This week in #cultbuzz we are featuring an interview with Sinasta Colucci, a survivor and now an activist spreading awareness on the 12 Tribes cult. His book is available on Amazon and Kindle and we highly recommend it.
The 12 tribes community was started by a Christian couple, Gene and Marsha Spriggs, in the 1970’s in Tennessee. They started out by opening their home to troubled youth. They consider themselves “the only true work of God.” What started out as a mission of helping teenagers and communal living spiraled into a cult that mixed Christianity and Jewish old testament law. Estimated membership is between 3,000 to 4,000 in various communes around the world. Some of their business names are a chain of restaurants called “The Yellow Deli” and a large construction business.
The following interview are the first written words with Sinasta Colucci and we thank him for sharing his story with us.
Debra Van Neste: What attracted you to the 12 tribes, that they seem to have the answer for you?
Sinasta Colucci: I joined the Twelve Tribes when I was in my early 20’s. I had just dropped out of college and was at a crossroads in my life. I had a lot of financial difficulties, I was a bit of a loner, and I was seeking some sort of order and authority in my life. I wanted to join the military, but I was not able to, because I have sickle cell anemia. I considered a homeless shelter but was worried it wouldn’t be a safe environment. The Twelve Tribes seemed to have exactly the right answers. They had a strong system of authority in place, it was a clean environment, and they’ll take in anyone off the streets.
Debra Van Neste: What was it like to be part of the 12 Tribes? How were you accepted by them?
Sinasta Colucci: When I first showed up, everyone was extremely happy and overly friendly. They were all smiles and seemed genuinely happy that I was there. It became clear that they felt my soul was in danger. They wanted to save me from what they call “the world, ” which is anything outside of their communities.
Debra Van Neste: What was the effect of joining the 12 tribes upon your ‘old’ life? Did they demand radical changes?
Sinasta Colucci: They teach that you have to “die” to your old life. They believe that loneliness is a sin, and so is working your own job, providing for yourself, and having your own home. It is all considered selfishness. As a member of the Twelve Tribes, you must live communally and devote your entire life to the community.
Debra Van Neste: Who founded the 12 tribes and who are its authority figures?
Sinasta Colucci: The Twelve Tribes was founded in the early 1970’s by Gene Spriggs and his wife, Marsha. They now go by the Hebrew names Yonéq and Ha Emeq. They have the ultimate authority within the Twelve Tribes. Below them are the so-called “apostles” who are appointed as leaders over each tribe. Each tribe has its own territory and there are multiple communities within each of the Twelve Tribes. Each of the communities has its own set of leaders and they all collaborate and have regular conferences. There are also shepherds appointed over each community member and crew heads who tell you what to do each day.
Debra Van Neste: When did you notice something was off? Can you describe what happened?
Sinasta Colucci: There were a lot of different issues I struggled with during my time in the Twelve Tribes. The first problem that came up was that they tell the single men to masturbate. It was something that you had to do if you wanted to be obedient to what they call “the anointing”, which is all of their many teachings. They have a teaching for every aspect of your life. It is all very controlling. Throughout my time there, I struggled with wanting to get married, but they decide whether you can get married or not. They also decide who you can marry.
Debra Van Neste: Please describe what “the gathering” is all about.
Sinasta Colucci: The gathering takes place twice a day – morning and evening. It is mandatory. Everyone gathers in a circle and there are spontaneous singing and dancing. Everyone is expected to “share” something, which means that you have to say what you are thankful for and usually repeat something from a recent teaching. At the end of the gathering, there is a prayer, which can sometimes be awkward. You pray with your eyes open, and there is no order to who speaks or when. Sometimes people would interrupt each other and say, “sorry, go ahead.” Sometimes they’d even say, “sorry, go ahead” at the same time and that’s when it really got awkward! It sometimes feels forced and is definitely not a comfortable place for an introvert like me.
Debra Van Neste: What was it like for children inside the 12 tribes? Were they allowed to have a regular childhood?
Sinasta Colucci: There is a tremendous focus placed on child training within the Twelve Tribes. They believe that they will raise the male child and the 144,000 from the book of Revelation. They believe that it will take 4-5 generations of perfect child training for them to raise an entire generation of children who are 100% pure, without any iniquities. So, a lot is expected from the children in the Twelve Tribes. Everything they do has to have a purpose. They are not allowed to just go off and play. That is referred to as “dissipation” because it is seen as a waste of energy. Children work from a very young age, and they are to be disciplined on the first command, according to Twelve Tribes teaching, which means, you tell a child what to do once and if they disobey, they get spanked, usually on the bottom with a stick.
“The rod must be used to correct wrong thoughts, wrong words, and wrong deeds; thoughts are powerful—there is no sin without thinking about it,” Our Child Training Manual explains. Materials on the group’s website layout similar practices.
Debra Van Neste: Were you allowed to disagree with what was taught, or in general, to be critical of the 12 tribes life?
Sinasta Colucci: No. Members are not allowed to disagree with the teachings. You can ask questions, but if you didn’t like the answer and chose not to go along with it, you would be considered “cut off”. There is a lot of public shame involved with being cut off, and if you were exceptionally obstinate, you would be sent away.
Debra Van Neste: What was the daily life like in 12 tribes? Were you still allowed to have an individual life and be by yourself?
Sinasta Colucci: As a single young man, I had a very heavy work week. It was, on average, 16 hours per day, 6 days a week. You do what you are told to do. At times, I was given authority over specific functions within the community, like gardening or homeschooling. At those times, I might not have necessarily had a crew head to tell me what to do the whole time, but I was still only allowed to function within my given position.
Debra Van Neste: How do the 12 tribes support itself?
Sinasta Colucci: The Twelve Tribes has construction crews which bring in money from the outside. They also own the Yellow Delis, Common Ground Cafés, and other establishments. They get a little bit into agri-business, but the primary purpose of their farms is to feed the members of the community.
Debra Van Neste: Who are “the shiners”?
Sinasta Colucci: The shiners are a group of young women who are Ha Emeq’s personal assistants and apprentices. For a young woman who grew up in the community, It is considered a great honor to be chosen as a shiner. They serve for a few months to a year but then are rotated-out for another group. There were just a handful of shiners when I was there – about five of them. I did not want to get into any speculation in my book, and when I did speculate, I made it clear that’s what I was doing, but I did notice that the shiners spent a very long time in Yonéq and Ha Emeq’s private bedroom. This was strange to me and I was a little suspicious, because Yonéq is an older man, and that just seemed a bit creepy. However, I did not personally witness any sexual abuse.
Debra Van Neste: Was there racism?
Sinasta Colucci: Yes. In my opinion, there was most definitely racism. They have a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website, and one of the Frequently Asked Questions is, “Are we Racist?”. The reason this is such a frequently asked question is because they teach that race-based slavery is a good thing, and that outside of their communities, the only path to righteousness for a black person is to be a slave to a white person. The reason they say that they are not racist is because they say that “all are equal in Messiah, because all are servants of Messiah”. While that might be a reasonable enough answer to some people, you have to consider what they mean by “Messiah”. They are talking about their messiah, and they are referring to a very specific group when they say “all”. In other words, all are not equal outside of their group. But even within their group, I have noticed some blatant inequalities. They talk about race-based iniquities, but they primarily focus on the black race. According to them, it is the black race that’s cursed, and the black race that must be submissive to the white race. Blacks are encouraged to take on an attitude of inferiority and it is the most submissive ones who are given the most respect.
Debra Van Neste: How were women treated?
Sinasta Colucci: Girls are taught from birth that their purpose in life is to please men. Women are to be submissive and are often treated as possessions. As a single man, the idea of being given a wife was often used to motivate me. If I was faithful and could prove my loyalty, I could one day be given a wife. This was to be decided by the community, so if I didn’t please them, I wouldn’t get married. Women are usually put to work in the kitchens. There is a lot of cooking and cleaning within the communities, and also a lot of café/deli work. They would not be put on crews with the men. They might sometime help in the gardens or with animal chores but would never do any construction or anything that would be considered “men’s work”. Also, childbirth is supposed to be 100% natural, which I’m sure is difficult. What I have heard from women within the community is that the hardest part of being a woman is having to listen to other women. There is a hierarchy among the women, with Ha Emeq being at the top. She was considered the ideal women to aspire to be like.
As the reader can see, there is a pattern of cult experience that is replicated across cultic groups. First, there is a denial of self. Second, isolation from former experience to make it easier to inoculate indoctrination tactics. Some mentions here on the sexualization of men and women, but in different ways. Then there is a denunciation of the former world, insisting on dependence on the group system solely. This makes it harder to leave. These all familiar techniques are used to work for a reason. But nothing works forever, and it is possible to break out at some point of clarity.
If you have any information and want to share please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org