Utopia Gone Awry: Profiles in American Cults

Cults whether fictional or real are having a cultural moment. The recent success of Hulu’s “The Path” and “American Horror Story: Cult” in which we see versions of cult leaders like David Koresh and Jim Jones – all portrayed by Evan Peters. Our fascination with cults – real or fictional – may stem from the fine line between being drawn to what appears to be a utopian community and a dangerous, free-will-stripping group.

The Peoples Temple (1955 – 1978)

When Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple in Indiana in 1955, it appealed to many as a progressive organization advocating for civil rights, and operating homes for the elderly and those with mental health issues. Like previous progressive groups, Jones’s goal was to create an egalitarian utopian community. In 1965, Jones moved his family and the Peoples Temple to the Redwood Valley in California, based on recommendations from an article in Esquire suggesting places to survive a nuclear war. In 1974, the Peoples Temple leased land in Guyana, where the group would flee media scrutiny in the United States and set up an agricultural commune. By 1978, the population of “Jonestown” in Guyana had grown to around 900, but a few disillusioned members tipped off the American media of the armed compound in South America and rehearsals of mass suicide. In November 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan traveled to Jonestown where he, three journalists and one defector were shot and killed, before Jones ordered his followers to drink a cyanide-laced drink, resulting the loss of 909 lives.

The Branch Davidians (1955 – 1993)

Although this extremist sect of the Seventh Day Adventists has been active since the 1950s, the Branch Davidians are best known for the 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas. David Koresh, the leader at the time, believed he was the Messiah and declared all women – including those underage or already married – his “spiritual wives.”The group believed the apocalypse was imminent and, fearing its arrival, locked themselves into a sprawling compound. On February 28th, 1993, agents from the Department of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco raided the Waco compound on the suspicion that Koresh was stockpiling weapons. What started as a shootout soon turned into a standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI. It lasted 51 days, and eventually ended when tanks were brought in: the compound was filled with tear gas and caught on fire, leaving more than 80 people dead.

Sullivanians (1957 – 1991)

Saul B. Newton founded The Sullivan Institute in 1957 with his wife, Dr. Jane Pearce, in an attempt to create a viable alternative to the traditional nuclear family, which he viewed as the root of all social anxiety. Located in three buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Sullivan Institute operated as both a therapy center and a polyamorous commune, despite the fact that Newton, the leader, had no formal training as a therapist. Unlike other practicing therapists who worked under a strict code of ethics, there were no such boundaries for the Sullivanians, as the members of the Institute were known, with therapists and other members of the community sleeping with each other regularly. In fact, they were forbidden from engaging in exclusive relationships. Any children born to Sullivanians were sent away to boarding school or caretakers with very little visitation from their parents. All members were encouraged to cut ties with their former friends and family members. In the 1970s, the group – which had around 500 members – merged with a progressive theater collective call the Fourth Wall and relocated to Orlando in 1979 following the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. After seeing a decline in membership in the 1980s, the Sullivan Institute ended with the death of Newton in 1991.

Children of God – Family International (1968 – Present)

David “Moses” Berg founded this communist Christian offshoot in California in 1968. For someone so concerned with moral decay and evolution, Berg had a very sex-centric perspective on how to spread the views of Jesus, including reported recruitment through “flirty fishing” (i.e. using young women to lure in new members by having sex with them) and apparently opposing anti-pedophilia laws – according to some former members, having sex with children was not only permitted, but also a divine right. Berg was a master of propaganda, writing, publishing and distributing pamphlets discussing his teachings. The group changed its name several times – most recently to “Family International” in 2004 – and still exists today, operating in 80 countries, although no longer permits sex between adults and children. Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan were born into the cult and have since left and spoken out against the group. 

Heaven’s Gate (1972 – 1997)

Heaven’s Gate – founded in San Diego in 1972 by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles – was based on the premise that aliens would escort members of the group to the “Kingdom of Heaven” via extraterrestrial spacecraft. They first made headlines in 1975, when they convinced 20 new followers to give up their earthly possessions, leave their families and disappear. On the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite reporting that “it’s a mystery whether they’ve been taken on a so-called trip to eternity – or simply taken.” (They turned out to be living underground, camping everywhere from Rhode Island to Oklahoma.) But Heaven’s Gate is best known for a much more tragic event two decades later. In March 1997, the group carefully planned and then executed a mass suicide, timed to coincide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet, which members thought would conceal the alien spacecraft on its way to earth. Clad in black tunics and Nikes, 39 Heaven’s Gate members ate applesauce mixed chased a sedative with vodka, covered their heads in plastic bags and died. Nine of the 18 men – including Applewhite – had been surgically castrated, as the group mandated celibacy. An upbeat videotaped message made the members prior to the suicide indicated that they were willing – even happy – to die and move to the “next level.”

Source: Associated Press, Reuters, Rolling Stone

Dianne Lake: “Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties”

Dianne Lake was just 14 years old when she first met Charles Manson. Her parents were hippies who moved in the same circles as the charismatic cult leader, who would go on to orchestrate the murders of at least seven people, including actress Sharon Tate. In 1967, Lake was going to love-ins and communes, having been given a note from her parents granting her permission to live on her own. While she never participated in any of the cult’s gruesome crimes, she would spend two years living with the Manson Family, becoming its youngest member. Lake, opened up about the man whose spell she fell under in her book, “Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties

Excerpt:

[It all started with meeting him at a party in LA’s Topanga Canyon at a place called the Spiral Staircase House.]

When we arrived, we climbed the stairs that led into the living room, and a red-haired girl got up to greet us. She stared at me for a minute and ran back to her friends yelling, “Dianne is here! Dianne is here!”

I was incredibly confused. As far as I knew we weren’t planning to go to the party until the last minute, so I couldn’t imagine they were expecting me. The girl returned with three other girls, who all took turns hugging me. The red-haired girl, who called herself Lynette, said, “You are even prettier than your picture. Charlie is going to be so happy to meet you.”

She took my hand and led me to where a bunch of people were sitting in a circle, and in the middle of the floor sat a small man playing the guitar. There were girls surrounding him, singing along to his soulful music of songs I’d never heard before. The girls sat me down, and Lynette kept her arms around my shoulder. As soon as the music stopped, she jumped up and pulled me by the hand.

“Charlie, we found Dianne. She’s here!” They weren’t just excited, they were overjoyed. It had been ages since I felt truly wanted, and all the attention made me feel like royalty.

They were beaming with love and I felt it. Without hesitation, they sat me in their circle as if I belonged and, strange as it may seem, I felt like I belonged there, too.

Lynette must have sensed my confusion, because she began to explain how they recognized me. While I’d been off in the Haight, they’d met my mother at the [hippie commune] Hog Farm. Apparently, my mother had given them my photo and told them to keep an eye out for me if they made it to San Francisco.

What I didn’t understand then and only learned much later was that my parents and siblings had done more than just run into the Family at the Hog Farm and given them my photo. They’d actually taken a trip into the desert with them, traveling in the black school bus that Charlie drove around in and outfitted for his followers.

Many people during this period were painting buses, bread trucks and VW vans with psychedelic Day-Glo colors. Charlie and the girls chose to make a different statement with their monochrome home on wheels, tricking out a surplus school bus by painting it all black, including the windows, which made him easy to spot. To the residents of Tujunga and the Hog Farm, Charlie was known as Black Bus Charlie.

Charlie stood up and looked into my eyes so deeply and intimately that I almost turned away on instinct. Instead I held his gaze and felt like he was looking into me.

“So, this is our Dianne,” he said and pulled me to his chest in a hug so close I could feel his heartbeat. He held on for several seconds and I felt my resistance fade. I was used to the hippie hugs at the Hog Farm, but this felt warm and real. Tears welled up into my eyes as I took in his embrace.

Charlie held me at arm’s length, looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re beautiful. I want to talk to you. I’ve been looking for you.” I sat next to him and listened as he sang and told funny stories. My first impression of him was that he was charming, witty and most of all intriguing.

“Have some root beer, little darling. I give you the last sip in honor of your arrival.”

Lynette and a girl named Patty stroked my hair and passed me a joint while Charlie strummed out more tunes on the guitar. At first I thought Patty was homely. She had a prominent, bulbous nose and thin lips. But when she smiled, her face became beautiful to me. She exuded a motherly warmth and was obviously completely smitten with Charlie. His presence was disarming. He continued to sing and seemed to make up the words as he went along.

“Dianne is home,” he sang out, and the girls joined in with the chorus: “Home is where you are happy.”

Everything felt like a dream. I had been around groups of people grooving on music, but they were often into their own trip. These girls seemed to love one another. They were affectionate like best friends or sisters, but it didn’t seem fake. They weren’t trying to outdo each other in their outrageousness, as was true of those at the Hog Farm, where everything seemed like one big joke. There was something different about this group of girls and about Charlie and while I wasn’t sure what it was, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it. Like a raindrop joining a puddle, I blended in easily, my loneliness disappearing. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

There was a lot of unspoken communication between Charlie and the girls. His expression changed slightly, and as if the scene had been rehearsed, Patty took his guitar from him. He stood, took my hand and led me outside. We walked hand in hand to the black bus. He went in first and motioned for me to follow. It reminded me of a raja’s palace, with mattresses on the floor and Indian-print bedspreads and carpets hanging from the walls. Pillows were strewn about and colorful swirls were painted on any surface not already covered with fabric. This explosion of color was the last thing I’d expected from the blackness of the exterior.

We sat facing each other and the anticipation swelled up inside me. I expected a kiss, but instead Charlie had me put my hands up against his. He moved his hands in different directions until I caught on that I was to follow his every move. It was a game, and I was more than eager to play. It was like he was syncing up our energy. He sped up until I could no longer follow and he started to laugh. Then he guided me onto the mattress and again looked into my eyes so that I felt there was no one else but the two of us in the entire world. “You are so beautiful, my little one.” His voice was barely above a whisper, but I heard it reverberate through my consciousness.

We had only smoked pot, but I felt as if I were on a trip, his trip, and he was guiding my every move. Charlie was older than the other men I had slept with, but his body seemed younger. He had tattoos on his arms and a small tuft of hair on his chest. There was something magnetic about him, even though I wasn’t sure I even found him attractive. He was small and nice-looking but not as classically handsome as some of the men I had pursued. The attraction was more chemical and inevitable without any thought about whether I would or wouldn’t.

He took his time to explore my body. He avoided the places that made me purr until I could barely stand it. After a few minutes, he put himself inside me while staring into my eyes. He was tender as he held me up to meet his deep thrusts. When he finished, he sighed; I exhaled and realized I was hooked.

I watched as Charlie put on his jeans. He was clearly a man but also seemed like a boy. He was playful, and that made me feel even more comfortable with him. Sometimes after I would sleep with a man, I would be left feeling empty. My experience with Charlie was the beginning of something. I felt appreciated by him, not just like some pretty young thing. Charlie was offering me more than sex. He told me I should forget my parents and give up my inhibitions. He made it clear he wanted me to be a part of the group; his group. It felt as if there was no turning back. When I’d been with other older men, I’d been playing the role of a woman — Charlie made me feel like I’d actually become one. He said everything I needed to hear.

That night I went home with [friends] Richard and Allegra, but I knew I would return. The decision seemed so natural; a date with destiny. Charlie and the girls were now living at the Spiral Staircase House. It was only a matter of time before I joined them.

Things with Richard and Allegra continued much as they had been, with them taking me back and forth to the Hog Farm. Whatever threads bound me to that place were finally severed as it became clear there was nothing left for me there. I was an outsider, and my parents and brother and sister were having a life without me. Each time I took a trip there, my presence seemed to make less and less sense.

When I eventually made it back to visit Charlie and the girls at the Spiral Staircase House, Lynette and Patty told me I should stay with them. Creating a sense of urgency, they told me they were planning to take a trip soon, and I had to make up my mind.

I wasn’t sure yet about leaving my parents for good; in living with Richard and Allegra, I still had a connection to the Hog Farm as well as the possibility that my parents would tell me they wanted me to stay. It was a childish fantasy, but it helped ground me. As long as I was near them, I wasn’t truly alone. Still, I was concerned that I would lose my new friends if I hesitated for too long.

When I got back from the Spiral Staircase House, I told Richard and Allegra about the possibility of going with Charlie and the girls. “I don’t know about that, Chicken Little,” Richard said. For some reason, he had changed his mind about Charlie. “It may not be such a cool scene. Maybe you should stick around here for a little while.”

That was the one warning I got about Charles Manson. It was not from my parents or from people at the Hog Farm. It was from my speed-addict friend who somehow understood something that the rest of us did not. Richard never gave me any specifics about why he felt the way he did, so I don’t know where his hesitation came from, and thus there was nothing to dampen my growing crush on Charlie and his girls. But honestly, I’m not sure anyone could have kept me away. The pull of belonging had become too great.

I thought about the note my parents had given me. Even though it was for a specific purpose, it had given me my freedom to be on my own. I didn’t see any reason not to use it as my passport to Charlie’s world.

I visited the Hog Farm one last time, stuffing what few belongings I had in the bread truck into my knapsack and saying goodbyes to my father, mother, brother and sister. As we parted, I was surprised how little I felt toward them. The rift that had been growing for months was finally complete.

When Richard and Allegra took me to the Spiral Staircase House, all the girls ran out to greet me. It turned out they were packing the bus for a drive and told me I was just in time. Charlie reached out his hand to me. And I took it.

Remembering his face in the December light, I find it hard to reconcile the man I followed onto that bus with the monster the world now knows him to be. Over the years, I’ve wished that I could go back and show my younger self what he was to become, changing the story from the start. Clearly that’s not something anyone can do, so I’m left trying to defend the indefensible: Why did I get on that bus?

In the decades since I first met him, I’ve turned the question over in my mind countless times. The obvious answer was that I felt an attraction to him, and as a 14-year-old girl, I reacted to that hormonally. But that’s not really the answer, or at least the full answer. More than just attraction, I felt a deep connection. It seemed as if he understood me completely and wouldn’t let me down or betray me as all the other important people in my life had. Ever since we’d “dropped out,” I’d been an afterthought, at various points a mouth to feed, jailbait and a reminder of a previous life in the straight world.

With Charlie and the Family, from the beginning, there was none of that baggage. I had a place with them from that first night. I belonged in a way that I hadn’t anywhere in months. Charlie and the girls also made it OK for me to want and have sex. It seems so simple, yet this freed me from some of the deepest confusion and shame I’d been experiencing since I was 9.

There is no doubt that Charlie took advantage of me. This small man oozed self-confidence and sex appeal, and as he would demonstrate time and time again in the months and years ahead, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was a master manipulator, while I was 14 and essentially on my own. I was a naive, lonely, love-starved little girl looking for a parental figure to tell me, “No, don’t do that.”

As I discovered that first day in his magic bus, when he focused his attention on you, he made you believe there was no one else in the world. He also had the uncanny sensibility bestowed upon mystics, yet misused by sociopaths and con men, to know exactly what you needed.

Charlie knew what you were afraid of and could paint a scenario that would use all those insights to his advantage — traits that I would see in equal parts over time. Of course, in this moment, as I walked up the bus steps, I saw none of these things. Instead, all I saw was acceptance.

But perhaps the most impressive trick of all was how he made this seem as if it was my idea. Ever since my father first left home, I’d cultivated a sense of independence. I’d taken care of my siblings, I’d cooked, I’d become a free thinker, I’d taken drugs. I might have been 14, but I thought I understood who I was and what was missing from my life.

What I needed was a family. And now it seemed I’d found one.

The Farm Community – Summertown, Tennessee

The Farm is the oldest and biggest intentional community, at its peak in the 80’s it had over 1500 members. It is an intentional community that fostered spiritual growth, world peace and ecological harmony. Today the Farm has about 175 residents. 

It was founded in 1971 by Stephen Gaskin and 320 hippies from San Francisco. Gaskin and friends led a caravan of 60 buses, vans, and trucks from San Francisco on a four month speaking tour across the US. Along the way, they became a community, lacking only in land to put down roots. After returning to California, the decision was made to buy land together. Combining all their resources would finance purchase of only about fifty acres in California. Another month on the road brought the group back to Tennessee, where they checked out various places that might be suitable to settle. They deciding on property in outside of Summertown south of Nashville. After buying 1,064 acres for $70 per acre, the group began building its community in the woods alongside the network of crude logging roads that followed its ridgelines. Shortly thereafter, an adjoining 750 acres were purchased for $100 per acre.

Gaskin and friends led a caravan of 60 buses, vans, and trucks from San Francisco on a four month speaking tour across the US. Along the way, they became a community, lacking only in land to put down roots. After returning to California, the decision was made to buy land together. Combining all their resources would finance purchase of only about fifty acres in California. Another month on the road brought the group back to Tennessee, where they checked out various places that might be suitable to settle. They deciding on property in outside of Summertown south of Nashville. After buying 1,064 acres for $70 per acre, the group began building its community in the woods alongside the network of crude logging roads that followed its ridgelines. Shortly thereafter, an adjoining 750 acres were purchased for $100 per acre.

In 1983, due to financial difficulties and also a challenge to Gaskin’s leadership and direction, the Farm changed its agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than to donate all income to the central bank.This decollectivization was called the ‘Changeover,’ or ‘the Exodus.’

In the nineties, with the community back on solid ground, The Farm returned to its original purpose of initiating social change through outreach and example. The Ecovillage Training Center was established as an educational facility in new technologies such as solar energy, bio fuels, and construction techniques based on locally available, eco-friendly materials.

Gaskin’s wife, Ina May Gaskin and the midwives of the Farm created The Farm Midwifery Center, one of the first out-of-hospital birth centers in the United States. Family members and friends are commonly in attendance and are encouraged to take an active role in the birth.

“Gaskin, a longtime critic of American maternity care, is perhaps the most prominent figure in the crusade to expand access to, and to legalize, midwife-assisted home birth. Although she practices without a medical license, she is invited to speak at major teaching hospitals and conferences around the world and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Thames Valley University in England. She is the only midwife to have an obstetric procedure named for her. The Gaskin Maneuver is used for shoulder dystocia, when a baby’s head is born but her shoulders are stuck in the birth canal.”

~ New York Times

The Farm Community – Beliefs and Agreements

The Farm Community is comprised of many individuals, each with their own vision and ideas about spirituality as it applies to their daily life. It was founded on the principle that we respect all religions and practices. There are many basic agreements that were telepathically understood, however in an effort to avoid the creation of dogma and ritual, no formal document exists that defines the spiritual beliefs of The Farm.

Some years ago, several members of The Farm Membership Committee endeavored to create such a document, researching through previously published books and materials to identify statements that could still ring true for most members of the community. Although we make no claim that it represents every person completely, we present it here to give you some concept of our original beliefs and agreements.

As a church, we live in community and our reverence for life has always been central to our ways. Within The Farm Community, people could live together and pursue a spiritual path that includes, but were not limited to, the following common beliefs and agreements:

We believe that there are non-material planes of being or levels of consciousness that everyone can experience, the highest of these being the spiritual plane.

We believe that we are all one, that the material and spiritual are one,
and the spirit is identical and one in all of creation.

We believe that marriage, childbirth and death are sacraments of our church.

We agree that child rearing and care of the elderly is a holy responsibility.

We believe that being truthful and compassionate is instrumental to living together in peace and as a community.

We agree to be honest and compassionate in our relationships with each other.

We believe in nonviolence and pacifism and are conscientiously opposed to war.

We agree to resolve any conflicts or disagreements in a nonviolent manner.

We agree to keep no weapons in the community.

We believe that vegetarianism is the most ecologically sound and humane lifestyle for the planet, but that what a person eats does not dictate their spirituality.

We agree that livestock, fish, or fowl will not be raised in the community for slaughter.

We believe that the abuse of any substance is counterproductive to achieving a high consciousness.

We agree to strive for a high level of consciousness in our daily lives.

We believe that the earth is sacred.

We agree to be respectful of the forests, fields, streams and wildlife that are under our care.

We agree that the community is a wildlife sanctuary with no hunting for sport or food.

We believe that humanity must change to survive.

We agree to participate in that change by accepting feedback about ourselves.

We believe that we, individually and collectively, create our own life experience.

We agree to accept personal responsibility for our actions.

We believe that inner peace is the foundation for world peace.

Cambia – Louisa, Virginia

We are forming an egalitarian and income-sharing community. We are co-creating a culture of social sustainability and harmony that nourishes us as well as the earth.

“whatever makes a house into a home
makes a game into play
and makes culture come to life.
but home, play and culture,
strain to grow without a structure.”

Established: 2015

Shared Income: All or Close to All

Mission Statement: We aspire for a small and stable community with a high level of sharing and connection. We are inspired by the nature around us as we attempt to create human habitat that emulates the beauty and complexity of living systems. We seek to intertwine reason and intuition, aesthetics and efficiency. We are interested in increasing our skills and education through experience, mentorship, sharing and study, and growing as individuals. Within a thriving cluster of neighboring income sharing communities, we are creating a viable, regenerative alternative to the mainstream. We intend to strengthen the relationships between existing communities.

Community Description: We are forming an egalitarian and income sharing community. We are co-creating a culture of social sustainability and harmony that nourishes us as well as the earth. We focus on re-humanizing the scale of our lives. We do that with slower pace, balance in our lives, deep social connection, natural building, education, creativity, and intuitive structure to our time and space. While we are focused on interpersonal and cultural aspects of our community, we are interested in building small, beautiful, natural housing, doing our best to be ecologically conscious, using new and old technologies, and upholding values of minimalism. We want to continually learn about what works in community and do our best to integrate our lessons into our lifestyle. We are planning educational programs in subjects including experiential natural building workshops, off grid technologies, crafts, and nature awareness. We are working on understanding what makes communities thrive through sociological research.

Setting: Cambia is nestled within 15 acres, with about 5 of which is mostly a thicket of young scrubby vegetation and about 10 acres of mature (80 year old or so) forest. we have a small old house (over 100 years old) that we are restoring and currently using as our common house, it has our kitchen and living room and two bedrooms.

Personal dwellings are small and modest. We have a garden shed that’s converted to a duplex, a cozy sailboat with a deck, a fantastic vintage air stream trailer that’s completely remodeled inside, and a building that we built which we call “the barn” (due to lack of better names) which has a workshop, guest space, residence, and a sacred space for gathering and meditation.

Daily Schedule

7:30: Optional meditation, morning quiet time, breakfast.
9am: Coordination meeting 
9:15: Priority Projects at Cambia and income work
1pm: Lunch
2pm: Personal and greater awesomeness projects
6:30pm: Dinner
8:30pm: Shared evening activities (3 or 4 days/week including writing group, cuddle puddles, listening to audiobooks, heart circle ceremony, singing)

Saturdays are our day off.

Faith:

  • Buddhist
  • Jewish
  • Paganism or Earth Religions
  • Atheist

Bayboro Community -St. Petersburg, Florida

“Faith expressly signifies the deep, strong, blessed restlessness that drives the believer forward so that he cannot settle down… A believer cannot sit still as one sits with a pilgrim’s staff in one’s hand. A believer travels forward.”

~ Soren Kierkegaard

  • Status: Established
  • Started Planning:2006
  • Started Living Together: 2006
  • Visitors Accepted:Yes
  • Open to New Members: Yes
  • Shared Income: All or Close to All

About: We are a small, relatively new community – a mix of families with small children, singles, and college students – in an urban coastal neighborhood on Tampa Bay. We founded this location at a time when we were seeking different expressions of communal living, and being in the South and on the coast is a new experience for us. The students living with us attend various area schools, including the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg; St. Petersburg College; and Pinellas Technical College.

Bayboro House, the first Bruderhof in Florida, is right on Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg. Founded in 2006, Bayboro is home to about twenty-five people, including university students, families, and children.

Setting: We have a large waterfront house that serves as our main accommodation and gathering space. Built in 1905, it features deep porches where we can sit and look at the bay. The lot, which is flat and has beautiful tropical landscaping, has six other smaller buildings. Though our house is on the coast, we are very much a part of our wider urban community.

Connecting with Neighbors: Friends and neighbors often drop by for visits throughout the week. Each month we help sponsor a meeting for many of the families in our area to discuss neighborhood issues. We reach out to the diverse faith communities here and have lively discussions about faith and how to put it into practice.

Point of Interest: We get to see a beautiful sunrise every morning, and we enjoy nearly 365 days of sunshine a year. You’ll often find us boating or kayaking on the bay, and we like to catch our own fish and seafood to eat.

Faith: Christian. We practice adult baptism. We are also pacifists and conscientious objectors. While we love our countries and countrymen, our faith transcends political and nationalistic affiliations.

Website: https://www.bruderhof.com/en/where-we-are/united-states/bayboro

Rebirth of American Communes

The United States has a storied history of communal living attempts, from George Ripley’s Brook Farm utopia in the 1840s to Vermont’s back-to-the-land experiments in the 1960s, many of which failed. Today, however, “intentional living” is being reborn. Last year, the health care provider Cigna concluded that loneliness had reached “epidemic levels,” and with the dream of homeownership increasingly out of reach, many young people have sought out new ways to live and work. Co-working spaces like WeWork are booming. Co-housing settlements—which were founded in Scandinavia in the 1970s—are also springing up. (The United States now has around 170 such communities.) All told, the number of ecovillages, co-housing settlements, residential land trusts, communes, and housing cooperatives listed in the Foundation for Intentional Community’s global directory nearly doubled between 2010 and 2016, from 679 to about 1,200.

The Wall Street Journal once called the Farm “the General Motors of American Communes.” Its founder, Stephen Gaskin, was a charismatic creative writing instructor from California who had, while tripping on LSD, developed a philosophy one of his followers described as “Beat Zen and Buddhist economics.” Gaskin believed that America should return to natural living; chemical contraception and abortion, he said, were “damaging to the fabric of society.” In 1971, he and 300 hippies set out from San Francisco in search of a place to form an agrarian commune and “get it on with the dirt.” They eventually settled in central Tennessee. At first, they lived in teepees, Army tents, and the school buses they had driven out from California, avoiding birth control, makeup, coffee, meat, alcohol, violence, and haircutting. Everyone took a formal vow of poverty and forfeited their possessions.

Those who have stayed believe they can develop a vision for the future that builds off the Farm’s founding ideas: sustainability, and the desire to live in peaceful cooperation. “We realize that there is no viable way to start a full commune within a capitalist society right now,” Beyer said. “What we can do is slowly leverage our way out of it.” The Farm’s millennials are eager to try something radical again, but they have learned from the past generation that working within the systems of the outside world can be as important as working to build their own inside.

Sources: The New Republic, Chris Moody