The War of the Cults

Wayne Sage - Human Behavior, October 1976



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Patrick's Methods













Ted Patrick || Joe Alexander || Michael Trauscht

Parents' organizations

Other deprogrammers have been inspired to emulate Patrick. A few parents have tried it on their own. But by far the major spinoff deprogrammer is Joe Alexander, a former car salesman and public relations man who apprenticed himself to Patrick for a year before taking off on his own. His son, Joe Alexander, Jr., is also a deprogrammer, with warrants outstanding for his arrest.

Like Patrick, Alexander claims a high success rate - 600 deprogrammings with only six returning to the cult. The failures he attributes to lax security. Deprogrammers rule out failures by definition. Alexander explains that a deprogramming is successful "once they have admitted they have been deceived by their leaders and the group," which, with sufficient coercion, can invariably be accomplished. Even after a person has thus "broken," the deprogrammers explain, he or she will "float." That is, any contact with a Bible or with other members of the cult may trigger a return to the group. Such floating, they warn their clients, can continue for years.

Any examination of individual cases hardly bears out the simplistic view of the deprogrammers. On the one hand, some of those who resist deprogramming return to their groups with heightened devotion, often well aware of the hold the deprogrammers were trying to break. Bosu Gopal, for example, was abducted from the Hare Krishna temple in Boston. After the deprogramming, he reverted to his legal name, Edward Shapiro. In obedience to a common stratagem among deprogrammers to prevent backsliding, Shapiro made statements to the press that he had been brainwashed by the sect and would never return of his own free will.

The deprogrammers took him to Canada, where he shed the loincloth that Hare Krishna followers keep tightly tied around their genitals to discourage sexual desire and joined in the nightlife of Montreal.

"I was never deprogrammed," he says now, "I was simple bewildered. The people you keep company with determine the type of person you will be. The consciousness of these people [the deprogrammers] was smoking and drinking and chasing women. I had a natural propensity to do all these things, because I had done them before I went in. They simply provided a facility for me to break my religious vows, but I knew what I was doing was not what I wanted. It was suffering for me, just as it was before I went in.

"The anxiety and hassles and conflicts are not our real life. Our real life is meant to engage in spiritual life," explains Shapiro, Bosu Gopal once again, now at the Hare Krishna temple in New York. "It's very difficult (to follow the vows of the Krishna faith). By mere association, I'm able to do it. That's why we're living in a community. And our movement is strong because of this association while other churches are falling apart."

The deprogramming seems to have reinforced his religion's view of the outside world. "Relationships between people are a self-centered thing. Everyone is interested in his own pleasure," says Bosu Gopal. He no longer wants to see his parents, who had hired the deprogrammers in the first place, because he feels they want to force him to follow their plans for him. "I'm trying to advance in the spiritual life," he says.

But where some find spiritual elevation, others find personal debilitation. Once deprogrammed, they stay deprogrammed, and sometimes, disturbingly, join the ranks of the deprogrammed with all the fervor that they once followed their prophets and gurus.

Wes Lockwood dropped out of Yale to do the bidding of Hannah Lowe's New Testament Missionary Fellowship, which proselytizes Ivy League students, and, to the amazement of those naive about the emotional grip of Pentecostal religion, gets former Harvard and Princeton students hopping in religious ecstasy like a bunch of backwoods Holy Rollers. Lockwood was grabbed by the deprogrammers on the streets of New York. He straddled himself across the top of a car, spread eagled to hang on with both hands and feet for all his religious fervor was worth. The deprogrammers punched him in the groin, dragged him into a car kicking and screaming and raced him down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a marathon deprogramming.

At one point, Lockwood and his father tried to strangle each other, jerking at each other's throat and knocking over furniture. A Catholic priest, eager to help, was allowed to try his hand at the mental exorcism. Lockwood blew him away in tears with a bombast of blasphemy against the Whore of Babylon [the Catholic church].

The deprogrammers took over. For days, Lockwood fought back furiously, babbling in tongues and dancing in ecstatic frenzies. Then, suddenly, he broke into tears, embraced his father, disavowed his faith and apologized convulsively to his captors for the way he had behaved.

"I absolutely believed that this entire world is going to blow up in a giant fireball and everybody in this world is going to hell," says Lockwood now, three years later, "It's impossible to explain the depth of seriousness that is to someone who believes it."

Lockwood accepts the explanation of his parents and the deprogrammers that he was brainwashed by the fellowship. Says he, "They [the fellowship] separate you from your family and then there's total emotional deprivation. You're on an emotional tightrope where you're unsettled one way or the other. It gets to the point where your nervous system can't handle that anymore. The conscious will to be self-determining breaks down. They get you to the point where you don't have any self-worth anymore. The only thing you're worth is serving God. Being a robot for God."

But Lockwood admits, as do most of the "deprogrammed" and few of those still in such groups, that it was not the belief that was important but his reason for believing it. "I was torn," he recalls, "between my hatred of the outside world and my jealousy at not being able to function there. People get into these groups because they are afraid. We are confronted with problems faster than we are able to deal with them, and we seek out little cocoons. Especially kids who don't see a future for themselves, who don't see a future for the world. They think to keep themselves sane, they would rather relinquish their minds to somebody else."

The question of who is brainwashing whom depends on which side you are on and what you are prepared to call "brainwashing." Theories of brainwashing are very new, and largely ill defined and poorly substantiated. The actual techniques, even as related from POW camps, differ little from those used during the Inquisition and long before, and ironically, fit the practices of the deprogrammers better than those of the religious groups.

Some of the parents, exasperated with their sons' and daughters' religious obsessions, have committed them to mental hospitals. Admits one psychiatrist who has handled such cases: "When you come right down to it, the only problem with these kids is that they worship Moon. We haven't got a cure for that."

Of course, the deprogrammers believe they do have such a cure, and some parents are eager to buy it. Notes psychiatrist Thomas Szasz of the State University of New York, "Parents want to believe in brainwashing so badly because otherwise they have to admit to themselves that the kid they devoted 15 or 20 years to has rejected them and their values. That's a bitter thing for a parent to have to admit."

"The only way to make my parents admit that," says a member of the Divine Light Mission, "would be a deprogramming. If I didn't know what it's like firsthand, perhaps I would hire Ted patrick to deprogram my parents."

Deprogramming is fundamentally a battle of values. Explains Murtle Moore, a Los Angeles mother who purchased an unsuccessful deprogramming of her son: "it's an inconsolable grief to see my child begging on the streets (as a devotee of the Hare Krishna sect). He's beyond reason and I wonder about his sanity. Something should be done about children who don't know their own minds."

Her son, David Moore, insists he knows his own mind, and he has pressed charges against his parents in order to prosecute the deprogrammers. Says he: "I'm here to engage in a spiritual life. My parents can't understand that. I can't trust them and I don't want to see them."

In any case, it appears that those who are deprogrammed are those who want to be deprogrammed. Dave Gresler, 21, was deprogrammed from the Unification Church and has stayed deprogrammed. "I hated it [the church] with all my soul," Gresler says, "but I knew no matter how much I hated it, I couldn't leave."

Interestingly, Gresler puts little stock in the deprogramming as such or the brainwashing theory embraced by his parents. "Ninety percent of the brainwashing a person does to himself," he says, "Ten percent is the fantasy. During the deprogramming, they tried to destroy the fantasy. They tried to prove Moon's theology was wrong and a ripoff. That's neither here nor there. Anyone when they are in the group can see it's a bunch of bull. The real break comes when you decide to face yourself."

For many, it appears that deprogramming is an opportunity for another try at life outside the group. Says psychologist Kevin Gilmartin of Tucson, Arizona, who has witnessed many deprogrammings. "I think a lot of kids get a sense of release from deprogramming. They got tired of the group, and it's a face-saving way to get out. The kid can say, 'I was kidnapped, it was against my will. Now I'm deprogrammed so I don't have to feel guilty about having rejected all of you!"

Undoubtedly, a major reason that deprogramming often works is the simple fact that blood proves thicker then faith. Comments Gilmartin, "I think it's wrong to think of deprogramming or even the mind control as any mystical process. I think mind control exists, but I think too many parents use it as a copout as opposed to dealing with what genuinely takes place between two people. [In the deprogramming] they [the parents] are putting their arms around the kid and saying, ' love you. I want you to come back. We're your parents.' The kid's astounded by this. He says, 'Shit, you're the guy who had no time for me. Just the football games and the Budweiser for 12 years, and now you're dealing with me as a person?' Afterward, you ask the kid when was the last time you talked to your parents like this, and they never have. I think seeing that brings a lot of kids back."

Ted Patrickic_top.gif (764 bytes)Michael Trauscht