Two communities affiliated with a U.S.-founded Christian sect have been raided by German police, who removed 40 children after allegations of abuse.
Officials say they acted after receiving evidence of ongoing child abuse at the two communities in Bavaria belonging to the Twelve Tribes, according to Germany's Spiegel Online.
According to the BBC, more than 100 officers were part of the operation to remove the children, who were placed in temporary foster homes.
The BBC writes:
"The US-founded sect says it believes in spanking children if disobedient.
"But it said a 'small reed-like rod' was used intended only to inflict 'pain and not damage' and was not abusive.
" 'Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist,' the group, which has communities in 10 countries around the world, says on its website about raising children.
" 'We know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial, but we have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority.' "
An article in the AL.com from last year features a Tennessee branch of the Twelve Tribes and describes members living communally: "We live together and share everything we own," one of the adherents of the community in Pulaski, Tenn., told the website.
The group, on its website, describes the sect's philosophy:
"We love working with each other on our farms and in our cottage industries, doing folk dances and playing music, building, teaching our children at home, and caring for one another. Our desire is to live as naturally as possible by being close to Creation and to people. Our vision: not a lifestyle, but the forming of a new nation – the twelve tribe nation of Israel. We want to be restored back to what we were created to be."
In the 1970s and '80s, the Twelve Tribes was labeled a "cult" by other Christian denominations. The sect now reportedly owns a deli in Island Pond, Vt., and a tall ship named the Peacemaker, which it uses to promote ecological causes.
In a story in The New Yorker, coincidentally published just Wednesday, writer John Clarke says about 20 members of the "Amish-style hippie group" traveling in a bus called the Peacemaker have, Deadhead-style, been trailing iconic musician Bob Dylan's latest tour:
"Critics contend that the Twelve Tribes is a cult that actively recruits at concert venues by preying on the heavily inebriated and highly vulnerable — basically, stoned kids. Dylan concerts appear to be the group's latest hunting grounds."
[An earlier version of this post included a photo of a sailing vessel that was misidentified as the tall ship the Peacemaker that belongs to the Twelve Tribes sect]