- Ava Wood
The Garden: Commune or Cult?
A commune in Lafayette, Tennessee called The Garden, @Treeisalive on TikTok, is garnering increasing attention lately because of behaviours that many deem suspect. In videos and comments on the app, the group has described itself as being an “egalitarian community with consensus-based decision making,” and no leader, and it abstains from alcohol and drug use as well.
When I first came across one of the videos coming from The Garden, I’ll admit, it looked nice. I liked the idea of escaping from the corporate monotony of the way many people are forced to live and found the thought of living in a like-minded, intentional community to be somewhat reassuring in the world’s climate. No rent, no job and being in nature sounds pretty nice, right? Those living and visiting The Garden are expected to work to support it by constructing buildings, cooking, and gardening, which is to be expected of any self-sustaining community, and they have an open-access library in one of their many buildings & converted school busses. However, as I, and many other viewers, began watching their videos through a more critical lens, we noticed that things may not be what they seem, and they may be about to get worse.
The first major red flag noticed by many is that The Garden publicly posts its address in many of their videos, and has been consistently inviting users to come to join or pay a visit. According to members, anybody can visit for 10 days, and people require council approval to stay for longer. Some concerned viewers pointed out that true communes are usually closed communities, and visitation or membership is not granted to just anyone. They definitely don’t advertise, and especially not through TikTok. Communes generally have an application process with various conditions, dependant on the type of living arrangement. The Garden’s open-recruitment system has drawn criticism for being, for lack of a better term, cult-y. With the rise of the Cottagecore aesthetic and spirituality among young people in the past few years, The Garden’s claim that people can come ‘try out’ their community and lifestyle for ten days seems especially strategized.
Another issue that many caught in the communities apparent acceptance of everybody, regardless of political ideation, identity, or otherwise. As good as that sounds on a surface level, there are members of the community that have shared posts that hold dangerous misinformation. One such member with a following of 42,000 people, many being minors, has posted memes about masks being “mind control devices,” and claiming that the virus is a hoax. An individual who visited the community claims that many members of The Garden are ‘anti-maskers, 9-11 truthers, Q-Anon supporters and anti-vaxxers.’ Although everybody is entitled to their beliefs, The Garden’s failure to denounce the damaging misinformation spread by their members is concerning, especially because of the young demographic of TikTok.
There are a lot of things to be concerned about surrounding The Garden. They claim to have no one leader, but their TikTok spokesperson does tend to present as the most important one around the community. They claim to be inclusive and accepting of people of colour, and from the looks of their content they truly are, but The Garden resides between three sundown towns, making it an inherently unsafe environment for their members of colour, and they claimed in a Livestream to be open to accepting pedophilic members and visitors, despite there being children living in the community. As much as The Garden may not fit the definition of a cult, it’s almost definitely a Netflix true-crime documentary waiting to happen. My hope is that the environment remains safe and that nothing comes from this, but their audience will just have to wait and see.
Oh yeah, and they ate a stray cat.
Asarch, S. (2021, March 19). A free-living commune in TENNESSEE USED TIKTOK to attract new members, but the strategy may have backfired. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.insider.com/commune-tennessee-tiktok-the-garden-2021-3 Lerner, J. (2021, March 06). This TikTok Commune ate a cat - now people think they're a cult. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.distractify.com/p/treeisalive-tiktok-cult R/Cults - tree is Alive commune on Tiktok. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.reddit.com/r/cults/comments/lyr3a6/tree_is_alive_commune_on_tiktok/ R/Outoftheloop - what is the deal with people saying the tiktok account treeisalive is a cult? Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/lykbu0/what_is_the_deal_with_people_saying_the_tiktok/