excellent article was written in 1976, five years after Ted Patrick
initiated his kidnappings / deprogrammings. The practice was then at
its height and several cases of cult conservatorships were also
recorded. Wayne Sage is making a very good assessment of the
situation and of the arguments on both sides.
After 2 1/2 years of traveling
with the controversial Unification Church, Sherri W., 26, received
word that her father was seriously ill. She returned to her parents'
home in Dallas. The evening of her first day home, she noticed that
the locks had been changed. The inside doorknobs were missing. The
windows had been nailed shut. She was held prisoner for 75 days
before she managed to escape.
David Moore, a 19-year-old
devotee of the Hare Krishna temple in Los Angeles, was kidnapped and
taken to a motel room in Chula Vista, California, where he was
turned over to professional "deprogrammers," who,
according to Moore, beat him and tormented him by placing ice over
his body day and night in an attempt to make him disavow his
religious beliefs. His abductors were his own parents.
Such stories have been
repeated hundreds of times across the country over the past five
years as members of offbeat religious sects have been kidnapped and
put through "deprogrammings" that have sometimes
turned brutal when those who were abducted tried to resist.
The deprogrammings began as
vigilante tactics to rescue sons and daughters from what are, in the
minds of some parents, arcane religious sects who "psychologically
kidnap" their converts and hold them through "mind
control." The practice is escalating into an all-out war
on the "cults."
Deprogramming techniques have
"broken" many. The subject is deprived of sleep.
The deprogrammers badger day and night. The subject first tries to
shut them out and withdraws, is eventually driven to hysteria and
then suddently snaps, disavows his or her faith and embraces the
forsaken family in a sort of emotional orgasm.
Yet, sometimes the
deprogramming does not work and such cases can offer a more poignant
insight into the struggle between personal faith and traditional
family ties. Sherri W. recalls her own deprogramming, one that seems
typical of those that fail. "My mother got down on her
knees and started crying and screaming. 'Do you love me, Sherri? If
Moon tells you, are you gonna kill me? Would you put the gun to my
head and fire it?' Then both my dad and my mom were on their knees
in front of me, screaming and yelling at me. Ted Patrick was on the
other side yelling obscenities and saying 'Look at her. She doesn't
have any heart. Look at what they've done to her."
Ted Patrick is the patriarch
of the deprogrammers. A short, middle-aged black man, he has
attained the status of a near savior in the eyes of some parents, a
near devil in the eyes of many of their sons and daughters. With
him, as usual, was "Goose," a man of intimidating size who
was there ostensibly to prevent escape.
"I was just sitting
there," says Sherri W. Apparently she was in what
deprogrammers consider the mindless withdrawal that occurs at the
beginning of their onslaughts. "Inside I was going crazy
because it hurt," she says. "It hurt really
badly. My parents actually thought that I was brainwashed and had no
more feeling for them, even to the point that I would kill them if I
was told to. It was just absurd. It made me angry to think that they
would try to abuse me in that way and yet it was my parents. I just
wasn't going to get upset. I didn't talk for four days. It was
With the deprivation of sleep,
her ability to withstand such attacks wore down. "Around
the fourth day, it got so I thought I was going to lose my mind if
he [Patrick] didn't shut up. I couldn't take that voice anymore.
Emotionally, I was just wearing down. I was so tired, I had realized
by the fourth day I was not going to be rescued."
As usual, the deprogrammers
achieved their "break," but the meaning of that break
depends very much on how the subject is able to explain the
experience to himself or herself. "After the fourth day,"
Sherri W. recalls, "I figured I was going to let them think
I was deprogrammed and then just wait till I could escape. And yet I
was determined I would never deny the church.
"I began to argue with
him, to open myself up for the first time," says Sherri W.,
apparently well aware of the dangers to which she was exposing her
faith. "The moment I began to do that I became very
hysterical and began to cry. He kept saying over and over, 'Why did
you join that cult? Why did you join that cult?' Finally, after I
had been crying for about five or six hours straight, I felt I was
going to die. It was just absurd but it was driving me crazy. He was
still yelling, 'Why did you join that cult?' I screamed, 'Because I
thought I was following God.'
"His voice went soft. He
said, 'Oh, that's the first thing you've said that made sense.' I
realized that the structure of the sentence was such that he thought
I had meant, 'I thought I was following God but now I don't.' He
said 'Now do you see what I'm talking about?' I said, 'Yeah, I see
what you're talking about.' I never had to deny anything about the
Such a concession, once
reached, gives the deprogrammer the success (and fee) he needs to
continue on his way and parents the vindication they need. They
leave the subject at an emotional crossroads, with no going back
once one road or the other is chosen.
Sherri W. was held for another
70 days. She was never left alone and was not allowed near a
telephone. "I just sat in front of the television for 60
days," she says, the 60 days that actually determined
whether the deprogramming would "work" or not. "They
wouldn't allow me to touch a Bible or a Divine Principle (the
'Divine Principles as Revealed to Sun M. Moon' - the church's
official book of theology). It was just what I could remember. I
kept thinking should I go back or not even after it was all over. It
came right down to the wire. It was my parents and me and it was on
the line. Who was I going to follow? My parents or the Unification
Church? I never realized how deep my feelings were for my home and
my parents. No matter what happens to me in my life, I thought I
could always go home. But they had betrayed me, and it wasn't just
because they hurt me. Even that I could forgive. But I could choose.
They were wrong. Even though they were my parents, they were wrong
and I have to go my own way."
She waited her chance. "Near
the end, there were about two weeks when I could have escaped but I
was so frightened. If I made a mistake, I didn't know what they
might do. They were so desperate. My father had a gun in the house.
He doesn't even hunt. My father (a lawyer) had forced me to sign a
statement that if I went back to the church, it would be against my
will and that I wanted the FBI to rescue me."
Finally, she convinced her
parents to let her return to Indiana, where she had gone to college,
to see friends and a former professor. She flew to Indiana then
immediately to New York and rejoined the Unification Church. Sherri
W. sums up her experience saying, "I became really more
convinced of my commitment. I feel I've been through a great test
and I've come through it."
"She must have been
under some sort of post hypnotic suggestion," says her
father, Lloyd Sherri W., to explain his daughter's return to the
Unification Church. He believes she continues to be held prisoner
despite her frequent attempts to contact her parents.
"They are the ones
who have cut off contact," says Sherri W. "They
say come home, but only on their terms. You have to realize it's a
terrific things they're offering. My parents would do anything for
me at this point. A car, apartment, traveling, clothes. They are
offering a new start on life, and there are your parents waiting to
embrace you. It's a very tempting situation. Also, I know Ted
Patrick is a very dangerous man. I think he can break people."