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.
FOR HUTTERIANS, THERE'S A STORM BEFORE THE
1,700 Calls Spark Probe; Summit Set For Today
Blaise Schweitzer, Kingston Daily Freeman,
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
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
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
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."
DIFFERENCES REMAIN OVER BRUDERHOFS
Hutterians Walk Out After Talks, But Leader Says
Hope Isn't Lost
Blaise Schweitzer, Kingston Daily Freeman,
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
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,
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.
HUTTERIAN RIFT EMERGES
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
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
by Jim Gordon, Woodstock Times / Huguenot
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.
ALMOST 400 HARASSING PHONE CALLS WERE
DIALED FROM PHONES INSIDE THE WOODCREST
BRUDERHOF IN RIFTON.
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
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
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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