Colorado wildfires: Who are the Twelve Tribes?

April 02, 2022

A raging wildfire that destroyed over one thousand homes and burned through thousands of acres of land Northwest of Denver, Colorado has led to the investigation of a Twelve Tribes cult property. The investigation led officers to the group’s Eldorado Springs Drive property after a video showing a burning shed on their land was uploaded to Twitter before the fire spread, causing mass damage and loss of homes in the surrounding area.

The tweet read: “That barn is the initial source of the Marshall Fire, I'm at the stop light between S Foothill Highway (H 93), Marshall road and Eldorado Springs road. There is no fire beyond this point towards the west side. (11:30AM)”

Another user wrote: “I took this video at 11:57. I am traveling south on 93 approaching the intersection to Marshall and you can see the smoke billowing out of the barn location. By that time, you can see that the wind has carried the flames to multiple eastern locations. No fires to the west of 93."

Police are unsure if the shed is the cause of the wildfire or secondary but have vowed to do a careful and thorough investigation due to the anger felt by the community, a thousand of which lost their homes in the blaze.

Sheriff Joe Pelle of the Boulder County department told media outlets: “The fire originated somewhere in that neighbourhood. It’s an active, open deal and the outcome of that investigation is vital, there is so much at stake. So, we are going to be careful.”

The group began its story in the south in 1972 as a ministry for teenagers, which was ran from The Lighthouse coffee shop, a small coffee shop operating out of founder Gene Spriggs' home. It sprung up during the Jesus People Movement, a counterculture Christian youth revolution inspired by a so-called spiritual revolution among hippie teenagers and young adults in the late sixties and early seventies.

The group then opened its first deli, which they called The Yellow Deli, and they became informally known in the area as "The yellow deli people." Although initially the members attended various mainstream churches in the area, they eventually formed their own church and changed the groups name to The Vine Christian Community Church, setting up a Yellow Deli restaurant in each of the new locations that sprung up in and around Tennessee. There are around fifteen restaurants worldwide.

Members were often recruited at rock concerts, such as Grateful dead tours in the U.S, and the community had its own fleet of brightly painted buses, usually with big, bright flowers painted on them. These days the buses are called “Peacemakers” with muted designs of brown and beige and drive around handing out the group’s newspaper.

In their own words, the Twelve Tribes describe themselves as following:

The Twelve Tribes is an emerging spiritual nation. We are a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, made up of self-governing communities. By community, we mean families and single people who live together in homes and on farms. We are disciples of the Son of God, whom we call by His Hebrew name Yahshua. We follow the Old and New Testament Scriptures and live like the early disciples in Acts chapters 2 and 4. With all of our hearts, we want to do our Father's will, which is to love one another and be a light to the nations; so that they could see our life of love and know how much their Creator loves them.”

The group has been known by many names over the decades, including the Christian Community Church, the Messianic Communities, the Community Apostolic Order, and the Northeast Kingdom Community Church. They rebranded as The Twelve Tribes in the 1990’s and have been called so ever since.

Elements of Christian fundamentalism and messianic Judaism can be found in the practices of the Twelve Tribes Cult. They have been described as a fundamentalist Christian church that observes and celebrates Jewish holidays. Members are given Hebrew names when they join the group and dress similarly, wearing modest clothing produced by the community. The women, who are subservient to the men, cover their heads with scarves and the men grow long beards. They dance to music produced only by Twelve Tribe members and consume health foods produced by their communities around the globe to support each branch. Twelve Tribes practices communal living in self-governing communities across the world and believed they are spiritually descended from the ancient Israelites and are something of a "restoration". Branches of the group and churches exist in several continents, including the U.S, Europe, South America, and Asia.

The group has not escaped controversy, however, with underlying racist and homophobic beliefs taught within the sect as well as several raids over the years pertaining to the mistreatment and abuse of children. Children in the group are home schooled and physically punished by not only their parents but other adult members of the Tribes. They are also put to work early. These practices lead to forty children being taken from the cult in Germany and put into foster care while the Twelve Tribes were investigated for their practices.

Since news of the Boulder fires hit the headlines, media outlets have focused in on the cult and its beliefs- much of which are controversial and include teachings that refer to Slavery in the U.S as a "marvellous opportunity" for black people. The group also bans gay people from joining.

According to ex-members, despite its colorful, free-spirited vibe on the outside, it gets a lot more sinister as followers move up the ranks and the more controversial aspects of the teachings are revealed.

One ex-member, Sinasta Colucci, a mixed-race man who faced racism and discrimination growing up in various parts of the U.S, found himself joining the Twelve Tribes when he was in his early twenties. He was drawn in by the members, all different races, living together peacefully as a community. He soon came to find that things were not what they seemed.

Colucci was shocked to discover a leader of the North Carolina arm of the group, Yohannan Abraham, an African American himself, preaching racist beliefs. Colucci explained that newcomers were not exposed to these teachings and would have to stick around long enough to be truly aware of what the Twelve Tribes really stood for.

Initially, fallen powerlines were thought to have been the culprit behind the most destructive fire in Colorado's history, however, after the videos of a burning barn on Twelve Tribe property began to increase in views, the investigation shifted focus to the group's property. Authorities have not confirmed the fires started on Twelve Tribes land, no member of the group has been charged in connection with the fires and the investigation is, at the time of writing, still ongoing.

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