Excerpts from articles resulting from the Kingston, NY, "Children of the Bruderhof" COB Press Conference:
NOTE: Children of the Bruderhof was not affiliated in any way with the Bruderhof communities. It was a membership group made up of those who spent time in the Bruderhof communities as children. The Bruderhof brought suit in Albany, NY, federal court for "trademark infringement, injury to business reputation, dilution of the distinctive quality of trademarks, false advertising, unfair competition." This lawsuit was resolved by COB agreeing to a change of name that both sides would find acceptable.
1,700 Calls Spark Probe; Summit Set For Today
Blaise Schweitzer, Kingston Daily Freeman, 7/27/95
The Federal Communications Commission is investigating some 1,700 harassing calls made to a toll- free number set up by a group called "Children of the Bruderhof," according to an FCC spokesman. Established by former members of the Anabaptist religious group that calls itself the Hutterian Brethren, the line is meant to provide information about a get-together set for today at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Kingston.
Organizers of the event will meet with elders from the Woodcrest Bruderhof of Rifton in an attempt to end the combative relationship between the two sides and because member of Children of the Bruderhof want access to family members who still live inside. Later in the day, members from as far away as California and London will gather to talk about concerns they share as former commune members, according to Blair Purcell of Gaithersburg, MD.
Purcell has handled most of the harassing calls made to the toll-free line. His wife, Margot, once lived at the Rifton site and is a member of Children of the Bruderhof. Some of the calls were traced to the Rifton Bruderhof and other Hutterian communities, Purcell said; others to pay phones surrounding the Rifton Bruderhof. Some callers stayed on the line for extended periods, posing as homosexuals seeking help from the Children of the Bruderhof; others simply called repeatedly, hanging up each time. According to a bill Purcell received, there were 103 consecutive calls made in 49 minutes from a pay phone at the Capri 400 restaurant in Port Ewen.
Making harassing calls to a 1-800 number is a violation of Section 223 of the Federal Communications Act, according to the FCC spokesman, Bob Spangler. Spangler, deputy chief of the Enforcement Division of the FCC's Common Carrier Bureau, said people who make harassing calls to toll-free numbers can have their phone service cut off.
The calls to the toll-free number demonstrated the outrage that Bruderhof children feel about what they perceive as persecution by groups such as the Hutterians, according to Bruderhof spokesman Joseph Keiderling who does not approve of the calls. He also disapproves of fluorescent stickers found on pay phones at National Airport in Washington, D.C. listing the toll-free number and bearing the message:
SWEET TALK --Joella and Karen
are waiting for you -- 24 hours, 7 days.
Asked who might have produced the stickers, Christian Domer, another Bruderhof spokesman, smiled and said: "We have good friends."
Joel and Karen, [COB members] who received harassing calls, were not amused. Nor was Purcell, who said he received death threats traced to the location where the stickers were found. Police at National Airport found the stickers, and a Maryland detective confirmed he is investigating Purcell's reported death threats.
Keiderling finds it ironic that the children who made the crank calls were doing so against the wishes of their elders. Former members of the Bruderhof have criticized the religious group for restricting members' contact with outsiders and for being overly controlling of members' lives. "What they've discovered it that we have a lot less control than they thought we had," Keiderling said.
But Purcell is not convinced. Although Keiderling said Bruderhof children were told all along to stop placing the harassing calls, it wasn't until June 28, when a Maryland police detective contacted Domer about the death threats, that Purcell found any relief.
"Virtually all calls stopped," he said.
...One continuing criticism of the Bruderhof is that it is too harsh when dealing with the sexual purity of its children. That is a criticism the Bruderhof acknowledges. "Absolutely," Winter said, but added that the Bruderhof is less puritanical that it was even a few years ago. But boys, girls, men and women who have left the Bruderhof in the last several years say differently. They talk of being punished for such things as holding hands.
Winter said that children younger than 12 are not punished for holding hands, but "when we talk about teenagers, we may have a problem if it's boy-girl."
"It (hand-holding) gets on the erotic level, and we're into chastity before marriage," he said.
When told that hand-holding among children younger than 12 is now allowed, Mrs. Purcell laughed. "My, that's generous," she said.
Keiderling said he and Domer will be at today's meeting. he hopes to come away from it having communicated the Bruderhof's motives to Children of the Bruderhof -- "and also to convey to them that here is no blanket policy barring people who read the KIT newsletter from visiting."
He also hopes his neighbors won't think ill of the Hutterians because of the ruckus surrounding today's event. "We've enjoyed good friends and good neighbors for the last 40 years that we've been here," he said. "The message that we want to get out, in spite of what some of the allegations are against us, is that our doors are always open to our neighbors. If any questions are raised... do us a favor and ask."
Former Members of Bruderhof Fault Practices of Locally Popular Sect
by Jim Gordon, Woodstock Times, 7/27/95
Members of the Society of Brothers, frequently referred to as Hutterites, are known locally for their simple garments, their sturdy toys and for their community action in the spirit of their deeply held Christian beliefs. But some former Bruderhof [members], as the group's members call themselves and their sect, say the organization has become cult-like, punishing dissent by expulsion, preventing some former members from communicating with their family still in the group, and trying to harass ex-members into silence.
Bruderhof spokesmen respond that the charges are carefully designed to embarrass the group with nebulous claims, having just enough truth to impugn Bruderhof integrity without being truly accurate. Far from being a cult, they stress that Bruderhofers are purposely subjected to the outside world, that they attend public high school, and are carefully screened before they voluntarily seek full membership in the community. They say their critics don't understand the religious framework, or "spirit," which plays a decisive role in Bruderhof life.
Blair Purcell, whose wife was raised among the Bruderhof and whose parents still live in Rifton, where the Bruderhof headquarters is located, is a leader of a group called Children of the Bruderhof (COB), which is scheduled to meet in Kingston on Thursday afternoon, July 27. Purcell says his wife, Margot, and their child have been cut off from Margot's parents. "The reason I am involved is, I can't comprehend a Christian community preventing family from seeing, knowing, visiting each other. It just doesn't make sense," says Purcell. He says the situation is not unique, and that other ex-Bruderhof members are not able to contact their families, while still others outside the group fear they will offend Bruderhof leaders and lose visitation privileges.
Purcell wants to visit his in-laws so that his children can visit their grandparents, though he does not expect that to happen. More broadly, he says he seeks "reconciliation" between ex-Bruderhof and those still living in the commune. He admits that Thursday's meeting in Kingston "is a little bit of in-your-face. But it is the only way we can get their attention." Purcell and his wife express admiration for the Bruderhof's spiritual principles, and Margot has happy memories of life there as a child, before she left voluntarily after nursing school 30 years ago. Purcell says his wife "has a goodness that could come from no other place" but the Bruderhof.
Christian Domer, a spokesman for the Bruderhof, says that in the vast majority of cases, Bruderhof and ex- Bruderhof are allowed family contact. In some cases, such as Purcell's, the family members do not seek any more contact and the community supports the decision. Purcell acknowledges his in-laws requested that he and his family not visit anymore, a decision he believes arose from peer pressures. Purcell "doesn't resonate with the reasons we live together as Bruderhof," says Domer, adding that COB can have a "terrible effect [based on a]... complete misunderstanding of what brings us together, drives us, motivates us."
[History of the Bruderhof and description of toy manufacturing, etc.]...
Outsiders are welcome to join, but face the same demanding road to full membership as other Bruderhofers. They must renounce private property, tobacco, television, pre-marital sex, masturbation and homosexuality so as to cleanse themselves in their devotion to God. Critics say children and teens are particularly afflicted by these restraints, especially those related to sexual awakenings. But Domer says true chastity involves cleanliness of thoughts, purpose and action, and Bruderhof ways yield the committed members a community needs...
The community enjoys high standing locally as a religious group that willingly pays property taxes and volunteers in endeavors ranging from cleaning up the countryside to harboring homeless persons. Recently, members have pressed for a new trials for Mumia Abu- Jamal, a black activist facing the death penalty in Pennsylvania. One member even volunteered to take Abu-Jamal's place.
Despite the Hutterite garb they've adopted, the Bruderhof are technologically sophisticated. Many members graduate from college and bring their skills back to the community. They even own a multi-million dollar Gulfstream jet, which was purchased when the group was trying to open a community in Nigeria. That endeavor has ended, and now they use the corporate jet for a charter business, and to transport Bruderhof officials. Critics say it is a perk of the privileged rulers of the sect. The Bruderhof uses Hutterian designations for its leadership. Christoph Arnold, grandson of the Bruderhof's founder, is the Elder, or highest spiritual official in the sect. He inherited the post from his father.
Purcell says the Bruderhof have a cult-like intolerance of dissent. When his group advertised an 800 number that former Bruderhof needing assistance or support could call, the line was jammed with thousands of crank calls. He maintains those calls came from the Bruderhof and said after Maryland police contacted the group, the calls stopped. Domer acknowledges being contacted by police, but denies any involvement in attempted harassment. He does say his group expects to have "adversaries," adding, "The politically correct people, the ones who would have gone through the roof if Jesus rode a Gulfstream -- that is, the Pharisees -- they are the ones who killed him."
Earlier this year, after the 800 lines became active, Purcell saw Domer and fellow Bruderhof spokesman Joe Keiderling driving by his house in Maryland. "We were in the area on business," explains Domer. But he and Keiderling subsequently apologized to Purcell in writing.
Since 1988, critics of the Bruderhof have coalesced around a California-based newsletter called Keep In Touch, or KIT. The group Children of the Bruderhof grew out of contacts made through that newsletter. Purcell says that it was through KIT that a pattern emerged on non-compliant Bruderhofers being summarily expelled from their communities. He said that ex-Bruderhofers have told repeatedly of being dropped in towns and cities with a small amount of money and the clothes on their back.
Keiderling says the group does not abandon former members. It finds them homes and jobs and tells them help is always available if needed.
KIT was founded and edited by a former novice Bruderhofer named Ramon Sender who was expelled in the early '60s, leaving his wife and child inside the group. Sender was never informed of his daughter's marriage, her two children, or her terminal illness. He said the Bruderhof only informed him his daughter had died a month after she was buried.
Domer and Keiderling looked embarrassed when this incident was raised, and both say they don't now why Sender was not contacted, though they criticize his approach to their community as spiteful. Domer says Sender lives a "decadent lifestyle," and thus should have known his ex-wife and daughter would not consent to see him. Keiderling says the Bruderhof have apologized to Sender for not notifying him immediately, adding that the group "may have made a mistake there."
Keiderling urged people to get to know the Bruderhof. "We are a community that has been here for 40 years. We will continue to try and be good neighbors. our doors are open. We have nothing to hide. Please come and visit us and ask your questions."
Hutterians Walk Out After Talks, But Leader Says Hope Isn't Lost
Blaise Schweitzer, Kingston Daily Freeman, 7/28/95
Kingston -- What began with peaceful discussion ended with shouted accusations Thursday afternoon as spokesmen for the Hutterian Brethren East walked out of a news conference at the Trinity United Methodist Church. The event was meant to highlight talks between officials of the religious Hutterian Brethren community in Rifton and disenchanted former members who calls themselves Children of the Bruderhof.
After a calm private meeting between the two groups, Bruderhof spokesmen turned down pleas to stay from Linda Breithaupt, president of Trinity's board of directors. She asked them to publicly respond to questions about incidents of harassment at the Wurts Street church. Bruderhof spokesman Joseph Keiderling said he left the meeting because he was "stunned" by offensive statements made by a former Bruderhof member, not because Breithaupt and Trinity's Rev. Arlene Dawber wanted him to publicly respond to their concerns about a mystery couple, a man and a woman using a Bruderhof car, who seemed to be 'casing' the church days before the event.
While the woman played the church organ after the Sunday evening service, her partner was seen carrying electronic equipment in a bag, Breithaupt said. And the Bruderhof car the couple were using was seen around the church long after they left the building. Having received threats stemming from the church's policy of welcoming homosexuals, Breithaupt and Dawber feared the church might become a target for trouble, so they filed a complaint with Kingston police.
Keiderling confirmed the car belongs to the Bruderhof but said he does not know who was in it outside the church. He also said the car has not been seen at the Rifton commune for several days. He said he does understand Dawber's and Breithaupt's concerns.
"Absolutely," he said. "I apologized to Arlene Dawber. I regret that it happened, not knowing who was involved."
During a question-and-answer period at Thursday's news conference, Ben Cavanna and two other members of Children of the Bruderhof spoke about how women lack a voice in the Bruderhof; how formed members have difficulty when trying to visit family members who remain inside, and how Hutterian children are treated.
"Women are definitely second-class citizens," said Cavanna, who chairs the Steering Committee of Children of the Bruderhof. He agreed with fellow member Margot Purcell that even basic life issues, such as whether to breast-feed a baby, are "guided" by the commune's leaders. The issue of access to family members who still live in Bruderhofs is particularly important to Cavanna. He said he isn't allowed into the Bruderhof's East Sussex, England, community where his parents live.
The treatment of Hutterian children is important to Andrew Bazeley, 25, the youngest member of Children of the Bruderhof. Bazeley, who left the Catskill Bruderhof in 1993, said Hutterian children continue to be "shunned" or "excluded" for minor transgressions.
As a boy, Cavanna was shunned for four months for cutting a peephole in a wall, he said. Not being able to talk to friends, relatives or adults about anything more than basic instructions for tasks damaged his sense of reality, he said.
As men and women left the church Thursday evening, Joy Johnson MacDonald, a Children of the Bruderhof member from London, said she feared the event did more harm than good.
"We say we want dialogue and I think we killed it off," she said.
Keiderling was less pessimistic. "I'll confess I had serious doubts after the public meeting," he said, but added he has not closed the door on future meetings.
"I would always hold out hope," he said.
Breakaway Sect Airs Complaints of Harassment
by Richard A. D'Errico, Staff Writer, Times Herald Record, 8/3/95
KINGSTON -- Mike Leblanc left his family and the Hutterians when he was 17 years old. When one of his sisters was married, a Hutterian asked that he not attend, he said. Now, 13 years later, he's hoping communications between his group, Children of the Bruderhof -- a group of former Hutterians -- and the Hutterian Brethren, who number 6,700 [sic] in the United States, will improve and he'll be able to see his family more often. Yesterday was the beginning of the process.
"The Children of the Bruderhof's hope is that we can come to some sort of negotiations or conclusion of visiting privileges," LeBlanc said yesterday following a news conference held by fellow COB members. "As far as being a Child of the Bruderhof, I would hope that between the two groups there would be some sort of way that they can either set up a fund or joint fund so that people who leave are somehow taken care of."...
Other allegations also emerged. Linda Breithaupt and the Rev. Arlene Dawber of Trinity United Methodist Church said the church was the target of Hutterian harassment for allowing the news conference to occur at the church. Breithaupt said a couple identified themselves as visitors from Ohio who wanted to play the church organ. Later, they were seen circling the church for more than five hours. A police report indicated the car belonged to the Hutterians, she said. The church filed a complaint with the police.
Johann Christoph Arnold, the leader of the Hutterians, called the COB members holding the news conference "poor, disgruntled people who are trying to put the blame on us." He said the Hutterians have also made mistakes. But he said when it comes to visitation, the only ones who decide whether a family members can visit are the family members involved.
Joe Keiderling, a Hutterian members, said he doesn't know who was driving the vehicle and called the incident 'unfortunate.' Regarding the harassing phone calls, Keiderling said the telephone number was announced at a Hutterian meeting for those that were considering leaving the group. Keiderling said he was disappointed by the news conference. "I was very disturbed," said Keiderling, who attended the news conference. "We had met in good faith beforehand with the group, one on one. I felt it was positive. I thought there was some progress made."
Bruderhof Members Skulk Around Church Where Opponents Meet
by Jim Gordon, Woodstock Times / Huguenot Herald, 8/3/95
A group called 'Children of the Bruderhof' met last week at Trinity Methodist Church in Kingston in an attempt to unite former members of the locally popular Christian sect and to publicize complaints about Bruderhof ways, which they claim are vindictive. But their presentation was upstaged by the president of the Trinity church board, who rose halfway through the meeting to charge that the Bruderhof had harassed the church after it agreed to host the meeting.
Linda Breithaupt was joined by pastor Arlene Dawber in alleging Bruderhof members had "cased" the church under false pretenses the week before the meeting. They said a Bruderhof vehicle subsequently lurked outside the building until after 1 a.m. Two Bruderhof members, Christian Domer and Joe Keiderling, left the meeting abruptly before they could be confronted about the incidents. Contacted later, they said their departure had nothing to do with the matter, but they apologized to church officials, and confirmed that people in a vehicle registered to the Bruderhof had indeed remained near the church prior to the day of the meeting. They claimed not to know who was in the vehicle or why it was there.
The complaint by Trinity Methodist is one of a number regarding harassment the avowedly peaceful Bruderhof has directed at its opponents. Last spring, Children of the Bruderhof (COB) started a toll-free hotline intended to help ex-Bruderhof members contact peers and adjust to life outside the group's communes. The line received over 1,700 harassing calls in its first month, almost 400 of them dialed from phones inside the Woodcrest Bruderhof community in Rifton. Hundreds of other calls came from nearby pay phones.
Stickers have been placed at airports and train stations along the East coast listing the COB number as a free phone sex line. There is no direct evidence tying that deception to the Bruderhof, and Domer and Keiderling have denied any knowledge of the stickers. They did not deny that some of their members have made harassing phone calls, though they said they have no control over it. Most of the calls ended after police and federal officials contacted the Bruderhof.
COB leader Blair Purcell said at last Thursday's meeting that a former Bruderhof official forced out of the group had his phone tapped by the Bruderhof. The Bruderhof denied knowledge of this, but Keiderling and Domer have admitted they were outside Purcell's home in Maryland, where there is no Bruderhof community. They told 'The Herald' last week that they were in that town on business, and were thinking of dropping in on Purcell. They subsequently wrote letters of apology to Purcell...
...At Thursday's meeting, members of COB told of leaving their lifelong home, not always voluntarily, and finding themselves isolated in the unfamiliar outside world, with no money or support from the wealthy sect. They claim that people who anger Bruderhof leaders, even by something as simple as reading the COB newsletter, may find themselves cut off from family and friends still living in the Bruderhof communities. They recounted tales of harsh discipline for Bruderhof youngsters and discrimination against women. The Bruderhof spokesmen contacted after the meeting said the speakers were exaggerating isolated incidents into policies that do not exist. They suggested that, having left the Bruderhof behind, COB members had to demonize the sect to justify departures. The men denied the sect abandons ex- members, although they conceded some end up in bad situations.
COB members said the discipline used on children, including physical punishment, is too harsh. They singled out the practice of 'exclusion,' under which members of any age who have violated rules or who have sinned by the group's standards are shunned by other sect members for specified periods of time, which can last for months. The Bruderhof spokesmen who left the meeting agreed later that exclusion was too harsh for children, but said the practice has ended. They said the sect no longer uses corporal punishment and that current practices are a model for parenting and education. Bruderhof children attend the sect's elementary schools, but enter public schools in the ninth grade. Many go on to college. At around age 20, youth are asked to decide whether they wish to remain as part of the community or leave for the outside world. According to the Bruderhof, about 15 percent decide to depart.
Outsiders are welcome to join, but face the same rigorous road to full membership as other Bruderhof. They must renounce all private property, as well as tobacco, television, pre-marital sex, masturbation and homosexuality.
One allegation the former members made was of "second class citizen" status of women in the sect. But Becky Thompson, a "sister" or female member of the sect and a dentist, said in an interview that she has taken the same vow as males in attaining full membership in the group. "As a Christian and a woman, I can't think of a freer way to live than in a community like this, where we are brothers and sisters together," she said.
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