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Anti-Cult Activism versus Sociology of Religion?Child Custody Building Blocks

MUNICH, 12.02.2015 (FOREF Europe) – On Sept. 5, 2013 German authorities seized 42 children from a Twelve Tribes Community in Klosterzimmern, near the Bavarian town of Nördlingen. 100 policemen and 60 social workers executed the raid in the early morning and the children were taken by force. One anti-cult activist has showed distinctive engagement in this case: Sabine Riede, managing director of Sekten-Info NRW, was directly involved in preparing the raid against the community. She also wrote the preface to Robert Pleyers’ apostate story “Satan Never Sleeps” (2014).

FOREF Europe analyzed her allegations and contrasted them to the statements of Susan Palmer, a scholar of sociology and expert on the “Twelve Tribes”, that she made in her “Update on the Raid of the Children of the Twelve Tribes in Germany” written in January 2014, on-site at the Klosterzimmern Community.


sabine riede - sekteninfo nrw

Sabine Riede of Sekten-Info NRW

Riede boasts about the police raid that took over 40 children away from their parents: “It is the biggest action of this kind in the history of the Federal Republic of German. The taking into custody was well prepared…” Palmer on the other hand claims that “This raid was prompted by allegations of physical abuse. But when doctors examined the children, they found no evidence.”


Riede claims “the endangerment of the children was so vast according to the view of the authorities that interference into the custody of the parents was unavoidable.”1

Susan Palmer

Susan Palmer

Palmer states: “Normally, when abuse is suspected, the Jugendamt (Youth Office) is required by law to send social workers to work with individual families to help them resolve problems. Only in extreme cases are children taken by the state. In this case, there was no warning. This emergency action was justified by the concern expressed that the ‘sect’ would flee.”

The local physician Dr. Mainka, who examined all 42 children taken into custody on the day of the raid, wrote: “All 42 children/youth medically examined did not show any skin alterations or injuries typical for abuse. There also weren’t any indicators for a psychological abuse of minors; the parent-child relationship in each case was intact in the framework of the examination.”

Corroborating the testimony of Dr. Mainka are the reports of the school psychologist, Dr. Stapf, who for years confirmed the health and well-being of all of the children he visited, stating there was “never any indication for abuse.”


Riede says, “The placement of the children in foster families and homes was supposed to contribute to the growing up of these girls and boys in love, trust and understanding in spite of their separation from their parents.”

Palmer notes, “Parents report that many of the exiled children are not doing well. Some are in convents, others in shelters for delinquent teens. Two boys, one diabetic boy and one who fell down a staircase, have been rushed to hospital. But a seventeen year-old lad who broke his wrist has received no medical care. Some appear traumatized by being separated from parents and family, and are constantly asking to see a beloved brother or sister. “

Some children were housed in institutions for delinquent and troubled youth and treated as criminals, being behind locked doors and having very limited freedom of movement. Others were put with foster parents totally controlled by the Jugendamt to discredit, tear down, separate and destroy the parent-child relationships in these families, which, according to Dr. Mainka’s report were “very strong” on the day of the raid


Riede claims “life in the Twelve Tribes is one of total control for the members in all aspects” and she finds fault with what she determines the beliefs and rules of the community to be.

Palmer states, “I find it quite appalling that the very serious decision on whether to award the custody of the children of the Twelve Tribes to the state or to the biological parents should be based on the writings of “sect experts” like (…) Sabine Riede of Sekten-Info Nordrhein-Westfalen. Having read [her] writings on the Twelve Tribes I can say with confidence that they reveal [the sect experts’] ignorance, their sloppy, irresponsible approach to social scientific research, and a value-laden, biased, stereotypical ‘anti-cult’ view of so-called ‘Sekten’.”



Salem Joy, Robert Pleyer’s former wife.

In her introduction to “Satan Never Sleeps” Riede goes on to criticize the leadership of the Twelve Tribes and sympathizes with apostate Robert Pleyer, saying “he had to wait six years before he gets permission to be married.” The fact is that the girl he married was 13 years old (!) when he started to like her as her teacher. Her parents are full of regret that they consented to the marriage when she was 19. Pleyer was abusive and drove her into psychiatric episodes that she had never experienced before her marriage to him.2

Applying half-truths and projecting simple victim-offender-patterns in order to maintain and reinforce the dubious image of religious minorities, has become an established method of “sect experts”. Accordingly, Riede heaps praise upon Robert Pleyer who is “due my admiration” because he wrote a book defaming the community, which was in complete compliance with her pre-determined agenda against the Twelve Tribes. She herself went to the Family Court Judge (Familiengericht) claiming the necessity of a search warrant, providing unreliable information to the court to assert her own “power on the backs of helpless children” (her charge against Twelve Tribes members). Instrumentalizing the police and the Jugendamt, Riede intruded into the relationship between parents and children.

Palmer notes that the “Jugendamt dates back to World War II, when it was created to provide aid for war orphans. This expert advisory body exists only in Germany, with the status of a Guardian Council. It is independent and autonomous, and its power exceeds even that of the police. The Jugendamt can enter a family residence on the basis of an anonymous allegation and, even without a court order, can take a child into custody. This often leads to pre-emptive measures and scrambling for evidence in order to obtain post hoc judicial approval of arbitrary raids. Complaints concerning the Jugendamt have been brought to the attention of the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights – many claiming that its employees defend their own bureaucratic interests and the cultural norms of German social policy.”

Was the brutal intervention of the Jugendamt justified in the case of the Twelve Tribes? Meanwhile even apostate Robert Pleyer emphasizes that education in the community does not work through punishment only but is accompanied by loving attention and explanation. On November 17th, 2014 he gave an interview on t-online. There he literally says:

Robert Pleyer: In general, the members of the Twelve Tribes are very much concerned about child rearing, and their social structures are very secure. There is stability for the children. People talk a lot with their children. To take time for the children, and to really turn your heart to them has a high priority. Like this, despite the chastisement, there is more passed on to them, than if you just don’t care about your children. The way the Twelve Tribes raise their children, creates more harmony and peace.3


A few children that have been taken into state custody have come of age and returned home, while any old enough to run away did so and also returned home. Sixteen children remain under state control and are treated as prisoners in confinement with every word in parental visits being scrutinized in order to break family bonds. The courts and the Jugendamt (youth office) are repeatedly acting against German law. The legal procedures initiated by the parents of the community are still ongoing.

“But they can’t admit they made an error,” one father said. “They are trying to construct a case against us, inviting apostates and sect experts as witnesses.”

Freedom of religion and belief is enshrined in the Bavarian and German Constitutions, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents that Germany has ratified, and so are the rights of parents and children to family integrity. However, in the experience of the Twelve Tribes communities in Germany their unalienable rights and freedoms are being subjugated by the influential agenda of self-proclaimed ‘sect experts’ affiliated with FECRIS. Consequently, the scholarly findings of sociologists concerning the community’s beliefs, practices and social features are being reduced to a mere matter of opinion.

Will the 16 children in state custody ever return to their parents? Will Germany grant freedom of faith to a minority group that does not agree with the moral decay in society and public schools and wants to offer an alternative to its children?

Sabine Riede is a so-called “sect expert” who makes a policy of deliberately not speaking to members of the groups she condemns. She draws her information from apostates and newspaper articles. Riede is the managing director of Sekten-Info NRW, which is one of the German founding members of the controversial European anti-cult umbrella organization FECRIS (European Federation of Centers for Research and Information) that unites 25 anti-sect groups.

Susan Palmer, Ph.D., is a Canadian sociologist of religion who has been researching the Twelve Tribes extensively since 1988. She currently works as a researcher at McGill University in Montreal and has been an affiliate professor at Concordia University. She is recognized among academics as the leading expert on the Twelve Tribes and has interviewed their founder in 1994. She has attended worship services and significant community events and has spent countless hours researching numerous Twelve Tribes Communities throughout the world, interviewing founding members and young people alike. She is co-author of a forthcoming book called “Storming Zion: Government Raids on Alternative Religious Communities,” published by Oxford University Press (2015).



  1. Not according to Herr Kanth, head the Jugendamt, on April 18, 2013: “Every four to six weeks employees of the Youth Office visit at the farm. We see there happy, well-behaved children who cling to their parents,” says Kanth. “We have no recourse to take them from their families.”
  2. For her side of the story, see the posts, “Robert Pleyer’s (former) Wife Speaks Out,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  3. Original quote in German: „An sich machen sich die Mitglieder der Zwölf Stämme viele Gedanken um Kindererziehung und ihre sozialen Strukturen sind sehr sicher. Die Kinder haben dort einen Halt. Es wird viel mit ihnen geredet. Sich für sie Zeit zu nehmen, sich ihnen zuzuwenden hat eine hohe Priorität. Da vermittelt man ihnen trotz Züchtigung mehr, als wenn sie einem egal sind. So wie die Zwölf Stämme ihre Kinder erziehen, bleibt mehr Harmonie erhalten, mehr Ruhe.“ Cf. http://www.t-online.de/eltern/familie/id_71795686/einblicke-in-die-zwoelf-staemme-ein-aussteiger-berichtet.html.