The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

Last week, German authorities removed 40 children from the Twelve Tribes sect.

Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany, taking 40 children into foster care on suspicion they were physically abused and seizing sticks allegedly used to hit them, authorities said Friday.

Members of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect acknowledged that they believe in spanking their children, but denied wrongdoing.

The Twelve Tribes sect, founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, boasts 2,000 to 3,000 members and has faced child abuse complaints and the removal of their children in the past. In Germany, they have run up against both the country’s ban on spanking and its ban on homeschooling. Last year, the Twelve Tribes community there, which resides in its own compound separated from the surrounding community, founded its own private school to get around the ban on homeschooling; within the last couple of weeks, that school was shut down when it was found that it did not employ the required certified teachers. Accusations of abuse cropped up at the same time, and last week Germany authorities removed the children.

Several days ago Jörg Großelümern, who runs Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (Education Freedom Network) in Germany and is listed on HSLDA’s Germany page as one of two contacts for German homeschoolers, posted a link to the story on Michael Farris’s facebook wall along with some explanatory text. Michael Farris responded (for those who don’t know, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association—HSLDA—and is probably the most prominent spokesperson for homeschooling in the United States). You can see the exchange as follows:

Later that day, one of Farris’s followers posted another link, voicing her dismay, and Farris again responded. You can see the exchange below:

Today, the full extent of the charges against the Twelve Tribes group have come to light. And guess what? They have it all on film. [Trigger warning for abuse.]

The little blonde-haired boy is about four years old. He simpers as a middle aged woman drags him downstairs into a dimly-lit cellar and orders the child to bend over and touch the stone floor with his hands. Another little boy watches as the woman pulls down the first boy’s pants and then draws out a willow cane.

“Say you are tired!” commands the woman in an emotionless voice. The swoosh of the willow cane is audible as it strikes the screaming child’s bottom three times. The little boy refuses to say he is tired so he is hit again and again – a total of ten times – until, in floods of tears, he finally says “I am tired.”

Within the space of a few hours, six adults are filmed in the cellar and in an underground school central heating room beating six children with a total of 83 strokes of the cane. The graphic and disturbing scenes were shown on Germany’s RTL television channel last night.

They were filmed by Wolfram Kuhnigk, an RTL journalist equipped with hidden video cameras and microphones, who infiltrated a 100-strong religious community run by the fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” sect in Bavaria earlier this year. Kuhnigk claimed to be a lost soul to gain entry. “Seeing this systematic beatings made me want to weep, it made me think of my own two children,” he said. He collected 50 beating scenes on camera.

Samantha, a fellow homeschool graduate, posted the link to the article detailing the filmed abuse to Farris’s facebook wall, and again he replied. Here is the exchange:

Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.

To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with corrupt motives, of course). Assuming that parents are innocent before even looking at the evidence means that abused children go unnoticed and ignored. (Not coincidentally, speaking before having the facts is how HSLDA attorney Scott Sommerville ended up calling child abuser Michael Gravelle a hero. Oops.)

The default should not be to assume that the parents are innocent and the charges drummed up by vengeful authorities and lying children. The default position should be to take immediate steps to protect the children and then remain cautious and wait for the facts to come in. Somehow I don’t find it surprising that Farris places the interests of the moment above its children.


A commenter went and commented on Jörg Großelümern’s comment on Michael Farris’ facebook wall, asking what he had to say now that it was clear that the allegations were true, and he responded as follows:

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Guest

    I had to go over to the original article to find out that a journalist filmed the Twelve Tribes sect in secret. I originally thought they filmed their own abuse, which would have been a stunning example of hubris, secretly wanting to get caught, or maybe even a little bit of both.

  • M.S.

    I appreciate that you warned me but I stupidly still read the abuse allegations. I honestly get so sick to my stomach reading that stuff. How can an adult do that to a child? Its heartbreaking. Wish I could give that little boy a hug.

    • Angela

      I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking lately as to how people can do such horrible things to their children. I know some are simply psychos who enjoy inflicting pain, but I know that some have a (warped) belief that it’s what’s best for them.

      I’ve been using positive parenting for about a year and before that had tried a variety of different techniques (time outs, logical consequences, even an occasional spanking). Everything I did was pretty mainstream, nothing that even borders on abuse and even then I went out of my way to listen to my kids and try to provide choices. Since I’ve switched to positive parenting though I’ve been amazed to find how much my empathy and and compassion for my children has increased. Even the mild punishments I’d been using had forced me to repress those feelings somewhat “for their own good.”

      I think that may actually be the most dangerous part of the Pearls and other similar teachings. It teaches parents to COMPLETELY shut off the part of them that naturally feels empathy and compassion toward their children. Is it any wonder then that these parents start behaving like sociopaths toward children then seeing as the primary trait of socios is an inability to feel empathy?

      • MyOwnPerson

        EXACTLY! I remember my parents talking about feeling bad about spanking us, but that was just their sinful hearts deceiving them and they had to push those feelings away to do what scripture commanded.

      • M.S.

        And SOME of that is justified… I felt bad, for example, when I made my 6 month old cry-it-out because he was still waking up twice a night, but it really was what was best for him. It was TORTURE for me but ultimately I believe it didn’t harm him in the long run and now with perfect sleep habits our whole family is better. So, part of parenting IS ignoring that you feel bad. Every time I tell my daughter no or put her in time-out for doing something wrong and she bawls, my heart breaks! But again, I’m trying to teach her right from wrong. So I can totally see, I guess, how these parents justify it. Without that, none of us would ever be able to discipline. I just think there is a line drawn somewhere where it is no longer justifiable. That’s where it gets murky, I suppose…

      • MyOwnPerson

        I’d say the line is pretty clear when you’re quashing empathy in physical punishment.

      • Angela

        Actually the thing I love about positive parenting is that I don’t have to do that anymore. Of course kids still need limits but I’ve found that I can simultaneously enforce limits while also being empathetic and compassionate. I no longer deliberately make things unpleasant in order to teach a lesson and I’ve had much better success with these methods than any other form of discipline. However, you’re right most parents do use some form of punishments/rewards without ever crossing the line to abuse and I think it’s only dangerous when taken to extremes.

      • Mary C

        Angela, is there a certain book or books you read that describe the techniques you are using? I’d be really interested to read more about it. We use positive reinforcement as our main form of behavior modification, but still do also use consequences as needed. I feel that it is a very important life lesson for a child to learn that choosing a certain behavior may lead to results that are unpleasant because this is how life works (ie, don’t show up for work, get fired, drive recklessly, lose your license). So I’m interested in how (or if) that lesson is conveyed without using consequences – how do you enforce limits without consequences?

      • Angela

        There are lots of books my personal favorite being “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.” Another resource I recommend is which has a lot of free information and strategies. The site is run by a child psychologist, Dr Laura Markham who has also published an excellent book and provides a link on her site to other books and resources.

        As far as how to enforce limits without punishments if my son is doing something unacceptable (such as hitting) it may be necessary to remove him from the situation or gently restrain his hands. However, instead of ignoring him in time out, taking away privileges, etc I listen to him and empathize (“Yes, I don’t blame you for being angry that brother grabbed your toy. I can see why that would make you mad.). If he’s crying and wants comfort I give it. If he’s tantruming and wants space I give that as well and just make it clear that I’m here if he needs me. Then once he’s calmed down we discuss how it feels to get hit and brainstorm to think of alternative solutions.

        I admit that when I first started I was a bit skeptical because I didn’t see how kids would learn without me punishing/rewarding their actions at every turn but I’ve had really good results with these methods. I found punishments typically just made my kids too angry to see past what was happening to them but that if I validate their feelings first they are much more receptive.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I remember my parents talking about feeling bad about spanking us, but that was just their sinful hearts deceiving them and they had to push those feelings away to do what scripture commanded.

        “I learned to ‘arrange my mind’…”
        – Reichsminister Albert Speer (in his memoirs Inside the Third Reich)

    • Richter_DL

      Michael Pearl actually says it quite clearly in his “train a child like a dog” book. It’s convenient to have your children shut up and not do anything. Positive parenting is just so much more work, and I guess in a family with 10+ children, it’s next to impossible anyway and you really want a certain discipline.

      And since you [an abstract, literal you, not you personally, M.S.] were raised on cane and absolute obedience yourself and never stray out of your conservative bubble mentally, that’s the only thing you can really default to. And hey, if you feel bad, the Bible soothes you. God wills it, so get over yourself, swallow those tears and spank the hell ot of your child. For Jesus.

      • M.S.

        You make a good point in the fact that in larger families, maybe this is the only way to have order. Undoubtedly it requires firmer, more unyielding parents (I see this myself in my larger brood… we simply cannot afford bad habits so something that maybe we could let go with one child we can no longer let go with three. Because of the chaos of three small children we are firmer). HOWEVER I don’t know that it requires physical discipline. We have yet to use it anyway (but my kids are usually brats, so what do I know?) ;-)

      • Richter_DL

        It *doesn’t require* physical discipline. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that!

        You can keep, say, a class of students in check without whacking away at them too, after all. It is, however, probably more convenient (allows to vent AND discipline at the same time, requires no self control, is more immediately effective in a way), and for those who grow up in sheltered conservative environments where parental violence is the norm anyway, they probably just don’t know any alternatives.

      • M.S.

        I didn’t think you meant physical discipline was required; I knew what you meant! Just that possibly more strictness is required, and I agree!

      • Sally

        I do think there is a number of children where it’s too many to endlessly repeat yourself and let all of the child’s personal desires get explored, talked out, and worked through but not enough to have kind of a “group norm.” I think 3-4 children is in that in between level where it’s challenging. If you borrow some of the logistical tactics from a well-run classroom and apply them to your family (like being organized with where you put your stuff, for example), or how you get from the house to the car, you still need a certain number of kids before the kids themselves do things because that’s how the other kids are doing them.
        I think the larger families do have to have more first time obedience for the little stuff (no, we’re not going to endlessly debate whether you’re putting on your shoes so we can go), they just do. But that doesn’t have to mean they get abusive. They really can borrow from preschool and kindergarten teachers for logistics (which is a very large part of it all anyway, especially with younger kids) and do things in a positive way. I agree, it can be done.

      • Mary C

        Funny you mentioned teachers – I have learned so much from volunteering at my daughter’s school and watching the teachers interact with the children.

        I have a 1st grade daisy girl scout troop that now has 18 girls so it has been a necessity! But also helpful in interacting with my own daughter one on one.

      • Thalestris

        I dunno, I’m one of three (pretty close together — stairstepped about 2 and 3 years, so we would’ve been all small at the same time, too) and “unyielding” and “simply cannot afford bad habits” are not words I would use to describe my family.

        Indeed, I’m autistic, and I think one of the reasons I never developed a serious aggression problem was that my mom knew — and also told all my teachers — how to pick her battles and compromise over small things. (I probably would’ve fared a lot worse if my parents/special ed teachers had used the more rigid, rules-based ABA system that is popular today, and is ironically often described as “the only way” for an autistic child to develop the skills they need to acclimate to society.)

    • Rosie

      I probably shouldn’t say this, but I can very well understand how an adult could do that to a child. Which I think means I should never have children, and also should not work in childcare. I don’t have any desire to do either of those things, so it really shouldn’t be a problem. Except that being a female in the midwest (or central plains) of the US, it seems that for most of my life most people have assumed that children/childcare are the only things I’m good for. It’s utterly maddening.

      • Sally

        I think most people can imagine losing their cool and doing something stupid. Most people don’t actually do it, but they may have the impulse or have felt enough frustration to understand it. The What to Expect books talk about the feeling a mom had of wanting to throw her baby out the window because the baby wouldn’t stop crying for hours (colicky babies are a real thing). They made a point to acknowledge that that feeling is possible. They say if you get to that point, put the crying baby in her crib, walk out, close the door, and take a break for 15 minutes. One time I was so frazzled by a crying baby I called my husband and asked him to come home from work. It can get that bad. But you call someone, or put the baby down and let him cry until you compose yourself, or both. You don’t actually throw the baby out the window. Still, the authors recognized that it was a good idea to acknowledge the feeling. These kinds of feelings can crop up later with older children, too.
        But what this group was doing is different. They aren’t losing their cool. At least in the one scene described, they’re calm, systematic, and absolutely emotionally and physically abusive in order to achieve presumably absolute obedience.
        I’m not trying to argue with you and say you should have kids if you feel you shouldn’t. My point is just that there is a real difference between people who might lose their cool and shouldn’t have children (I respect that), people who might lose their cool but will reach out for help before they do, and people who keep their cool and abuse children systematically.

      • Rosie

        I have tons of self-control. Too much really. Losing my cool always feels like a luxury and an indulgence, though I do indulge sometimes when I know I won’t hurt anyone. No. I’m considerably more familiar with that cold place of non-feeling that comes when you feel out of good options and do the only thing that’s left. Add a bit of sleep-deprivation and a power differential to that, and I could be very ugly.

      • Sally

        I believe you; I do. I wonder what makes you recognize this in yourself and others not. Well, answering my own question, I think with the ones who don’t, it’s group-think. That’s the problem with closed societies.

      • Rosie

        Or it could be (at least in part) the problem I noted above: that in these communities it’s commonly assumed that everyone with a certain set of genitals is “naturally nurturing”, and nobody is willing to listen to those who say they really REALLY aren’t. So they’re stuck in a job they hate and are extremely unsuited for, which adds another level of rage and frustration to the feelings I described above.

      • Sally

        Could be, but the fact that the guy who infiltrated set up a camera specifically in the cellar and that so many other adults (not just women, but adults in general) were filmed caing in a short period of time makes it seem to me like this was “the caning place,” making it sound systematic to me, and not just rage by one gender.
        I guess I’m trying to get at the issue of group-think Vs random rage (even if the rage is “set up” by putting people in charge of children who shouldn’t be). But I don’t mean to argue against your point that you can understand how people can do this (and therefore want to avoid having children in the first place). I do take your point.

      • Rosie

        Yeah. My guess is the community teaches that this is the “right” way to raise kids, and anyone who has qualms about it is silenced.

      • Nancy Shrew

        Well, they do put their faults into the context of “sinning”.

  • Richter_DL

    A bit of context:

    RTL [Radio Television Luxembourg] Group is a private network technically based in Luxemburg for tax-evasion reasons, practically headquartered in cologne, who have a moderate conservative profile, are rather trashy in programming, but do support a decent staff of investigative journalists. Ideologically, they have a working relationship with the Catholic church (whose Cologne diocese is among the most conservative in Germany, making it a liberal American diocese in outlook). While nowhere near what Americans consider conservative, they’re not exactly the vanguard of German leftism either.

    The Twelve Tribes have been under scrutiny for corporeal punishment (a crime under German law, btw) in the past, but Omerta ensured the charges were discontinued. After RTL’s man was pulled out, they gave copies to the authorites, and investigations have been resumed with new (more concrete) evidence.

    Homeschooling in general is illegal in Germany. No ifs, no buts. Also, after a string of child death by neglect cases, the local Child Protection Services analogon is required to intervene relatively early – usually while investigations are ongoing, not after (which is different from the US as far as I know). While not undisputed, this is the law. And if the childrens’ welfare is in grave danger – caning definitly counts – interventions happen fast since, in the past, children have died because action was delayed for parental rights.

    Homeschooling also has pretty much no lobby in Germany. Generally, it is considered dubious, done by sects and cults who are into conditioning their members and set up their own little cult fiefdoms. There are no “homeschool leaders” to speak of. While there are periodic uproars about education, homeschooling hardly factors into that, and is generally considered bad or very bad by around 70 to 80% of the citizenry in polls. I don’t know what leaders he refers to. Scientology and Christian radicals maybe?

    • KB

      Wait? Scientology is involved in homeschooling in Germany? Do you have links to documentation? That group seems to have their fingers in *everything*.

      • badgerchild

        Yes, they are, big into it… it is covered with fair frequency on sites like (I’d link to examples but my work VPN ironically blocks it as a “cult” site). The idea seems to be that they want “religious freedom” to teach their children according to “the Tech” recommended by the loon L. Ron Hubbard. Which the less said about the better. Go read. :)

      • Richter_DL

        They were listed among the supporters of the ban’s lift (via a certain Michael Hinz, a.k.a. M. Kent, one of the few semi-public homeschooling advocates in Germany). It’s, as said, a fringe topic here, though. There is no (legal) homeschooling in Germany except in very dire circumstances (disability that prevents from attending a school) and then under Child Care control.

  • Beutelratti

    I found (what I believe to be just a short clip of) the RTL-documentary and I noticed something curious in it: The reporter talks to one survivor of the sect that got out. She describes the abuse done to 6-month-old babies and at some point (while obviously speaking German) she doesn’t know how to express what she describes in German and uses the word “restrain” (and gives it a German twist with the ending -en): “Dann tun die die … restrainen halt.”

    Of course it’s possible that she’s like me and sometimes English words just come faster to her than the German counterparts, but since the sect was founded by Americans I find it more likely that these kids are being raised on fundamentalist American literature on “child-rearing”, possibly even the Pearls.

    Edit for clarification: German is my native language.

    • Guest

      I don’t think I understand what you’re saying here.

      • Beutelratti

        I’m trying to say that I find it likely that the children are being subjected to child-training methods that have been discussed on this site before. And I realise that I might be taking a huge leap, but I find it curious that the girl expresses the concept of restraining a baby in English albeit only having talked in German throughout the interview. It makes me think that the literature used in fundamentalist American homes might have been used in this sect as well.

      • Guest

        I’ve got it now–using English to describe a concept she’s only been exposed to in English. I’m still in that morning mentally sluggish period. :)

        Makes sense, though. There are certain concepts I’ve only talked about in Spanish where my first instinct is the Spanish word.

      • Sally

        Well, it’s possible that there’s a connection in ideologies, but the Pearls’ Train Up book is copyrighted in 1994 (also noted as first book printing).
        Also, there are a lot of cognates between English and German, so I’m not sure if she was using an English word or not when she said “restrainen.” (Maybe you speak German and can clarify this.)

      • Beutelratti

        Yup, I’m German and I do this all the time: Using English words and giving them a German twist by adding German grammatical features. I do this, because I’m exposed to English a lot.
        The word “to restrain” does not exist in German, neither is “restrainen” a valid neologism. She must’ve made it up in that moment, because she probably couldn’t think of the German translation.

      • Sally

        OK, the fact that you are a native speaker clarifies your original comment a lot. Thanks.

      • Beutelratti

        I edited the original comment for clarification. :)

      • smrnda

        Makes sense – I’m guessing the whole child-disciple thing is fairly alien to German society at present.

      • Beutelratti

        I’m actually not too sure about that. I’m in my twenties and my parents did spank me (with flat hands only) when I was a child. I don’t remember when exactly it stopped, but it did not continue into teenage years. I also know from an aunt that my father (who’s in his late fifties) was subjected to physical discipline, possibly with objects such as a belt.
        I also don’t think that the occasional pat on the butt or on the hands is completely uncommon. I do however get the impression that everything that goes beyond the occasional pat is increasingly frowned upon and more and more becoming a cause for a calling the Jugendamt.

      • Fina

        I can only agree with this – a lot of words (such as “festhalten”) would come to mind to describe the act – unless you assosciate the act with something very specific and thus have a very specific word for it. The fact that this specific word is English obviously indicates that it comes from English sources.

    • Richter_DL

      It’s only a few clips. There probably will be a longer feature on Explosiv or DCTP as soon as the authorities are through with the material.

      I doubt she just uses Anglicisms for the hell of it, though, given the media-blackout ideology of the Tribes.

      • Beutelratti

        She seems to have escaped a while ago already though, so one can only guess how much media-exposure she has had since.
        I realise that a lot of German teenagers and young adults use anglicisms all the time, I just don’t think “restrain” can really be considered a common loanword or anglicism.

      • Richter_DL

        Fortunatly not.

      • kecks

        there was a whole 50 minutes segment on rtl on monday evening. perhaps it is still online? very dramatic, as always with rtl (like bild zeitung including sound and moving pictures), and the abuse was shown there in great length. also the language of the sect people was very pearl-style – they hit babys with a small plastic rod when they cry, they keep calm during spanking (no emotion shown, no anger visible by the spanking adults), they use the english termns (“restrain” being just one example) in the show while speaking german and they are german native speakers. the sect uses german and english as spoken languages in their compound and the kids learn both languages from an early age the report said. i say this is what the pearl teaching’s look like in real life. disgusting and very, very cruel.

      • Beutelratti

        That should be the whole show. Not sure if it’s available outside of Germany though.

      • Richter_DL

        Thanks for the link! For the interested, the part about the Twelve Tribes starts at 11:30.

        A recap for the non-germanophones below. This warrants a trigger warning; doubly so the vid, which contains some pretty graphic scenes.

        RTL celebrates itself as those who made the authorities ‘finally act on the sect’s cruel abuse of their helpless children’, according to the anchor, but the tone of Wolfram Kuhnigk’s bit is decidedly more somber. He begins with an intro piece (cut for effect; it has a short caning scene, though blurred, and a Child Protection Servies equivalent lady agree that ‘this is torture”).

        Then he outlines his way into the Twelve Tribes, gives an expo about the TT, and explains all children in the TT are required to speak English and whatever other language is spoken locally (he consistently calls them a sect, never a parish or a community; see my previous bit about RTL and the church). This might also account for the use of anglicisms by the girl in the bit Beutelratti linked first. He also mentions a youtube video (this one: where TT founder Gene Spriggs openly says the TT practice corporeal punishment, and that they’re actually proud about it. Kuhningk then gets a bit emotive (“it seems to me like e sect’s founder is almost proud that small, helpless children are brutally beaten into submission to break their will”), but I think the following excuses him there. He also says that the sect reminds him of a tribe living like people used to 200 years ago.

        He then gives footage of his introduction into the TT, recorded with hidden bodycams. He is shown around, given cake and water, and after a short introduction put to work on the farm. There are overseers there who, rather than work, take care everyone else works (seen trhough aGerman’s eyes: nice, totally does not remind me of bad things at all!). He also recaps he has to bluff his way tghrough repeated checks by higher-ranking TT members, who apparently were scrutinous about an outsider (though it seems not scrutinous enough). They’re also, of course, very religious, and expect children to stand still through hour-klong services twice a day. He’s also rather shocked about the degree of isolation the children are raised in.

        Then there’s a bit of dialogue about how the TT community is organised (a patriachal council, of course). Then he gets to the meat of it. Corporeal punishment. His watchdog (an older TT member who keeps an eye on him at all times) is talked into admitting the TT hit their children a lot (“we don’t even call it spanking, it is just a disciplinary measure, it is entirely normal”; “we don’t slap. If a child acts up, you go out, as the bible says, get a rod – we usually try to look for hazel, it’s flexible – and hit their bottom until they stop”). Kuhnigk is pretty appaled at how open the man is about this. Another recalls how he was hit with bamboo and metal rods as a kid and feels today’s children of the Tribes have it easy with their ‘little sticks’. He also stresses the TT never use hands to spank, always rods.

        Then some tension comes (RTL loves tension!). Americans arrive, and one of them apparently knows what Google Glasses are! Kuhnigk flees because he fears for his safety if the American informs the elders.

        In the next segment, he’s looking for outsiders, and finds two (the girl who uses anglicisms and the boy from above).

        Sven, who left the TT at 14, opens up to the reporter. He gives a brief intro, again going a bit more for drama than I like (“from when he was a toddler, he was beaten by the sect members, even his own parents. Children in the sect are never allowed a childhood; no playing, no dreaming, no laughing.”) Sven then says what could get you beaten in the TT: apparently, imitating airplane sounds counts, because that is mentally leaving the community and therefore forbidden. No daydreaming either. That’s satan’s work! And he wet his bed at night and hence, was beaten for an hour each night. It didn’t help the wetting. Just sweet.

        He also mentions that ‘problem children’ who imitate airplane sounds are taken from their parents and given to a “kindergarten nurse” (there is no real equivalent for the word in Eglish; it’s one of the ladies who worke in a kindergarten, but can also mean ‘person who is responsible for raising/training/nurturing (one word) children’). Again, ths is no recap of bad things from Germany’s past at all; East Germany used to do this, and I distinctly remember my parents cautioning me about not mentioning certain things they did to anyone or this might happen to me. Libby, if you read this (or anyone): is this practice common among American fundamentalists? But back to Sven.

        Sven has written some of his worst memories off his soul, which are briefly shown. One of the sentences that struck me is that they keep several rods at hand for discipline, because the rods often break in the middle of it. He also suffers from PTSD and has daily nightmares. How nice.

        Then, it’s Christian and Yae, the couple from the segment above. They’re brother and sister and ran from the compound without documnetation or any posessions, fleeing their parents. He also contrasts an image of Yael now and then (she’s an average young woman now, she used to look like one of the Mennonite girls in the images in the articvle about Ghost Rapes back a few weeks). Two siblings stayed. Yael then explains the practice of restraining – children are bound up so they cannot move and then whacked away. Sick. If a child screams, they are whipped with osier stakes until they never say anything (sounds familiar, right?). The reporter is again shocked: “Have you been beaten several times a day, Christian?” “Yes, sure, it’s, see, it’s just normal there, every four hours, and that is normal there, you don’t know anything else, and you find no safety anywhere.” Christian also explains that, if Child Protection Services arrive, the beating is changed for the soles of the feet, and the children pass the exams, and then it begins again. And children who have visible scars are hidden away. Nice.

        Kuhnigk pays a visit to the head of Bavaria’s Jugendamt (CPS equivalent) and is baffled that apparently some Twelve Tribes members openly admitted to hitting the children, proudly even. The guy also says he has no handle if the Tribes maintain an Omerta and hide traces of abuse. Bavaria. Kuhnung is visibly shocked that this is even possible in Germany and decides to put a stop to it. Hedecides he’ll just procure concrete evidence.

        So, it’s back undercover. He checks: he is not burned; the American didn’t rat him out. He gets better equipment, and he reinserts. Again, drama – he stresses this part may be dangerous. He does recon and asks around, and narrows the punishment rooms (they beat children in specially assigned rooms apparently, because there are piles of canes there and Germans just like things centrally organized) – one below the communal building, and one in the TT’s school (the one that was not admitted by the state for a lack of teachers and curriculum that deserve the name). Dramatic music and a few 3D animations of the houses later we know where the rooms are. An interesting aside: he has adopted soem TT lingo – he doesn’t say ‘beaten’ anymore, but ‘korrigiert’ – disciplined. We see footage of him installing the camera, and moves on to the school. He finds canes and is certain that the storieas about the Tribes are true. (“This idyllic farmhouse hides a veritable hell for small children” – melodramatic, but he really can be excused there). He retrieves the cameras two days later, and exfiltrates to review the material. It’s awful. We see Kuhning’s face, and then the first vid, unedited.

        It’s really, really awful. Disgusting. The child (a young girl in blue pants and a white-ish top with some pattern imprinted cries and states she just is not tired, and gets 10 hits with a rod, is asked inbetween to say she is tired (the hits cntinue until the child gives in, as expected, but to see this happen is worse than reading about it). This repeats with other evidence. Summed up: 81 times a child is beaten with a cane in two days. On butts, on on the legs and in one case hands, by several different women, and hardly ever the biological mothers (overseers; this does not look bad AT ALL). Again, to the American ex-fundamentalists here: is this a common practice in such communities? Kuhningk correctly says he cannot keep this material for the TV station, he needs to pass this on to the authorities.

        So, he pays the State Bureau for the Observation of Sects and Cults (it’s a thing, seriously) of North Rhine-Westphalia (his local agency, not Bavaria this time, where the TT’s compound is located). This turns out to be the lady from the intro who classifies the TT’s doings as torture. She reflexively wants to say something political first, then smiles, reconsiders and just says “Yes, because it is delivered so calm, impassive, planned and systematic”. She also says that she knows parents sometimes snap, and that can’t be called torture, but in this case, it applies.

        Then, it’s off to Bavaria, to convince the authorities in Germany’s equivalwent of the Deep South to act. It’s the same guy from last time, and he does not know what he is shown. His face is interesting to watch through the screening. He says “something must happen”. No shit.

        Kuhning is back with the Tribes, it’s their summer festival. He wants to document the authorities’ response and pretend to again be one of them. He’S a bit melodramatic again, but I won’t argue with him when he calls this festival – an open house for surrounding villagers – a cruel, insidious facade belying the horrible things that hapen in those two basement rooms. In fact, it’s just right. We see a few of the children frm the videos again pretending to be happy. Urgh. He takes advantage of the festival to docment the school a bit. He also finds an exhibition where the Tribes proclaim to never hurt thweir children very upsetting and leaves the Tribes again “before he really snaps”. Can’t blame him.

        In the final segment, he details the authorities’ reation (two weeks later because Bavaria). Tribals complain to the press – a reporter who isn’t Kuhning – to be harrassed by the authorites without any cause. The reporter then confronts the Tribal, one of the Elders aopparently. He lies, repeatedly – “we do not beat our children”. Kuhning recaps that the Children are now going to be given to foster care, where they will not be beaten anymore and finally find out about the forbidden outside world (probably idealised but it can really only go up from there). The segment finishes with Sven, the boy who suffers from PTSD. He finally can hope to see his siblings again. He’s more upbeat than in the interview. He also gives an outlook on the childrens’ future. He says the childrne have to learn to trust adults and really, anyone. Sven also says he can’t forgive his parents. He says he really hopes the children will never have to return after having seen the outside world, because that would destroy them. He also tearfully thanks Kuhning. Kuhnung’s final words are that the case of the Twelve Tribes has been picked up again, and aggravated criminal assault added to the charges.

        Good luck, Sven. Good luck, all other TT children.

      • Rosa

        thank you for the recap.

    • Jennifer Stahl

      Thank you for posting this. I’ve been scouring RTL to find the whole thing and it’s been a pain in the rear to find.

  • ako

    To be honest, one of my biggest concerns about Farris is that he
    seems to always give the parents the benefit of the doubt and to assume
    that abuse allegations are false (invented by vengeful authorities with
    corrupt motives, of course).

    There’s this twisted Catch-22 with a lot of this stuff. They think all parents should be presumed innocent unless the evidence is massive, and innocent people shouldn’t have their parenting questioned by the government. Which means it’s only okay to investigate if you’ve already proven that they’re guilty.

    • Sally

      I wonder if Michael Farris will learn from this. With being so involved, and then being so wrong repeatedly, will he change? I know it’s very likely he won’t, but a part of me hopes that the more he steps in it, the greater the chances that he’s wake up and either quietly go or away or better yet, become an advocate for the very things he fights against now. One can hope.

      • KB

        I doubt it. This is becoming a regular occurrence with him and HSLDA. If they didn’t learn the time that they called the guy who caged his kids a hero, I doubt they ever will.

  • AnotherOne

    What the hell was up with Tennessee in the 70s? Seriously, so much evil crap originated there at that time.

    • Rosa

      I don’t know for sure, but I would guess they just have a lot of areas where laws about zoning, schooling, etc are lightly enforced – a lot of non-abusive and even non-religious alternative communities were located there in the ’70s as well. Missouri is similar these days – not a lot of zoning laws, lax oversight in a number of areas, lots of religious communities but also ecovillages, secular egalitarian communes, etc.

  • KB

    How many more times do we have to get different variations on the same theme of HSLDA speaking first and backtracking later? I’m getting weary of hearing about homeschooling abuse cases and not being surprised that HSLDA said something positive before all the facts were out.

  • Rilian Sharp

    Tangent: Does Germany just require all children to attend certified schools, or do they actually have laws against unapproved education *in addition* to school? The phrasing “ban on homeschooling” implies the latter, but that seems too totalitarian to be true.

    • Richter_DL

      The former. All children are to attend a certified school, barring extraordinary circumstances. If parents want to educate children further in their free time it is possible to do so. Skipping school, though, because you don’t approve of the state’s curriculum, is illegal.

      • Nancy Shrew

        What would be considered an “extraordinary circumstance”, out of curiosity?

      • Mary C

        I believe that would be a very serious illness or disability that prevents attendance at school. And in that case, as I understand, there is a good amt of state supervision of the homeschooling.

    • Fina

      All German children from age 5-7 until 9-10 years after they start school (depending on state) are legally required to visit a state-certified school – that means either a public school, or a accredited private school. This is called “Schulpflicht” (“obligation to visit school”)

      The only exceptions to that are illness or disability that prevent the child from attending a school – though there are schools for children with mental/learning disabilities too, so it has to be really severe to get out of Schulpflicht.
      Temporary exceptions (days, weeks, months at best) are also possible under exceptional circumstances – death in the family etc.

      Overall, there is no legal way to take your child out of school in order to homeschool it. Religious reasons only allow you to take your child out of school for religious holidays (and no, you can’t claim month-long holidays or such). Disability doesn’t work either, since it has to be extreme and obviously needs to be certified by a doctor.

      However, you are free to teach your child whatever you want at home, just not in lieu of public school.

      • Richter_DL

        Another bit of context, not a particular reply but placed here because it’s relevant to the issue at hand, I think:

        There are few, very few, reasons to take a child out of school in Germany. Most of those that exist are religious in nature, and with religion on the wane in Germany, that’s changing, too. All of these are for specific classes, not school entirely – that is just illegal by law and considered infringing on the child’s best interests. Recently, there have been a number of high-ranking federal court decisions cutting down on religious reasons for exempting children from school, even just certain classes. Jehova’s Witnesses have to deal with a book that deals with black magic being read in class, and Muslim children have to attend spots classes even when it’s off to the baths (since burquini are a thing).

        Germany has a very diverse educational system, with around 100 different recognized school types and a copuple private institutions (which have to adhere to certain norms, but not as strictly as state-funded schools do). These range from Montessori schools to American-style High Schools to the traditional three-tier system, are state matter, and highly confusing for foreigners and nationals alike to wade through. Parents can pick whatever school they like (many have attendee screening, but nobody stops you from applying at least). The social consensus is that that is choice enough.

        At the core of this lies a large difference in where educational law places it’s focus. In America, it’s heavily on parental rights and decisions, foregoing the child’s interests (as understood by society) for the parents’. Essentially, children in America are being treated more as their parents’ commodity than their own legal person in practice. In Germany, on the countrary, in recent decades children have been recognised as their own person, and in practice, their best interests are what legislation focuses on (again, best interests as understood by society – participation, integration, physical and mental safety). This can – and often does – mean cutting back parental rights.

  • Daniel Silver

    To give a bit of an update to the Facebook conversation, I commented on the post by Jörg Großelümern asking if he would change his comment given the new evidence. He responded saying: “I didn’t know what was going on behind the curtain of this sect. They didn’t tell the truth and things must be judged differently now.”

    • Richter_DL

      And of course that’s just a regrettable rotten apple among all the fabulous German homeschooler sects.

  • Jurgan

    I’m surprised Farris admitted it was abuse. I figured he’d call it “forceful discipline” or something like that.

    • Alice

      Yeah, he never admits he’s wrong about anything.

  • Beutelratti

    “The 12 tribes denied a physical abuse of their children, but the officials didn’t care.” (From Jörg Großelümern’s comment)

    So should denying criminal charges be considered proof to the contrary then? I get out of being arrested for murder because I deny the charges brought against me? Do these people ever think this through?

    Now that it has surfaced that those evil, evil officials acted because there was video evidence, do we hear a retraction? Or maybe just an apology? No, of course not. Let’s first rant about the fascist government robbing children from their loving homes and then drop the topic when the evidence surfaces. You know, when the harm is done and their audience has been stirred already and will likely not see how the story ended but will constantly bring it up in further debates about the fascist German government’s ban on homeschooling.

    (I looked at Jörg Großelümern’s Facebook and yes, he does talk about fascism and violently robbing children from their loving homes.)

    • Richter_DL

      *sigh* well, it seems he has adapted to the inevitable. Like Cardinal Meissner, he is German, after all.

  • TLC

    “Farris should have waited for the facts before speaking—and he really needs to find more reliable sources.”

    You would think that since he’s a lawyer, he’d be better at checking out staements, if only for CYA purposes. Most attorneys (well, the good ones) are extremely careful about this so they don’t leave themselves or eir clients open to litigation.

  • Sally

    Dear Michael Farris,

    If this had taken place in a U.S. state where legislation using your proposed language were in place, would there be any legal recourse with which to protect these children going forward? After all, these parents have used “an implement,” a “right” which you so vigorously support.

  • Justin

    But..but…caning is biblical! After all, the Bible says ‘don’t spare the rod’. Gotta love these Christians and their ever shifting objective moral values. Pffft.

    • The_L1985

      Er, I know that Libby Anne is an atheist, but remember that some readers are Christians who emphatically do not support this sort of thing.

      Also, liberal Christians in general do not believe that morals are fixed and unchanging.

      • Justin

        I’m well aware that most Christians don’t support child abuse. That doesn’t change the fact that their Scriptures are firmly in favor of it. Also, while liberal Christians may not believe in objective morality, in the US at least they are dwarfed by their conservative counterparts.

      • Hilary


  • The_Physeter

    In this case, it just happened that the child abuse was going on right next to an undercover reporter with hidden cameras. In most cases, I bet that isn’t how it goes.

    So what evidence is sufficient in those cases to prove the abuse? If you assume the government is evil and the children are lying and that Christians would never do anything wrong…children either have to get really lucky or they just suffer through the abuse.

  • Anat

    Now that Farris is attempting to dissociate from abusers that were caught red-handed, you know what he should do if he has any decency? He should make a clear, open statement that he does not and will not support or represent abusers, and make a signed commitment not to engage in child abuse a condition for receiving his services.

    • Richter_DL

      That would be more than face-saving lip service.

  • Fina

    Yeez…HSLDA really is clueless.
    The German law that requires children to attend public/accredited private schools is firmly based in our constitution – Article 7 states that “all education is overseen by the government.”
    Changing the first 19 Articles of the Grundgesetz (our constitution) is essentially impossible without writing a completely new one.
    At best, it might be possible to legislate tightly regulated and overseen homeschooling that guarantees the same quality of education as public schooling – which means that the parents would have to be accredited teachers. Anything less would violate the basic education right stipulated in Article 7.

    Nowhere on their Germany-site ( does HSLDA acknowledge that. They say that a legislative approach is called for in Germany, without ever saying how much legislation would be needed!
    Talk about misleading your members!

    • Richter_DL

      That shows just how much American conservatives respect other countries’ traditions and laws. Or, probably more likely, how much they live in a “post-facts society”.

  • Msironen

    The more I read about HSLDA, the more of a sham it seems to me. By the way of analogy, it’s kind of like they pass themselves as the “Automobile Drivers’ Legal Defense Association” (which itself seems fairly redundant since car drivers aren’t exactly being persecuted to begin with) but what they de facto are is Drunk Driver’s Legal Defense Assocation whose two main activities are defending people caught drunk driving in courts and also trying to loosen DUI legislation in general.

  • Saraquill

    Though I’m glad they did it so that the authorities have powerful proof, why would this group videotape these beatings?

    • Feminerd

      They didn’t. Someone snuck in (he said he was a “lost soul” looking for help) and set up surreptitious recording equipment to gather evidence about the sect.

    • Jennifer Stahl

      A journalist from RTL went in and documented what was happening at the cult when someone from the US related to either the HSLDA or the 12 Tribes group came in. That is when he had to hide his glasses that he was using to record and sneak down to where he suspected the abuse was occurring and hide cameras. I don’t know if you speak any German or not, but you can see the video here, if RTL hasn’t blocked individuals outside of Germany viewing it:

      I’ve noticed not many news organizations in the US have undertaken trying to come and find out what is going on. Many are taking what the HSLDA is putting out as “gold”. I’ve been scouring the papers here and it’s bad. We won’t know how bad for a while, but the court in Augsburg has been sitting on their butts twiddling their thumbs about this case since 2006 when they were told of suspected abuses. It took the reporter from RTL going in and throwing down the evidence to get them off their rear ends.

  • Beth

    Thanks Libby for bringing these things to light.