Racist sect digs in at rock festivals

Christian fundamentalists are taking advantage of open air music gatherings to spread anti-semitic messages

The Guardian / July 3, 2000
By Jeevan Vasagar

A Christian fundamentalist religious movement which describes Jews as "murderers" is using rock festivals, including Glastonbury and Reading, to recruit young people.

Twelve Tribes, whose 24-hour cafe, The Common Ground, was a popular meeting point at this year's Glastonbury festival, handed out literature blaming Jewish people for the death of Jesus. One article says: "Murder is the very crime which the Jews are still cursed for." It goes on to speak of the Jews' "responsibility for the Messiah's crucifixion".

The movement's magazine, Alien Ant, also argues in favour of racial segregation, claiming that "multiculturalism increases murder, crime and prejudice," and "politicians who rally different races to be one are forerunners of the antichrist".

Jewish community leaders yesterday expressed concern and urged organisers of the imminent Reading festival to consider banning the group. The group's use of the accusation that Jews "murdered" Christ, a longstanding basis for Christian anti-semitism, has prompted concerns of links with white supremacists in the United States.

Mike Whine, a spokesman for the British Board of Deputies, said the name Twelve Tribes hinted at a shared philosophy with American white supremacist groups.

"There is a belief that the white Anglo-Saxon protestant is the true descendant of the 12 tribes of Israel and that the Jews are impostors," he said. "It is the role of the white Anglo-Saxon protestant in America and Europe to take back their world from the blacks - whom they call the 'mud people' - and the Jews. The churches, both Catholic and Anglican, long ago disavowed any blame on the Jews for the crucifixion."

While acknowledging the difficulties of policing fringe groups attending rock events, Mr Whine said: "The organisers must have some degree of responsibility for the moral safety of young people who go to these festivals." He urged the organisers of the Reading festival to look at the material and, if it incited racial hatred, to ban the group from the event.

Twelve Tribes was founded in Tennessee in the early 1970s but now has at least six "communities" in rural locations in Europe, including one set up six years ago at Stentwood Farm in Dunkeswell, Devon.

Their cafe, a smart, two-storey wooden structure painted with rural scenes, serves mainly vegetarian food and is used as a recruiting ground. They work according to a traditional gender divide, with bearded men serving meals cooked by the women.

Asked about the anti-semitic material in their magazine, an American member who called herself Mikal Yophi, said yesterday: "We believe in the Bible and what it states. Nowadays the Jews have really fallen away from what is right."

Speaking from the group's community in Devon, she added: "It's hard to explain. You're welcome to come and stay for a weekend." Referring to Jesus as "Yahshua", the Hebrew rendering of his name, she said: "They did put our master Yahshua to death on the cross. It's not like we're prejudiced against Jews. It is part of their history."

Asked about their recruitment at the festival, she said: "Actually we have someone called Steve who came home with us from Glastonbury and is spending some time with us. He's maybe in his mid-20s."

Twelve Tribes' magazine also attacks the Pope both for his opposition to capital punishment, and for the "request for forgiveness" he has made to the Jews for their historic treatment by the Church.

In an article headlined Who does the Pope think he is? the magazine declares: "Who does the Pope think he is in nullifying the death penalty for convicted first-degree murderers?"

Mikal Yophi said Twelve Tribes planned to set up their cafe at this year's Reading event and at a London festival, Jazz on the Green. Glastonbury festival-goer Sophie Duggan, 24, who is Jewish and was visiting the rock weekend for the first time, said: "I was shocked on two counts - first, that they were there at all, and secondly that no-one seemed to care. "Some people were saying 'well, this is Glastonbury - people can say what they like'. People forget there is no such thing as a benign racist, no matter how tasty his vegetarian couscous."

Inform, a group based at the LSE which studies new religious movements, describe Twelve Tribes as "attempting to restore and continue the primitive Jewish/Christian church described in the Biblical books of Luke and Acts". According to Inform, Twelve Tribes "regard calendar years as only approximations, so the year 2000 does not play a major role in their thought. While the group suspects that the end times may be close at hand, they also believe that the Messiah will not return until He has a people to whom to return."

These "chosen people" are the Twelve Tribes communities, which try to be self-sufficient through cottage industries.

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