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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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."