Interview with James Howell and Michael Painter
Former leaders and members of the twelve tribes cult
Mary Richardson – Who first met Elbert Eugene Spriggs? What occasion marked your attraction to Spriggs?
James Howell – I first met Gene Spriggs when commune members opened their restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Community members called their restaurant the Yellow Deli – a name which they stole from another eating establishment in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
MR – Were you impressed with Gene Spriggs? What was he like in those early days?
JH – When Spriggs first started the Community he was charismatic and he still is. He possesses a presence about himself when he enters a room and often people take note of him. In his youth, Spriggs played football and boxed. Because of his sports background, he maintains his body in peak physical condition. Spriggs looks younger than his chronological age, and his wife Marsha, younger than he, adds to his appearance of youthfulness.
MR – What religion did Spriggs preach in the beginning? Was he sincere?
Michael Painter – We believed Spriggs was sincere. Totally different than the denominational religions common in those early days, Spriggs often wore a sweater while sitting around an old table with leather on the top. The atmosphere was rustic and hippie like. Spriggs’ God forgave sinners and we felt reassured.
MR – And now?
MP – We now see the Community as extremely controlling because Spriggs directs everything. Nothing happens in the Community unless the command comes straight from him.
MR – Even in Rutland, Vermont where Spriggs doesn’t live?
MP – Every Community member is in connection with Elbert Eugene Spriggs from the apostolic workers to the elders. Spriggs’ words travel to the least disciple.
JH – Spriggs’ control is in every place where established religious organizations or expressions of the Body of Christ exist. His control is the one common denominator that marks every Community.
MR – The Tribes state that they have no leader?
JH – As a 15 year member in leadership of the Communities I employed the above statement also.
MR – Did you believe this?
JH – As a leader, I thought I believed that. I purposely avoided making statements that sounded appealing, but I tailored my rhetoric to my listeners. As an example, when speaking to a charismatic preacher, my doctrinal statements to him would emphasize all those points I thought we held in common so I could elicit a smile. Often when speaking to Baptist preachers, I adjusted my conversation to them. I would also modify my language when conversing with an unbeliever. Tribes members freely spread the thought amongst themselves that no one on the earth holds a valid view point on any subject except members of Spriggs’ group. Most people would respond to that arrogant statement with “they’re crazy.”
MP – Pondering the thought of leaving, I asked a fellow Community leader (Timothy Pendergrass – Deshe) about the identity of the Elijah. Was John the Baptist the Elijah, the prophet, the children or the adults? Tim handed me a teaching on the subject which I read all night. In the morning I said in a questioning tone this sounds like Gene is the Elijah. Tim responded with “you finally see.” I brought a question to him, I wasn’t saying I see Gene is the Elijah. Gene Spriggs authored the teaching and proclaimed himself the Elijah to come in the last times. The final incident came at the death of my father. Community leaders said I couldn’t bury my father because they don’t attend funerals.
JH – In the beginning the inclusion of other groups was broad and the control was minimal. With the passage of time, the control constricted to the point where Community members were told how much toilet paper they could use per visit.
MR – Every aspect of life.
MP – Teeth, hair and eyeballs – if God doesn’t control the Tribes members teeth, hair and eyeballs He doesn’t own them.
JH – Various teachings instructed us on how long to grow our hair. The elders even gave instruction on how to brush and floss our teeth.
MP – Spriggs wrote teachings about the wearing of sunglasses and eyeglasses.
MR – Did Community members wait for these teachings?
MP – They were called the latest word or newest word.
MR – We spent several hours with the Rutland, Vermont community. To an outsider, community life seemed extraordinarily attractive with well behaved children, amicable relationships among members and communal dinner in the evening. The need to obtain popular consumer products does not occupy their minds which keeps them on track. Do you believe this dark side exists within the Tribes or has the Community changed?
MP – The dark side is still there.
JH – The dark side is still there.
MP – I spoke with my daughter the other night. This dark side still exists within the Tribes.
MR – Why do you say that?
MP – Tribes members live under fear and are scared to death. Fear holds them in the Community.
MP – I drove to Boston, Mass., to steal away my 11 year old son from the Tribes because he desired to live with me. Chaim came out with a back pack ready to go. While I drove towards Tennessee, my son asked “will I become a homosexual?” I responded with an emphatic NO. I asked him why he felt that way. Chaim said that Tribes members told him that he would become a homosexual if he left the Community. The Community instills intense fear in their members. James and I maintain contact with hundreds of former members and many express fear that lightening will strike them because they found the courage to leave the Tribes. Community leaders concluded that Mary Wiseman died because she spoke against the anointed – Gene Spriggs. Mary died of cancer.
MR – The God of the Tribes punishes and fails to forgive.
MP – They live under continual fear.
MR – What attracted both of you to the group and Gene Spriggs?
JH – I was 23 years old when I joined the Community. At the age of 14, I came to believe certain things about organized religion. Gene Spriggs and I held similar beliefs about the condition of the Christian churches. Spriggs constantly criticized the faults, weak points and lacks of denominational churches. He would often remark “you know who the elders are at that church because they smoke outside the church building.” Elbert continually berated many Christians even though a considerable number of them aided him in his work of forming the Community in Chattanooga. Because of increasing criticism of the various churches in Chattanooga, Elbert excluded everyone except members of his Community. My mother was a devout Baptist and forced me to attend until the age of 14. I saw inconsistencies in the church and this was my reason for not attending. When Elbert came along espousing the same views, I thought about taking another look at Christianity and the Bible. I reasoned that perhaps organized religion was not at fault. Elbert provided another way to express belief in God.
MR – Elbert pointed out the hypocrisies that you also noticed?
JH – Yes
MR – And how about you Michael?
MP – I grew up attending various churches. The Highland Park Baptist church in Chattanooga, Tenn, baptized me 3 times. I observed similar hypocrisies within the churches. Elbert could identify the inconsistencies and hypocrisies within the churches without belittling them. Spriggs put words to what I felt. I sensed his God was loving and not the God of my parents. There was still the 60’s and early 70’s rebellion in us. We didn’t want to cooperate with the establishment and work for the same employer until the age of 65 and earn a gold watch and then die a year later. We desired to accomplish something with our lives.
MR – You yearned for a different life.
MP – In the early 70’s communal living sprung up all over the USA as hundreds of attractive groups formed. We experienced fabulous camaraderie.
MP - After the two weeks as a member of the fledgling Community, I began to work in the restaurant and James was the manager. As I gained more experience, the elders promoted me to third shift manager of the Yellow Deli. A disciple felt honored to labor in the restaurant in the early days of Chattanooga. We started 6 other restaurants in the Chattanooga area.
MR – You showed skill in business?
MP – Yes. I started many businesses for the Community.
MP - If a Tribes’ member obtained a specific job, he tenaciously persevered in that role because if he disobeyed he could forfeit his position of authority.
MR – Ultimately you rose to a high level within the Community?
MP – They tried to force me into many duties but I rebelled.
JH – Michael occupied the number 5 spot at one time.
MP – I constantly disagreed with Elbert Eugene Spriggs because he often would introduce a half truth and I would question him. I frequently failed to attend meetings as I preferred to go fishing. Elbert often inquired about my absence from the Apostolic Workers meetings and a Tribes’ member would respond with a joke of “I saw Michael in his truck with a sign that said a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.” After 15 years in the Community I often went fishing in Island Pond to deal with the extreme control. I invested 15 years of my life into the tribes because I believed in Spriggs’ vision and goals. After living in the Community, I saw all the hypocrisies and inconsistencies so I just couldn’t cope any more.
MR – How high did James reach?
MP – James reached number 3 or 4.
MP – James’ Hebrew name was Saphir which means scribe as he kept the notes. I participated in the Apostolic Workers meetings when I wasn’t fishing. Three people including James regularly met with Elbert Eugene Spriggs
MR – When they hold their meetings, do the Apostolic Workers withhold information from the average Community member?
JH – As we sat in our meetings, we often thought we made decisions that benefited the greatest number of people. Every bureaucrat thinks like this.
MR – We know what is best for you.
JH – Gene Spriggs possesses the skill of inducing Tribes members to feel as if they contribute to a decision. Even though nutritional and biblical references encourage the drinking of milk; Elbert Eugene Spriggs brought a teaching to the contrary. Elbert justified and bolstered his teachings with the addition of scriptural and historical references. Eugene can manipulate people into arriving at his conclusions although they give their input the decision always mirrors Spriggs opinion.
MP – We always came to his judgment.
JH – Gene exploits others whether in a small or large meeting.
JH – When the Community formed in 1972, I don’t think Gene Spriggs planned to intentionally deceive people and play the role of cult leader but as time passed his desire to save young people was buried under his lust for power and control and his stated goal of preaching the gospel and bringing salvation to the world.
MR – Should we worry about this group? Apocalyptic groups such as Heaven’s Gate who decided to commit suicide in order to rendezvous with space ships trailing the Hale Bopp Comet found themselves the subject of the front page news.
MR – Should the public express concern about the Twelve Tribes in light of the Heaven’s Gate tragedy?
JH – I think much danger exists. Elbert Eugene Spriggs exercises sole unchallenged control over the Community with no one to keep him in check. Spriggs promotes the idea of checks and balances in his teachings and that no one person should ever exert sole leadership of a religious movement or community but his own lifestyle runs contrary to his own teachings.
JH – Their dedication to Spriggs is the prerequisite for remaining in the group.
JH – Obedience to Elbert Spriggs is preached above everything else.
MR – Can you identify the real danger?
MP – Community members relinquish control over their own lives and families, and they can never raise their children as they wish. In exchange for community life, Tribes members concede control of their personal wishes such as what they would like for breakfast. The Community discourages all individual and family vacations. I think they even outlawed camping – except in large groups. During my 18 ½ years as a member of the Tribes’ and under direct influence (mind control), I yielded my right to see my grandmother, parents, siblings, and extended family. I anguish over that choice now. I grew up in a close family with many family reunions. This is the real damage and ruination seen in the hundreds of former members. I finally established a relationship with my 21 year old daughter Rachel and my 12 year old son Chaim.
MP – We can now enjoy pizza if we desire and we can drink a bottle of wine with our spaghetti meal. We can live our own life – they heavily preach against this.
MR – Do you feel as if you wasted 18 ½ years in the Community?
MP – Those years were devastating.
JH – Devastation is the common thread witnessed in the lives of those who came in contact with the Tribes.
MR – While living in the Community you learned, grew and experienced positive relationships?
JH – Sure I can say I learned from my experiences. Those who live communally with the Tribes enjoy some positive aspects such as the education they receive from the broad spectrum of Community members which include geniuses, murderers, derelicts, bank presidents, airline pilots and nurses.
MP – This education comes at a steep price though. How can I retrieve 18 ½ years that was lost between my father and I due to my involvement in the Community. After I left the Tribes, my sisters and I celebrated my first Christmas in 18 ½ years and they told me how my dad often cried and would lament “The only thing that can make this a more perfect Christmas would be if Micky walked through the door.” My children never celebrated Christmas with their grandparents and could never enjoy the many dolls and gifts they sent.
MR – How did your family react when you finally left the Community?
MP – My mother was ecstatic, but my sisters and brother expressed apprehension. I wasn’t around for 18 years. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. They remembered me from years ago.
JH – A dog bit my mother and she endured 28 stitches in her leg. I wasn’t there for her and she knows that. I can’t fix the past.
MP – The Twelve Tribes cult denied my right to make free will choices. Steve Hassan an exit counselor has written an excellent book on the subject of mind control (Combating Cult Mind Control). I was definitely under the persuasion of mind control because I don’t easily give up my will. As a member of the Community, I erroneously thought I was doing God’s will. I compare mind control to an unsecured slowly drifting ship on the ocean. This is how a person drifts into mind control. A seeming wonderful life and friendly members attract people to the Community, but one does not actually know the despair and suffering going on inside Tribes’ members. They will never let a visitor see their distress because members would get in trouble if they revealed their plight. After three or four years, a member may get married and produce children and find themselves more ensnared in the Community. A member may not know how to find release from the Tribes. I contemplated for 10 years whether the Tribes were the truth and I discussed this with my wife. I finally left to start a new life as she wouldn’t leave.
MR – Did she stay?
MP – She is one of the most respected members of all their Communities.
MR – The Tribes say community life is hard and demanding and not just for everybody.
Is it possible that it is not for you?
MP – I don’t think so.
JH – The Community maintains its own criteria for judging fruit which states “Judge a tree by its fruit. If the fruit is rotten the tree is rotten.” They proclaim that the Twelve Tribes are for everyone and that those who fail to respond will suffer physical and spiritual death. Community members believe that Yahshua only grants protection to them. Because people can’t implicitly obey Elbert Eugene Spriggs some have committed suicide. Often young adults leave their parents to join the Community. The man and wife relationship is repeatedly destroyed. Although the Tribes outwardly promote personal relationships, these friendships are not allowed to develop or flourish even between married couples. Many married couples surrender their home (to the Tribes), remain in the Community 5 or 10 years and then get kicked out or they may decide to leave which reduces them to zero financially, spiritually and emotionally. This scene plays out quite often in the Twelve Tribes. What kind of shape are these people reduced to after contact with the Community? This is the visible fruit.
MR – So you are saying judge this tree by the fruit that it produces?
JH – The Twelve Tribes should use their own criteria to judge themselves. If they did they would disband and everyone would leave today.
MR – Tell me about the whole Island Pond event? Did you know the police raid was
coming? Tell me what you were thinking?
MP – The Twelve Tribes sent me out of town to avoid arrest because Arthur Freitag revealed the names of Community leaders. I went to Utah for 1 month to make cowboy and hiking boots. I held the position of household head at that time and I had a shoe repair shop (Simon Tanner). They ushered me out of town quickly because police captured 6 or 7 Tribes leaders. The police were looking for me but they mistakenly thought my name was Simon Tanner. Actually the name of my business was taken from the Bible. I repaired everyone’s shoes. The raid occurred when I returned from Utah. When I returned to Island Pond, the Community sent my wife and children “on vacation” to Maine for a few days. The raid happened the day we left or perhaps the following day.
JH – We expected something like this to happen.
JH – Former members made many accusations of child abuse and I’ll state unequivocally that abuse (physical, mental and emotional) occurred. Much of the abuse was due to ignorance and Community members desire to obey Gene Spriggs who had no children in the Community. Spriggs’ adult son from a previous marriage lives outside the
MR – What does Spriggs teach about discipline that turned into abuse?
JH – The basic Biblical verses he employs are “If a child sins though you beat him he shall not die.” Another verse which he uses includes the thought “Spare the rod spoil the child.” And in another Scripture verse which says “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from them.” Elbert Eugene Spriggs tied these verses into psychological tenets he read and plagiarized into his major teachings.
JH - Yes
MR – So people were physically beating their kids in response to Spriggs’ teachings?
MP – The newspapers often sensationalize information, but the child abuse within the Twelve Tribes was 10 times worse than reported.
JH – Michael and I both witnessed the beating of children almost to the point of death.
MP – My daughter was beaten.
JH – My daughter Spring also was beaten.
MR – Who administered the beating?
MP – My wife Linda beat my daughter in 1978 when I worked as the bakery manager. The elders and apostolic workers circulated Gene’s child training teachings during this time which originated from Island Pond. Eddie Wiseman was about to move to Island Pond, Vermont but before he relocated he held a teaching in which he held a 3 foot long dowel. We didn’t use dowels to discipline the children. Wiseman said “Though you beat him with a rod he shall not die.” He also emphasized the words “beat, beat, beat.” He then slapped the table with the dowel. In response to Elbert’s teaching everyone wanting to blindly obey the anointing (Spriggs) beat the tar out of their children for the next few days. According to Elbert Spriggs the children’s will needed to break by the age of four or the child would be lost. Elbert probably plagiarized this teaching. Parents needed to instill the concept of obedience in their four year old children.
MR – The children were beaten for any reason?
MP – They are disciplined for disobedience and wrong attitudes. Parents discipline their children if they fail to finish their breakfast even if the child is full or doesn’t want the food. A member of 1 month could approach a member of 17 years and tell them they felt their daughter displayed a bad attitude and needed to be disciplined. If the father failed to discipline his daughter a household meeting would follow. Because of intense group peer pressure, the whole table of diners would stare at the father who needed to discipline his child.
MP – The elders told me to return home and support my wife. I said, “Why what’s going on?” They repeated the same refrain. I drove home to find my 18 month old daughter Rachel lying naked on the floor with one woman to the left of her on her hands and knees praying that my daughter would break. My wife Linda had her hands on my daughter’s legs with 25 broken rods lying on the floor. My daughter was black and blue and bleeding from her thighs and buttocks. Rachel looked like hamburger meat black and blue from the back of her neck to the bottom of her feet. They actually spanked her on the bottom of her feet!
MR – What did you do?
MP – I broke all the rods and said “something has gone haywire.” I called some of the elders and had a meeting with them.
MP – I found out these severe thrashings of the children were occurring all over the Community.
MP – After the beating from my wife, my daughter Rachel looked up at me the whites of her eyes extremely red. All she could muster was the word daddy and then she fell down on the carpet. I believe she was close to death.
MR – Did you seek medical attention?
MP – Goodness no. We needed to hide my daughter from my parents so they wouldn’t find out. We treated her with comfrey poultices.
MR – Why would your wife have done this?
MP – My wife Linda is someone who needs to be told what to do. She can’t think for her self. That is a long story.
MR – She would have thought the child needed to be broken?
MP – She is a wonderful person but she must be told what to do because she needs to feel that she is accomplishing the right thing – she is doing God’s will. When someone claims to hear from God (Spriggs) and directs others – they do what he says.
MP – I am not interested in revenge toward the Community or their destruction, but James and I desire to broadcast the truth about life in the Twelve Tribes. We missed 33 years between the two of us. When a person enters the Twelve Tribes they give up all previous relationships – husband or wife if they refuse to join the Community, parents, siblings, childhood friends, grandparents. Community members take over the roles of those lost relationships mothers, fathers, sister, brother, etc.
MR – This is a growing Community not just a small group in Island Pond, Vermont. They are all over the world.
JH – There are 43 locations worldwide.
MR – Did the beating of your daughter occur before the raid?
MP – The beating took place in Chattanooga, Tenn., before we moved to Island Pond.
MR – You didn’t resolve the situation – the walloping of the children still occurred.
MP – The beatings were occurring a little less often although some parents would become severe occasionally. One child needed scourging. Eddie Wiseman scourged a child…
MP – Community members switched and started spanking with the balloon sticks on the hands so they wouldn’t leave marks all over the buttocks.
JH – The allegations of child abuse increased. If a child became sick or required medical attention we often treated most situations ourselves. We had our own paramedics, EMT’s and nurses and a doctor or two who would offer their services. Because of these accusations Gene Spriggs modified his child training teachings. Much of the physical abuse occurred because of ignorance – Community members trying to meet what Elbert put forth as the Biblical standard.
MR – Your thought was to improve your child?
JH – Right
MR – When the raid finally came how was that perceived? How were the police, courts and media seen?
JH – We perceived the raid as Satan trying to dissuade us from our true path. Legally the raid was a fiasco and totally unjustified and not supported or executed well. Child abuse occurred at that time. Judge Mahady also bore our appraisal of the situation and threw everything out of court. I want to return to the subject of fruit and Community lifestyle. The Tribes love their brothers/sisters and thereby proclaim to possess the truth. They speak often of being in the light, living in the light, having no darkness. One Bible verse says – “If someone’s in the light then darkness has no power in him.” If that were true would Tribes members want to hide something? If that were true would Community members want to make something seem different than it appears? If tribes members were following the God of Heaven and He told them to discipline children would they want to hide that fact?
MR – So in some way they knew that was wrong?
JH – That takes place on a personal level almost 100% or 99.9%.
JH – Tribes members lose position if they show inner conflict because one’s status is equated directly to their spiritual maturity. To reiterate, if they hold no standing or title, they enjoy no real spirituality.
MR – Did you discipline children?
JH – I participated in several severe and not so severe disciplinary sessions with my own child and other people’s children. We began teaching babies from 6 months of age the meaning of no. Usually the discipline wasn’t as severe for as six month old although some of the younger members could not be trusted in that matter.
MR – What type of discipline would a six month old baby endure if they reached for candy?
JH – Normally they would experience just a little smack on the hand or something to get their attention. Discipline for a six month old was not very severe, but when the parent said no the baby knew they were disobedient. Elbert always taught us – the disobedience was the offense – not the offense itself.
MR – Does the discipline of the children haunt you? Or do you say I was under the control of another?
JH – I take responsibility for joining the Community and making the decision to stay for 15 years. I’m really glad I decided to leave, but my choice would have proved better if I exited earlier. Up to the day I left I defended Gene Spriggs and his teachings. I certainly feel sorry now for the situations I involved myself in that are clear to me were solely because I sought to obey Elbert Eugene Spriggs. I desired to obey Tribes members with my actions in obeying Spriggs, not the true conviction of my heart.
MR – Did you participate on child discipline?
MP – I engaged in the discipline of the children and I really feel badly about that. I disagreed with Gene Spriggs’ teachings and I talked about it openly. I failed to advance in position because I overtly disagreed with Spriggs. I kept on staying the same or going down in rank, although I made a lot of money for them. I used to discipline other people’s children all the time if they disobeyed. Newer members without much authority, position or insight often severely pummeled the children and as a result the new members needed correction. Gene would address this situation and give the illustration of a swinging pendulum. At times Elbert would say the Tribes members would become lenient with their children and the pendulum would swing to the right. Eventually the pendulum would be centered in the middle. Elbert Eugene Spriggs explained away the excesses of child abuse in this way. Many children including my own endured abuse from Tribes members who lacked proper knowledge of child care.
MR – Young adults could discipline children?
MP – 16 year old youth could discipline younger children.
MR – A 16 year old could say to a parent that they were not raising their child right?
JH – Tribes members watch the every move of their fellow Community members at the communal meals. If a Community member makes a wrong move, another person will point it out which shows their spiritual growth thus making their fellow Tribes member suffer as they knock them down a notch because another position exists to take over.
MR – Everybody’s watching each other?
MR – What might be a wrong move?
JH – I don’t like millet with molasses!
MP – Tribes member Danny Kirby hated black strap molasses. Inexpensive to purchase, we ate blackstrap because farmers poured it on the cow hay. We could buy a 5 gallon bucket of black strap for 3 dollars instead of the preferred molasses for 15 dollars a bucket. Anything to save money as economics ruled our faith. Black strap molasses was horribly bitter. A household head tried to force 31 year old Danny Kirby to eat a spoonful of black strap molasses, but a two hour standoff ensued. Finally Danny Kirby gave in and took a spoonful. The household head looked at me and I said don’t even think about it because I hate that nasty black strap molasses.
MR – All Community members must live communally and relinquish their personal possessions. You didn’t own a car, computer, TV, etc. What was Gene Spriggs lifestyle like?
JH – If one saw Elbert Eugene Spriggs strolling down the street most people wouldn’t think that he controls a million dollars. He doesn’t wear a Rolex or Armani suit but compared to one of the elders whose toes stick out the front of his boots and the knees out of his pants and his shirt in tatters, Gene Spriggs is well dressed. Gene Spriggs often wears the latest LL Bean Polar fleece shirt and jacket, Hi Tech hikers, and Banana Republic pants. Later on we learned that Spriggs owned 5 pairs of Hi Tech hikers in his closet. Relatively speaking he lived as a very rich man.
MP – Eddie Wiseman needed some wider shoes so I ordered him some Clark shoes because I ran the shoe shop (Simon Tanner). Everybody in the Community wore Rockport shoes; normally an expensive shoe but I could purchase them for $10.00. I ordered the Clark shoes for Eddie which I sold to him for cost ($45.00). Eddie entered the Apostolic Workers Meeting and Elbert Eugene Spriggs reprimanded him for buying those shoes. Spriggs went into a frenzy “Now everybody will want those shoes.” Spriggs made Eddie Wiseman return the Clark shoes to the shoe shop (Simon Tanner) and instructed me to give the shoes to an impoverished Community member who owned nothing.
MP – I visited the Boston Community and looked in Bill Hinchcliff’s closet and said to him, “What are you doing with these 5 pairs of expensive $180.00 10 ½ D New Balance Hi Tech hikers”? You wear size 8 ½ .” Bill responded with “These belong to Yoneq (Gene Spriggs). He can’t purchase them in France, so he is going to take them to France.” Elbert Eugene Spriggs always wore New Balance Hi Tech hikers.
MR – Elbert Eugene Spriggs also travels freely around the world?
MP – Spriggs’ enjoys a wallet full of credit cards. Just two days earlier, Spriggs had an outburst at the Apostolic Workers Meeting because of a $42.00 pair of shoes which Eddie Wiseman purchased.
MR – Did anyone join the Tribes with wealth or homes or businesses and turn it over to the Community?
JH – People join the Tribes everyday who relinquish homes, farms, businesses and inheritances.
MP – One person just inherited $500,000 and turned the money over to the Tribes.
JH – When a large sum of money comes into the Community, the elders and apostolic workers determine the area of greatest need (s). The deacons always gave a portion of money to Spriggs for his travels and to set up churches etc. Mortgage payments and different projects such as a saw mill could quickly utilize the money.
MP – The money was always quickly spent no matter how much came in.
MR – Suppose a person joined the Tribes and gave them their farm/home and lived in the Community for 10 or 15 years. If the elders or Apostolic Workers disliked them, could they kick them out?
JH – Yes
MP – I left two houses with the Community – a 3 story home in New Hampshire which they forced me to sign over.
JH – Everyone in the Tribes praises loyalty as one of the fantastic virtues. A person can spend productive years in the Tribes, contribute their wealth, home/farm or business or create great wealth for the Community and can “sin” and then be thrown out or asked to leave. They kick people out all the time.
MR – What kinds of sins caused people to get them kicked out of the Tribes? What kind of offenses?
JH – Rebellion
MP - Rebellion
JH – The Tribes’ definition of rebellion is a person who asks too many questions.
JH – Gene Spriggs has told Michael and I that we ask too many questions.
JH – We always thought questions bring situations to light. Spriggs says, “Never take my teachings to their logical conclusion but just receive what I say.”
JH – In response to the above Spriggs statement, one could say, I don’t want to use my brain. I’ve got this thing sitting on my neck.
MP – If a cult leader maintains control of a followers mind, then they can manipulate them. They don’t need to go after their money or steal from them. If the cult leader exerts and continues control over the followers mind than he has access to everything that belongs to the follower.
MR – How hard were the first few months when both of you left the Tribes?
JH – I was relieved because I felt like a lead weight was removed from me. I could finally awake in the morning without worrying if I was going to get in trouble. Our experiences within the Community took a number of years to sort through. If someone left the Tribes and made negative statements about the Community, we would say, “He is a disgruntled ex-member.” The allegations we make are in conjunction with other former members, religious leaders, scholars and much hard study. After we left the Tribes, we deliberately analyzed for 10 years our actions when were members of the Community. Our declarations are not spurious. Michael and I have thought about these allegations and conversed with each other and other knowledgeable people concerning the Tribes and religious movements.
MR – When you left the Community did you leave alone?
JH – I came out alone as my wife and daughter left before me.
MR – Did you reunite with your wife?
JH – No.
MR – What caused you to finally leave?
JH – Another favorite expression in the Tribes is “Wherever God is, there is peace.” I just knew I didn’t have peace and I couldn’t find any theological or sociological answers.
MR – Your torment kept gnawing on you all those years?
JH – Yes.
MR – When you lived in the Community could you read about these matters? Could you talk to other theologians? Could you read religious books?
JH – I was one of the higher leaders in the Tribes, so I enjoyed more freedom than others to pursue that. I often accompanied Elbert Eugene Spriggs, Eddie Wiseman and David Jones to visit and talk with other groups. We didn’t really know what we believed. When visiting these other groups I experienced a feeling in my gut that everything was not all right because we sought to convert the leaders to our way of thinking. This isn’t love.
MR – What finally caused you to leave the Tribes Michael?
MP – The final breaking point came when I traveled to a shoemaker’s convention in Florida. On the way down I planned to stop and see my father in Chattanooga, Tennessee but he died the morning I left. I didn’t find out about my father’s death until that evening. I changed my plans and went to Chattanooga to bury my father and when I returned to the Community Eddie Wiseman informed me I defiled myself because I went near a dead body and attended my father’s funeral. I responded with “that is idiotic” along with a few other choice words and then walked away from the Tribes for 4 ½ months to think. The Community wanted me to return. When I returned things really changed during my time away from the Community as they started morning sacrifices and drilling each other in the mornings. I couldn’t see my children or wife for 6 or 7 weeks because I traveled to Chattanooga to bury my father. Tribes leaders expressed fear that I would defile the Community.
MR – How do you see someone like Eddie Wiseman? Is it a form of mental illness?
MP – Eddie is a wonderful guy and we both know him very well. He just repeats the words of Elbert Eugene Spriggs.
MR – Do you ever think Community members question Gene?
MP – Yes.
JH – They do not personally question Gene Spriggs but question inside themselves.
MP – If a Tribe’s member questions Spriggs like I did they start losing their authority. They start getting talked about in the meetings.
MR – If the two of you were to discuss a teaching or ask each other “what do you think about this” one of you might turn or squeal on the other?
JH – Even though we were the best of friends we would not cross that boundary.
MP – We might discuss various problems circulating in the Community but we would never hint that the problems were the result of Spriggs’ teachings. That was one of the ways that kept Tribes members divided.
JH – I spent many years in meetings with Eddie Wiseman and traveled to various places with him so I know him quite well. I remember the first night he came to a meeting and Gene Spriggs encouraged him to stand next to the leather covered table in the middle of the room which we called the hot seat. Wearing his stack shoes and polyester shirt, Eddie gave his testimony of how he became a Christian. His zeal was unmistakable. If I would have approached him that night and said, “Would you go on national TV and lie for me.” He probably would respond that I was crazy. Eddie made the statement that Elbert Eugene Spriggs has made him everything that he is. Eddie even admitted to lying on national TV and fails to see that as a compromise of his own personal integrity. For Eddie, obedience to Spriggs will result in praise from God. The Tribes use Biblical verses such as Rahab the harlot who lied to protect the Jewish spies. I compromised my own personal integrity many times because I sought to be a disciple/servant of Elbert Eugene Spriggs. This corrupting influence prevalent within the Tribes maintains walls between friends and spouses and children.
MR – Sounds like you admire some people within the Community?
JH – Yes definitely – wonderful people.
MR – What is you opinion of Gene Spriggs? What motivates him?
MP – Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is my opinion of Spriggs. Every former member that we have contact with expresses the same thought about Elbert and his lust for power and control. The early community began with honorable intentions as they helped many young people quit drugs, and fed the hungry and homeless but as Spriggs garnered more and more power he became blinded. He is leading all the Tribe’s members into a ditch.
JH – Elbert told the story about how God chose Billy Graham to be an apostle and raise up communities but he chose to defile his conscience in the pursuit of world renown as an evangelist. Gene said that Billy Graham loves power and fame more than his calling. In talking about Billy Graham, Elbert gave a really good definition of himself as he loves power and acclaim. In making these statements we are not interested in seeking revenge or trying to be a disgruntled ex member but to inform people so they can make a choice based on facts. We know that the Tribes will never change as long as Elbert Eugene Spriggs is the sole uncontested leader. Spriggs may write new teachings or they may live in new places or they may wear their hair different or wear different clothes but the basic theme will be obedience to him and his teachings.
MR – What is your purpose for speaking out?
MP – We don’t want people to destroy their lives like we did. Most Tribe’s members know James and I – or at least our names. We don’t want people to waste many years in the Tribes like us and not enjoy a normal life and relationship with their natural families. The normal life that people enjoy previous to joining the Community will be destroyed and turned upside down.
JH – We wouldn’t have left the Tribes if Spriggs’ prophecies, goals and purpose for existence were true. They are not true. For instance the Bible says in the Old Testament, “If a prophet utters something and the prophecy doesn’t come true then they should stone him.” I’m not recommending stoning anybody. I’m just saying if a prophecy doesn’t come true then it proves he is not a prophet. That cancels out the title.
MR – What has the experience of the Tribes done to your spirituality? Are you a member of any faith? Do you have your own private faith?
JH – I think I am finally in a place where my spiritual growth is actually growing, maturing, flourishing, open to new ideas and possible expectations.
MR – You have not become anti-religious because of your experience with the Tribes?
JH – No, not in that context. Since the age of 14 I saw many lacks in the organized church. Show me one person who isn’t lacking. I know all humans are lacking and therefore all organizations will be lacking in certain ways.
JH – Personally I say my spiritual status is growing, changing and evolving.
MR – Do you feel that way Michael or do you feel as though you were burned in some way?
MP – I was definitely burned but the burn has caused me to watch out for the stove. No man will ever lead me into a ditch again because I’m very cautious. I’m growing spiritually because I am understanding things I never understood before.
MR – You’re not looking for one person or a group to lead you?
MP – I’m not looking for one person or a group to lead me anywhere.
MR - What is the role of women in the group? How are women seen in the group?
JH – The Community is the worst place for women since ancient China. They are derogated because what they say and do is unimportant.
MP – Though they say their women are the most liberated on the face of the earth, they are really subservient to the men in the Community.
MP – They also believe black people should serve whites. The Tribes think Martin Luther King should have been killed because that is one of their teachings. Gene Spriggs teaches that the death of Martin Luther King was good and that black people should still be mammies.
MR – The whole group believes this?
MP – They must believe this because it is a Spriggs teaching.
MR – Why is it good that Martin Luther King died?
MP – Spriggs teaches that Martin Luther King deserved to die because he set the black people free in the late 50’s and early 60’s which resulted in slums. Gene Spriggs says that slavery was a good thing and should still be practiced. He gave an example of a time during his childhood when a black man worked for a rich man that lived on the ridge above him. This black man would call him Mr. Gene even though he was 7 or 8 years old. “Yes sir, Mr. Gene.” He knew his place and knew he needed to respect that white boy.
MR – That is what he teaches?
MP – I’ve listened to that teaching.
MP – Spriggs doesn’t see his views as racist, but he looks at it as the teaching of Cham. There were 3 sons of Noah. (Shem, Cham, Japheth).
MR – There are no blacks in the Tribes?
MP – There are very few. There are black elders in the Community. Spriggs says because slavery has ended this has resulted in the current condition of the black race.
MP – Elbert Eugene Spriggs instructed Community members to produce children all the time, as many as could be conceived even if it proved detrimental to the wife’s health. I’ve seen 20 year old women get married give birth to 5 or 6 babies before their 30th birthday and then look 50 because of the stress and strain of producing so many children. Elbert wrote an actual teaching called “Be fruitful and multiply.”
JH – The teachings of Elbert Eugene Spriggs dictate when a Community member can enjoy sexual relations with their spouse and how they can have it. (Certain ways)
MR – Would you be told this privately or in a public meeting?
JH – At first the elders would present a teaching to the group and sometimes they would hold married couple’s meetings. They would also meet separately with the married men and the married women. Gene Spriggs even went to the women’s meeting and told them how they should make love to their husbands.
MR – The Community controls every area of the member’s life.
MP – Yes
JH – Yes
MR – Your talking on camera could be a danger to your family still in the Community? You could be cut off from them?
MP – No, I wouldn’t allow that to happen. I’m not scared of Gene Spriggs anymore but he is actually frightened of me. At one time I sought to kill him when I was a member of the Tribes. I had gone haywire in my mind and borrowed a gun from somewhere because I witnessed the devastation that he caused. This happened in 1988 before James left the Community. I came to my senses and returned the gun with two bullets. I told Elbert Spriggs about the incident.
MR – What drove you over the edge?
MP – I saw Elbert Eugene Spriggs destroy many people’s lives. I saw him as big brother from 1984 – (George Orwell – 1984) – a role he created for himself. Friend would squeal on each other. As a best friend, James was afraid to come to tell me he was leaving the Community. He wanted me to leave with him. In response I think I blurted out “If I leave I will probably become a homosexual.” This was one of Spriggs’ teachings. A member flip flops as one minute they find themselves in the light with Spriggs and his teachings and the next minute they see all the chaos in the Community. Tribes’ members really suffer. Event though they are shining on the outside they are suffering.
MR – The Community seems to be a very happy and contented place?
MP – Sometimes the Community is a happy and contented place especially when Friday night (the Sabbath) comes and members can dance and all their problems seemingly fade away. Living in the community is a real hard life – actually it is the most stressful life.
MR – Why
MP – Community life is stressful and exceedingly difficult because members live in constant fear.
JH – Fear motivates Tribes’ members.
MP – In the beginning love ruled the Community and I experienced peace. During those early years of the Community, I actually didn’t fear death. I am not scared of death now. As the years went on, I became fearful of death when the children started dying of whooping cough and also the deaths of several other members. We didn’t experience a death in the Community in a long time. The first time I ever doubted Gene Spriggs’ authority occurred in 1978.
MR – Did Community members suffer unnecessary deaths due to lack of medical care?
MP – Mary Wiseman suffered with uterine cancer after the birth of her baby which was very curable. Community members failed to take Mary to a doctor or hospital for her serious illness but instead chose to starve her to death. Elbert Eugene Spriggs used Mary’s death as a fear tactic. In the big meeting we held to explain Mary’s death, another member intimated that Mary spoke out against Elbert Spriggs years earlier. With Gene Spriggs present, they concluded this caused her death.
MP – A child developed a serious case of whooping cough. The parents failed to recognize the disease as whooping cough because the Community children do not receive immunizations and they don’t readily go to doctors unless there is a medical emergency. The child improved slightly then died later that night. The doctor came that evening and diagnosed the illness as whooping cough which spread throughout the whole Community.
MR – Don’t state regulations say that children must be immunized if they attend school?
MP – The Community children don’t attend school but are home schooled. That is one of their control mechanisms.
MP – What about Jean Swantko Wiseman who finds herself in a leadership position because of her law degree. Isn’t this hypocritical? How does the Community justify this?
JH – The Tribes regularly disavow its own teachings for the sake of convenience or making money. They are very businesslike. In their business dealings with outsiders they consistently break their word about money matters, leases, payments and service continually with no remorse what so ever. Because of their behavior, they have alienated many people. This treatment of outsiders often causes the Tribes member to think if the Community is the right way to live.
MP – Some of these episodes caused James and I to leave the Community. We both started businesses for the Tribes (restaurants and bakeries). The Community failed to keep their word with a man in upstate New York and many Tribes members left over that man’s mistreatment. These types of incidents occurred continually in our business dealings with non members.
MR – Where do you think Gene Spriggs makes his residence?
MP – He has lived all over the world. I think he is in upstate New York.
MR – Where else does he travel?
MP – He travels anywhere he desires.
MR – Does Spriggs have homes in different communities?
MP – While Spriggs is in Sus, France, he lives in his own little cottage. When he visits other communities he lives in the various households.
MR – Why should society care about this little group?
JH – Those who observe the Community as outsiders (non members) receive a far different view than those who become actual baptized members. What the outsider thinks they see is not the reality of everyday life in the Ttribes. In the process their mind can come under the control of another person who has little idea of how to live life. In the process of having their mind, thoughts and actions controlled and regulated they suffer the consequences which can lead to extreme heartache in their own personal life. Young people can join the Tribes and be denied the privilege of seeing their parents again. Once a young person joins the Community they cannot spend a week of vacation with their grandmother in the summertime. These are things people don’t know before joining the Community. Highly intelligent people live in the Community. Most people would think a highly intelligent person would be the hardest to control – actually they make some of the best subjects especially if they are religiously oriented. I read some hypnotism statistics which state that students at religious colleges make the best subjects. If one has a good mind with a desire for spiritual matters they are prime candidates for mind control.
MR – Any thought about why outsiders should care about this group?
MP – They should care about the Twelve Tribes because their child may join the cult. Or it might be you. This is America. Americans have the constitutional right to carry a gun or to enjoy whatever food they desire. They also have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Americans enjoy freedom of religion or freedom from religion (atheism). But when religion steps over the boundary of mind control and people lose the right of free choice…. This is why we are talking after all these years because our experiences in the Tribes took us a long time to sort through. These people whom we know very well, are under mind control. I was under mind control. I am amazed that my mind could be controlled. This process can happen to anybody. Look at advertising. Advertising in many ways is mind control to persuade consumers to buy a particular product whether it is good or foul.
MR – During the bungled Island Pond raid should the children have been taken away?
MP – Inspection of the children would have resulted in the shutdown of the Community several times over.
JH – The authorities didn’t possess any evidence so they entered the homes looking for information which is totally unconstitutional. The American legal system doesn’t empower the police to enter someone’s home and search for evidence. The Island Pond raid was a total legal and technical bungling. The Island Pond police needed to conduct proper interviews with those making accusations of child abuse and brought warrants for the specific children and adults involved instead of herding the entire Community into school gymnasiums.
MR – The Tribes said they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Steve Wooten and his two boys?
MP – That’s bull! My daughter left the Community and came to live with me in Gatlinburg, Tenn. My daughter decided to visit the Tribes a few months after she left and took my camera with her. While visiting she ate with Steve Wooten and his two boys and Dicky Cantrell. Dicky Cantrell is one of the major persons who helps hide people and he does this by collecting money from the various Community businesses. Gene Spriggs and his wife showed up and they sat down to eat with them. My daughter took pictures of all of them sitting at the table!
MR – How could they say they had no knowledge of Steve Wooten’s whereabouts?
MP – Members of the Tribes have a problem with lying because they would know the particular incident took place. For example the Darlyn Church episode – people knew the beating took place. The event was denied, but we knew it happened. If the police came looking for Eddie Wiseman, a community member when questioned of his whereabouts would most likely respond “Eddie Wiseman is up in his room or he was.” Actually he could be in the bathroom or out in the barn. This is how they justify their lies and deception. The Community kept the members in the dark about the Wooten case. Eddie Wiseman and a few of the elders knew where Steve Wooten and his boys were hiding.
MR – Seems like the Tribes don’t like to obey U.S. laws?
MP – If they feel a law goes against God’s law then they will not obey that law. God’s will replaces the law of the land.
MR – Eddie Wiseman and Jean Swantko Wiseman say they desire reconciliation and are willing to meet with disgruntled ex Community members. Would you be willing to take them up on that offer?
MP – Absolutely! Gene Spriggs – any of them. We’re not under that persuasion any more. We’d love it!
JH – Sure. We both like Eddie Wiseman because we spent a lot of time with him. I feel comfortable saying that he is my friend but I doubt that he would say that he is my friend.
MR – Do you think Eddie and Jeannie’s offer is sincere?
MP – I don’t think the offer is sincere.
JH – Eddie and Jeannie probably desire to meet with disgruntled ex members like Michael and myself to discover what we have said about them. They have an ulterior motive attached to their offer.
MR – The Tribes say they know they failed to do everything right and perfectly all the time. They say they would like to speak to ex members to discover their gripe against the Community. Do you think the offer is sincere?
JH – We would gladly meet with them.
MP – Roger and Joellen Griffin left the Tribes after 20 years. Roger held the position of an elder in the Community and he is a good friend of ours. They wrote Elbert Eugene Spriggs a personal letter of 15 pages – they never heard from him. I frequently visit my children in the Community and no one speaks to me about anything. Maybe they have changed because they fluctuate with the wind.
MR – Is it hard for you to still have children in the Community?
MP – Of course
MR – Do you know what is going on with your children and the pressures they are under?
MP – I understand the pressures they experience as expectations always change. The Tribes change like the wind as new teachings are introduced. Just from a dietary stand point one day they may eat butter and beef the next day they don’t.
MR – Are you frightened because you don’t know what other teachings are coming down?
MP – I am frightened. I try to keep a pulse on what is happening in the Community. If I started hearing about the Tribes arming themselves I would just remove my children.
MR – What will happen when Elbert Spriggs dies?
MP – The Tribes will experience a real power struggle as various members try to take over control of the Community and as a result will fall. They will probably splinter into different sections with certain members following various leaders. They may hold together for a little bit. If Marsha Spriggs is still alive the Tribes will remain the same as the other Spriggs is the leader of the group.
JH – I would compare the situation within the Community to “How’s the president and Bill?”
MP – The Community women wear “Sus” pants because Marsha Spriggs came up with the idea and design. Tribes members eat a predominantly vegetarian diet because Marsha Spriggs read a religious book about Seventh Day Adventists. Adventists don’t eat meat and worship on the Sabbath (Friday night). A person just needs to look at the Tribes to see Marsha’s influence. Elbert Eugene Spriggs loves meat, chocolate and coffee.
MR – How ironic that women would be so demoted in the group or held down. Is she exerting such influence?
JH – What the Tribes say is not consistent with what they do. A woman like Mrs. Swantko Wiseman is a benefit to the Community because she earned a law degree. I’m sure if a female doctor joined the Community she would wield much influence. Also someone with great wealth would have a lot of influence.
MR – Did either of you take part in hiding or moving people across the border?
JH – The hiding and moving of Community members happened quite frequently. I took my young daughter out of the U.S. to remove her from her mother because I didn’t want my daughter living with a non tribes member.
MR – If a biological parent fails to live in the Community they lack standing with the tribes?
JH – They have no worth in the Community’s viewpoint.
MR – The Community evangelizes at rock concerts such as Phish and the Grateful Dead. What is that all about?
MP – Those kids are searching. That is where I was found at a rock concert. James’ former wife gave me 10 free papers before I finally moved into the Community.
MR – They approached you at a rock concert? How did they approach you?
MP – I remember the event like it was yesterday. Debbie advanced toward me as I was taking some LSD and she handed me a free paper that said “Jesus loves you.” I saw her the following day outside a drug paraphernalia shop in another part of Chattanooga, Tenn. I finally read the radical paper which was very difficult to understand.
MR – But you were definitely looking?
MP – I frequently rode my motorcycle up on the mountain and would just sit and watch the sunset. I would often ask God the reason for starving people in East Pakistan and India. In contrast to these peoples’ suffering, my hardest decision was whether I would eat steak and eggs for breakfast or perhaps waffles.
MR – The meaning of life was important to you.
MP – I think those are some of the most important questions a person can ask. “Why are we here and how did we get here”?
MR – What role did Gene Spriggs assume for himself?
MP – He was the apostle. According to his own definition, an apostle is someone who establishes churches. Spriggs doesn’t refer to himself as an apostle but he influences the Community members to call him that through the persuasion of his teachings.
MR – Does Elbert Eugene Spriggs do anything to earn money?
MP – No he does not work.
JH – No
MP – Elbert Eugene Spriggs controls the entire Community.
JH – While I lived in the German Community, I saw Spriggs help put some bricks in the bottom of a creek.
JH – I managed a new restaurant we started and Marsha and Gene Spriggs stood beside me when something happened to the dish washer. I wasn’t supposed to wash any dishes so I looked at Elbert. Marsha looked at me and that settled the matter.
JH – Time magazine emblazoned the pictures of 3 big cult leaders on their cover – Sun Myung Moon, Jim Jones, and David Moses Berg. The bottom of the page showed a fourth featureless face. David Jones, a talented artist, filled in the facial characteristics and when he was finished it looked just like Elbert Eugene Spriggs!