What Is Twelve Tribes? Authorities Suspect "Cult" Land as Source of Colorado Wildfire

Authorities have honed in on a potential source of the devastating wildfires that have wreaked havoc across Colorado over the last week. The Marshall fire, now the most destructive in the state's history, may have started on land owned by what some have dubbed a religious cult: The Twelve Tribes.

The focus moved to the area after an observer driving by noticed a shed fire on land owned by the sect on the morning before the wildfire started. The observer shot a video of the blaze, which was posted to Twitter by user Anjan Sapkota on Thursday. It has so far been viewed over 117,000 times.

Authorities now believe that, at least, the Marshall fire started somewhere in the vicinity of the shed, according to The Denver Post.

"The fire originated somewhere in that neighborhood," Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told reporters at a Sunday press conference. "There was a viral video that was posted of a shed on fire. We don't know that that shed started the fire or whether it was secondary."

marshall fire twelve tribes cult
Colorado authorities now suspect that the Marshall wildfire started on land owned by the Twelve Tribes religious sect. Above, two homes burn during a wildfire in the Centennial Heights neighborhood on December 30, 2021, in Louisville, Colorado. Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Initially founded in Tennessee in the 1970s, the Twelve Tribes is a fringe Christian fundamentalist sect that advocates a literalist interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. It also takes a dim view of all other Christian denominations.

"The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve worldwide self-governing tribes, made up of self-governing communities," the group's website states. "We are disciples of the Son of God (whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua). We follow the pattern of the early church written in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, sharing all things in common. We believe everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible."

Since its founding, the group has established locations across the United States, as well as in South America, Europe, and Asia. Its members operate various cafes, delis, and restaurants, including one in Boulder County, Colorado, known as the Yellow Deli.

In 2018, the South Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the Twelve Tribes as a "cult" and detailed some of its allegedly hateful and problematic beliefs.

"Christian fundamentalist cult born in the American South in the 1970s, is little-known to much of the country, and on first impression, its communes and hippie-vibed restaurants and cafes can seem quaint and bucolic," the SPLC wrote. "But beneath the surface lies a tangle of doctrine that teaches its followers that slavery was 'a marvelous opportunity' for Black people, who are deemed by the Bible to be servants of whites, and that homosexuals deserve no less than death."

The sect has previously been investigated for alleged breaches of child labor laws and has run into legal trouble in Germany over its homeschooling practices. In 2019, a former member told the University of Colorado Boulder's student newspaper, CU Independent, that he was beaten as a child during his time in the Twelve Tribes.

At the Sunday press conference, Sheriff Pelle stressed that the exact origin of the Marshall fire has not been definitively proven and refused to speculate on the matter.

"It's complicated and it's under snow," he said. "We will sort it out. It's an active, open deal and the outcome of that investigation is vital, there is so much at stake. So we are going to be careful."

When reached by Newsweek for comment the Boulder County Sheriff's Office had nothing further to say on the matter.

Update 01/04/22, 7:15 p.m. ET:This article has been updated with a response from the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.