Island Pond religious group blocked from buying property
The Providence Sunday Journal
July 29, 1984
Residents of a small town in Nova Scotia reportedly have banded together to keep members of a controversial communal religious sect from settling there.
Members of the Northeast Kingdom Church – the group from which the police rounded up children last month in Island Pond, Vt. – already own at least two homes and a boat shop in Clark’s Harbor, Nova Scotia, and reportedly tried recently to buy the town’s only hotel.
But when word got out, residents raised enough money among themselves to block the sale.
Residents of Clark’s Harbor, an Island community of about 1,100, said the sect’s population has grown from 60 to 90 in the last few weeks, much to townspeople’s dismay.
“They won’t get another piece of property here if we can help it,” vowed Town Clerk Hattie Nickerson.
Twelve Tribes members are also building a 65-foot boat in Nova Scotia, apparently to make a connection with one of their outposts in France.
The State Attorney general’s office, meanwhile, has turned to the Vermont Supreme Court in its quest to investigate allegations of child abuse in the sect.
Special prosecutor William Gray, who has been hired to represent the state in the case, was believed to have asked the high court to overturn a judge’s decision to dismiss juvenile petitions involving about 50 community children.
But officials involved in the case would not comment, citing the confidentiality of juvenile matters.
“All I can confirm is that this office has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court regarding certain children,” Attorney General John Easton said.
The notice of appeal was filed with the court Thursday.
The Northeast Kingdom Community Church settled in Island Pond from Tennessee several years ago and now has about 300 members there and owns a number of homes and businesses.
It has come under increasingly heavy criticism for its secretive customs and for ignoring state law, but mostly because of allegedly abusive child disciplinary practices.
Members have admitted their children are sometimes spanked or thumped, but deny they are abused.
The allegations prompted state police and social workers to raid church residences in Island Pond, Vt. June 22, looking for evidence of abuse.
But Vermont District Judge Frank Mahady declared the raid illegal, sent all the youngsters home, and dismissed about 50 cases outright because the state did not have the children’s names.
It was that dismissal that Gray is believed to have appealed to the high court.
Mahady is expected to rule next month on motions to dismiss cases involving the rest of the Twelve Tribes children.
Rep. James Jeffords, R-Vt., meanwhile, has asked Gov. Richard Snelling to apologize for the raid.
Jeffords confirmed he wrote to Snelling to voice his concerns, but called the contents “private” and refused to release the letter.
But according to a report published Thursday in the Rutland Herald, Jeffords – a former attorney general – criticized the raid and asked Snelling to apologize to the Vermont people for authorizing it.
Jeffords said it is not unusual for him to write to Vermonters expressing his views on issues. He said Snelling wrote back, explaining why the raid was authorized.
Snelling, who was in Washington and could not be reached, has vigorously defended the raid, sometimes growing aggravated when reporters persist in questioning him about it.
He and Jeffords, both Republicans, have never been overly friendly, and the letter could well widen the rift.
Jeffords is up for re-election to a sixth term this year; Snelling is stepping down after four.
The two could meet in a future GOP U.S. Senate primary.
Meanwhile, Northeast Kingdom Community Church leaders have announced that members will no longer answer questions at public meetings designed to explain Twelve Tribes practices.
After Judge Malady refused last month to allow an examination of the children that the state rounded up, the community announced a series of meetings to explain its beliefs to the public.
The first was a stormy confrontation with angry townspeople in Island Pond: the second turned out to be a more subdued, but still sometimes hostile gathering in Montpelier City Hall.
Twelve Tribes leaders were apparently unhappy with the meetings, and leader Charles “Eddie” Wiseman said sessions in Burlington and St. Johnsbury this week will no longer include a question and answer period.
He said the public can question community members after the meetings.
“We’re not trying to encourage a debate,” Wiseman said.