PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — Just up the hill from Plymouth Rock, the Blue Blinds Bakery has been a favorite among locals in "America's hometown" since it opened eight years ago. But lately, this usually serene cafe has been abuzz with talk of accusations made by an anonymous poster on its Facebook page.
The Christian sect that owns the bakery — The Twelve Tribes — has been forced to defend itself against allegations of racism and child abuse from the poster, who identifies himself as a former sect member and bakery worker.
About three weeks ago, messages began to appear accusing the sect of disciplining children with a cane or a wooden stick — on the open palm or bare buttocks — sometimes dozens of times each day. The messages also implied the sect was racist and endorsed slavery.
The poster identified himself to The Associated Press as Kayam Mathias, 21, a former bakery worker who says he left the sect five years ago.
"I saw many kids beaten as 'discipline,' many times out of anger. The idea is to drive out the evil one from as early as possible," he told the AP.
The postings have bewildered some Facebook followers and prompted others to denounce the sect and the people who run the bakery. Still others pledge allegiance to a business they say they'll continue to trust.
Lev Bryant, 41, a sect member who manages the bakery, denied the allegations of child abuse and racism.
"There's no child abuse here — period," he said. "We're trying to deal with this fraudulent issue."
Bryant confirmed that Mathias was a member of the sect and worked at the bakery.
A Twelve Tribes commune in Island Pond, Vermont, was raided by police in 1984 after allegations of child abuse. More than 100 children were removed but were returned hours later after a judge said the raid was illegal.
Last year, an elder from the sect in southern Germany was convicted in Noerdlingen state court in Bavaria of causing bodily harm by hitting a child in his care with a 4-foot switch.
Plymouth police Capt. John Rogers said police have never received any reports of child abuse by sect members and are not investigating. He said that he called the bakery after hearing about the postings, but that workers indicated they did not want to file a complaint.
Twelve Tribes was founded in the 1970s in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The group later moved to Vermont, then expanded to locations around the world.
Members live and work together and home-school their children. In Plymouth, the group also runs a grocery store and has a compound-style property in the historic district, where the Pilgrims first settled.
On its website, Twelve Tribes says it has 2,000 to 3,000 members who live a "tribal life" in different geographical areas of the world, "so as to be a demonstration of how God has always wanted His people to live."
The regulars who go to the bakery for apple cinnamon scones, cranberry almond biscotti and other homemade pastries say the controversy won't drive them away.
Mike Coleman, a retiree who meets a group of friends there a couple of times a week, said sect members are friendly and visible in the community.
"From everything I have seen from these people, they've been good neighbors and good community people," he said.