ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A paramilitary Christian sect with members facing child sex abuse charges evaded law enforcement authorities for years by hiding births, physically punishing followers and quietly operating in isolated areas of New Mexico, former members say.
In interviews with The Associated Press and in court documents, the ex-members also alleged that leaders of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps exercised control over followers by forcing them into hard labor and refusing to give their children medical care.
When members complained, sect co-leader Deborah Green would hold "trials" against them for questioning her authority, which Green said came directly from God, former members Maura Alana Schmierer and Julie Gudino said.
The trials led to banishment to isolated sheds without toilets and from the sect's compound without being allowed to take their children, the women said.
"It was a form of brain-washing," Schmierer, who left the group in the late 1980s and sued, winning a $1 million award when it was based in Sacramento, California, told the AP.
The secretive sect in the small ranching community of Fence Lake was spotlighted when authorities raided its compound Sunday and arrested three members, including Deborah Green, in connection with a child abuse investigation.
The Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps describes itself as a group that is "revolutionary for Jesus" and provides a free spiritual "ammo pack" to anyone who submits a written request. Photos of members show them in military-style clothing and on missions in Africa.
Its website is laced with anti-Semitic language and anti-gay tirades about same-sex marriage.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the sect as a hate group.
Sect member Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, was being held on a $5 million secured bond and faces 100 counts of sexual penetration of a child after being accused of raping a girl at least four times a week from the time she was 7, according to court documents.
Another member, Stacey Miller, who had been told by leaders to leave the compound after she became the target of an investigation into her child's death, was arrested this week on child abuse charges in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, documents said.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered Deborah Green held on a $500,000 secured bond on charges that included failure to report the birth, child abuse and sexual penetration of a minor.
None of the defendants have a lawyer listed in court documents.
In a prepared statement, the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps called the criminal 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 group also is denying other accusations by former members.
James Green, a sect leader and husband of Deborah Green, denied that abuse occurred at the compound and also defended his wife against such claims when he spoke Tuesday with reporters outside court.
Heavily armed Cibola County deputies raided the sect's compound during church services and discovered weapons and silencers, Sheriff Tony Mace said.
Deputies also reported finding children who had been trained not to talk to law enforcement, Mace said. He did not know how many children were on the premises among the four dozen or so people at the compound.
Officials from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department are investigating the children's well-being, and parents have been ordered to provide birth certificates within 30 days, Mace said.
Gudino, a member of the group from 1984 to 2004, told the AP that Deborah Green delivered babies and refused to provide medical care because she didn't want to pay for it.
"She just told us we were being punished for 'spiritual adultery' and all we had to do was pray for our children to get better," Gudino said.
But sometimes, according to court documents, lack of medical care resulted in the death of children.
Gudino also said Deborah and James Green made members raid dumpsters behind stores to retrieve discarded produce and food products to make bread.
Gudino said she and other members would travel to Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma to sell the bread to unsuspecting buyers.
"(Deborah) told us that's what God wanted us to do," Gudino said.
Court documents say member Jamie Bridgewater told deputies that sect leaders tried to keep parents from notifying state officials about births so children could be hidden from police.
Bridgewater also told deputies that James and Deborah Green ordered members to bury photos of children after the Greens were interviewed by deputies investigating allegations of abuse.
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