This group does not have a formal name. However, in the media it is often referred to “The Brethren,” or as ‘The Roberts Group’ after its founder and leader, Jim Roberts. The group has also been called “The Garbage Eaters” in reference to the group’s dumpster-diving for food.
Unofficially, members refer to themselves or to their movement as:
- The Brethren
- The Brothers and Sisters
- The Brotherhood
- The Church
The media, researchers, and family and friends of those who have joined the group also refer to it as:
- The Roberts Group
After its founder, Jim Roberts, a reclusive man referred to by members as “The Elder.”
- The Garbage Eaters
Called thus by the media and researchers because members eschew work in favor of foraging for food in garbage dumpsters
Apologetics Index refers to this movement as The Roberts Group, in reference to its founder and leader.
The group is a cult, both sociologically and theologically. Theologically, the Roberts Group is a cult of Christianity – by virtue of the fact that its teachings and practices run counter to those of orthodox Christianity.
They believe they are the only “true” church in America, the end-times remnant of the church inspired by Jesus Christ and advanced by his earliest disciples.
They assiduously avoid the police, their parents and the media. To them, the world — and especially the United States — is a hopelessly wicked Babylon, its established churches little more than houses of deceit.
Their leader is Jim Roberts, a one-time Marine and Pentecostal preacher from Kentucky who established the group in 1971. He is known to members as “the Elder” or “Brother Evangelist.” He does not claim to be a deity, but is without question their all-powerful leader. He does not live extravagantly and there are no signs of the excesses of some other gurus: no fleet of Rolls Royces, no armed bodyguards, no public-relations apparatus churning out pro-Roberts spin. In fact, his behavior is downright Victorian. But important decisions — where members will roam next; whether and whom they will marry — all flow from him. Dissent is not tolerated and violators face excommunication, equated with losing one’s soul.
Members typically are idealistic youths plucked from college campuses all over America, from Harvard to Humboldt State on Califor-nia’s foggy north coast. They forsake all: family, material possessions, promising futures. In their wake, inevitably, are grieving, bewildered families. – Source: In the shadows, San Diego Union-Tribune, USA, Nov. 10, 1997 /cite>
Jimmie T. Roberts’ “Garbage Eaters” is yet another example of a “far out” nomadic religious cult experiencing great trouble recruiting new converts.
Roberts, the ex-Marine from Paducah, Kentucky, calls himself Brother Evangelist. His youthful followers dress in long robes, follow the Brother around from city to city, eat out of garbage cans, and practice “free sex.” Why all this “sacrifice” for Roberts? He claims that his children are God’s chosen people. The Brother tells his converts “no marriage license, no minister, no vows.” He teaches them to speak what is reported to be a “foul tongue” as these “dirty nomads” practice Roberts strict cult religion. Female members are taught by the Brother to obey their cult husbands and that “child abuse is God’s way of ensuring obedience.” Roberts urges his female followers to beat their children, claiming that this is necessary for their salvation ( Sneed, 1979).
Jimmie T. Roberts’ movement took shape about eleven years ago when he preached that God saved many people from the Great Flood and He would also save the Brother’s converts. This is when Roberts sought recruits from college campuses. Over the years the movement has not proven very “successful.” If anything, he has lost most of his members because they have found that the Brother’s requirement that they follow him, crisscrossing the country looking through restaurant trash cans for food, is more than they bargained for ( Sneed, 1979). – Source: The Cult Experience, by Andrew J. Pavlos. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1982. Page 163
In 1998 the group was featured on ABC’s Prime Time:
And now, we bring you a report on what has been called one of the most secretive and impenetrable religious cults in this country.
They are known as The Brethren or more commonly the Garbage Eaters because of the way they live. Experts say over the years, they and their leader, Jim Roberts, have targeted religious college kids and convinced hundreds of them to reject their parents and disappear into the shadows.
There was a time, of course, when parents tried to seize and deprogram these kids. But in recent years, many courts have made that difficult. So tonight, the parents have come to television with a message — tell your children to be beware of these strangers quoting scriptures from the Bible.
(Voice Over) You may have walked right by them in a crowd, bearded men in tunics who look pious and a little strange. Look closely, because some parents believe they are scriptural robots assigned to target and capture your college – age children.
Here at Berkeley, they stand on street corners and strike up conversations at random. To the spiritual kids, they quote from the Bible and promise a life of certainty. The lonely kids, they offer support.
At Columbia University, they lure students with a provocative question — do right and wrong exist? They offer a place among God’s chosen with such intensity that in days, sometimes hours, students drop out and disappear.
They are nomads. Recently, some of them camped in this house in Cleveland, tacking scriptures on the walls, even on the mattress. They move secretly from state to state in cells of a handful of people. They live off food from garbage dumpsters.
This is a video taken years ago behind a fast – food restaurant in Minneapolis. Two brothers dumpster diving, combing through, picking at half – eaten sandwiches. And experts tells us everything they do is controlled by the whims of one man — the enigmatic founder, Jim Roberts, whom they call “the elder.” These are the last published photographs of him in 1975.
The parents believe he is a bizarre, unstable religious fanatic who steals the minds of promising kids, some from the best universities in the country — Harvard, Brown, Northwestern — leaving their anguished mothers and fathers desperate to find them. – Source: The Brethren: Parents Seek Kids Lost to This Controversial Cult, ABC Prime Time, USA, Mar. 25, 1998