The War of the Cults

Wayne Sage   - Human Behavior, October 1976



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The War of the CultsThis 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.


Ted Patrick || Joe Alexander || Michael Trauscht

Parents' organizations

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 useless."

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 church."

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."

Introductionic_top.gif (764 bytes)Ted Patrick