Other names the group later adopted before settling on the Twelve Tribes include Church in Island Pond (after members relocated to Island Pond, Vt.), Northeast Kingdom Community Church, and Messianic Communities. The Twelve Tribes website, which is down at the time of this writing, explains its name as follows:
When we say “Twelve Tribes”, it is not just some denominational title or brand name that we invented. Rather, we are speaking of people actually dwelling together in unity, living a tribal life in twelve different geographical areas on the earth, so as to be a light to the nations. The twelve-in-one nature of this spiritual nation is described in the Scriptures as the nature of the New Testament Church.
A description on the Twelve Tribes website says:
The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve worldwide self-governing tribes, made up of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God (whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua). We follow the pattern of the early church written in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, sharing all things in common. We believe everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible.
Twelve Tribes communities exist internationally, as do The Yellow Deli locations and other businesses the group runs. Another section of the website explains the communal nature of life in the Twelve Tribes. People who are married and single live and work together, farming and running cottage industries. Children are homeschooled and participate in “simple tasks, and also with farming and caring for our properties. There’s no time to waste with video games, television, or smart phones.”
Former members of the Twelve Tribes have accused it of being toxic, abusive, and controlling. The group has been criticized for promoting racism and for practicing corporal punishment on children. Records show that the FBI has investigated the Twelve Tribes for child abuse, but has not filed charges. In 1984, when the group was in Island Pond, Vt., state troopers and social workers raided the community and took 112 children into protective custody. However, a judge forced authorities to release the children on the grounds the raid was unconstitutional.
While the Twelve Tribes property is not the only property under investigation, public attention has focused on the sect because of a video taken Thursday morning showing a fire burning on Twelve Tribes land.
Pelle has emphasized the importance of refraining from speculation regarding the wildfire’s cause until the investigation is over. He said, “The risk to anybody from the anger in the community, the financial aspects, it’s enormous. So we’re going to move really slow and be really cautious and get the right people to help us as far as expertise.”
Correction: This article has been corrected to more accurately reflect the location of the wildfire.