April 8, 2001
Elbert Eugene Spriggs was working in a carnival in Chattanooga, Tenn., when he says he heard the Lord ask him, “Is this what I created you for?”
The year was 1969, and the answer was no.
Within three years, the former high-school guidance counselor had created the Twelve Tribes, a cult whose members embrace elements of Christianity and Judaism, beat their children to instill discipline and believe blacks are natural servants.
Sitting atop this strange empire is the 63 year old Spriggs, who has been married four times and calls himself Yoneq, a Hebrew word for sapling or sprig.
His lifestyle is a cut above that of cult members. While they lead Spartan lives, he jets between homes in Sus in the southwest of France, Sao Paulo in Brazil and Boston.
Spriggs was born on May 18, 1937, in East Ridge, Tenn. He was raised in a religious household, often going to church three times a week.
In 1971, on a beach in Carpenteria, Calif., he realized he could not function with the Lord and committed himself to Christ.
The next year, he opened a shelter for runaway in Chattanooga. It quickly grew to include five houses that were supported by a health food café.
In 1977, after clashes with local churches, Spriggs moved his followers to Island Pond, Vt., a village of 1,500 nestled in mountains near the Canadian border.