Twelve Tribes: A Cult of ‘Demonic Seducing Spirits’

Source: Ithacans opposed to the Twelve Tribes cult
 He was looking to serve God with like-minded people.

He thought communal living could be spiritually lifting, a way of life rare enough to spark his interest in his quest to serve God.

And members of the Twelve Tribes, with their smiles and façades of happy living, convinced him to give it a try.

But for Robert Roberg, there was nothing heavenly about his experience with the cult 29 years ago.

Roberg, 63, is a married man with five children. He first met members of the Twelve Tribes in Island Pond, Vt. He was with his wife and then-baby daughter, spending time with his wife’s family before heading to Washington, DC, to work with a Christian mission group.

“We came down into Island Pond to buy groceries or something, and somebody stopped us in a grocery parking lot and said ‘You’d probably be interested in these Christians that meet in a ski lodge in Island Pond,’” he said.

Roberg and his wife decided to check the place out. For the next six Sundays, they visited members of the Tribe.

“They were just the nicest, sweetest, most-loving people we’d ever met,” he said.

But that quickly changed when Eugene Spriggs, the leader, appeared at the lodge. Roberg said they called Spriggs “The Prophet.”

“When he arrived, there was this huge, cold, dark shadow that fell upon the whole group,” Roberg said. “He was fierce, and harsh. There was nothing gentle or kind about him. I thought he was this really mean guy. He berated the people about their children, that they weren’t disciplining their children enough. I was totally turned off by him.”

The Robergs left for D.C., but continued to send letters to the people they met in the Twelve Tribes. While with the mission group, Roberg said they were asked to pay for the training. The Robergs didn’t have cash to spend, or at least they didn’t save any to give to the mission group.

“So, were in Washington, D.C., practically broke. But somehow we knew we wanted to serve God,” he said.

They decided to return to their native state of California. En route, they stopped in Chattanooga, Tenn., and found a restaurant called the Yellow Deli. The Twelve Tribes operate this establishment. Members invited them to stay at a big house they owned. The Robergs agreed and for six weeks they stayed with the Twelve Tribes in Chattanooga.

Every morning at 6:00, they’d pray. But it wasn’t your normal prayer.

“They were praying for nails, shingles and hammers,” he said. “It was weird. They were praying for all these weird things. They were running all of these little businesses. They put me on a crew to go build a wall in one of these restaurants.”

Roberg worked from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day. He compared the work to slave labor. “They worked me like that day and night, and it was just like free labor for them.”

Early on during the Robergs’ stay, his wife expressed concern about the happenings in the nursery house, where all the children stayed.

“All the people in the nursery carried these switches from trees,” he said. “They were extremely, extremely severe about any child who looked crooked. You didn’t just switch them once, you switch them until, they call it ‘breaking the spirit’. She saw some babies just being switched and switched and switched. She started saying ‘We’ve got to get out of here; this is not healthy.”

But Roberg wanted to know more about the Twelve Tribes. He convinced her to stay.

The bizarre environment continued, when Roberg spent his first Friday with this Tribe. Every Friday night was “Agape Fest,” when members would drink bottles of wine and feast. It was love time.

“They would sort of make up for lost time and get kind of rowdy, dance a little bit. Some of them, I thought, got a little too much agape in them,” he said.

One Tribe member commented to him that “we are the only true church on Earth.”

“I said ‘Come on, there are churches all over the earth and Christians are everywhere,’” Roberg said.

“He said ‘No, we are the only Christians.’”

At that point, it all became clear to Roberg: “This is a cult. Every cult says ‘we are the only ones.’ After six weeks, we decided we were going to move on.”

Since the Robergs left the Tribe, he has had several run ins with other groups. Some members even arrived on his door step to convince him to be a member.

“I can’t fault them on their teaching of the gospel of Jesus as they understand it, but there were some cultish things that turned me off. The strict discipline of the children was very disturbing,” Roberg said.

Every cult is spirit controlled, Roberg said.

“There is some kind of demonic seducing spirit that takes control of these people and they seem happy and nice,” he continued. “I think it it’s a seducing spirit that is leading them astray, a demonic spirit. When you think you’re the only group of Christians on Earth, and the only right ones, it’s a subtle pride thing, it’s arrogance. Pride is the sin of Satan. So the minute you start thinking you have all the answers, and you are the only ones, you are really taking away from the humility we all live. God only accepts the humble into his kingdom. A scripture says we will one day rule over angels. God would never take a proud human being and put him over his angels. He would only take humble people. I am sure in the Twelve Tribes, there are humble people. But the leadership is leading them astray.”

Roberg said he admires the Tribe’s openness–a door is always open for new recruits. He believes the cult has been able to grow because members don’t deny anyone from entering their world. So many people leave, but so many enter. Hippy festivals, often where troubled people can be found in packs, are big a draw for their membership drives.

Although his experience was more than a quarter century ago, Roberg said he doesn’t think the group has changed. Newspaper clippings of the child abuse and the unusual doctrines tells him they may have gotten worse, possibly even stronger.

“They are taking in desperate people from all over the streets who need a place to go,” he said. “They can keep renewing themselves even though maybe none of the original people are still there. It keeps the machinery going.”

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Erica said…

Interesting story, but didn’t the Twelve Tribes leave Chattanooga for Vermont after they came under pressure by locals? There wouldn’t have been a Yellow Deli in Chattanooga during this time period.

Also, check this out if you haven’t already:

August 31, 2007 1:44 PM

Anonymous said…

Yeh, seems they are really grasping at straws when the only ‘ex-member’ they can find lived with them for 6 weeks 29 years ago.

September 02, 2007 1:29 AM

Aloysius Horn said…

The person interviewed is not “the only ex-member we can find.” If you scan the previous articles you will find comments left by many and the new pamphlet contains statements by ten ex-members.

September 02, 2007 8:32 AM

Not David Derush said…

The piece was written to prove a point. It took an intelligent person 6 weeks to see through the smokescreen. Not everyone can do it, but Mr. Roberg did.

I don’t think it matters if it were 29 years or 1 month. It’s the same Cult. It’s the same freak running the show.

The piece also pointed out that although it has been 29 years, Mr. ROberg still keeps tabs on the cult and opined that it hasn’t changed, possibly has gotten worse.

It’s a damning piece. Any Twelve tribers who reads this is probably a bit concerned that the truth, once again, is exposed.

I expected this criticism. But what comes next, I don’t think this petty argument can be made.

Stay tuned. More to come.

September 02, 2007 2:20 PM

Anonymous said…

I didn’t give much credence to how long the guy was in the twelve tribes. What I found interesting about this article is the section about Spriggs. It sort of shook me.

I don;t think the article was trying to concentrate as much on this guy being an ex member; rather it read to me as if the writer was trying to allow someone to pain a picture of the leader and point out some of the unusual things that although happened in his mind 29 years ago, STILL HAPPEN TODAY.

It’s disgusting really. the twelve tribes are evil.

September 02, 2007 2:24 PM

Amy said…

Erica, you might want to do a little more research. The Yellow Deli didn’t get run out of Chattanooga on a rail. There was already a church in Island Pond and they asked the TT people to come up and help them run the place. The TT moved up in phases, while some stayed behind and gradually closed down the Yellow Delis.

If you look at old pictures, you’ll note that nothing happened suddenly. The women used to be allowed to wear jeans, and the men used to be allowed to have a variety of hairstyles. I’m sure their bizarre scripted wedding ceremony wasn’t developed overnight, either. Rather, it would appear that as Spriggs had more and more revelations, things changed after each one until we have a group where everyone dresses the same way, does their hair the same way, gets married exactly the same way, dances the same way, props his or her feet on footstools when pooping, eats with chopsticks, and can’t eat hard cheeses. And who knows when yerba maté became such a big deal to them.

September 02, 2007 4:05 PM

Nancy said…

This is a destructive cult. No better than Jim Jones. The person in this article saw the truth quickly because he wasn’t emotionally vulnerable or searching…THAT is who they prey upon. They find runaways, loners, etc and brainwash them. Any that forces you to forfeit all of your material goods and cuts you off from all contact with your “previous” life is a cult, pure and simple. They WERE run out of Chattanooga, in fact they were harassed and accosted on the streets of Chattanooga, accused of child abuse and banned from campuses…until they finally left. Good riddance. Now they’re back and they’ve built a Yellow Deli on McCallie Ave, ON CAMPUS. Scary. I also find it interesting that a religion that expects its members to deny worldly possessions and wealth is headed by a guy with millions in assets. Last night they had a big reunion/party/grand opening at the Yellow Deli on McCallie and it went – here it comes again, Chattanooga. I hope the Bible thumpers in Hamilton County run Yellow Deli out for good this time!!

March 29, 2008 9:48 AM

MH said…

One thing I appreciate is that he didn’t just slap a “CULT” sticker on it and go. He looked at it for whatever it was. He goes further to say that there are good people throughout the commune, however he didn’t like the “cultish” ideals they followed with children amongst other things(Crazy leader, pray for hammers, love time, we’re the only ones, etc). Overall I think this is a solid article with an open minded focus.

May 07, 2008 9:15 PM

Anonymous said…

I joined the twelve tribes on several occasions in the past in Manitou Springs CO. They did all seem genuinely nice, and happy to boot. The fact remains, this is a cult, not a religious group. I was young and near homelessness and they invited me in openly which in these times is to say the least, uncommon.

As soon as I joined I was told over time I would come to aquire a young submissive bride, which to be honest was somewhat tempting ,but my conscience seemed to get the better of me. Between their strange ideals,indentured servitude,and arranged marriages to youthful women, who seemed completly hollow and devoid of real love and happiness and had been born and bred to be slaves to their husbands, I decided this wasn’t the cult for me. Realistically I felt very bad for these young girls who were obviously trapped in this terrible place. They (The Twelve Tribes) owned a restaurant called the Mate’ Factor, where members of the “tribe” worked, sometimes up to sixteen hours a day(really) for no wages whatsoever. Some of these workers were also children well under the legal working age, (around twelve years old) whom also worked an absurd amount of hours. They (TT) also ran other companies as well including a co-op, a restaurant,(which was open 24 hours a day mind you),a tree removal company, and others as well only in this one little town. All of these job positions were filled by (TT) members none of whom recieve any pay at all.Only given a place to stay and the belief that they are the people who will recieve Gods kingdom. I desperatly want to break these people free from their oppressor, but regretfully they are mentally bound, rather than physically. Mental bonds are far harder to break than ones of the flesh. If you have the ability to help these people,(especially the poor women), please do so and I will do everything in my power to help. This is not right.Women and children are being both mentally, and physically abused,while their self proclaimed messiah accrues a tremendously vast wealth that his followers (whom have devoted all their lives) to help him build, recieve nothing in return for their grueling work… nothing.

February 09, 2011 9:06 PM

Anonymous said…

August 17, 2011 4:57 PM

Kesher said…

Hello, My name is Darryl. I was the first person to join the TT in Ashville NC. Samaech gave me the name of Kesher on the day that I was baptized into the community. I really enjoyed the fellowship but I did not like the mind control. Watching my every move. Cleaning dishes every night while those married enjoyed their families. The “Special Brothers and sisters had credit cards, drove cars, had cameras, computers and it seemed that they had a different status.

November 10, 2011 7:08 AM

Anonymous said…

The communities try to expand too quickly and this “stretches” the work force way too thin. I wish these fruit-loops could get it through their Tribal heads that healthy living and godly living includes plenty of rest, and that if you expand more wisely and slowly, you’ll actually be further ahead, because less members will leave and you’ll have a healthier happier life for new people to come to. If they want to only think about working all the time and about Satan and the end times, Satan will be the winner, and Tribes members will be the losers. Wake up Twelve Tribes, wake up Yoneq and Ha’emeq, you can change things for the better. Look around at the exhausted members who don’t even have time to open the Bible awhile and don’t have time to get over their illnesses. It used to be “apostolic” for everyone to go to bed at 9PM, whatever happened to that wonderful revelation?

November 29, 2011 12:43 PM

Anonymous said…

Jesus may one day say to the Twelve Tribes: ” …you who claim to be Jews though you are not, but are liars–I will make you come and fall down at the feet of all those you have judged and acknowledge that I Jesus have loved all humans equally.”

December 13, 2011 1:35 PM

Jane said…

I was told that I would “become a wheat berry” that would go down into the grinder “with other wheat berries to be ground up into the finest flour to make a delicious loaf of bread.” That I “would lose my identity with all the other wheat berries.”

This is about individuals losing their own identity and dreams and desires, and living exclusively for the group. Pure communism. Excuse me, communalism. Excuse me, loving your brothers and sisters with no thought for yourself.

December 28, 2011 8:54 PM

dan said…

I visited this Island Pond Community on two occasions in May of 1983 and May of 1984. I was invited both times by familiar folks with whom I fellowshiped with when they were still in New Jersey. These brothers and sisters in the Lord were truly seeking God’s government, as opposed to professing christians who would only have fellowship gatherings twice weekly, and then run to their corporate jobs in order to make ends meet. They conveyed to me that they no longer WENT to church, but that they LIVED in the church. I must say that it did pique my interest. During my two visiits, the only time that I experienced anything very liberating there was the evening that me and my family first arrived. I had a sense of spiritual euphoria simply by conversing and helping with after-dinner dishes. I went to sleep tha night firmly believing that I was resting in the arms of the Lord. It was the next day that I began to feel that I was going through the filtration process, by having a few chats with some elders concerning my spirituality and dogma. To them, my confession of being born anew and knowing that my sins were forgiven by the work of Christ on Calvary was not adequate for salvation. They told me that apart from His true church (meaning theirs) I could not be saved, let alone be His disciple. The following evening, all members of the household where we had stayed were preparing for the formal breaking of bread. I had assumed that I could be part of it, until I was stopped and told that I could not partake of the Lord’s table because I was NOT a disciple of the true church. I was distraught that God would forgive me of my sins, give me the gift the Holy Spirit and the assurance of Eternal life, but stop me from eating at His table. I was told that I had to divest myself of all worldly possesions and ambitions in order to be His disciple and partake of His table with other disciples. I told them that what they are saying must first be done in a believer’s heart through the work of the Holy Spirit. True circumcision is of the heart, not of the flesh. He wants your heart so that He alone is Lord (owner) of your possessions and ambitions. I haven’t been there since.

March 14, 2012 9:32 PM

Anonymous said…

When I told these guys to give me a call when their “true church” would start being persecuted, even unto death for their faith, they looked at each other.

March 14, 2012 9:42 PM

Anonymous said…

I met the community at a dead show in the early ninteys. Stayed with them for several months in Virginia , newyork , and island pond my 8 year old daughter also stayed with me I was going through a divorse and a really hard time drug an alcohol addiction also. I was clean the whole time there an found the people there very kind and loveing. I did not stay but did visit years later when I was in florida. I did not experience a lot of what u all are talking about. I do not agree with all there beliefs but consider them friends an have good memories as does my daughter. Not saying ur stories are not true but this is mine Dwayne Bogolea .

December 14, 2012 2:39 PM

James said…

I like the TT by the way they live the life of faith.

March 13, 2013 11:59 PM

Anonymous said…

all I know is that growing up there was very stressful I’d work long days pull all nighters watch other people’s kids then get punished for things that didn’t seem fair esp when I was little I got beat with one of those ballon stick because I didn’t eat all my food this single man took me away from my mom stripped me of all my clothes and hit me from my head to my toes for like an hour and the more I cried the more he’d hit me so if you think the kids aren’t abused think again because you have no idea what goes on in that place…..and that’s just one story from one day try being there for 18 years!

March 14, 2013 1:05 PM

Jonas said…

These abuses you describe did happen. But no more. It’s not the way they do things now. One member even told me, “We really blew it with our children.” Another member told me, “These incidents were not community wide.” I can tell you from first hand experience beginning in 1994 that some children needed alot more discipline than they were getting! My wife was one of the teachers. It varied family to family. Discipline to some of the children was a joke. To others in some cases, yes, it clearly was abusive, and the communities should not lie about this and deny it.

March 18, 2013 9:09 AM

Ann Phelps said…

Jonas, all I saw was love for the children.

March 28, 2013 4:53 PM

Anonymous said…

17+ hour work days while standing most of the time.

All believe and do what the founder Gene Spriggs has taught.

All of Christianity and the Christian Jesus is condemned as

demonic, and the satanic scarlet whore of the Bible book of Revelation.

Birthdays, Christmas and other holidays are not celebrated.

Children are frequently hit with balloon sticks by any adult

member for any form of disobedience or “foolishness.”

Childrens toys, dolls, and stuffed animals are not allowed.

Claim Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. deserved to die.

Claim black people should still be slaves to whites unless they join.

Claim to be the only people forgiven and being saved by God.

Claim to be the only people who have the Holy Spirit.

Claim to be the only people who will bring Jesus back to earth by

eventually birthing 144,000 celibate male evangelists and being

perfectly obedient to God for 49 years.

Claim to be the only place on earth where anyone can be saved by God.

Founder Elbert Eugene Spriggs “Yoneq” is unquestioned Prophet Pope.

Home births and home circumcisions are required.

Childbirth pain is God’s will and is not to be lessened in any way.

Males must wear fur-face beards, short ponytails, and untucked shirts.

Medical and dental neglect is common with no health insurance.

Medications of any kind are generally not allowed.

Non-Tribes reading material of any kind is not allowed.

Shaving any part of the male of female body is not allowed.

Telephone calls to non-member family and friends is by permission.

Television, radio, personal music devices and internet aren’t allowed.

Women are not allowed in any leadership positions.

You can leave, but you’re damned to Death for 1000+ years or eternal Hell.

You’re rarely be able to visit friends and family “in the world.”

Your whole life is scrutinized and completely controlled everyday.

“It is through many trials and tribulations that we enter the kingdom.”

“You just need to die, and give up your rotten sticking life in the world.”

“Where did you learn to think anyway? In the world?”

“You just need to die and take off your head (personal reasoning),

and take on the mind of the Body (Twelve Tribes).

“You just need to die, and receive your brothers and let them handle you.”
(If the Twelve Tribes is not a cult, then what is a cult?)

May 28, 2013 9:35 AM

mammie said…

There is a very strong and baffling spiritual presence within this group by which many have been deceived into thinking that it’s from God, but it is not. There is a great wresting of scripture that takes things out of context causing the followers to believe teachings which are disproven in other areas of the Bible. This is a dangerous sect of deceived people being led by a man that believes that he is the Elijah prophet.

June 05, 2013 1:40 PM

Christa said…

I appreciate your blog entries. I have spent the last few days reading about this cult after I happened upon Kirsten Nielssen’s story. What I think is so strange, is how two totally opposing stories about the tribes exist, depending on who is telling them. Are the groups different in Vista or Colorado, or are the people who say that no abuse evr occurs so conditioned that they are incapable of telling the truth? So, thanks for your blogosts, I hope writing is cathartic and healing for you and I’m glad you made it out of this cult. The Bible gives a strong warning to those who are teachers and lead the flock astray…bummer for Eugene Spriggs. The afterlife is not gonna be to good for him.

November 06, 2013 4:39 PM

former member said…

Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups – Revised
Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

‪ The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

‪ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

‪ The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

‪ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

‪ The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

‪ The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

‪ The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

‪ The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

‪ Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

‪ The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

‪ The group is preoccupied with making money.

‪ Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

‪ The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

This checklist was adapted from a checklist originally developed by Michael Langone.

March 23, 2014 7:05 PM

Koliah said…

What’s the point in living for this age? We all must die and meet our maker. Are you ready. We can only put it off so long. Our minds must be renewed and controlled by God. It’s all a bunch of futility if we don’t obey Yahweh’s commands. Matt. 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Narrow is the way leading to life, and wide is the road that leads to destruction. They are the only ones who are willing to sacrifice their lives for God’s cause and actually live together and care for one another. That’s enough proof for me. I left because I wanted to be selfish and so does everyone else. They are sick of denying themselves, and being led.

March 31, 2014 2:07 PM

One Comment On “Twelve Tribes: A Cult of ‘Demonic Seducing Spirits’”

  1. I think “Seducing Spirits” is an appropriate description. They are always deceiving you into something. They literally have no ability to just talk to you about anything. Rather, they endlessly manipulate situations to provoke your reactions. That’s how they come to their conclusions on EVERYTHING. You are continually being seduced into false realities. It becomes easy to stop playing along once you realize that every seduction leads to an empty outcome. The betrayal of trust is severe.

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