The War of the Cults

Wayne Sage - Human Behavior, October 1976



    qnote.gif (173 bytes) War of Cults
    qnote.gif (173 bytes)
Patrick's Methods













Ted Patrick || Joe Alexander || Michael Trauscht

Parents' organizations

Gilmartin has teamed up with Michael Trauscht, a young special deputy county attorney in Tucson, in a campaign to use the courts to sanction deprogrammings. Shortly after reading Vincent Bugliosi's "Helter Skelter", an account of the "hypnotic hold" of Charles Manson over his murderous "family," Trauscht heard the pleas of the relatives of two men who had joined a wandering sect near Tucson. His investigation led him to the camp of the Body, a sort of religious wolf pack that travels nomadically, coming down into the cities periodically to preach the gospel and scavenge in garbage cans for food.

Appalled by what he saw, Trauscht obtained a court order to remove the men from the group. The parents flew in Joe Alexander. After a weekend with Alexander, the two men removed their frocks, donned casual street clothes and testified that they had been "psychologically kidnapped" by the Body.

The sensation in the local press brought other cases. Parents who could not get through by phone flew all the way across the country to see Trauscht. Soon he was flying around the country advising local officials and attorneys on legal procedures to remove people from sects.

To help with the cases, Trauscht took on Wayne Howard, a Phoenix attorney in private practice and a civil libertarian, who was at first very skeptical of the whole operation but like so many others was soon convinced by the deprogrammers' successes.

Much of the psychological ammunition used against such groups in the ensuing court battles is provided by psychologist Gilmartin. Gilmartin is the director of the Pima County Court Clinic in Tucson. Unlike most of his colleagues, he has left his armchair to investigate firsthand many of the "cults" around the country.

According to Gilmartin, such groups prey on people who want desperately to live a meaningful life but whose lives have been reduced to meaninglessness. Such people wander into the group to check out what seems an alternative lifestyle void of the existential anxiety they are experiencing. The newcomers are gradually sucked away from the environment that has shaped their thoughts and behavior. Gilmartin describes a horrendous process by which the new converts are worn down by poor diet, lack of sleep, exhaustion and exposure to the elements. The group isolates the converts and then plays on guilt feelings and increasingly restricts the converts' thoughts and behavior.

"It's an amazing process," Gilmartin comments. "I know when I first got exposed to it, if someone had told me what I'm saying right now, I never would have believed it. I was astonished to see how by the use of a number of social techniques they can gradually reduce the decision-making process, the ego functioning, till the person almost becomes 'autisticlike.' He doesn't go outside his little self-encapsulated beliefs."

The whole process can be described as "socially induced ego regression," according to Gilmartin. That is, the member gives up "reality testing" and "[illegible] functioning" (i.e., thinking for himself) and acquiesces completely to the "expectancies and demands of the social unit" (i.e. obedience to the "cult").

People freely enter such groups, Gilmartin admits, "but once the social process begins, the individual is not freely capable of exercising free will to leave."

The phrase "psychological kidnapping" does not exist in the nomenclature of forensic psychiatry. But Gilmartin is convinced that the phenomenon does exist. "The individuals are held against their will because the cognitive and volitional state known as will is removed from the individual," he says. He points to accounts of "ex-cult members" who report that they sincerely believed their lifestyle was one of free thought while with their groups, but after their deprogrammings claimed they had not been capable of entertaining thoughts contradicting the beliefs of the groups.

Gilmartin admits that the same social dynamics have been at work in religious groups throughout the ages and that the hold on members of the Unification Church is no different than that which binds devout Catholics or Mormons today.

Gilmartin does not condone kidnapping from any religious group, but he plays an active part in legal efforts to pry "cult members" from their folds.

"It's a value judgment," he admits, "We're not in their social milieu, so we don't understand it and we project our values on to it and say it's wrong. Some people feel all religion is a sort of social delusion. I've seen people here at the court, mass murderers, who I'd have loved to have gotten into the Unification Church 10 years ago and have them selling plastic flowers on the street. There would be 18 people alive today. But when you see the bright, creative, articulate kids the cults pick up who have so much to offer, you hate to see them reduced like that to an authoritarian system. As a psychologist and just an interested person, I'd like to make sure that the person in that social milieu wants to be there voluntarily. Too often they don't want to be there, and it's just that the social coercion is too intense for them to leave."

Trauscht, Howard, Gilmartin and deprogrammer Joe Alexander now travel as a team. Trauscht and Howard help local attorneys for the parents to obtain legal orders to remove the cult member. Gilmartin provides the expert opinion and former sect members give testimony. Local law enforcement officials then stake out the group before descending in force to remove the targeted members. The court agrees to the deprogramming, which is explained as "reality-inducing therapy." Of course, if deprogramming is seen as a "therapy," it always has to be forced.

The willingness, even eagerness, of the courts to go along with such ideas seems to be increasing. Says Howards, "The law is only about 5 percent of it. The other 95 percent is having the conviction to be able to persuade the judge that what you're doing is right. He's got to want to help these people. If he does, he'll find a way to do it."

There have been 31 such cases at the time of this writing. In every instance, the court has moved to forceably extricate the individual from his or her religious group, according to Trauscht,because the court has been convinced that the individual was under "mind control."

"I think law enforcement officials have felt their hands are tied because of the First Amendment," Trauscht suggest. Indeed, law enforcement officials have often turned their heads and allowed the deprogrammers to get away with their abductions. "Now we have demonstrated that religion is not the issue. The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of thought." Constitutional lawyers might swallow hard on this interpretation, but Trauscht plunges bravely on, saying, "Freedom of thought is involved, not freedom of religion, because the kids when they are victims of mind control don't have freedom of thought and this is a direct violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association."

Trauscht has more in mind that a continuing string of court battles. He urges legislation to make tax-exempt status more difficult for religious groups to attain, inevitably forcing government to determine which religious groups are legitimate. He would like a law against psychological kidnapping, although it is hard to imagine how such a law could be worded so that it could be wielded against the "families" of the Unification Church but not against nunneries. And he would like legislation making contributions to nonprofit organizations refundable within a six-month period, perhaps a good idea. Congress has already held hearings on such matters, at least informally, and four governmental agencies are presently investigating the Unification Church.

Meanwhile, Trauscht has formed his own tax-exempt foundation and has just received a donation of over $100,000 from an individual who insists on remaining anonymous. Deprogrammer Joe Alexander and his family will live at the foundation and operate it as general managers. "Tucson is going to be the deprogramming center of the country," says Trauscht. "Kids from all states will be picked up and sent there [to the foundation] for their initial deprogrammings." From there, they will be sent to various regional centers around the country for "vocational rehabilitation," an odd term for a group that is usually highly educated.

"Maybe a 'readjustment period' would be better," admits Trauscht. How much restraint can be used to keep the "kids" (most are over 21) at these centers will be up to the courts and the psychiatrists. Some such centers are operating informally already. The foundation will also train deprogrammers and retain past cult members to help in the deprogrammings.

Joe Alexanderic_top.gif (764 bytes)Parent's Organizations