Update on the Twelve Tribes in Germany: Child Abduction Charges

*****

Background on the Twelve Tribes in Germany situation:

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse: The Real Story Behind the Religious Right and the Twelve Tribes

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part One

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part Two

*****

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on November 5, 2013.

If you’ve not been following along on my blog, you will want to read hereherehere and here before continuing on.

Here is the latest news on the Twelve Tribes group. Two girls that were in foster care have been missing for a few weeks. They have now been figured to be with their parents and in Switzerland. Below are the news stories I can gather as swiftly as possible. (HA note: these are translated with Google Translate, so the translations are a little rough.)

RTL – Spanking sect 12 Tribes: Two children kidnapped?

Merea K. and her sister Eva — For almost two weeks, the two girls are untraceable. Of their daily school in Ansbach, the two have not come to her foster parents home. The youth welfare office is on the case. Apparently, the 9 and 17 year-old girls are in the clutches of a cult that brutally punishes their children.

Donau-Ries Aktuell- Twelve Tribes: Two children abducted abroad?

The incident occurred about three weeks ago. The two children were placed in a foster family in Dombühl and come from the community in Wörnitz. On the day of their disappearance, the girls went to school like every other day. However, they did not come back. Their foster parents reported the case to the authorities in Ansbach.

Spiegel – Christian sect “Twelve Tribes”: Two children disappeared from foster care

Whether the children returned voluntarily to their parents or whether they were taken from their parents against their will, could not say a spokeswoman for the district office. This is the subject of ongoing investigation.

BR – “Twelve Tribes” disappeared children with their grandmother

 According to current knowledge of the prosecution Ansbach, “the two girls went voluntarily to Switzerland. Their parents also plan to stay in Switzerland.” Chief Public Prosecutor Gerhard Karl told Bayerischer Rundfunk on request. How the children moved to Switzerland, is currently unclear, according to the authorities.

SWR –  Religious community “Twelve Tribes” Missing children are at grandmother’s

The members of the sect who live on the estate Klosterzimmern in Deiningen is accused of beating their children for religious reasons. Therefore, the authorities concerned parents deprived of the custody .Mid-September, the girls were placed with a foster family… As the children moved to Switzerland, was unclear, said a spokesman for the district office. The Authority has filed a complaint against persons unknown for child abduction. In addition, they submitted a request for return of the children. However, since the girls had dual citizenship, this is difficult.

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part Two

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 1.49.33 PM

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part Two, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 14, 2013 with the title, “The Twelve Tribes group in Germany Part Two.”

< Part One

*****

Before beginning with this article, please see:

As far as I know, not much of this has made it out into American news as of yet.

It is the so often maligned and often-criticized private broadcaster RTL, which has significantly contributed to the liberation of… children from the …Twelve Tribes sect.
…At the beginning of the week, the television report documented “The sect ’12 tribes’: They preach peace, torturing their own children” …this was the first time the beating allegations against the controversial faith community were brought to light.
W&V: Sekten-Film deckt auf: Wie RTL dem Jugendamt Beine macht [Sect film uncovered: How RTL hurried up the Child Protective Services]

The sect was founded in the 70s by a small group in the U.S.. It is named after the twelve tribes of Israel, according to the Hebrew Bible or the “Tanakh” YHWH  (the proper name of God in the Tanakh) called the chosen people of Israel. Worldwide, there are probably 2,000 members.
Mittlebayerische: Zwölf Stämme: Noch keine Entscheidung [Twelve Tribes: Still no decision]

..A large proportion of children have been placed in foster families, the elder children in youth welfare institutions. Four infants were brought to the police together with their mothers from the sect. They are now living in mother-child facilities…
Focus: Nach völliger Isolation – Sekte Zwölf Stämme: Wie geht es den Kindern jetzt? [After full isolation – 12 Tribes Sect – How are the children now?]

The court heard about the loss of custody of ten children. … Starting next week, the proceedings for the remaining children will be heard at the district court in Nördlingen.Süddeutsche Zeitung: Gericht hört Eltern An (Court hears parent’s testimony)

 The court has removed the children from parental custody, largely due to previous findings, “the specific danger that there would be a considerable damage to the children if they would remain in care with their parents.”
The “Twelve Tribes” are represented particularly in the U.S.. Therefore, the courts are also examining the English-language parenting manual of the sect.
Der Spiegel:  “Zwölf Stämme”: Verfahren gegen Christen-Sekte beginnen

 Lehnberger stated that at the hearing also drafted the 146 page comprehensive education manual of the Twelve Tribes in English, as it plays a instrumental role in the case. A witness for ideological matters [Biblical matters], a representative of the Catholic Church was interviewed on Friday afternoon as well.
… The meetings of the District Court Ansbach are not public.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Zwölf Stämme-Aussteiger”Kriegen sie die Kinder wieder, setzen sie sich ab“ [Ex Twelve Tribes Members: If they ever get their children again, they’ll dissappear.] – This one goes on to say that the hearing for the other parents will begin on Wednesday.

 Director Gudrun Lehnberger said on Friday night that the court of Ansbach did not want to visit the  decision on custody again. The hearings lasted for late into Friday evening for the parents. On Monday morning, more details are expected to shared with the public.

In Ansbach, six former members of the sect were also heard by video feed from a secret location. Due to issues [with the Twelve Tribes], these six individuals have remained living in secrecy…
Nordbayern: Prügelvorwürfe um “Zwölf Stämme”: Verhandlungsausgang offen

 “I think the authorities would prefer to let the issue disappear in the drawer, because otherwise their own failings would have been visible,” said the ex-members to FOCUS. “They all looked the other way.”
Focus: „Alle haben weggeschaut“ Schwere Vorwürfe von ehemaligem Zwölf-Stämme-Mitglied  [“Everyone looked the other way” – Serious Accusations from former 12 Tribes Member]

 The district court Nördlingen have seventeen preceedings ahead… Despite the urgency of this family matter, normal operating procedures of the Court must go on.

The “Twelve Tribes” have criticized the provisional court’s decision on partial withdrawal of parental custody. On the homepage of the Community in Klosterzimmern and Wörnitz the police action is referred to as “children robbed by the state”. Because of the abuse allegations, prosecution is looking at proceedings against members of the sect. An initial investigation on this issue had been set a few weeks ago.
N24:  Sorgerechtsprozesse begonnen Die “Zwölf Stämme” und der “Kinderraub”

On the Internet, the faith community expresses their educational practices… There it is clearly stated: “Yes, we beat our children.” He continued: “We love our children and they are precious and wonderful to us. Because we love them, we beat their butts.”
Focus: Erziehung bei „Zwölf Stämmen“Sekte: „Weil wir sie lieben, schlagen wir unsere Kinder“ (Child-rearing by the Twelve Tribes Sect – “We hit our children because we love them”)

“All parents demand the abolition of judicial decisions,” said District Court Director Gudrun Lehnberger. In the coming week, the case will formally begin with the other children at the district court Nördlingen.
Die Welt: Sekte verteidigt Prügel als Zeichen der Liebe (The sect defended beatings as a sign of love)

[Reporter:] What determines how much a child is changed by [beatings]?
Dietmayer: It depends on how much emotional resources a child has, so how mentally stable he or she is. For many kids, this triggers one psychologically, which in turn may later lead to a variety of psychiatric disorders. And that can happen even if the child is beaten only once.
Augsberger Allgemeine: Zwölf Stämme – Kinderpsychiaterin: Schläge schaden einem Kind massiv (Twelve Tribes: Child Psychologist says “Beating damages children greatly”)

If you would like to know more about how damaging and evil this group truly is, you can hear it from former members directly, here. Please note that this is a site that is primarily in English for former members that speak English. I’m looking around for other resources. It seems that the German site for the Zwölf Stämme has now been suspended.

If I hear any more come next week, I’ll update again.  I hope that those of you who are fasting on Yom Kippur have an easy and light fast, and are sealed for another year.  For us, it is a difficult day of prayer with these recent revelations.

*****

To be continued.

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part One

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 1.49.33 PM

Pray For All The Children Of The Twelve Tribes — Part One, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 12, 2013 with the title, “The Twelve Tribes group in Germany.”

Today I wanted to take time and discuss a recent breaking news story coming out of Germany about a cult that is three hours to our east.  If you haven’t heard the news, well, stay tuned as I’ll help get you caught up to speed.

Today’s post is about the Twelve Tribes, or Zwölf Stämme group that is based out of Klosterzimmern in the municipality of Deiningen, and Ansbach, Bavaria. Twelve Tribes is a very difficult group to pin down, theologically speaking. They take elements of fundamentalist beliefs (mostly Independent Fundamentalist Baptist), Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, Sacred Name and World Wide Church of God beliefs.  Where they diverge, is that they believe and teach that they are the only group that has truth and will be going to the afterlife.

Twelve Tribes also is extremely patriarchal, racist, antisemitic, somewhat communist (they live in communes and everyone works), and engages in child labor. In Germany, Zwölf Stämme is known more for their push for homeschooling which ended somewhat amicably with them creating their own private school that did not have to teach any sex education or evolution theory or anything else that they believe is contrary to “biblical” beliefs.  The agreement with the government included that there would be state oversight so that the community would not be fully removing itself or the children from society at large.

Contrary to the painting by the HSLDA, Germany does not retain Nazi-era laws where it pertains to homeschoolers.

I love all of you, but Hitler was not the one who made school compulsory in Germany. I’ve discussed that before, just a little bit and about our educational system when I blogged about the homeschooling Romeike family.

With the Zwölf Stämme, there have been many concerns of child labor laws being broken before. It is not uncommon with this group that every person gives and puts in work with their fields, and also with their money-making ventures.  What hadn’t been well known until recently, was how abusive and systemically so, their child rearing practices were. There were suspicions, but people cannot be investigated solely based on suspicions here.

There have been teenagers and 20-somethings that have left the cult, but they, for the most part, had been getting psychological help and then moving on with their lives, rather than assisting others in leaving the cult. They have mentioned the abuse, but the onus was on others to go in and prove it was happening other than “he and she said”.

I find this heartbreaking for all people who have been put through abuse like this.

From what I understand from an acquaintance that had gotten in with the group in Vermont, Twelve Tribes is extremely difficult to get into, and that much harder to get out of. The abuse is not just with children, but also with those who come into the group. There are enforcers, and if you question anything, you are starved of food and sleep until you comply with the group leaders. Also, the oversight committee is only very loosely associated with each Twelve Tribe community.  This means any appeals for assistance in leaving will have to be done through loving family members and possibly the local police departments.

From what I can gather, punitive parenting books are quite the rage in the Zwölf Stämme. Interviews with the reporter who came out proving the abuse, and with some of the survivors of the group have mentioned  practices that are inconsistent with child-rearing in Germany and Biblical practice.

The abuses this cult has carried out were well hidden from the German government, because these methods are illegal.

If you’re new to the blog and don’t know much about Gentle Grace Based Discipline, what I am discussing here is the systemic belief that all children are born horrible sinners (or easily influenced by the Devil) that need to be physically and emotionally abused from birth.  What parents want to result from this is first time obedience, unquestioning obedience, and no talking back. What they receive?  Abused children that are terrified to do anything that would ever cross their parents, or the leaders involved in the community. Grace is not for children in this belief system. Grace is for adults who have found some sort of agreement with the leaders of the community that they are living “Biblically” and for them alone.

What hasn’t much been discussed in the German case is the propensity for sometimes sexual predatory action in communities such as these. When you have children that are too terrified to speak out against systemic abuse methods such as whipping for doing anything the parents or community leaders do not like, they also will not speak out when they are being sexually abused, because surely that wasn’t something they were not supposed to do, as someone in authority forced themselves onto them.

I am praying that, beyond all hopes, this is not something that was happening at this Twelve Tribes compound.

The news that has come out of the community is that children as young as six months were taken away from their parents to be punitively disciplined by select members of the community. Babies that cried or were otherwise deemed “sinful” were held very tightly so that they would cry until they could cry no more.

Forty children were removed from the compound outside of Deiningen, and placed into child protective services while being interviewed by authorities who are trying to find ways to assist them, deprogram them and get them into schools and families that can help them detox from this lifestyle.

I cannot begin to tell you how much agony I have been in since the news broke. Several methods mentioned that were employed in the compound are methods I am having PTSD-reactions about from my own childhood.

What has angered me beyond all reason is how quickly Michael Farris, head of the HSLDA was to pick up this story and stand behind the Zwölf Stämme and say that there was no abuse happening. Because we know the HSLDA is all about systemic abuses and hiding those from authorities. It bothers me how little the HSLDA respects other country’s laws and rights to live according to their belief systems and instead do not focus on the abuses that are endemic in their own back yard.

For those who think that is quite the thing for such a blogger as myself to say, I too was an HSLDA child. I didn’t trust them as far as I could throw something at them as a homeschooler, and I trust them even less now that I’ve an adult and living outside of the US. They are a terrible representation for Christians and of Christianity when it comes to how they treat others. Where’s the grace there guys? Really. Where’s the love?

So, after the news breaks as to how the information came to the police and to raid the compound, Michael Farris is notified of the abuses. All he says is “I said something in that nature, but I see now that my sources were wrong.” [He said and implied there were no abuses.]

So, all we get is a “my bad.” Not an apology.

The best news source at the moment, that has discussed what happened, comes by way of The UK’s Independent Newspaper.

The film shows how children are made to get up at 5am and stand though an hour-long prayer session. They are obliged to labour with adults in the community’s farm plots and workshops…
“It’s normal to be beaten every day,” said Christian…
The film also shows… a baby boy being forcefully gripped by the back of the head in a practice referred to by sect members as “restraining.” 
In Germany’s Twelve Tribes sect, cameras catch ‘cold and systematic’ child-beating

The remainder of the news stories I will be quoting are from German news sources. I will translate them and share them here with the original sources. I would suggest using Google Translate to read them if you do not have German language knowledge. It will not be a perfect translation, but it will help you know what is going on. Just plop the link in the translate area and set the translation from German to English (or your language of choice). It will do the rest of the work for you.

There is video here from RTL, where two former members, Christian and Jael (or Yael?) explain how children are mishandled in the sect. I have to admit that I did big giant ugly cries when I listened to them and saw the video attached.

There is also video here from RTL where a former member, Klaus F., discusses his feelings and knowledge about the revelations from the Zwölf Stämme, after having lived for many years in the sect, leaving with his four children but without his wife; who chose to stay behind.

Over and over again, in both videos, a current member of the sect says they “do not call it spanking or hitting, we just call it disciplining.” And goes into detail about how they pick rods to hit the children with.

I do not see how this can be deniable when it was recorded and the members are known.

On top of this, the reporter asked the authorities, and they knew that the children were being spanked, but they didn’t know how badly or how many. (This is cleared up in the second video at about minute seven.)

What angers me is that the members of the group say that they have frequently had doctors come in and they have proof that their children were not abused.

The exclusive 45 minute long news exclusive is now available in RTL’s iTunes app. (They move it off site after 7 days.)

The Ansbach Youth Office has maintained in regular contact since the influx of children in 2010. Their visits would present concerns and worries that could not be dissuaded, but were also “not sufficient evidence for the initiation of family law measures” to be submitted. Only now the Family Court and the Youth Office of Nördlingen districts in the  Donau-Ries region received “credible, concrete and actionable information,” showing that the “physical and emotional welfare of the children could be permanently compromised.”
Der Spiegel: “Twelve Tribes”: Police take 40 children from Christian sect in Bavaria

There are 150 German members of the international community of ’12 tribes’ faith – in their own words “Bible in the tradition of early Christianity.”  …The children are taught early on that Africans, Blacks and homosexuals are cursed; and women belong to an inferior race.
RTL: Raid on sect ’12 tribes’ – RTL reporter provides evidence of child abuse

…the children would be “cleansed” by the blows and “freed from the devil.” Strikes would constantly be administered due to varied reasons. It is enough already to be struck, if a child does not pay attention in class…
…there is “ubiquitous, mutual supervision, built on intimidation, by this spying totalitarian system” which makes it impossible to live differently at all, says Kuhnigk.
Der Spiegel: Suspected abuse at Christian Sect: “They live with their children in their own world”

 “[In Germany] Every child has the ” right to a violence-free education “. And “despite many calls and offers of help” the community members would continue to be “disciplined and mentally abusing towards” their children…
… “Mental abuse and isolation has only occurred when the authorities have taken away our children,” says a father.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Those who wish to play are beaten

 Kuhnigk: The children do not have close ties to their parents because they can not protect them. If the parents refuse to,the elders deemed necessary to punish pressure them to give their children over to others to mete it out. The children may not develop individuality. There are no children playing in the yard, fantasy play and free play are prohibited. The children are broken.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Hidden reporter: “I almost cried.”

 …The violence done to the children is “so quiet, so systemic, and planned,” such as torture…
…Also shown is the “Restraining” of the babies with one arm, where a tightly wrapped baby with a black head of hair that can hardly move…
Augsburger Allgemeine: Children of the Twelve Tribes: nearly 100 floggings in two days

…The RTL reporter also was able to procure the special “educational book” of the sect. Here, it refers specifically to physical pain as an integral part of education. Especially for strong-willed children, beating their tails for instruction is recommended.
Augsburger Allgemeine: Spanking as an educational system: Undercover in the Twelve Tribes

“The whole procedure is such that the adult relies on a chair. The child must present themselves to adults then. Either he or she puts their pants down, or it can be pulled down. Then the adults look for a suitable rod with appropriate length and begin to beat the children…
The children are beaten until they say what adults want to hear…   Not a single child has struggled in any form. Anyone who turns away from adults while being beaten, is returned to the ‘right position’ and additionally punished, “said Kuhnigk.
Focus: Incognito reporter in the “Twelve tribes” describes perverse whipping system of the sect

 …a lecture by the cult leader Gene Spriggs in 2000 is documented, among other things. “Our children were brought up with the rod of correction, we do not argue that,” says the gray-haired, bearded man who has tied his shoulder-length hair into a ponytail, in English. “And when we are put in jail for it, then we go to jail, because we know that we are doing right and discipline our children in love.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung: He who spares his rod, hates his son

Against asylum seekers and protesters, the authorities in place practice vigorous crackdowns. But when it comes to the children, when the most vulnerable of society are in danger, the Bavarian courts exhibit boundless patience…
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Embarrassing Failure

I cannot begin to tell you how this breaks my heart.

I know that this is systemic elsewhere, especially in parts of the US. But in a country where children are usually protected?

So many checks and balances broke down in protecting these children.

In a land where spanking and other punitive forms of discipline that include striking a child are outlawed, it’s just unbelievable. To hear in other people’s words what I lived as a child, it just completely validates how I feel about punitive parenting, and how it simply cannot, and does not have a biblical basis whatsoever.

I have sat and written this entire blog post while shaking and having flashbacks of my own childhood and all I can say is that I hope and pray that these parents are given more early childhood education and that their children are not given to them in unsupervised visits until they have proven their mentality and hearts have changed for the better towards their children.

I just cannot imagine giving my children over to someone else to do anything to them. Then again, I am a very protective mother bear, and I never allowed my spirit to be completely broken by my family or their beliefs in punitive discipline.

If there is one thing I could ask tonight, I would ask that you pray for all the children of the Twelve Tribes and do what you can to support the survivors of this awful abuse.

*****

Part Two >

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the "Zwoelf Staemme" (or, "Twelve Tribes").
The village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany is home to the “Zwoelf Staemme” (or, “Twelve Tribes”).

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 11, 2013.

Last week, German authorities removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes sect.

Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany, taking 40 children into foster care on suspicion they were physically abused and seizing sticks allegedly used to hit them, authorities said Friday.

Members of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect acknowledged that they believe in spanking their children, but denied wrongdoing.

The Twelve Tribes sect, founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, boasts 2,000 to 3,000 members and has faced child abuse complaints and the removal of their children in the past. In Germany, they have run up against both the country’s ban on spanking and its ban on homeschooling. Last year, the Twelve Tribes community there, which resides in its own compound separated from the surrounding community, founded its own private school to get around the ban on homeschooling; within the last couple of weeks, that school was shut down when it was found that it did not employ the required certified teachers. Accusations of abuse cropped up at the same time, and last week Germany authorities removed the children.

Several days ago Jörg Großelümern, who runs Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (Education Freedom Network) in Germany and is listed on HSLDA’s Germany page as one of two contacts for German homeschoolers, posted a link to the story on Michael Farris’s facebook wall along with some explanatory text. Michael Farris responded (for those who don’t know, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association—HSLDA—and is probably the most prominent spokesperson for homeschooling in the United States). You can see the exchange as follows:

germany1

Later that day, one of Farris’s followers posted another link, voicing her dismay, and Farris again responded. You can see the exchange below:

germany2

Today, the full extent of the charges against the Twelve Tribes group have come to light. And guess what? They have it all on film. [Trigger warning for abuse.]

The little blonde-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

“Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

Samantha, a fellow homeschool graduate, posted the link to the article detailing the filmed abuse to Farris’s facebook wall, and again he replied. Here is the exchange:

germany3

Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.

To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with corrupt motives, of course). Assuming that parents are innocent before even looking at the evidence means that abused children go unnoticed and ignored. (Not coincidentally, speaking before having the facts is how HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville ended up calling child abuser Michael Gravelle a hero. Oops.)

The default should not be to assume that the parents are innocent and the charges drummed up by vengeful authorities and lying children. The default position should be to take immediate steps to protect the children and then remain cautious and wait for the facts to come in. Somehow I don’t find it surprising that Farris places the interests of the moment above its children.