German police seize Twelve Tribes children

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In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

by Chris Braithwaite

BAVARIA, Germany — German police seized 40 children of the Twelve Tribes religious community here on September 5, according to press accounts.

The group is one of many international offshoots of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond, whose children were seized by Vermont State Police in a controversial raid on June 22, 1984.

Almost three decades later, German officials say they are investigating allegations that are almost identical to those that led to the Island Pond raid.  According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Germany sent 100 police officers to two of the sect’s complexes on the basis of “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

On its website, the Twelve Tribes acknowledges that adult members strike children with the thin wooden rods that troubled Vermont officials, though it denies that it abuses the children.

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others, we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage,” the website says.  “Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.”

Another British journal reported that German police were prompted to act after they were shown graphic scenes of adults beating six children in a basement room.  According to The Independent, the beatings were filmed by a journalist who claimed to be a “lost soul” to gain entry to the community, and used hidden video cameras and microphones.

His footage was shown on German television Monday night, The Independent said.  The program included an interview with a spokesman for the Bavarian youth welfare service who described the film as shocking.  “We never had proof that they do this,” he said.  “It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children.”

Vermont’s effort to seize and detain the sect’s children to look for evidence of physical abuse collapsed in the Orleans County Courthouse in Newport.  Judge Frank Mahady ruled that the state’s claim that all the children in the community were in danger of abuse was too vague to justify their emergency detention.  He sent them home to Island Pond that afternoon.

The sect has consistently denied that its children in Vermont were victims of physical abuse.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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