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
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'
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
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
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
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