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Cult leader travels the world in style

Boston Herald, Sep. 5, 2001
http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_regional/cult09052001.htm Off-site Link

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While his loyal followers toil in shops and factories or work the fields for the common good of the Twelve Tribes, the controversial cult's elusive leader Elbert Eugene ``Yoneq'' Spriggs travels the globe, bedding down in palatial homes in southern France, Brazil and Cape Cod, former members say.

Spriggs, the sect's reclusive 64-year-old ``super apostle,'' founded the fringe fundamentalist group after claiming he received a ``vision'' from God on a California beach in 1971. A former carnival barker and high school guidance counselor from Chattanooga, Tenn., Spriggs is a thrice-divorced, self-anointed messenger of God who spends most of his time touring his religious empire of shops, cafes, workshops and communes with his fourth wife, Marsha, aka ``Ha-Emeq.'' The controversial cult has homes and businesses in Dorchester, Hyannis and Plymouth, in addition to several locations in Vermont and New York.

Constantly scoping out sites for new compounds, ex-members say Spriggs' life is a nonstop whirlwind global tour filled with frequent stays in private digs in Sus, France; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and a lakefront home in Brewster. Throughout his travels, Spriggs spreads his gospel to his loyal followers, handing down bizarre New Testament interpretations, some of which promote racism, homophobia, child abuse and child labor.

``They are controlled by an absolute totalitarian leader. (Spriggs) runs the show,'' said noted cult expert Rick Ross. ``He rules in a very singular role of absolute authority. He sees himself as an intermediary between God and the world.''

While members live humbly in clusters of 50 or more, Spriggs has his own private quarters in several locations, including a secret four-bedroom getaway pad overlooking Canoe Pond in Brewster. The $402,000 home, nestled in a swank residential neighborhood, is owned by a Rhode Island realty trust but ex-members say Spriggs stays there when in the Bay State, often with his close underling, 39-year-old Marcel Masse. Most of the cult's New England properties, including homes in Dorchester and Hyannis, are in Masse's name.

Spriggs also has plush new chambers - including marble floors and intricately carved oak fixtures - in the group's newly renovated house, a former nursing home, on Route 3A in Plymouth. While his followers turn over their vehicles, property and bank accounts to the group, Spriggs travels by chauffeured car and often goes on expensive shopping junkets with his wife, ex-members say.

Spriggs has no permanent address and messages left for him at several Twelve Tribes houses were not returned.

Spriggs' rise from hippie-era Christian to mysterious cult leader took him from Tennessee to California to the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. A former high school football player who held various factory jobs over the years, he spent time preaching to ski bums in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and worked with the homeless in California before creating the Vine Street Church in Chattanooga in the early 1970s.

Disenchanted with mainstream religion and frustrated with increasing scrutiny of his teachings in Tennessee, he moved the growing cult to Island Pond, Vt., a remote town of about 1,000 people just a few miles from the Canadian border. There, the sect flourished with 300 members living in 14 houses while other compounds sprung up around the world.

The Island Pond community was the site of a 1984 raid in which 112 cult kids were snatched by the government amid horrific abuse allegations. The charges were later tossed out, but the group now only has two houses and about 70 members living in Island Pond. There are an estimated 3,000 members living in more than 30 locations worldwide, including at least seven New England compounds.

Ross, who has butted heads with the Twelve Tribes on national TV, says the cult's finances are a complex ``labyrinth'' of corporations and trusts - none of which are in Spriggs' name but all of which line his pockets. He draws comparisons between Spriggs and doomsday cultists like David Koresh of the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidians and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Moonies, saying Spriggs is creating a brainwashed mass of blind followers whose very existence hinges on his every word.

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