A Twelve Tribes Friday night gathering in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo by Shelton Brown

The Making of the Twelve Podcast, Part 1:

Shelton Brown is Determined to Prove There’s More to the Twelve Tribes Than You Know

Like many residents of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I’ve eaten at the Yellow Deli, the beautifully rustic restaurant on McCallie Avenue that serves delicious sandwiches and salads, sumptuous desserts and refreshing fruit juices, smoothies, teas and matés. And like many Chattanoogans, I’ve heard about its association with the Twelve Tribes, a mysterious group of hippies that was started here by Gene and Marsha Spriggs in the 1970s. The rumors for years have been that it’s a cult.

Like a lot of people who have a Yellow Deli in their town (there are nine in the United States and six others scattered across the world, as well as one bakery in Plymouth, Massachusetts), I’ve just enjoyed the food and not worried much about what I’ve heard.

But that’s not the case for Shelton Brown.

After eating dinner at the Yellow Deli about a year and half ago, the independent photojournalist had a lot of questions about the Twelve Tribes. And what began as a small photojournalism project has spawned his recently-announced podcast, The Twelve, which will make its debut this December.

Brown’s podcast is an exhaustive research journey that has led to more than 70 interviews with ex-Twelve Tribes members from all over the nation, and plenty more to go. In fact, Brown’s investigation will be by far, the most extensively-reported project on the Twelve Tribes that has ever been produced.

Along with a team of 11 producers, writers, audio engineers and editors, he’s hard at work uncovering the untold stories of the Twelve Tribes, meticulously researching legal documents and newspaper clippings, chasing down leads, and having conversations with journalists, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, to make sure his podcast will not only be accurate but be entertaining as well.

To say The Twelve is Brown’s obsession is an understatement. Right now, this is Brown’s life. He’s so passionate about it, he quit his full-time day job to work on it exclusively.

Brown’s passion has piqued my curiosity, not only about the Twelve Tribes, but about his pursuit in seeking the truth about this group, about making this podcast and the lengths he’s going to create it.

This is the first of an ongoing series I’ll be writing, covering the creation of The Twelve podcast, all the way up until its release in December. I’ll write about the trials and tribulations of Brown’s quest to bring to light the truth he’s convinced is being hidden by the Twelve Tribes, and to fill in the gaps that the media continues to leave in the many stories that have run about the group over the years. Not only will I be riding along for the rest of his interviews, but I’ll talk to other members of his team, conduct my own research into the Twelve Tribes, and find out more about who Shelton Brown is as a person, and why he feels he’s qualified to undertake such a massive project.

I also hope to engage you, the readers, in an online conversation about The Twelve Tribes, your expectations for this podcast and your own passion projects. What exactly is a cult? And when does ideology go too far? We’ll discuss these things and a lot more.

Every week will bring a different topic in relation to The Twelve podcast.

I hope you’ll join in the conversation.