Interview With Young Father Who Was Caught In The Twelve Tribes Cult
Rachel Kohn – It’s been said many times before, that one man’s cult is another man’s truth.

Hello, welcome to the “Spirit of Things” on ABC Radio National. I’m Rachel Kohn. Whatever you believe on the issue, there’s a raft of groups today that claim to possess the One True Divine Revelation, or the spiritual cure for whatever ails you.

What advice do you give to the hopeful seeker ready to embark on a spiritual journey? Apart from the consumer ethic of “buyer beware” some cautionary tales can provide real insight and voluntary groups like the Cult Information and Family Support, or CIFS, can prove helpful.

Today we hear from a young man, who full of trust and idealism, believed he found what he sought in the group he joined. But his nightmare finally led him to believe otherwise, because as an ex-member he experienced a traumatic aftermath.

Our guest says, Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former circus barker from Tennessee founded the group in the mid 1970’s. Spriggs, who changed his name to Yoneq, believes he’s the only true representative of God on earth and to reinforce his hold on his adherents, he says of himself, “Yoneq expressed how there have been several things which our Father has spoken to him which have kept us on course.” (Letter from Yoceph to Jonathan and Caleb)

Common to all cults, Spriggs and his followers believe themselves the only true representatives of God. In order to strengthen this thought, Spriggs boastfully and arrogantly says to his followers, “We are the light and the hope of the world. We are the only ones who can redeem this earth for its Maker. We are the only ones whose lives of love and pure devotion like a bride for her groom, can bring heaven to earth. All other attempts to do so are not merely futile they are evil. (Guidelines)

Spriggs calls ex-members and critics evil liars and assigns them a place in hell. Yoneq holds an eccentric understanding of the scriptures because of a lack of formal training in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. He also believes that “Christianity has mistranslated the Scriptures.”

What group did you join?

Guest – The group calls themselves the Twelve Tribes, or the Community. They live communally near Picton and often attend festivals in Sydney going under the name of Common Ground cafe.

Rachel Kohn – Are they an international group?

Guest – Yes, they are worldwide and currently reside in nine different countries.

Rachel Kohn – Are they a Christian group?

Guest – In terms of category I would loosely classify them as a Bible based Christian cult as Community members consider themselves disciples of Yahshua, the Hebrew name for Jesus.

The Twelve tribes publishes inner doctrine for the consumption of baptized Tribes members and outer doctrine for all others such as their free papers and other various publications.

An example of their inner doctrine, includes the following quote which expresses Spriggs view of all churches. “Christianity is the vomit from Yahshua’s mouth- the aftermath of destruction. One billion today are wallowing in their own vomit....” (Yoneq) According to Yoneq, Satan leads the Christian church and anyone who truly believes in Jesus or Yahshua, as they call Him, will leave organized religion and join the Twelve Tribes.

Rachel Kohn – The Twelve Tribes refers to the 12 tribes of Israel. Do they declare original descent from the sons of Jacob?

Guest – They don’t claim original ancestry from the patriarch Jacob (Israel), but they audaciously claim the privilege of God’s chosen people on earth, brought here to bring about the 12 tribes. In many of his teachings, Spriggs claims the idea of 12 tribes as God’s original intention.

Rachel Kohn – An active Christian what attracted you to the group?

Guest – They didn’t appear to be hypocrites, but lived a life of loving, caring commitment for one another. Their sincerity and commitment affected me.

Rachel Kohn - You seem to imply that you suffered disenchantment with Christianity or the church that you attended?

Guest - Yes, the church I attended said all the right things, but I felt little difference between those who claimed the title Christian, and those who didn’t demand that distinction. Molded to the world and its ways, Christians placed a label of ‘we’re forgiven because Jesus died for our sins’ on top of their life.

Rachel Kohn – What features of the group stood out to you about the Twelve Tribes. What made you think this is the real thing?

Guest – They didn’t live a hypocritical life but lived the life they proclaimed and loved one another.

Rachel Kohn – Did they share things communally? Live together, commune style?

Guest – We shared everything in common, and everyone worked for the Community. No one owned anything that they called their own, and no one received payment for their work. When we performed outside jobs, the elders deposited our pay into a communal fund. Unless one belonged to the people who distributed the money, sheep often found themselves penniless.

The community provided food, clothing, children’s education, cars and medical expenses for the community member. This occurred at the farm at Picton.

Rachel Kohn – How long did you live in the Community? What prompted you to leave?

Guest – The hypocrisy that I saw in Christianity existed in exaggerated form in the Twelve Tribes. Often they would point the finger at Christianity and say, ‘Look at them, they do not love one another,’ but I often found within the Community a lack of love. Community members lived under fear and a system of haves and have-nots. To quote the book “Animal Farm”, (George Orwell), “We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.” This regularly happened in the Twelve Tribes! The leaders cushioned their nest, so to speak, and although they weren’t rich in money or material goods, they saved all the nice jobs for themselves.

With access to cars, the elders and leaders, could visit their families, and travel on business trips. In comparison, the less fortunate Community members worked really, really hard, day after day.

To quote another former member of the tribes, he says, “ Financially, the shepherds live better than “the sheep.” Makes sense right? Shepherds and sheep. Overseers of the Community, shepherds possess credit cards, own cars, and control the money. They can buy food, purchase gifts for their wives and children, and take frequent trips. In contrast, the dumb sheep wash piles of dirty dishes, clean the toilets and wash the clothes. While most tribal women have few if any pictures to enjoy, Prisca, the wife of “Aquilla the gorilla” owns and enjoys an expensive camera. Shepherd Al Jayne is fond of buying new higher-grade tools for his sons. His oldest son Nehemiah drives his own van and owns expensive musical instruments. Jesus said, “If you want to be the greatest, you must be the slave of all.” What did Yahshua say? “Disciples wash dishes.” Shepherds and their children do not. A clear double standard prevails in the Tribes. I think you call it a clergy-laity division.”

Rachel Kohn – Did the Community discourage you from making contact with your family? Your parents, for example?

Guest –The community certainly controlled my contact with my family, and as a result they sent me to America to try and lessen my family’s influence over me.

Rachel Kohn – So you felt the Community controlled your life?

Guest – The twelve tribes certainly controlled my life. As an example of the areas the Tribes exercised authority, these included my physical existence (where I lived and went), day to day activities (jobs), financial, clothing style and preference, hair style, choice of beard or clean shaven, food choices (kosher or non kosher), information, thoughts (squealing on each other), and emotions (the use of shame, guilt, fear and anger). They also controlled my wife and obtained information from her to help control me even more.

Spriggs strictly enforces a kosher diet choice among Community members and says in one of his many teachings – “A law never changes... There will always be clean and unclean beasts, birds, fish. The law for us is to eat what is eatable. All food is clean. We must distinguish the unclean and the clean – between the animal that is food and the animal that is not food....” (Priesthood Distinguish Between the Clean and Unclean)

Concerning food and one’s enjoyment thereof, Spriggs says, “If it is not a need it is an act of the flesh – like eating when you don’t need to. Eating for pleasure is greed. No one who does this will enter the Kingdom, also no one who eats fast – even when you are alone – will enter the Kingdom... If we eat hurriedly it means we don’t know God or our brothers and sisters.”

Rachel Kohn – They didn’t appear to control your mind as you could discern the hypocrisy prevalent within the Community? Did this cause you to leave?

Guest - Yes, I joined the twelve tribes for all the right reasons because I thought I could practice Christianity. In truth the Community does not practice historic Biblical orthodoxy but holds many beliefs contrary to Christianity such as this heretical teaching of the divinity of man. Spriggs says in one of his many quotations on the subject “ We’ll always be human, but we’ll house Divine nature...Within us will dwell the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Judah, Island Pond, 2/14/89)

The more hypocrisy I saw only served to reinforce my strong character. I didn’t fear being cut off from fellowship and as a consequence of this, the community barred me from the weekly breaking of bread and from regular fellowship with my brothers and sisters (shunning) until I repented of my “sin.”

I also knew that my physical family loved me more than the Community, no matter what happened. My family always provided shelter for me and I knew I wouldn’t end up homeless left to fend for myself on the streets.

Rachel Kohn – Did your parents actually help you when you sustained doubts about the Community? Were they important agents in your leaving the Twelve Tribes?

Guest – During my time with the Twelve Tribes cult, my parents educated themselves on high control manipulating groups, so that when I left the Twelve Tribes, they understood my ordeal. They worked hard to secure my release, but I managed to accomplish that myself.

My family and I loved each other unconditionally.

With prideful boast, the Twelve Tribes erroneously stake rights to the exclusive mantle of the only ones who know how to love. Since I enjoyed a positive relationship with my parents, when I needed help, they made themselves available to me. When I asked my brother for assistance, he came over and retrieved me. I knew I could depend on that.

Capitulation and scare tactics couldn’t force me to believe as Spriggs taught, because I knew that at the end of the day, my natural family supported and loved me.

Rachel Kohn – Were there any consequences for leaving the group?

Guest – The elders and leaders didn’t tell me anything directly, but implied that one could become gay if they left the Community. Unable to debate the benefits or defend the arguments of those who leave, I would often call the elders on their bluff.

A couple of boys, who grew up in the Twelve Tribes cult and then left, experienced a fatal car accident. Elders assured the grieving mother of God’s “mercy” and His decision to kill the boys before they fell into deeper sin.

On the subject of defectors and those who leave, a former member said, “Filling their members with fear and dread, the Community makes it difficult for devastated members to depart. As they are leaving, defectors may hear “Whoever has the Holy Spirit and leaves the body is turned over to death. You will not live long.” In another teaching Spriggs says, “If a person even thinks about returning to Egypt, our Father will provide them an opportunity to return. ...If you go back, you will drown.” “These damaged people can no longer trust God, themselves, or others and are unable to receive help from the world.” www.twelve tribes – ex 89 Reasons For Leaving

Baptized members and visitors reluctantly leave the Twelve Tribes because they believe suffering and torment in hell awaits them. According to Spriggs, defectors would experience hell quicker than others because God punishes those who leave the Community.

Rachel Kohn – You had a wife and children. What happened to them?

Guest – My three and half year old son came with me when the Winnipeg Community kicked us out.

Rachel Kohn – In Canada?

Guest – Yes in Winnipeg, Canada. We were a fair way from home. In the beginning, the Twelve Tribes promised to always care for my needs, but since they lack love and simple compassion, they booted me out on the street with $100.00. Such a pitiful amount of money doesn’t stretch too far when trying to return home to Australia.

My wife and other two children returned to Australia two weeks after my arrival. I arranged to meet my wife to discuss my departure and to encourage her to leave with me because of the importance of the family unit. She dropped the children off and listened for half an hour, but didn’t say a word. After our talk she left and I never saw her again.

Rachel Kohn – How do you explain her staying so long, giving up her husband and her three children?

Guest – I believe the elders and leaders coerce my wife into believing that if she leaves, then her children will go to hell. I am quite sure that the elders and those in charge inform her that if she truly loves her children, their only hope is her loyalty to the group. I am also quite certain that the leaders communicate to her the idea that God will reward my wife’s obedience and bring her children back to the Community, but if she leaves, the children will experience hellfire. Scared to leave for her children’s sake, my wife continues to live in the community four years later.

Rachel Kohn – Did she ever disclose that to you, or is that your surmise?

Guest – That’s my surmise, based on what I heard in the community. I sought to speak to my wife many times, but she refused to open up because the Community instilled a fear of ex-members in her. Exit counselors call this process “phobia indoctrination.”

Actively listening and participating in conversation with me, I believe would result in her stumbling and leaving as well, so she felt pressured to cut off all contact with me and the children rather than continue open dialogue.

Rachel Kohn – You could depend on your parents and their concern. Could she depend on help from hers?

Guest – Unfortunately my in-laws failed to emulate my parents and educate themselves about the Twelve Tribes cult. Ecstatic that the children and I left the Winnipeg Community, my parents received us with open arms. My in –laws feel their daughter is an adult, she’s smart enough to think independently, and she seems happy in the Community, and as result of this mentality, she still resides with the Twelve Tribes four years later.

Rachel Kohn – What made you vulnerable to the Twelve Tribes who exercised such control over your life?

Guest – I wanted to be a better Christian and not a hypocrite. My wife pressured me to join the Twelve Tribes, knowing that if I failed to listen to her demands, she would leave me, and since I desired more than anything to keep our family together, my children and I joined the Community.

I believe high control groups and cults affect people in various life stages. Comprised of religious or secular groups such as self-help or business (multi level marketing), meditation groups (yoga, TM), and political cults (communism) these groups dot the worldwide landscape. According to Steve Hassan, a Somerville, Massachusetts cult researcher, “Cults look for highly intelligent, well educated people who find themselves situationally vulnerable. Cults seek people who are undergoing a transition such as a recent move or a lost job, recently divorced persons or those who have endured a death in the family – or people just entering college.”

Rachel Kohn – In our conversation you use the word ’cult’ frequently. What do you think is the distinguishing factor that makes you employ that term with respect to the Twelve tribes?

Guest – I use that _expression for the Twelve Tribes as they control behavior, information, thoughts and emotions. This process is known as mind control.
The Community also controls its members spiritually, financially, psychologically, and physically and manipulates its members into staying through fear and coercion.

Elbert Eugene Spriggs, who claims the title of “Apostle” and the “prophet Elijah” is the sole unchallenged leader of the Twelve Tribes cult. Spriggs says of himself, “I must begin by saying that the only authority I have to be called an apostle is my fruit. Of course authority comes from God, but is recognized by men according to its fruit its practicality.” (Apostolic Role)

Elbert Eugene Spriggs also claims a “direct pipeline to God,” and enjoys the position of a special messenger with a unique revelation. Community members must obey him and his teachings or risk shunning or excommunication. In one of his many teachings Spriggs says, “This is a word to all true disciples. Our Father revealed to me that we were to observe the Sabbath – the day He made, not Sunday.” (Observing the Sabbath)

Only Elbert Eugene Spriggs gives original teaching, and his writings carry final authority within the Twelve Tribes. Accountable to no one, Spriggs exercises totalitarian control over community members.

* Behavior Control

Every member must submit to the elders who later yield to the wishes and demands of the leader Spriggs.

The community exercises control over members in the areas of dress, and the regulation of where one lives. Writing to community members, Spriggs says, “When we are in the body we have no independent action or movement.” (AWM 6/12/88) Desiring to impose maximum control on Tribes members, Spriggs dictates that everyone within the communes must live communally because this ensures the monitoring of their behavior, the information they receive, and the close observance of their thoughts and emotions.

All men must wear their hair in short ponytails with a long beard and all women grow their hair long. Forbidden to tuck in their shirts, tribal men look like slobs. Considering clean-shaven men as emasculated and Roman, tribal men cannot shave or closely trim their beards. Women wear long dresses, skirts or “sus” pants.

A former member once described the Twelve Tribes in this way; “”It is the aim of the Twelve tribes commune to obliterate all independence, (thought, action, freedom of movement, opinions, access to information, access to families) and to drive them into a hopeless, dispirited, gray herd of robots. They have lost all personal ambition, are easy to rule, willing to obey and willing to exist in selfless slavery to Elbert Eugene Spriggs.”

The Twelve Tribes tightly controls what their members eat and their enjoyment thereof.

The Twelve Tribes physically and financially exploit their members putting men and women to work as long as (16-18) hours with no wages and little if any medical care. Members give everything and receive nothing in return except dances, hugs, baked squash, millet, beets, maggot infested potatoes, teachings and house arrest. As one brother said a couple of days prior to finally leaving, “I’m so tired.....” “I’m so tired.” He could barely drive the car. After his departure, the elders said, “his parents spoiled and pampered him.” The Twelve Tribes routinely use people and then cast them aside as “weak.”

*Information Control

The twelve tribes practices brutal information control as community members cannot read newspapers, books, listen to the radio, go to libraries, attend movies, or connect to the Internet. As a result of totalitarian control in all four areas of the cult member’s life (B.I.T.E), crippling group dependency occurs.

Cults routinely use outright lying and deception. Although the community denies lying to outsiders and authorities, the teachings of Elbert Eugene Spriggs say otherwise. “We are obligated by conscience and the Holy Spirit to never lie. But to not tell the truth is not a lie. The truth is hidden from someone who does not deserve it.” (All Liars)

And in another teaching Spriggs instructs his adherents: “Our definition of lying means the intentional deception of those who have a right to know. The need to know for the sake of justice and righteousness – then we are obligated to tell them if it’s true.” (Lying)

The community severely restricts information from “disgruntled” ex- members and any critical information from reaching the “sheep.”

Spriggs strongly encourages members to spy on each other and report any “sins” to the elders. When Spriggs delivered a teaching on “squealing”, a youth contributed this comment – “I saw the fruit of not being a tattletale. I saw for real what happens to people if you let them go on in their sin (like my abba, Juan Mattatall). I’m not going to be afraid to tell on people.” (Youth Confession)

And in another teaching Spriggs said, “You’re to tell on your husband, tell on your brothers and sisters. That’s love. To not do this is hate and then you’re a murderer because you are robbing them of life.” (Seeking First His Kingdom/Washing/ The Narrow road

Spriggs says, “We are not commanded to teach them physics. Did those children Takif was teaching have the commandments? It is all in vain if we are not obeying Deuteronomy 6:6. Parents and teachers both are to be teaching our children the word of God. We don’t want them to learn things like physics just in case they specialize in it someday (like the mind behind public education). Zaveeth – what Takif taught was practical, like about solar energy and how to mix up vinegar to the right concentration. He taught them practical things. Alternative energy is good, “physics” is not. Such learning can foster pride in our children. Knowledge puffs up. It is an evil system.”

As stated earlier the Twelve Tribes publishes inner doctrine for the consumption of baptized members and outer doctrine for all others such as their free papers and other various publications.

Writing about totalitarianism in his popular book 1984, the author George Orwell would find the same conditions in the Twelve Tribes cult as described in his book! I call this totalitarian hell.

The Community also publishes their own Intertribal News which reports the activities of the various worldwide tribes and households.

*Thought Control

The Twelve Tribes routinely inhibit critical thinking so that a “group think” mentality predominates. Commenting on a Spriggs teaching called “Reasoning”, a tribe’s member says, “Reasoning makes my life complicated and dark. There was a time I envied the flowers and birds whose life seemed so simple. Tonight I received hope because we are called to live a simple life – a life of obedience.”

The Community uses thought terminating clichés such as “It is better to be wrong together than right alone.” These clichés or thought terminating phrases eliminate the need for thought and argument and produce immediate obedience.

*Emotion Control

Emotion control as practiced within the Twelve Tribes narrows a person’s emotional responses, because the gray areas of life slowly diminish to black and white. This manipulation and narrowing of emotions occurs in four ways with the regular use of shame, guilt, fear (phobia indoctrination) and anger.

“The community locked me in a closet and forced me to stand naked in front of a group of adults,” said the recently arrested bank robbery suspect Joseph Kirby. Joseph Kirby and his sister Shemini endured years of similar abuse at the hands of Community members, but decided to make their escape as teenagers. Subsequently placed in foster care because their mother, a faithful Community member, believed them impossible to raise within the confines and dictates of the Spriggs run community. The foster care system labeled them as deeply troubled, rebellious and incorrigible.

And finally Lawrence Pile, a counselor of ex-cult members at the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (Albany, Ohio), summed up the cult phenomenon in this way. “Any group, religious or secular, that uses abusive, manipulative methods to attract and retain members. A cult requires unquestioning submission to autocratic leadership, and instills in its members the notion that nowhere else will they find as full and accurate an understanding of ‘the truth.’

When a cult employs all four of these components (Behavioior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions) to control the processes of cult members, cult researchers refer to this as mind control. With these parameters in place, I’m quite comfortable in labeling the Twelve Tribes a mind control cult.

If one should meet a Tribes member, they will find a nice, lovely and genuine person who truly believes in their “gospel.”

I know many listeners will say, ‘I’ve met the Twelve Tribes at the Common Ground Cafe at the Woodford Folk Festival, and they are not as described.’ I must adamantly insist that unless one experience life as a member of the Twelve Tribes, they render themselves unable to accurately analyze their ordeal. Outsiders can only inaccurately lament, ‘These are just nice happy people.’ As an ex-member of the Twelve Tribes, I studied the dynamics of mind control and how this ruled the Communities. I can now confidently say, I finally understand the Communities.

Rachel Kohn – Do you think that some people prefer a tightly organized life style and others jack up against it?

Guest – No, the answer is not so simple. Before she joined the group, my wife would do anything for her three children, but now she finds herself unwittingly in the clutches of a mind control cult. Because of cult influence and control, my wife continues to rebuff my efforts for her to see the children these past three years. I believe the Community employs psychological manipulation and pressure regarding my wife and our three children as shown in her refusal to visit or call the children.

We enjoyed a good marriage and I believe prior to joining the Twelve Tribes my wife doted on me. These groups will change a recruits thought processes, and his/her value system. Opportunistic and voracious for new recruits, cults will exploit their naive dupes for everything they can, and then when they possess nothing left to give, the cult will spit them out on the streets, and blame the recruit.

Rachel Kohn – Did this happen to you?

Guest – Yes. Since leaving the Twelve Tribes, I decided to dedicate myself to a lot of reading and study for a number of years. As a result of my trials in the Twelve Tribes, I often find myself in an introspective mood. I’m still experiencing post cult difficulties, but I’m certainly well on my way to understanding my experience and the four components of mind control. I now understand how cults ensnare unwary souls.

Rachel Kohn – Has CIFS, the Cult Information and Family Support group helped you?

Guest – Initially, they helped my family greatly in understanding why my son abruptly left his business and united with this group. When our son and his family joined the Twelve Tribes, they didn’t tell us much.

Rachel Kohn – Do you want to help others?

Guest – Yes, I want to help others. If anyone needs any help or even someone to talk to, I’m always open to that possibility.

Rachel Kohn – It has been great talking to you.

Guest – Thank you.