with settlements in a number of countries, and described by some observers as a cult, is planning to open a storefront café in Plymouth, MA. (Mike Kalil, Brattleboro Reformer, Internet, 4/17/04; Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, 5/8/04)[csr 3.2 2004]

Group founder and leader Elbert Spriggs advocates corporal punishment of children who are home schooled and not allowed toys, candy, or television. Adults must give up all their assets to the group before they join. Former members, some of whom were deprogrammed, say Spriggs is getting rich off members’ labor and assets. (Dennis Tatz, Patriot Ledger, Internet, 5/8/04) [csr 3.2 2004 2004]

Twelve Tribes Says It Won’t Recruit in Florida
The controversial religious sect Twelve Tribes has no plans to recruit in Fort Myers, although members bought the former American Legion Hall before fire gutted it earlier this month. The Tribes, who practice a hybrid of Christian and Hebrew beliefs and rituals intended literally to reflect Scripture, follow a leader who is unaccountable to anyone and believes he has the ear of God, according to Bob Pardon, a congregational minister and director of the nonprofit Institute for Religious Research in Michigan. As for their Fort Myers presence, Pardon speculated that the Tribes were looking for a group home or business location. [csr 1.2 2002]

In the 1960s, they might have been dismissed as Jesus freaks. Now, post-Waco, post-Heaven's Gate, suspicions arise about cultish followings. "Certainly we get that comparison all the time. We expect it," said Ed Wiseman, 54. "If we're really radically different and distinct, we don't expect people to swallow us hook, line and sinker. It's human nature to mistrust what you don't understand." [csr 1.2 2002]

Wiseman and his wife, Jean, live at the Twelve Tribes' Jog Run Farm in suburban West Palm Beach, the nearest of the sect's 29 communities around the world. Most are in the Northeast states. Like about 3,000 Tribes people, the Wisemans have given up their worldly possessions, dress in humble attire and share dwellings and earnings with other believers. Some take up new Hebrew names; Wiseman is known as Hakam, which he said means "wise man" in Hebrew. About 50 others live at the five-acre ranch lushly landscaped with oleander and bougainvillea and palms. The group makes a living trimming trees and selling firewood, but also maintains a plant nursery, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. Earnings maintain the community. Children are home-schooled and apprenticed to learn skills — and spanked when parents see fit. [csr 1.2 2002]

Tribes members elsewhere have faced allegations and charges regarding treatment of children but rarely have been prosecuted, Pardon said. In 1984, a police raid took 112 children from a Vermont community for questioning but quickly released them. "The group has traditionally fallen through the cracks," he said. "They really skirt the edges of the law in many ways. [The Twelve Tribes recently entered into an agreement with the New York State Attorney General and paid a fine for using underage children in their furniture factory.] (Drew Sternwald,, 4/26/02) [csr 1.2 2002]

Twelve Tribes Café in Australia
The Twelve Tribes, an anti-Semitic cult whose U.S. parent has a court history of child abuse and abduction, is selling food and refreshments at this year's Woodford Folk Festival. The cult, which advocates strict discipline, female submission, black slavery, and lying in the name of righteousness, cites Bible texts to justify beating small children with canes. A festival spokesman said that the Twelve Tribes had operated the stall for several years, that their presence was a "non-issue," and that the stall was not used to recruit new members. Brisbane cult expert Jan Groenveld said that the group's commercial operations may look benign, but that the public should be wary if approached by cult members with invitations to visit their community. (Chris Griffith and Amanda Watt, Courier Mail, Australia, 12/29/01, Internet) [csr 1.1 2002]