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Religious Commune Says Accused Kidnappers Were 'Deprogrammers'

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Three family members accused of kidnapping a relative living in a Vista religious commune told authorities they were trying to save the man from brainwashing. The church, in turn, blamed the alleged attempt on 'cult experts' who told the family they could 'deprogram' the man.Robert Martinez, 24, was residing at a religious commune associated with The Twelve Tribes Community/Church in Vista, the L.A. Times reports. On June 5, a Vista deputy heard a crash at the church at about 5 p.m. and saw two vans driving away from the scene when he responded. Assuming that what had occurred was a hit-and-run, the deputy called for backup and pursued the vans, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. After a brief chase, deputies questioned to the four people they found in the vans and arrested the three family members: Andres Martinez-Manso, 51; Eliza Martinez, 25; and Robert Harry Matthew, 25. All three are from Puerto Rico. The trio said that they were trying to save Martinez from brainwashing.

Following the incident, Martinez declined to press charges against his relatives, but rejoined the group. He has been a member for five years and is married to a woman who is also a member. The couple is currently expecting their first child.

Twelve Tribes released a statement on Tuesday that pointed the finger at "so-called cult experts" who had promised the three relatives that they could "deprogram" Martinez. The statement expressed concern for Martinez's family, saying, "Our hearts and prayers go out to Robert's family. We know this must be a painfully difficult time for them." The Church also alleged there were more than just the three relatives involved, including another man who was able to run off before the deputy arrived.

Twelve Tribes has been known by different names in the past, but was founded by Gene Spriggs in Chattanooga in 1972. They model themselves after the original church described in the Bible in The Book of Acts. According to their website, they believe that "the world is on a course towards one world government and one world religion, which will ultimately join together in an oppressive tyranny, bringing the world to the brink of destruction." The faithful will be driven out, but will eventually return to fight against evil. Yahshua, the Son of God, and his followers will eventually triumph over evil and Yahshua will take his throne in Jerusalem to rule over 1,000 years of peace.

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The group wears loose and modest clothing and the men wear beards. They do not watch TV. Their children are home-schooled are not allowed to have toys. There are about 3,000 members worldwide, and they often work on farms and sell the produce at farmers markets. The church also operates a number of bakeries, cafes and eateries, including a popular chain called The Yellow Deli.

Some ex-members have accused the group of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of its members, including children. A journalist who infiltrated a commune in Bavaria said he compiled over 50 different scenes of members beating children. Police raided two different communities in 2013 and placed 40 children in foster homes, according to The Independent. The group openly states they believe in spanking on their site: "When [children] are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which stings but does not damage. The rod removes guilt from their soul, and trains them to do good. But we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist. We specifically teach against such treatment of children. We also know that forced discipline is ineffective. So we do not spank unless our child is ready to receive instruction."