Albuquerque — Authorities investigating a paramilitary Christian sect for child sexual abuse say they are looking into whether the New Mexico group brought children into the country illegally. Former group members say leaders kept them and the children living at sect’s compound in “slavery.”
Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace told The Associated Press on Tuesday that investigators found numerous children during a Sunday raid of the armed Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in remote Fence Lake.
Exactly where the children came from is unknown because the sect apparently kept members from reporting births to state officials, Mace said. A former sect member says the group illegally brought at least one child to the United States from one of its foreign missions, which according to its website were operated in Africa, India and the Philippines.
“The children were trained not to talk to law enforcement or to hide from law enforcement,” Mace said.
During the raid, authorities arrested three sect members in connection with a child abuse and child sex abuse investigation. A former group member was arrested in Truth or Consequences.
Sect co-leader Deborah Green was arrested on charges that included failure to report a birth, child abuse and sexual penetration of a minor.
Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, faces 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child on suspicion of raping a girl “at least four times a week” from the time she was 7, according to court documents.
Joshua Green, the son of sect founders Deborah and James Green, was charged with failure to report a birth.
Stacey Miller faces one count each of intentional abuse of a child age 12 to 18, bribery of a witness and not reporting a birth.
The group in a statement called the allegations “totally false.”
“We don’t know who all the accusers are, but the accusations are just re-runs of old lies that have been investigated and shown to be malicious attacks against a legitimate ministry,” the statement said.
The raid followed a two-year investigation of the sect by the Cibola County Sheriff’s Office in connection with the 2014 death of Miller’s 12-year-old son, Enoch Miller.
Mace said deputies surprised the sect’s Fence Lake compound during church services to ensure they arrested all group members at once. He said authorities were worried that armed group members would try to block the arrests.
The sheriff said deputies found weapons and silencers that they turned over to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Former group adherents said they were relieved to learn of the arrests. They said sect leaders had physically abused adult members and children and forced them to work in slave-like conditions.
“It was slavery,” said Julie Gudino, 50, a sect member from 1984-2004. “[Deborah Green] told me, ‘God was angry at you,’ and she made me pull weeds, move rocks and do all kinds of physical work for punishment.”
Gudino said Green kept her 8-year-old son and threatened to harm him if she didn’t complete her chores and later learned that sect members had physically abused the boy.
“They hit him over the head with a board,” she said. “It gave him a gash.”
Former follower Maura Alana Schmierer said she was forced to live in a shed with no toilet and with little food. She eventually escaped and successfully sued the sect in California before leaders relocated to New Mexico.
“I’m so glad [Deborah] Green is in jail where she belongs,” said Carla Dechant Behr, whose brother Chris Dechant was a sect member who died at the compound in 2013. “All they have done is break up families and cause pain.”
The organization describes itself as “aggressive and revolutionary for Jesus” and offers a free spiritual “ammo pack” to anyone who writes.
Photos on the group’s website show members in military-style clothing and on missions in Africa. The site is laced with anti-Semitic language and anti-gay tirades about same-sex marriage, prompting the Southern Poverty Law Center to list the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps as a hate group.