The cult that scourges children
Copied from Twelve Tribes-ex.com, original publication date sometime after 1984
This is a place where reality wobbles like a table with one short leg. Here, some say Walt Disney characters are evil and the world is satanic. Here – in the name of God children are often beaten, denied medical care, held out of school and secretly buried. ****And there seems to be nothing that anyone can do about it.
Despite the lake and the mountains, Island Pond is one of those rare Vermont villages that is all but devoid of charm. It is poor and dowdy. The dominant force in town is a Bible-based cult called the Northeast Kingdom Community Church. The men have flowing beards and hair worn in shoulder length ponytails. The women wear babushkas.
The community meanwhile, operates under a cloud of suspicion, with its leader, a former carnival barker named Elbert Eugene Spriggs, sought by federal authorities for alleged child molestation. Church spokesman Bill Smith says the group intends to stay in Vermont and will not comply with truancy laws or laws requiring birth certificates and death certificates. And he says the stern discipline the church practices will continue.
If there are victims of this carnival – mirror existence, they are the children. They grow up poor, without schools, doctors, modern toys and books, even without the fantasies, the pretending of childhood. They are shuttled from home to home and country to country. They are taken from their parents and thrashed and hidden. If they get sick, they may or may not see a doctor. And if they die, they are buried in unmarked graves and, as far as the outside is concerned, they never lived.
There is little doubt about the sect’s stern discipline. At various court hearings, current and former members have said that the group routinely disciplines children with force. One former member said he walloped 65 different children. An 11 year old described a beating with a wooden paddle, and a mother explained that: members of the community pelt her kids because “children need correcting.”
Such testimony convinced the judge in one custody case to conclude “that community members subjected the children to frequent and methodical physical abuse in the form of hour long whippings with balloon sticks.”
Spokesman Smith, who sometimes identified himself as a community elder and sometimes not, explained that physical punishment starts before children are a year old.
“Lessons about right and wrong can be reinforced with pain,” he explained. Offenses ranging from lying to simple childish pretending, result in a spanking with a slender rod. Fantasies, the elders explained, may cloud the word of God. Children told state investigators they were punished for offenses as innocuous as joking that it was snowing on a hot summer day.
Severe punishment, called scourging can involve adults striking a child up to hundreds of times, over a period of hours. “We sometimes take our time, and in between tell them the word of God,” explains Smith. Several individuals told state investigators they know of one 3 year old who was scourged for eating a grape without permission. Others said any baptized adult in the group could hammer or scourge a child. One told of children who were mashed not for an offense but because a parent had a dream suggesting it. While discipline is a concern, relatives seem to worry about whether nieces or nephews in the group will get sick. There are doctors in Island Pond but the sect does not use them. A handful of very sick members received treatment from a nearby hospital, but illness, the pain of childbirth and injuries are commonly treated with prayer and, in some cases, with the aid of elder Richard Cantrell, who is also known as Gladheart. Cantrell was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in 1984.
Since 1980, state officials report, four of the group children have died. One case of untreated meningitis claimed a baby in 1981. A minutes old child died in 1982 of unknown causes. A 6 month old child traveling with his parents aboard the ferry that links Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia died last month of Sudden Infant death syndrome. The body of a fourth child, carried out the back door of a commune house in 1980 as police arrived, was not recovered.
Smith, 29, is typical of cult members. He grew up, he says “in the beach and drug culture of St. Petersburg, Fla. He joined the sect in 1978 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, after experimenting with drugs, college and a Quaker seminary. Many in the community are former drug users and drifters, he explains. Some of them have moved from one communal household to another. “It seems that the more down and out we are before coming to the community, the more filled with the spirit we become after joining.” “We know what the world is like,” he says ominously. We’ve seen it all.”
The message found in the church’s publications is a collage of opposition to modern life. The Bible-based cult finds evil in technology, feminism, city life and other organized religions. One article in the Island Pond Freepaper suggests that a religious fanatic did not carry out the mass suicide massacre in Jonestown but opponents of non traditional religious movements carried out the murder and mayhem. Another piece in the paper attacks Walt disney for “liberating the susceptible imaginations of children and training them to substitute the unreal for the real, preparing them to explore in reality the innermost recesses of their own personal fantasies.”
The secular world, with its drugs, mass media, materials and discord, are beyond redemption, Smith explained. “And we don’t want to put Humpty Dumpty together again.” Instead, sect followers live apart from society, attempting to show others the path to salvation as the day the modern world ends. That day they believe is imminent.
The group’s financial base is built on the possessions that members sell such as homes, cars, and bank accounts and give to the sect. Most members keep no personal funds, although some leaders seem to have access to money and some carry checkbooks in the pockets of their flannel shirts.
The elders strictly order the life inside the Bible-based sect. Members are dependent on the cult and on the elder’s decisions for all their material needs. Elders can and do separate children from parents if they believe the children would do better in another house. Women must be submissive to men, while rank and file male members follow the directives of the elders and leader Spriggs. Some marriages are arranged, elders decide which families live together in which houses, and how their children will be educated.
Information about the outside world and the group is limited. Only certain sect members are allowed to read newspapers and magazines, to watch TV or listen to the radio. “Not everyone can handle such information,” says Smith.