Cheryl L ex-member experiences
I first encountered “Reya” (Bill Johnson) and “Olah” (Kathy Johnson) after reading a newspaper article describing the Twelve Tribes communal group in Lakeview, N.Y. in October of 1995. Upon meeting the larger household with whom they lived, Twelve Tribes members greeted me with smiles, hugs, compliments, tea, Hebrew dancing and testimonies.
The Twelve Tribes formerly operated the Common Ground bakery in Hamburg, New York. Often standing behind the counter, Olah explained to me that the Tribes continued in the footsteps of the first church community which fell away in the first century A.D. I believed they were Christians. Their propaganda didn’t cause me alarm or any concerns. In retrospect, this is a rather radical idea indeed! This thought is common among the numerous American cults.
I attended the Twelve Tribes early morning gatherings known as “sacrifices” and often visited the Common Ground bakery to speak with Olah and Reya. According to Steve Hassan, a Somerville, Massachusetts cult researcher, “Cults look for highly intelligent, well educated people who find themselves situationally vulnerable. Cults seek people who are undergoing a transition such as a recent move or a lost job, recently divorced persons or those just entering college.” Since I was so eager to purchase what the Twelve Tribes were selling, instant camaraderie, family and friendship, a highly structured environment, and brothers and sisters, I found myself enmeshed in the world of mind control. As I desired to join the Twelve Tribes, Reya and Olah informed me that I must relinquish all my possessions (job, parents and extended family, car, etc.) and unite with them working for the building up of the kingdom of Yahshua. Yahshua is the Hebrew name of the Son of God.
Communal men found themselves employed in the Common Ground bakery or in the Twelve Tribes construction business known as Winterset builders. All community members enjoyed the benefits of a common purse. About 3 weeks after reading the newspaper article, I quickly linked with the Twelve Tribes community. My parents especially my mother held serious reservations about confederating with such a group because she feared they were a cult! In retrospect, she was correct. Several months after joining with the Twelve Tribes community, Ne man (Al Jayne) and the other elders told me to return my 1993 Ford Ranger truck to the dealership where they reluctantly repossessed the vehicle. The community blatantly refused to pay my truck and student loans which devastated my credit. Lies, lies, lies!
The Twelve Tribes quickly put me to work in the kitchen preparing meals for 40 to 50 people, and I often received help from another single sister. I lived with the Twelve Tribes for 2 1/2 years and endured many days with tear streaked cheeks because of 3 herniated discs I suffered in a prior auto accident. I rarely received medical help and prescription medication for my back pain while a member of the community.
Failing to express much empathy for my physical condition, Twelve Tribes elder “Ne man” (Al Jayne) stated that community members needed to bear great suffering in order to enter the kingdom of Yahshua! Incredibly one elder “Aquila the gorilla” (Ricky Kendricks), told me shortly before I was expelled in June 1998 for “rebellion” – that my tolerance for physical pain needed to considerably increase! I felt like bopping him in the nose!
As a Twelve Tribes community member I experienced difficulty with the requirement of severing links with family members and parents! Because of this, I would often sneak away to see or call my parents, which angered the elders resulting in disfellowshipping. When a community member experienced disfellowshipping from their brothers and sisters and Yahshua, shunning also followed. Also as a punishment, I could not participate in the breaking of bread while I was not connected to Yahshua and the rest of the group. Breaking of bread is a time to gather on Saturday evening to remember Yahshua’s resurrection from the grave. Tribe’s members assemble for an intimate dinner of light soup and unleavened bread, and alternate sharing how they desire to overcome that week for the sake of Yahshua and their brothers and sisters. If the disfellowshipped member desires reconciliation with his brothers and sisters and Yahshua, he needs to publicly repent at the morning or evening gathering.
While laboring to build up the kingdom of Yahshua on a hot summer day, a single sister and I rinsed maggots off potatoes. The little wiggling worms were disgusting and gross, and I rejected any potatoes for my evening’s meal! I really suffered when I worked in the communal kitchen. While the men obtained new tools from Home Depot, I hand chopped cabbage and shredded carrots because the Twelve Tribes wouldn’t buy a food processor for the lowly women. I constantly cut my fingers on the exceedingly dull knives I was forced to use.
Almost all Twelve Tribes members work 16 to 18 hour days with no pay, health care, insurance, vaccinations for the children or medical care. Because of my severe back injury, (3 herniated discs) I could not work like most community slaves. I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. almost every night. In comparison, most Tribes members went to bed at 11:00 or 12:00 p.m. or later and then awakened at 5:00 a.m. for the morning minchah or gathering.
After the Twelve Tribes ex-communicated me for “rebellion,” I educated myself on cults and how they recruit. I traveled to the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio for 2 weeks and received education pertaining to my cult involvement. The Twelve Tribes horribly disparage Christianity, but I wish to acknowledge the wonderful generosity of an unnamed Christian who prefers the designation “Ms. Christmas.” Ms. Christmas donated $5,000 so I could participate in the program at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center! Thank you Ms. Christmas!
Several days after I left the Twelve Tribes, I counseled with Bob Pardon and Judy Barba, (now Bob’s wife) of the New England Institute of Religious Research. As my mother and I traveled toward Lakeville, Mass., in our meeting with Bob Pardon and Judy Barba, I was terrified, because of phobia indoctrination or bad things occur if you leave the protective confines of the community. I clearly feared an imminent car accident and sudden lightning bolts from the sky. Elbert Eugene Spriggs, the leader of the Twelve Tribes, vilified Bob Pardon and his ministry in a scathing letter. I believed like all Tribes members that Bob Pardon was the devil incarnate! In my mind Bob even had horns! After ten hours of driving from Buffalo, New York to Lakeville, Massachusetts, I refused to exit my mother’s car because the NEIRR ministry was housed in a church building! Once again the community used phobia indoctrination causing me to believe that if I entered a Christian building or church that “the roof would collapse,” a tornado would rip through the building, or poison gas would circulate through the air conditioning system.” According to the inane ramblings of “Yoneq,” (Elbert Spriggs) Christianity is the “whore of Babylon and the mother of harlots.”
Bob and Judy patiently and kindly approached our car and introduced themselves to my mother and myself. My mother explained the situation to Bob and Judy, and they said that they understood my predicament because of his experience with other former members of the Twelve Tribes. After Bob calmly spoke with me and exhibited Christian compassion, I eventually summoned enough courage to enter the NEIRR ministry building! To my surprise, no poison gas surged through the air condition system of the building, neither was there a tornado! When I exited the car, I was still wearing “sus pants” (balloon pants) and long wavy hair and extremely damaged hair because of a lack of hair conditioner. My hair lacked control and took on a frizzy appearance! I looked like cousin “It” from the Addams Family! If my appearance frightened Bob and Judy, they failed to say so; they were so kind and gracious. Today, my shoulder length curly brown hair is properly nourished and healthy!
Several months after the Twelve Tribes asked me to leave because of “rebellion”, I wavered about returning. I kept all my “sus” pants and blouses that made me look significantly pregnant until several months after I attended the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio.
During my time as a member of the Twelve Tribes cult, I turned over $6,000 I received in an auto injury settlement previous to my involvement with the community. In October of 1998 my mother and I (mostly my mother because I was still scared) spoke with Al Jayne (“Ne man”) and demanded my $6,000 dollars returned with interest! When he balked, we said we would take action, but we did not specify! When a week passed with no resolution, we constructed large white poster signs with black letters that read “Common Ground Common Thieves”! My mother and I then picketed outside the bakery in Hamburg, New York for two days until they returned my money!
The Twelve Tribes uses mind control on their members! They control behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions. The community also controls its members spiritually, financially, psychologically, and physically and manipulates its members into staying through fear and coercion.
Elbert Eugene Spriggs, who claims the title of “Apostle” and the “prophet Elijah” is the sole unchallenged leader of the Twelve Tribes cult. Spriggs says of himself, “I must begin by saying that the only authority I have to be called an apostle is my fruit. Of course authority comes from God, but is recognized by men according to its fruit its practicality.” (Apostolic Role)
Elbert Eugene Spriggs also claims a “direct pipeline to God,” and enjoys the position of a special messenger with a unique revelation. Community members must obey him and his teachings or risk shunning or ex-communication. In one of his many teachings Spriggs says, “This is a word to all true disciples. Our Father revealed to me that we were to observe the Sabbath – the day He made, not Sunday.” (Observing the Sabbath)
Only Elbert Eugene Spriggs gives original teaching, and his writings carry final authority within the Twelve Tribes. Accountable to no one, Spriggs exercises totalitarian control over community members.
Every member must submit to the elders who later yield to the wishes and demands of the leader Spriggs.
The community exercises control over members in the areas of dress, and the regulation of where one lives. Writing to community members, Spriggs says, “When we are in the body we have no independent action or movement.” (AWM 6/12/88) Desiring to impose maximum control on Tribes members, Spriggs dictates that everyone within the communes must live communally, because this ensures the monitoring of their behavior, the information they receive, and the close observance of their thoughts and emotions.
All men must wear their hair in short ponytails with a long beard and all women grow their hair long. Forbidden to tuck in their shirts, tribal men look like slobs. Considering clean shaven men as emasculated and Roman, tribal men cannot shave or closely trim their beards. Women wear long dresses, skirts or “sus” pants.
It is the aim of the Twelve Tribes commune to obliterate all independence, (thought, action, freedom of movement, opinions, access to information, and access to families) and to drive them into a hopeless, dispirited, gray herd of robots. They have lost all personal ambition, are easy to rule, willing to obey and willing to exist in selfless slavery to Elbert Eugene Spriggs.
The Twelve Tribes tightly controls what their members eat and their enjoyment thereof.
The Twelve Tribes physically and financially exploit their members putting men and women to work as long as (16 – 18) hours with no wages and little if any medical care. Members give everything and receive nothing in return except dances, hugs, baked squash, millet, beets, maggot infested potatoes, teachings and house arrest. As one brother said a couple of days prior to finally leaving, “I’m so tired… I’m so tired.” He could barely drive the car. After his departure, the elders said, “his parents spoiled and pampered him.” The Twelve Tribes routinely use people and then cast them aside as “weak.”
The Twelve Tribes practices brutal information control as community members cannot read newspapers, books, listen to radio, go to libraries, attend movies, or connect to the Internet. As a result of totalitarian control in all four areas of the cult member’s life (B.I.T.E), crippling group dependency occurs.
Cults routinely use outright lying and deception. Although the community denies lying to outsiders and authorities, the teachings of Elbert Eugene Spriggs say otherwise. “We are obligated by conscience and the Holy Spirit to never lie. But to not tell the truth is not a lie. The truth is hidden from someone who does not deserve it.” (All Liars)
The community severely restricts information from “disgruntled” ex-members and any critical information from reaching the “sheep.”
And in another teaching, Spriggs said, “You’re to tell on your husband, tell on your brothers and sisters. That’s love. To not do this is hate and then you’re a murderer because you are robbing them of life.” (Seeking First His Kingdom/Washing/The Narrow Road)
The community publishes inner doctrine (Inter tribal news) for the consumption of baptized members and outer doctrine for all others such as their free papers and other various publications.
* Thought Control
The Twelve Tribes routinely inhibit critical thinking so that a “group think” mentality predominates. Commenting on a Spriggs teaching called “Reasoning,” a tribe’s member says, “Reasoning makes my life complicated and dark. There was a time I envied the flowers and birds whose life seemed so simple. Tonight I received hope because we are called to live a simple life – a life of obedience.”
The community uses thought terminating clichés such as “It is better to be wrong together than right alone.” These cliché’s or thought terminating phrases eliminate the need for thought and argument and produce immediate obedience.
Emotion control as practiced within the Twelve Tribes narrows a person’s emotional responses, because the gray areas of life slowly diminish to black and white. This manipulation and narrowing of emotions occurs in four ways with the regular use of shame, guilt, fear (phobia indoctrination) and anger.
“The community locked me in a closet and forced me to stand naked in front of a group of adults,” said the recently arrested bank robbery suspect Joseph Kirby. Joseph Kirby and his sister Shemini endured years of similar abuse at the hands of community members, but decided to make their escape as teenagers. Subsequently placed in foster care because their mother, a faithful community member, believed them impossible to raise within the confines and dictates of the Spriggs run community. The foster care system labeled them as deeply troubled, rebellious and incorrigible.
When a group employs all four components (Behavior, Information, thoughts, and emotions) to control the processes of members, cult researchers refer to this as mind control. With these parameters in place, I’m quite comfortable in labeling the Twelve Tribes a mind control cult.