Man who left The Twelve Tribes says group indoctrinated him
Source:The Twelve Tribes blog- 2016
By Ashley Brilla
Billy Lovell outside the Savannah, Georgia Twelve Tribes cafe. Photo courtesy of Billy Lovell
Billy Lovell was the picture of a broken man. He was sitting in a drug treatment center with no one there to visit him. A disciple for the Twelve Tribes happened to be visiting the center and approached Lovell.
Lovell was willing to try anything to save himself from his current situation. His wife of 25 years had just left him and he was suffering from an addiction to prescription pain medication following a car accident.
The disciple took Lovell under his wing and he was soon able to leave the treatment center. Lovell returned with the disciple to the Tribe’s farm.
Lovell says the experience began as a loving one. Everyone acted like family and lived communally based on the Bible’s teachings.
Shortly into his yearlong stay with the Tribe, Lovell began to notice some faults.
As a member of the Tribe, you were expected to work for your keep. Lovell says workdays typically were 12 hours, but those could easily turn into a 16 or 17-hour day. Children were not excluded from doing their share either.
Lovell remembers one instance where he saw a 12-year-old boy changing the blades of a lawnmower, and when he offered to help the young boy, a disciple scolded Lovell for acting out of line.
If children refused to cooperate with the ways of the Tribe then they would be punished. Lovell says that the Tribe is not opposed to physical punishment, but the abuse tends to be more emotional.
“They’ll pull them out of the room and [the kids] will have to go back into that room crying,” he said. “What they are doing is emotionally scarring on these kids. There is a mental pressure on them.”
The psychological abuse was not directed solely towards the children. Lovell says that the Tribe cuts off recruits from the outside world leaving them “socially addicted” to the Tribe.
If someone begins to question the ways of the Tribe they will be treated like a black sheep within the community.
The Twelve Tribes community farm in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Billy Lovell
Lovell recalls that one night, a man disappeared in the middle of the night after he had been questioning the authority of the Tribe, most likely to escape rejection from the community.
Lovell says that the Tribe would often use isolation as a way to force members to comply. When someone first joins the Tribe they are welcomed with love, but then a switch happens.
“The love keeps getting poured on and I think they notice that you are giving that love back and that you want to please the people that are being so nice to you. They indoctrinate you. They want you to be a part of their home and spirituality.”
According to Dr. Laura Auf der Heide Brashears, a visiting scholar of religious sociology at Cornell University, individuals desire to belong, and at first a cult will provides a sense of belonging. Then whenever they sense that you are “in” they try to break you and see how far your commitment lies, similar to what Lovell is claiming.
While Lovell was still a member of the Tribe, he decided to make his commitment to the community official by being baptized.
The baptism ceremony is one that is very important to the Christian faith. It symbolizes shedding your past life and sins for a new life following the principles of God.
Within the community whenever someone makes the commitment of being baptized they are expected to cut off all ties with outside world.
“We’re not supposed to have worldly communication because that’s opening yourself to the evil one. We’re told that the only safe place to be is in the body [of the Tribe].”
Following his baptism, Lovell was given a new name Hosea Samkh. Dr. Brashears believes that cults alter the identity of members in order to make them more codependent on the community.
She also says that the co-dependency that is formed by being a member of a cult makes it difficult for people to leave because they are so isolated from the outside world.
“People you’re connected to while being in the cult are not only reaffirming your religious identity every day, but reaffirming your whole sense of being, or self, on a daily basis”
Looking back on his experience, Lovell believes that the Tribe targeted him because seemed weak. He says the tribe has become a haven for runaways and anyone else that needs to escape their current troubles.
Cults tend to target higher risk populations, like runaway or those with addiction issues, because they are more susceptible to joining. Dr. Brashears believes that cults actively search for new members, but she also says that a cult cannot target you unless you give them the opportunity.