As the original deprogrammer, Ted
Patrick has, in fact, broken many people. His enthusiasm for the
task seems to have been forged out of his experience with religion
as a child.
A 10th-grade dropout, he was raised in
the red light district of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He spent his
childhood "locked in an invisible prison," as he describes
it, because of a severe speech impediment. Unable to communicate
with the thieves, prostitutes and con artists who made up the
community, he withdrew into the Bible. "It wasn't long
before all I could think of was hellfire and damnation,"
Religious shysters - voodooists, black
magic types, prophets of Christ - who preyed on the neighborhood
along with the racketeers and pimps, were quick to take advantage.
"I went to Holy Roller meetings where everybody spent whole
nights shouting and babbling and praying over me," he
says. "A faith healer would come to town and my mother
would drag me to him and we'd all pray and he'd lay his hands on me
and proclaim me cured and everyone would weep tears of joy. Only I
wasn't cured and I felt guilty about not being able to pray hard
Finally, desperate "to be like the
other guys," Patrick decided that if God wouldn't cure him, he
would cure himself. He worked obsessively. By the time he was 16, he
could at least make himself understood and simultaneously began to
"emerge from [his] Bible obsession."
Years later, in the early '70s, as then
California governor Ronald Reagan's special representative for
community relations in San Diego, Patrick encountered the Children
of God, a group of infantilistic religious fanatics doing high
pressure recruiting along Mission Beach, the area's popular
summer-youth mecca. Several parents came to Patrick claiming their
sons and daughter had fallen under the spell of the group and had
Patrick set out for Mission Beach,
joined the group's hallelujahs and infiltrated their commune at
nearby Santee. After several days and nights of listening to the
group's ravings, he returned home (apparently unbrainwashed) and
decided that what he had seen could be explained only as
Since no one, once in the group, would
ever leave on his or her own, Patrick decided that the only way to
get them out was to take them by force, which, of course, would be
kidnapping. This, Patrick decided, was justified since the young
people were not there of their own free will.
The parents formed Free the Children of
God (FreeCOG). Their pleas for help to governmental and law
enforcement agencies brought no response. "Freedom of
religion is an issue that few politicians are willing to tackle,"
explains Patrick in his recent book, "Let Our Children
Go". "No one seems to understand that with the
Children of God, religion was not an issue. Psychological kidnapping
was the issue."
In August 1971, Patrick assembled the
FreeCOG parents in his house and announced, "The cult
operates illegally under legal sanctions. We have to do the same
thing. There's no other way to fight them." w
From the start, the big procedural
question was how to get away with it. Patrick decided that parents
would not be prosecuted for kidnapping their own son or daughter and
therefore he could not be charged as an accomplice. Besides, once he
had "freed" the member from the hold of the group, he or
she would have no desire to press charges. Most important, a
"deprogrammed cult victim" would be the proof he needed to
win over authorities.
The first abduction hardly won over the
authorities, but it did win over Ted Patrick once and for all, as
well as an inexhaustible string of new clients. A young woman had
dropped out of the University of Southern California and had gone to
live at the Children of God commune in Phoenix, Arizona. Patrick,
along with the woman's mother and a team of accomplice, cased the
communed and timed the caper meticulously. They snatched the woman
forcibly from the commune, threw her into a van and made their
getaway with a stream of angry commune members pouring out of the
house and chasing behind.
After two days of round-the-clock
arguing in a motel room, the woman suddenly gave in, "She
snapped," says Patrick, "just as if someone had
turned on a light inside her. It was like seeing someone return from
Other continued to snap as Patrick made
his way up and down the West Coast deprogramming Children of God.
COG communes began to fence themselves in, acquire guard dogs and
set up watchtowers, all of which Patrick took as a compliment, while
his own "countersecurity and planning" became more
intricate. He not only coached parents in the tactics of kidnapping
and deprogramming, but sometimes armed them as well. "I
believe that the Lord helps those who help themselves,"
says Patrick, "and a few little things like karate, Mace
and handcuffs can come in handy from time to time."
The media, always interested in a
kidnapping or a brainwashing story and ecstatic over one with both,
spread the word of Patrick's exploits. At first, Patrick hired
ruffians off the street to help in the abductions. Eventually, he
was joined by Sondra Sacks, a Cleveland housewife whose son was
deprogrammed from the International Society of Krishna
Consciousness. She joined Patrick as secretary and accomplice. Along
the way, they added the blond, gargantuan "Goose" to
handle the heavy work.
Although Patrick tailored his
techniques to fit the group, he seemed to lump all groups together
in his mind as being equally evil. As the three continued their
campaign, some cases assumed blatantly absurd proportions. In
Canada, they abducted a converted Catholic who had deserted the
Protestant faith of her parents against their wishes. In Denver,
they attempted a deprogramming of two women who had joined no
religious groups at all. The women had left home and taken jobs in
defiance of their Greek Orthodox parents, who considered it their
right to determine their daughters' lives, including their choice of
friends and husbands. It didn't work. "There was nothing to
deprogram," one of the women explained.
The groups themselves have been
reluctant to fight back. Few have taken any legal action on behalf
of their members, apparently because litigation would mean opening
their financial records to examination, a scrutiny probably few of
the groups could withstand. In those few cases where abductee have
pressed charges against their parents - the only way to prosecute
the deprogrammers - the parents have pleaded justification for their
actions. In the five cases that have come to court to date, the
courts have twice sided with the parents: three times they have
ruled against them with minimal or suspended sentences. Ted Patrick
was finally convicted of false imprisonment in Colorado and was
given a one-year sentence, which was suspended except for seven days
(the amount of time he had held the plaintiffs against their will),
and was placed on probation. Subsequently, he was convicted in
California of breaking his probation and detaining a person against
his will and served 90 days of a one-year sentence starting in July
1976. Other cases are pending.