Sect has made ‘paradise’ a hell, townsfolk say

The Toronto Star
Sandro Contenta
June 24, 1984
Bruce Boutin peered from under his baseball cap and recalled “the good old days” before this “little paradise went to hell.”
Those days – before 1978 – are growing hazy now for Boutin and other people in this scenic town just south of the Canadian border.
But they can recall with distinct clarity the hot summer day a caravan of  cars and vans rolled through the sleepy main street – and changed their lives.
When the vans stopped coming, more than 300 members of the Twelve Tribes a secretive Bible-based cult, had made the town of 1,200 their home.
“That’s when this town went down the drain,” said Boutin, 47, a lifelong resident.
“This place was a real paradise until they came in telling us we were all going to hell unless we joined them.  I say we get a vigilante group together and run them out of town,” said the self-employed logger.
Lock their doors
When ex-members made allegations of “brainwashing” and the regular, brutal, beating of children within the church two years ago, residents began locking their doors – something few did before – and some refused to allow their children to walk the streets alone.
Townsfolk felt fear and anger which reached a fever pitch Friday when 140 state police and social workers raided 20 church homes across the town and whisked away 112 children to determine whether they had been thumped.
But the state failed in its attempt to hold the children for 72 hours so that doctors, nurses and psychiatrists could examine them.  District Judge Frank Mahady denied their request for temporary detention orders in nearby Newport and the children were sent home.
David Dillon, Governor Richard Snelling’s spokesman, made a vow to determine whether the children are the subjects of abuse.  Residents also wondered if peace will ever return to their town.
“This town has gone to hell,” said Viola Marquis, 64, who lives between a community-owned bakery and garage.  “It used to be quiet, just gorgeous ….but I still love it too much to move away.”
“I won’t let my child out alone, no way,” said Walter Daniels, 42.  “It’s not like the old days around here, people are very cautious and a lot of them are scared.”
Daniels and his wife, Diane, are in constant contact with the church.
Mrs. Daniels sisters Claire and Pauline, her brothers Leonard and Richard Delabruere and her Uncle Germaine, have all been “brainwashed” into joining it, she said.
Two years ago, she said, her sister Claire left the group because she could no longer stand to watch the pounding of her 5-year old son Jeremy with a wooden rod.
She has since returned because she couldn’t bear to be without her husband and children who stayed behind.
Members freely admit they hit children with slender rods that resemble meter-long balloon sticks as part of their upbringing.  But they say the children are never abused and the rods only sting.
As well, ex-Twelve Tribes members have said that anyone in the church can discipline any other member’s children.
In an interview with a local paper last year, Elbert Eugene Spriggs, Jr., founder of the church, said children were disciplined “because we love them.”
Faced charge
Last August, Charles Wiseman, 35, a community elder in influence only to the Twelve Tribes founder, pleaded not guilty to a charge of assault on Darlene Church.
The 13-year old girl said that she and her father left the community last year after members gave her a seven-hour walloping with a wooden rod.
Sect members work long hours on farms, as loggers and at various other jobs.  The community is well-equipped with trucks and farm machinery because members must give all their possessions to the Twelve Tribes when they join.
The group, according to Associated Press, also owns 11 businesses including an all-night restaurant.
As many as 25 of them live together in homes and they are constantly moved from house to house.  Women wear scarves around their heads as a sign of obedience to their husbands and God while most men have beards and long hair “because that’s the way Jesus Christ looked,” Daniels said.
Mrs. Daniels said her guitarist brother Leonard, 25, was wooed into joining the communal group six years ago when he went to play at a Friday night supper.
“They told him he was great and showered him with love and made him feel like the church was nothing unless he joined,” she said.
The Star interviewed an 18-year old church member who told a strikingly similar story.
Sitting in a Twelve Tribes health food run store called “Commonsense,” the teenager, who would say only that his name was Daniel, told how he was a musician in Colorado but left home because of family problems.  He made his way here and Twelve Tribes members approached him.
Felt wanted
“I was sick of having no purpose in life but when I came here, man, I mean, I never had the love that was given to me here.  I really felt wanted.”
His friend, Thomas, said he joined the church because he grew up in the ‘60s and experienced firsthand the “sinful ways.”
“When I realized what I had found, I wept with joy and decided that my life would be a living sacrifice to the Lord.”
The interviews abruptly ended when a church elder stormed into the restaurant and accused The Star reporter of being a “tool of the devil.”
“You can never print the truth because Satan manipulates you,” he shouted.
“We’ll only talk to you if you drop those tools of the devil (pen and pad) and if you’re willing to repent,” another said.
Many church members and their children were walking around town yesterday but all refused to talk publicly.
In a nearby laundromat, a sect member was seen reading an old newspaper he found in the garbage and quickly threw it down when he noticed townsfolk were observing him.  Residents say members are forbidden from reading or listening to the news.
Town father Bud Wade, 74, who lives across the street from a communal home, said he has often heard young children screaming in pain.
“One night a child was crying for about three-quarters of an hour …..what the heck can you do about it, even though you know the adults were belting that child.”

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