Colorado wildfire investigation sheds light on Twelve Tribe religious sect

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The mishmash of homes occupied by the Twelve Tribe religious sect remains at the center of the investigation into the origin of the Marshall fire, as Boulder County sheriff officials confirmed on Thursday that they were still in executing a search warrant on the property.

Authorities have taken control of the property south of Boulder as the investigation continues. The search at the complex has been complicated by weather conditions and will take some time, the sheriff’s office said, adding that authorities can prevent members of the Twelve Tribes from returning until the search is complete.

Boulder County Sheriff officials are investigating whether the Marshall Fire, which broke out a week ago and burned more than 1,000 homes as it exploded in Louisville and Superior in strong winds hurricane, could have occurred on religious cult property along Eldorado Springs Drive.

A person driving in the area the morning the Marshall fire started made a video that is now viral of a burning shed on the property of the Twelve Tribes. Investigators have yet to identify the cause of the wildfire or determine its exact point of origin, although Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has said the blaze started in this offshore neighborhood. Colorado 93 and Marshall Road.

The entire property of the Twelve Tribes has been fenced since Sunday, and law enforcement has stood guard around the fence this week, chasing passers-by who have come too close. Burnt metal and debris can be seen in a corner of the enclosure; some houses inside the fence appear to be free from the flames. A hand-painted welcome sign that features mountains, meadows and stars greets visitors at the front.

“We are just in the same boat as everyone else, we are waiting for authorities to investigate and we are cooperating,” said a Twelve Tribes member contacted by The Denver Post who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not was not allowed to speak on behalf of the group. “We would like to know where it started like everyone else. We are obviously part of this community… our hearts and our prayers are with everyone.

The possibility that Colorado’s most destructive wildfire could have started on a property occupied by a religious sect that was previously known to many in the area simply for its bohemian restaurant Boulder – the Yellow Deli, which has temporarily closed – has put a new emphasis on the generally low profile group this week.

“For the outside community, maybe it would be a good thing for people to learn more about this group,” said Janja Lalich, a sociologist and longtime cult expert.

A still from the video shot by Mike Zoltowski shows the early stages of the Marshall fire on Thursday around 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive in Boulder County. Zoltowski lives next to a property occupied by members of the Twelve Tribes, a religious sect. Zoltowski said he noticed fire and smoke on cult property around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 30, 2021.

The Twelve Tribes were founded in 1972 by Eugene Spriggs in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a new sect of Christianity that blended Spriggs’ personal beliefs with elements of Christianity and Judaism.

The group, estimated at a few thousand members worldwide with communities in Boulder County and Manitou Springs, is no stranger to controversy. Some of their teachings are considered misogynistic and racist, but over the years they have been criticized very regularly for their treatment of children.

Spriggs, who died in January 2020 at the age of 83, believed children should be disciplined with wooden rods. It was reported that adults from the Twelve Tribes regularly spanked and beat the children in the group for misconduct, Lalich said.

Some ex-members described enduring severe beatings, sometimes for hours, for minor misconduct as children. Members of the Twelve Tribes strongly defended the use of physical discipline and contested that this practice constitutes abuse.

In 1984, Vermont police and social workers raided a Twelve Tribe compound and took 112 children into custody on allegations of child abuse – but were forced to return the children a few hours older. late when a judge found the raid unconstitutional. The raid, featured on the front page of the New York Times, was a watershed moment for the group.

On the 16th anniversary of the raid, the Twelve Tribes marked the event by inviting the media and community members to their Vermont community, where the children who were taken in the raid – then adults – took defending their parents’ disciplinary practices and said they were not mistreated, according to the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus coverage.

Another defining characteristic of the Twelve Tribes is the number of businesses the group operates, said Stephen Kent, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta. The group operates restaurants, like the Yellow Deli in Boulder, as well as bakeries, a construction company, soap factories and more. The businesses are run by members of the Twelve Tribes, known to work without pay.

According to the San Diego Reader, the Twelve Tribes were prosecuted in California in 2008 after authorities found there that their companies were in violation of state minimum wage laws because workers were not paid. At the time, the Twelve Tribes described all of their workers as “volunteers,” according to the story. People who join the Twelve Tribes must give up all their possessions.

Lalich said the group should be considered a cult.

“A sect is a group that has a charismatic and authoritarian leader, it has an extremist ideology, an all-or-nothing ideology or belief system, and it uses manipulative and coercive methods to influence control in order to exploit members of the sect. ‘one way or another. – money, sex, whatever, ”she said. “So (the Twelve Tribes) really fits that profile. “

The teachings of the Twelve Tribes call slavery a “wonderful opportunity” for blacks, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and black members are considered subservient to whites. The group is also avoiding homosexuals and demanding that women be submissive to men, according to the center.

The Twelve Tribes property on Eldorado Springs Drive, fenced off by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, Wednesday, January 5, 2022.

Some of the Twelve Tribe literature deals with fire, and, in particular, fire as a force from God, but the group is not known to be particularly fire-oriented, Kent said.

“It is unlikely that a group like the Twelve Tribes would destroy their own facilities,” he said, adding that some religious groups had deliberately started fires. One group in particular in Canada who believed the fire to be a cleaning force was periodically burning their own homes, he said.

“(They) took off their clothes and threw their clothes on the fire and walked naked through the Canadian prairies waiting for Jesus to return,” Kent said.

But he said there is no indication that the Twelve Tribes use fire in this way.

“As much as I am not a fan of Twelve Tribes, it is also unfair, bordering on dangerous, to make suggestions and preliminary determinations of intentions and causes before having the evidence,” he said. declared.

Neighbors said members of the group were generally left alone with 20 or 30 people living in the compound at several buildings on Eldorado Springs Drive. The group was known to burn with some frequency on the property, neighbors said, sometimes in barrels.

“Whatever work they do there, something has sparked a few (fires in the past),” said Dave Maggio, who owns a house next to the Twelve Tribes compound and believes the Marshall’s fire likely started on the group’s property. “This one, I guess it wasn’t vindictive, it wasn’t on purpose.”

Boulder County Sheriff officials declined to disclose any previous documents regarding the property of the Twelve Tribes and declined to say whether any fires had ever been reported at their addresses. All exterior burning was banned the day the Marshall fire started due to high winds and dry conditions.

Another neighbor described seeing members of Twelve Tribes walking around the neighborhood, with children and strollers.

Sometimes the group members pitched a large white tent and the sounds of their songs floated around the neighborhood.



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