Religious group, skeptics differ on path

Aug. 27 – FORT COLLINS – Members of a group known as The Brethren said they offer spiritual fulfillment for young people who think their lives are hollow, aimless and loveless.

The men – riding mountain bikes and wearing unkempt beards, tunics and sandals – said they are following in the footsteps of Jesus, living simply, devoting themselves to religious contemplation and traveling the country in small groups to witness the Gospel.

“I consider my- self a Bible-believing Christian,” Jerry Williams said as he and his “brothers” talked to The Denver Post outside the Fort Collins Public Library.

“Our main message is we’re trying to live as Christ and the early disciples did,” said Williams, 36, who is camping with three others in the Poudre Canyon. “We require what the Messiah required – it has to do with forsaking worldly possessions and living for God every day.”

Group members are in Fort Collins for the first time to invite Colorado State University students and other young people to join them, he said.

Cult experts, former members and parents whose children have disappeared warn that The Brethren is a cult with about 100 members controlled by a former Marine named Jim Roberts.

Roberts uses distorted religious doctrine to persuade members to reject their families, the group’s detractors said.

“It is very clearly communicated to them that they must not initiate contact with their parents,” said Ronald Loomis, a cult-awareness educator with the American Family Foundation in Naples, Fla. “That is the best way for the cult to maintain 100 percent control of their lives.”

CSU Police Chief Donn Hopkins said Wednesday that authorities have not seen The Brethren on campus but that investigators are researching the group.

Meanwhile, workers in downtown Fort Collins said they have observed the men engaging young people in conversation at coffee shops and other Old Town hangouts.

Concern about The Brethren is rising in Fort Collins as the case of one member, Patrick Rooney, 24, of Wilmington, Mass., plays out in local courts.

Rooney’s parents tracked their son to the northern Colorado city and had him arrested Aug. 10 on an outstanding warrant for larceny in his hometown. Their cross-country search for Patrick was detailed on a “PrimeTime Live” segment, which was rebroadcast Wednesday night. The Rooneys invoked the warrant in a desperate attempt to wrench their son from the group, said Loomis, who has worked closely with the couple.

Mickey and Dorothy Rooney declined to talk to The Post. “The Roberts group does use deception, does use manipulation and does use recruitment. They do require people to sever all ties with family and friends,” Loomis said.

But Williams and his friends said the Rooneys and other parents simply can’t accept that their children choose the group and its unusual lifestyle of their own free will.

As they spoke, the men were polite, thoughtful and seemingly sincere in their convictions.

Asked whether his group is a cult that brainwashes its members, Williams responded: “If your definition includes mind control, then no. We have a lot of liberties. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I think and why.”

He said evangelism is an integral part of Christianity, and his group focuses on college students because “we’ve found them to be more open.”

But cult watchers said The Brethren targets college students not because they are “open” but because they are often vulnerable and searching for self-identity.

“I was psychologically kidnapped into the group and physically kidnapped out,” said a Highlands Ranch woman who joined The Brethren for three months in 1979, before her brother took her away.

Roberts teaches his followers that parents are “used by Satan to try to snare their children’s souls,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified.

The men in Fort Collins insisted that group members are free to communicate with their families. Yet most cut ties when their families raise doubts or try to coax them from the group, the men admitted.

“This whole issue of one’s parents comes down to what the Bible says. The Scripture says that a man’s foes shall be they of his own household,” said Daniel Garcia, 22, a two-year group member from Albuquerque. “It’s up to each one of us to consider whether his parents are his foes.”

Added Williams, who dropped out of high school to join: “We don’t want to be talked out or forced out of this lifestyle.”

The men, and other group members scattered around the nation, live like homeless transients. They camp in forests, hang out at public libraries, subsist on discarded grocery-store produce and earn the money they need selling bicycles made with scrap parts, the members in Fort Collins said. The method of living has earned the group the derogatory name “The Garbage Eaters,” a term group members disdain. Through this lifestyle – and countless hours spent studying and

witnessing the Scriptures – they have found God’s love, said Tom Carroll, 27, who was raised in a broken home and has been a group member for more than three years.

He left a live-in girlfriend and a good job as a produce buyer for a natural-foods grocery in Chicago.

“Even though I had all those things, they didn’t provide me with love,” Carroll said, “and that’s something I absolutely need.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Denver Post, USA
Aug. 27, 1998
Coleman Cornelius
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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 27, 1998.
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