A controversial religious cult alleged to be involved in systematic abuse arrived in Winnipeg to set up a chapter yesterday. The first two members of the Northeast Kingdom community church [now known as Twelve Tribes] began moving into a North end home yesterday, said Gord Gillespie, Manitoba Cult Awareness Center chairperson. Within weeks, another 50 or so members are expected to follow, clearing out the small Nova Scotia community they've lived in for the past three years.
Since the group was created in the late 1970's , its members have been at the center of controversial child abuse cases in every community they've settled in, police, cult experts and families of members said. "Be careful, they're here and they're dangerous, so please be careful" said a Neepawa woman whose daughter is a member. "I've seen what they've done," Kris Servante said.
Member David Saylor said the group lives by the teachings the teachings of "Jesus Christ of the Scriptures." They believe in smacking their kids on the hand with a reed like stick. But published reports that say such "training " includes seven hour beatings are the "ridiculous" charges of former members, he said.
A Barrington Passage, N. S. RCMP spokesperson said the group is a "cult" like organization." "They keep within themselves, encourage recruitment, and yes, they are suspected of excessive disciplinary measures." But officials said most members have ultimately been peaceful and self sufficient, making honest livings and supporting the church by running restaurants, bakeries, and construction firms. "And, we've had no instances here of anyone being forced into their community, coerced or approached," the Nova Scotia RCMP officer said. "They haven't caused us much difficulty at all in the past three and a half years."
The church was founded by ex-carnival barker Elbert Eugene Spriggs in Tennessee. Members have said they believe sparing the rod spoils the child, "Satan's work."
Child welfare officials have long suspected the groups beliefs border on abuse although it's never been proven, and abuse charges have never been laid. In 1984, Vermont officials stormed one small community and seized 112 kids, including Servante's grandchildren, suspected of being beaten, but a judge ordered the kids returned to their families, ruling the seizure was illegal. RCMP have investigated several child abuse allegations, usually made by past members who want kids taken from ex-spouses.