| Boston Herald |
September 5, 2001
N.Y. Man Helps Teens Flee Group: Effort Similar To 'Underground Railroad'
A New York man, distraught
over his friend's total immersion in the Twelve Tribes, has set up an "underground
railroad" to help teens flee the allegedly abusive, mind controlling cult.
"When we pick these kids up, they're afraid," Kevin Coughlin said
of the former members he has helped leave the controversial religious sect.
"They're told that if they leave, they're no longer under the anointed
and they could be killed. At the very least, (they're told) they'll go to the
'lake of fire'
Coughlin, who lives in upstate New York near Albany, has helped several people
leave the group in recent months, including Zeb and Nathan Wiseman, sons of
the cult's second in command, Charles "Eddie" Wiseman. Zeb Wiseman
fled in May, just days after his 18th birthday, by hopping into Coughlin's pickup
truck during a planned late night escape from the group's Cambridge, N.Y. commune.
Zeb lived in a Taunton "safe house" for a few weeks, worked closely
with Middleboro based cult deprogrammer Robert Pardon, and is now staying with
relatives in Georgia.
Coughlin's name is well known among children who were born into the cult and
many contact him through e-mail, seeking help leaving. He helps arrange their
flight and then harbors them in a network of safe houses run by ex members who
know what the children need to assimilate into the mainstream.
"You walk into the community and see everyone smiling, but then there's
what's going on inside. All people see is one big happy family, but they don't
see what's underneath," Coughlin said.
He says the escapees he's dealt with tell horrific tales of routine physical
and mental abuse. Some say they've been locked in basements and closets, whipped
with thin sticks and forced to work in the cult's factories, making soap, furniture
and other products sold commercially by the Twelve Tribes. Teens are "shuttled
back and forth on the Mass Pike "between New York and Massachusetts, laboring
or working construction jobs for any of the group's various contracting business.
"These kids say they're working all the time. They push, push, push,"
Coughlin said. "A lot of the communities success is on the backs of these
young men. Many, many hours. And they make no money. Everything is for the community."
One teen living with Coughlin said he was punished for "sexual immorality"
at age 9 and spent a month in a basement. He wasn't allowed to leave and was
given only a bucket to go to the bathroom. "I've heard enough to know,
this isn't just one kid exaggerating. It's normal for these kids to experience
this type of craziness," he said. "Thank God some of these kids are
coming out. You can see how angry some of the kids get."
The group home schools the children until about age 14, but because the kids
are often shuttled between communities, it's difficult for states to track their
progress. Coughlin said the children who leave are immediately given basic skills
tests and routinely score below average. One recent teenage defector failed
the math portion with a score of 20 and barely passed the English section. "His
first instinct was to get angry at the people who were supposedly teaching him,"
Coughlin said. He said, "I've never even heard of half this stuff."