The War of the Cults

Wayne Sage - Human Behavior, October 1976



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Ted Patrick || Joe Alexander || Michael Trauscht

Parents' organizations

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," he says.

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 enough."

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 vanished.

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 brainwashing.

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 the grave."

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.

Introductionic_top.gif (764 bytes)Joe Alexander