Ethical food sourcing is everywhere these days. As the global food industry has grown to overlook pesticide dangers, animal welfare issues, and nutrient deficiencies, conscious consumers take it into their own hands to buy organic, free-range, and healthy.
But what about religious ethics — are a restaurant’s human morals as important as any other criteria? For many diners in a small town in Australia, the fact that their popular local cafe is run by a religious cult is a forgivable mistake — even when the group’s secrets have turned out to be dark, abusive, and even deadly.
Nestled on a quiet street in New South Wales is the quirky restaurant The Yellow Deli. It was founded in the mid-2000s as the Common Ground Cafe, but changed its name five years later. The place somehow always seems to attract a crowd.
The Twelve Tribes
The deli lies in the town of Katoomba, tucked away in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. Although it’s well-loved by hikers, visitors, and locals, a few sleuthing folks have done their research on the deli’s parent organization and didn’t like what they found.
Blue Mountains Library / Flickr
“We left before we received our food when we realised this cafe is owned by a group that is part of the Twelve Tribes cult,” one Google reviewer wrote. Mysteriously, though, hundreds more reviewers didn’t seem to mind.
Hiddenitenctwelvetribes / Facebook
As a matter of fact, visitors to the Yellow Deli at lunchtime are greeted with a hive of activity, any day of the week. Busy workers, all dressed plainly in flannel, serve tea, hot sandwiches, and vegan treats.
Boulder Daily Camera
Surely it can’t be so bad, right? For a place shrouded in such mystery, the food offerings seem normal. Popular orders include vegan burgers, autumnal pumpkin soup, and a standard Reuben sandwich.
The Yellow Deli even does sweet treats, too, with a vegan carob chip cookie on offer that’s said to be so tasty, it’s “good enough to make [you] question whether [you’d] give up all possessions to live a life on the land.”
Maddison Connaughton / Vice
To top it all off, you can enjoy your meal with a nice pot of yerba mate tea. It’s an herbal tea from the hot climate of Central and South America, and has a grassy, earthy flavor that goes well with outdoorsy food.
Maddison Carraughton / Vice
Once you’re ready to order and talking to your waiter, that’s when they hit you with the backstory of The Twelve Tribes. The deli staff makes no attempt to hide the fact that they’re a religious organization, but they don’t consider themselves a cult.
Luhring Augustine Gallery
The waiter explains that their group was founded in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by a guy named Gene Spriggs. Spriggs now goes by the name Yoneq, as all Twelve Tribes members must adopt a new Hebrew name after joining.
Back in the 1970s, the Twelve Tribes group operated as a youth ministry, called the Light Brigade, that met in a coffee shop at the Spriggs’ home. The ministry grew slowly through the network of a local Presbyterian church, until they were large enough to split off.
Though there are Twelve Tribes communities all over the world, the one near Katoomba has about 100 members, all living on a farm. Every member works: some do farm chores, some work in the Yellow Deli, and some homeschool the group’s children.
The deli staff commonly invites visitors and guests to join them at evening worship events, designed to foster a sense of community and family. At these events, members dance, sing, and play acoustic music, taking special care to speak to any visitors and welcome them.
The Twelve Tribes
However, it isn’t all fun and games. Twelve Tribes members aren’t permitted to drink alcohol, smoke, or watch TV. Children must always be supervised by an adult, and no one is allowed to vote.
Moreover, anyone joining the community must get rid of almost all of their worldly possessions. One couple who joined the Tribes in 1996 — and later left — told how they threw away books and clothes, and were told to give their car and bank savings to the community.
The Standby Jetsetter
Then, only once members are on the inside, the true, sinister nature of the group emerges. Far from his Presbyterian roots, leader Spriggs has said that homosexual individuals deserve a death penalty, and that black people must “submit” to white people to be “saved.”
Pulpit and Pen
What’s more, women in the Tribes are expected to defer to their husbands on everything. When giving birth, they’re not permitted to have any pain medication, due to Spriggs’s belief that women must “atone for Eve’s original sin” with their pain.
This birth practice, and the belief that Tribes women must have at least seven kids, leads to stillbirths and miscarriages at a higher than normal rate. In the event of those complications, women are rarely taken to the hospital; instead they’re told to pray and hope they’re healed.
The kids that do survive aren’t allowed to enjoy their childhoods, receiving beatings with wooden sticks several times a day for doing things like talking too loudly or opening the fridge. Under the principle that physical discipline raises disciplined adults, even infants can be beaten for throwing a bottle.
If children are able-bodied, they’re made to work full-time and unpaid in the Tribes’ cafes, factories, farms, and woodworking shops from the time they’re 12 or 13. Minors must keep out of sight, and if anyone asks, they’re told to say they are 18.
So, is the food at the Yellow Deli worth it? True, it runs on child labor and twists Christianity to justify cruelty. But hey, if you’re willing to turn a blind eye, that Reuben sure does taste good. The Twelve Tribes aren’t quite the strangest cult out there, however.
Maddison Carraughton / Vice
1. The Ant Hill Kids: Roch “Moïse” Thériault, who believed the apocalypse would come in February of 1979, was the leader of this doomsday cult, and went on to be one of Canada’s most infamous convicts; which makes a lot of sense once you hear out some of his wild ideas.
Thériault lured a large group of people to partake in his spiritual wisdom. Unsurprisingly, he ordered nine of the women (who essentially became his concubines) to have sex with him and the commune’s other men in order to grow their numbers.
Thériault, AKA “Moses,” brutally chopped off the forearm of one of his followers; she frantically escaped to a hospital, finally getting authorities to investigate the Ant Hill. Thériault was inevitably found guilty of murder in 1993.
2. Ho No Hana Sanpogyo: This “foot reading cult” was started by Hogen Fukunaga in 1987. He boasted to be the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and Buddha. He also claimed to have the ability to diagnose issues by means of meticulously reading foot soles.
Cult members in Japan shelled out thousands of dollars for bogus foot examinations, bogus bibles, and religious training courses. The cult, which earned millions of dollars, was eventually found fraudulent in the early 2000s. Who woulda thunk it?
3. Order Of The Solar Temple: This secret society mixed beliefs and practices of Christianity, New Age philosophy, Freemason ceremonies, and, oh yeah, UFOs. While they believed in the afterlife, they thought it occurred on other planets.
Seventy-four members involved in oddly ritualistic murder-suicides between the years of 1994 and 1997 put an end to this cult. Corpses were even found on the floor, painstakingly patterned in the shape of the sun.
4. Freedomites: This cult, AKA the Sons of Freedom, took nudist living to the extreme. It originated in 1902 in Saskatchewan, Canada, as a group of zealots who broke away from traditional Doukhobor beliefs.
These Russian zealots partook in nude protests, opposing traditional government-run education, land registration, and anything resembling materialistic life. In the ’20s and ’30s, they even went as far as to violently bomb and burn down several public buildings.
5. National Action: Today, there are anti-Semitic, far-right terrorism death-cults recruiting kids as young as 13 in the UK, and National Action, which was banned in 2016, was the one that inspired them all.
The death-cult was home to a member who planned to murder a Labour MP, one who attempted to decapitate a man in a Tesco, and one who plotted a bloodbath at an LGBTQ+ pride celebration. You get the gist, they’re bad people.
6. Aetherius Society: Former British taxi driver George King founded the Aetherius religion in the mid ’50s after being visited by an extraterrestrial intelligence named, you guessed it, “Aetherius.”
King believed that “Cosmic Masters,” who mostly consisted of aliens from Venus and Saturn, controlled the future of humanity. Together, the Aetherius Society “spiritually charged” the world via prayer to properly ready Earth for its “Next Master.”
This messiah would come down to our planet in a grand flying saucer, bearing magic of strength greater than “the combined materialistic might of all the armies.” The cult’s weirdly charming motto is “Service is the jewel in the rock of attainment.” Well, at least they didn’t believe in murder!
7. Chen Tao: This Taiwanese UFO cult, also called the True Way Cult, was created by former professor Hon-Ming Chen, whose brain clearly housed a mishmash of oddities.
Among many things, Chen proclaimed the Earth was 4.5 trillion years old, our solar system was birthed through nuclear war, humans each have three souls, and that God had come, via flying saucer, to save humanity five separate times.
Unfortunately, his 160 devoted disciples lost all faith when Chen ensured them God Himself would appear on a particular North American TV channel, whether or not you paid for cable, at exactly 12:01 a.m. on March 31, 1998. God didn’t get the memo.
8. Raëlism: More aliens! French sports-car journalist Claude Vorilhon created an alien-based religion in 1974. He believed that aliens created the human species. While this is a bit cuckoo, Raëlism also involved advocating for peace, democracy, nonviolence, and a liberal view on social issues, such as gender and sexuality.
All That’s Interesting
But Vorilhon, AKA Raël, also insisted that shapeshifting alien messengers would come to check up on Earth, appearing in human forms that included the likes of Jesus Christ and Buddha. Um, okay.
Despite the cult’s sex-positive attitude, its women were paraded around like objects. Some of the members even posed with Raël for Playboy in 200!
While basically everything about Raëlism is bizarre, nothing is more bonkers than Raël’s claim to have cloned a human baby in the early 2000s. In case you were wondering, there was zero proof of this.
These cults were all started by charismatic men. It begs the question, why is this the path that they chose, and how much does our lifestyle at age three impact our adult lives? Probably more than you’d think.
Harry Potts / Flickr
In fact, countless studies show the details of your childhood play a major role in your adult personality. Also, it’s possible to use this knowledge of childhood development to better understand the ins and outs of adults, too. Even the really despicable ones.
In the case of Jim Jones—propagator of the infamous “Jonestown Massacre,” which saw the mass suicide of 918 people via poisoned Kool-Aid—early childhood is a useful lens through which a little clarity about his future is found. The clues were seemingly there all along…
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia
As a boy, Jones loved rituals and would regularly lead his schoolyard friends in bizarre funeral processions for mice. These funerals were no half-measures, either, and often featured lit candles, altars, shrouds, and all manners of holy rites…
Stephen lliffe / Flickr
As an adult, Jones was a smooth talker, able to charm and win over nearly anyone and everyone he spoke with. Even his vocal inflections, which were said to recall those of a spirited preacher.
He developed this command of language in his early childhood, as he was known to deliver sermons to his classmates in a barn behind his house. There, he provided his guests with something telling of the future…
ARC’s Photos / Flickr
At his gatherings, Jones’ love of ritual was on full display. He wore a bedsheet that served as a makeshift robe, and he read from an old Bible. As a refreshment, the future cult leader would provide lemonade or sweet punch, a haunting foreshadowing of the future massacre.
The greatest indication of his monstrous future, however, started with a gift from Jones’ mother. Holding big dreams for her charismatic son, Lynetta Jones bought young Jim a medical kit, which he put to horrifying use.
Mars Lander / Flickr
As just a boy, Jones would use the kit to perform medical experiments on rodents, cross-species blood transfusions, and on time he even amputated a chicken’s leg in order to place it on a duck. Red flag, mom!
Even though he wasn’t shy by any means, Jones felt like an outsider as a kid, readily aware of how different he was from his classmates. Later on, this influenced his tendencies to flock to and “recruit” people he perceived as being marginalized, such as African Americans and even hobos.
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia
Despite living in a secular family, Jones sought comfort in churches throughout his neighborhood. He found a home in the Gospel Tabernacle, a house of worship where people spoke in tongues.
There, an influential woman at the church helped him nurture his gifts as a speaker. The older Jones grew, however, the less influence he found his sermons having with this crowd…
Indytnt / Wikimedia
Fewer and fewer friends and classmates showed up to his barnyard sermons, which Jones took personally. It’s no surprise, then, that when people started leaving his People’s Temple cult, he took that personally as well.
Obviously, signs of the future tragedies were observable from an early age for Jim Jones. Would it have been possible to foresee what he would become — and save 918 lives?
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia