As a continuation of, both, our Witch Hunt Series, as well as, a previous article published by FOREF on the Twelve Tribes community we would like to detail the cases of militarized raids on this spiritual community.
Our organization has studied the case of the Twelve Tribes communities, both through direct discussions with the impacted communities, as well as, studying published material on the cases. As mentioned in Part 3 of our Witch Hunt series, a recent book, Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities, published by two sociologists, Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer also details the militarized raids of these communities in various countries.
The Twelve Tribes is a non-traditional religious movement with communities in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia, and 2,500-3,000 members worldwide (Swantko, 2004). They prescribe to “a radical Christian Perfectionism and believe that by renouncing the sinful world and private property and striving to overcome selfishness, they will become part of the “Body of the Messiah” and overcome physical death” (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
Many of these communities have been targets of government raids, often on the basis of supposed child abuse, and as far back as the 1970s in the United States, were accused of “’lur[ing] in’ susceptible youth, isolate[ing] them from their parents, indoctrinate[ing] them, and [making] them work up to 90 hours a week with no pay” (Murray, 1978; Wright & Palmer, 2016). With similar accusations in Europe, this group has experienced raids in Germany and France. However, the raids can be seen as gross overreactions to unreliable claims.
A community residing in Klosterzimmern, Germany experienced a raid on the basis of the crime of homeschooling in 2002 when policemen forced the children of the community on to a bus to bring them to a public school. They spent hours waiting in the bus before parents and the high school principal and teachers resolved the issue with the creation of a private school. In addition, seven members of the community served 14 days in jail for refusing to pay the $60,000 fine for the crime of homeschooling (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
However, again in 2013, on the basis of physical child abuse, namely the use of spanking in child rearing, over 150 police men and social workers removed 40 children from the same community in order to be examined; yet no evidence of physical harm was found. In any other case, if physical abuse is suspected, a social worker would be deployed to the house in order to assess the situation and help resolve the conflict within the family. Aside from the fact that protocol was not adhered to and, instead, militarized force and detainment of the children was used on mere supposition—and although no evidence was found under examination indicating that the children were abused—many of the children were placed in to foster homes (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
Another Twelve Tribes community, residing in a chateau in Sus, France has a repeated history of raids, as well, family abductions of community members for the purpose of ‘deprogramming’. The first raid took place in April 1997, when over 50 policemen and doctors arrived at the residence of the community in order to arrest the parents of a young child who had passed away due to malnourishment caused by a congenital malformation, and inspect the 80 children living there for physical harm. None of the children showed signs of physical harm, but the 3 children of the accused parents of the deceased child were removed nonetheless and the parents charged with ‘deprivation of medical care and food’ although they had been advised by a doctor to wait with surgery until the child had gained strength and doing their utmost to help the child gain weight (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
In 2006, the National Assembly created the Commission of Parliamentary Investigation on Sects and Minors. As a result of this, four deputies of the National Assembly, an academic inspector, a national education inspector, a doctor, and a nurse arrived unannounced to investigate the community at the chateau. Following investigation, they concluded that the members were welcoming, the environment clean, and the children happy, but that they seemed isolated from the outer world. The media portrayed the group as housing the children in a ‘psychological hell’ (Nice Matin, November 22, 2006) and the secretary of the commission was quoted describing the children as unhappy, deprived of a childhood, and more or less ostracized from society. However, no further investigation took place, which indicates the true opinion of the investigating commissioners (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
Once again, the same community was targeted in 2008, when 30 policemen arrived at the community and held the leaders for days of questioning on the grounds of two ex-members wanting donated money returned. The media portrayed only the side of the opposition (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
The examples from the Twelve Tribes illustrate the drastic over reaction of governments to non-traditional spiritual communities. Prompted to action, likely due to fear and misunderstanding, and fueled by the interests of ex-members, disapproving family members, anti-cult organizations, and the media, the rights of these people are violated on many different levels.
Murray, Allan. 1978. “Vine Elders Concede Church has Authoritarian Character." The Chattanooga Times, January 19.
Swantko, Jean, A. 2004. “The Twelve Tribes Messianic Communities, the Anti-Cult Movement, and Governmental Response.” Regulating Religion: Case Studies around the Globe. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Wright, Stuart A. & Palmer, Susan J. 2016. Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.