Kennebec Journal: 20 youths arrested in raid on commune

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20 youths arrested in raid on commune

Kennebec Journal ( Augusta, Maine)/1976-12-04

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Complaints from neighbors led to a police raid on the commune of a free-love religious cult and the arrest of 20 youths, including 10 Americans, diplomatic sources said Friday. Police fund obscene photographs as well as letters condemning the Chilean military regime of Gem. Augusto Pinochet and the alleged U.S. role in setting it up, the sources said.

The Americans, along with one West German and nine Latins, were charged with possession of obscene and subversive literature. All are members of the secretive Children of God sect, a fundamentalist group that sprang from the hippie movement of the 1960s and now has 160 communes in the Americas and Europe.

The diplomatic sources said police picked up the youths in a Buenos Aires suburb on Wednesday. The cult members are now reported to be in custody at federal police headquarters. The sources said the youths were allowed visits by their diplomats and did not complain of mistreatment.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the Americans - seven men and three women all in their 20s - would be deported soon, but there was no confirmation. She refused to give their names. A West German woman in her 20s, a Costa Rican man and his Panamanian wife, and seven Argentines were also reportedly being held.

The sect grew out of the hippie and Jesus movements of the 1960s and now has a membership of more than 3,500 living in 120 communes in the United States and 40 overseas. It recently expanded into Latin America, operating from a center in San Jose, Costa Rica.

There was no immediate reaction from the church to the arrests. The church, founded by a Californian named David Berg who reportedly lives in England. requires total devotion and obedience from its members and applies a sexual interpretation to the Bible.

Acting on parents' complaints, the New York attorney general's office investigated the sect and concluded that "brainwashing techniques are deliberately employed." Members take Biblical names, organize their lives in strict schedules, study the Bible and learn a trade. But they do not hold jobs and often live on money from home. In Buenos AIres, the youths passed out pamphlets and solicited cash on the streets to earn their living.