GRANTS, N.M. (AP) – A grand jury indicted last week four members of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect in connection with a child abuse and child sexual abuse investigation.
Those indictments Friday came after armed Cibola County deputies raided the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in secluded Fence Lake, New Mexico, following more than two years of interviews, searches and monitoring.
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Sect co-leader Deborah Green is facing charges of failure to report a birth, child abuse and sexual penetration of a minor. And one of her lieutenants, Peter Green, faces 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child on suspicion of raping a girl from the time she was 7.
Here’s a look at the group, founded in California, which has operated for years in New Mexico largely under the radar of authorities.
HISTORY OF THE SECT
James Green and his wife Deborah Green (who also goes by the name Lila Green) opened Free Love Ministries in 1982 with four communal houses in Sacramento, California. The Greens had little ministry training but attracted about 50 members. They operated a military structure like the Salvation Army. The Greens adopted the titles of “general.”
The sect raised money by operating custom frame shop.
A few years later, a Christian radio station refused to broadcast the Greens’ content about demons promoting homosexuality, karate and fairy tales.
Maura Alana Schmierer, a former member, later sued the group for locking her in a shed without a toilet and for forcing her to give up legal custody of three of her children. A judge in 1989 awarded her $1.08 million. But the group fled California for Oregon and later resurfaced near El Paso, Texas, and then in western New Mexico.
By the 1990s, the group was known as the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps. Members call Deborah Green an “oracle” who has direct communication with God.
A “HATE GROUP”
While in Berino, New Mexico, the group began publishing a newspaper sharing their militaristic and apocalyptic beliefs. Their literature caught the attention of Mark Pitcavage, now a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Pitcavage says rhetoric around “warfare” for people’s souls was unusual for the early 1990s. The group’s brochures he later obtained spoke about “bloody Islam” and how homosexuality was responsible for a “decaying society.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center listed the sect as a hate group.
Andrew Chesnut, a religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the group appears to practice an extreme form of Pentecostalism.
“But some of their beliefs are so outside the mainstream,” Chesnut said.
Former member say the Greens refuse to give medical services to commune members and prevent members from reporting births.
When a former member asked Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace to check on his son authorities located the 12-year-old’s body. The boy had reportedly died of the flu and didn’t receive medical treatment, Mace said.
James Green told reporters members didn’t give medical treatment because it was part of their Christian beliefs and few would understand that.
After interviewing former members during a two-year investigation, Mace obtained warrants to arrest Deborah Green and three others over child abuse and child sexual abuse charges. The armed deputies raided the commune during Sunday services on Aug. 20. Mace was worried deputies might face armed resistance from the armed sect. Not shots were fired.
On Wednesday, deputies arrested four more members in two vans filled with 11 children. Mace said the members, under investigation for not reporting the birth of children, were seeking to feel to the sect’s Colorado location.
An attorney for the four members said they were coming to Albuquerque to meet with him.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.