|Drink the Kool-Aid|
|But you WANT to stay!|
- Distinct from the unrelated Twelve Tribes branch of Rastafari
“”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.
|—Southern Poverty Law Center|
Twelve Tribes is a restorationist Christian-type sect with messianic Jewish elements. It is considered a cult because the group considers your "will" to be a possession which you give to the leaders upon joining. The sect originated out of the Jesus Movement in Southern California in the 1970s, where the founder received his anointing. Members moved from Tennessee to Vermont and have since grown and spread. Group founder Elbert Eugene Spriggs is known by the name "Yoneq" to followers. The group is known for complete mind control in their own intentional communities, requiring members to give up their thoughts and possessions and to live as a slave to the group — in harmony with Acts 2:44. They are also known for their delis and coffee shops — often under the "Yellow Deli" and "Common Ground" names, furniture- and construction-businesses, and Blue Blinds Bakery, where their members work 16+ hour days. They are also known for proselytising at rock concerts, although their prophets claim that they do not proselytize. There are reportedly between 3000 to 4000 members as of 2016.
Theologically, they believe that all of the Christian church is apostate. They view their own communities as explicitly non-Christian. They reject the use of the names "God" and "Jesus" in favor of calling God the father "Abba" (no, not that Abba) and the son "Yahshua", while interchanging the words "Our father" and "Our master" for the former in an ambiguous attempt to exalt their leader Gene Spriggs. They believe the Bible mandates strict child-discipline including corporal punishment, homeschooling, following Saturday (Sabbath) worship rather than Sunday, observing the Old Testament feasts, practicing organic farming, and making most of their own clothes. Their lifestyle has been described as a cross between that of the Amish or Hutterites and a hippie commune; their hippie appearance makes for a good fit at concerts where they have proselytised, including at Phish and the Grateful Dead concerts. Other targets of their proselytising have included Occupy Wall Street gatherings, and Appalachian Trail hikers. The sales pitch, according to this group, is Acts 2:44 which they assert is the solution to the world's economic and ecological problems. But once you join, you are slowly drawn into trauma-based mind control, where the goal is to create a split personality which the group programs into the new you.
Claims of cultism
Cult accusations have defined the Twelve Tribes from the late 1970s to the present. Claiming to follow Acts 2:44 means dropping out of society and joining one of their communes, to slave labor on their farms or one of their businesses. Their proselytising style is rather low-key, more of the love-bombing sort and information control through literature and well-kept secrets, rather than hitting people up front with their fire-and-brimstone theology (they save that for later). Much of their literature is tailored toward fans of the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and such, and their delis and natural-foods stores have a "groovy", somewhat upscale feel that gives little appearance at first glance of being operated by an authoritarian religious cult. Converts were the subject of several "deprogrammings" during the late 1970s by infamous cult "deprogrammer" Ted Patrick at the behest of alarmed family members, and the state of Vermont once raided their Vermont community in 1984 following disputes over child custody and accusations of child abuse. Their groups today live in several U.S. states and in Europe, South America, Canada, and Australia. They continue to be accused of child abuse, particularly over their practice of disciplining with "the rod" and child labor, of anti-Semitism and racism for statements in their literature supporting racial segregation and slavery, and that Jews are accursed for murdering Christ and of their leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs living high on the hog while ordinary followers toil in communes.
Secret teachings that were only given to the highest members have now been revealed by ex-members. Among the secret teachings is a racist interpretation of the Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:20-25). One of the African American leaders of Twelve Tribes, Yohannan Abraham (a.k.a. John Stringer), even spoke favorably of the early KKK.
- Brendan Joel Kelley, Into Darkness: Inside an American white supremacist cult. Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, 5 August 2018.
- Luke O'Neill, Twelve Tribes: The Church Preached Child Abuse & Slavery. The Daily Beast, 16 July 2016.
According to ex-members of Twelve Tribes who spoke to The Daily Beast, children are regularly beaten and leaders preached "slavery is necessary." Now, an escapee has taken over the Facebook page of the Plymouth bakery run by the commune so he can broadcast its ills.
- Rosie Gray, Friendly Cult Looking For Recruits at Occupy Wall Street, The Village Voice, 10 November 2011. Archived from rickross.com, 7 July 2013.
- No, not that kind, but real A.T. through-hikers, via the free hostel they operate in Rutland, Vermont and advertising "work for stay" arrangements at other communes in the vicinity of the Trail, e.g. Hillsboro, Virginia
- Quotes from the teachings of Elbert Eugene Spriggs. Archived from neirr.org, 7 July 2013.
- 1984 Vermont sect raid had similar judicial conclusion as Texas case, Associated Press
- Spare the rod and spoil the …, Sydney Morning Herald
- Twelve Tribes report from the New England Institute of Religious Research. Archived from neirr.org, 15 April 2013.
- State Takes Close Look at Cult Kids in Factories, The New York Post, 9 April 2001. Archived from twelvetribes-ex.org, 13 May 2015.
- Apologetics Index article
- Jeevan Vasagar, Racist sect digs in at rock festivals. The Guardian, 3 July 2000. Archived from rickross.com, 7 July 2013.
- Cult leader travels the world in style, Boston Herald. Archived from twelvetribes-ex.org, 5 September 2001.