While a verdict is awaited on the main case against Robert Baart, Dutch judges concluded that children live safely in the community and are not at risk of abuse.
by Michael Langhans
The Order of Transformants was founded in 2003 and registered in 2005 in the Netherlands as a new religious movement. Its religious nature was recognized by the Dutch authorities. Their teachings were written down in a sacred scripture called the Dictum Dei. The Transformants do not see their religion as “the only true one,” but believe God’s word flows through multiple channels, all deriving from the same source. Although the Dictum Dei itself is not publicly available, according to the Transformants’ own website key aspects of the teachings involve among others: the importance of each individual’s free will, constructive use of time, focus on personal development, no discrimination on the basis of race, gender, personal background, age or sexual orientation, acknowledgment of multiple relationship forms such as polyamory, and the appreciation of the innate uniqueness and equal value of every individual. Transformants live in multi-generational circles based on the Dictum Dei, which can be compared to a parish in Christian denominations. Most Transformants live a communal life, with members of all generations living together while having outside jobs; children attend public schools.
On October 21, 2020, the German police raided the Graefenthal Monastery, at which some members of the movement worked and lived. The raid was triggered by the outside lover of a female member, who was both involved in a relationship with him and in a polyamorous marriage within the community with Robert Baart, who was described by the media as the group’s absolute leader, although in fact the Transformants’ way of life is based upon a principle of “equivalence.” The lover reconstructed the situation as an “imprisonment” of the woman by the community and contacted an anti-cult organization, Sekten-Info NRW, a German affiliate of the well-known European umbrella organization FECRIS. Polyamorous relations, as it often happens in cases involving groups described as “cults,” were reconstructed as sexual abuse, and it was claimed that the woman had started her relationship with Baart when she was a minor, something the accused man and members of the group deny. A verdict on the case is expected later this month or in January.
Based on the “expertise” of the anti-cultists, who were heavily involved in the case since the very beginning, and on allegations by the woman’s mother (who had at first defended the community, but changed her story after extensive contacts with Sekten-Info NRW), the German court of Kleve decided on November 9, 2020, to remove all parental rights of parents within the movement, to take all their children into governmental care, and to entrust them to youth centers. Even the children who lived in the Netherlands were involved. Interestingly, the same woman whose lover had started the case against the community and who became the key witness against the group contradicted her mother, and stated that “the children were never sexually abused, and are fine.” However, her statement was not taken into account.
In February 2021, however, the Dutch court of Roermond concluded that the German court in Kleve had no jurisdiction on the children, and the case was transferred to the Netherlands. On October 26, 2021, the Dutch judges, after extensive investigations, concluded that “there is no concern for the children or any impairment for their personal development when growing up within the Order.” The children have now been returned to their families.
Anti-cultists had claimed that the children lived isolated from society, and did not attend public schools. This, as the Dutch court ascertained, was a false allegation: all children go to public schools, are part of associations and clubs, visit parties and friends outside of the community, and visit doctors when needed. The majority of Transformants work in external jobs, and the Graefenthal Monastery is not “isolated” but a hugely popular event location, with more than 100,000 visitors per year.
The German judges had continued to assert jurisdiction on the children’s case although it was evident that the children had the Dutch nationality, went to school in the Netherlands, spoke the Dutch language and did not speak German, and most of them even lived in the Netherlands. The German childcare protection agency, called the Jugendamt, even asked the children’s Dutch school directors to inform them when they would arrive at their school, with the purpose of taking them back to Germany and putting them in German youth centers.
The German judges, in ruling about the children, clearly wanted to punish those parents who “did not distance themselves from their beliefs and the movement.” One of the judges maintained that children would eventually become victim of “arranged marriages,” an allegation that did not have any factual basis.
Although the Dutch court at first followed the German accusations, in the end it abandoned this approach after extensively researching and analyzing the facts and information provided by members as well as non-members. The Dutch judges concluded that the case should be handled within the Dutch jurisdiction. The court also insisted on investigations to verify the allegations about the children, and after nine months of interviews and psychological evaluations concluded that the personal well-being of the children was not negatively affected by living in the Order’s communities.
The case of the children, as the Dutch court acknowledged, is logically separated by the one involving the alleged abuse of the woman whose love affairs prompted the German investigation and the raid. However, the fact that the German court of Kleve relied on anti-cult accounts and on the testimony of one “apostate” only to take draconian decisions about the children, which were later reversed by the Dutch judges, casts a doubt on how judges in Germany are handling the whole case of the Transformants and on the fairness of their forthcoming verdict.