Meanwhile, the parents' organizations
are increasingly showing signs of mass hysteria. A list of
"cults" they now keep tabs on includes Esalen Institute;
the Garden Grove Community Church of Orange County, California; the
Integral Yoga Institute; sensitivity classes on college campuses;
feminist consciousness-raising groups; and some 60 other
organizations that parents have blamed for turning family members
against them. The deprogrammers says, privately, that they would
like to use their techniques against Mormons and Jehovah's
Witnesses. [The National Council of Churches, perhaps sensing a
threat, has come out with a statement condemning the practice of
Meetings of local parent's groups have
turned cultish in their own right, and members turn furiously on
social workers and mental health professionals who don't agree with
them. In Arlington, Virginia, a group of parents stand guard on an
elementary school playground because they believe the Unification
Church is trying to steal their children.
To some extent, it may be not the
parents and their children who are being victimized by the cults,
but the other way around. The cults, according to anthropologist
Irving Zaretsky of the School of Divinity at the University of
Chicago, often become scapegoats for the problems of both parents
and their sons and daughters. Zaretsky is coeditor, with Mark P.
Leone, of "Religious Movements in Contemporary America."
He has been studying fringe religious groups for the past 10 years.
If such groups are practicing
brainwashing as such, they are doing a tremendously sloppy job of
it, according to Zaretsky. Many people join the group expecting it
to fulfill the major needs of their lives. When the group fails to
solve all their problems, they frequently turn against the group and
become very bitter and disillusioned, without the help of a
deprogrammer. According to Zaretsky, this pattern is a much more
"young people get involved
with such groups because they want to get involved," says
Zaretsky. "How it affects their home life depends on the
relationship with their parents. The parents feel helpless when all
of a sudden there is nothing they can do about it. What little
information has been available through the media has simply
reflected parents' concerns back to them. They seize upon the mind
control because it is handy to condemn something like this that they
have little information about and fear a great deal." They
become desperate, according to Zaretsky, and in their hysteria play
the systems of authority - religion, psychiatry and the law -
against one another.
Zaretsky notes that we are actually
coming out of a period of rapid growth in such groups. Those that
have shown some staying power are focal points for the wrath of
parents against the experiments in consciousness and lifestyles that
the groups have incorporated. According to Zaretsky, such groups are
actually very good at resocializing people who during the tumultuous
'60s got too far off the social mainstream to fit back into the
In some respect, deprogramming signals
a clash between modern rationalism and medieval faith, that is, a
clash between the sort of science that questions whether or not
one's allegiances are healthy and the sort of faith that requires
one to give up such skepticism, a sort of faith that we may be
tolerating less and less in a secular age as religious involvement
become more casual. Some victims of deprogrammings have ended up the
casualties of what amounts to a layman's attempt at a psychiatric
assault on religious fanaticism.
Lane Petri, 26, was legally removed
through a court order obtained by her parents (with the aid of
Trauscht, Gilmartin, Howard and deprogrammed ex-members) from the
commune of the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation at Saugus,
California. The special forces division of the Los Angeles County
Sheriff's Department descended on the commune with helicopters,
vans, squad cars and 30 armed officers to forceably remove her. She
offered no resistance.
She was escorted to Burbank in a police
caravan and put through a deprogramming. A few days later, she was
brought to a hearing. The judge asked one question - did she want to
return to the foundation or go with her parents? She stated simply
that she wished to go with her parents, and the hearing was closed.
She is now living with them in the Arizona desert, where she is
Says Petri, "Sometimes
[following the deprogramming] I would go to sleep and wake up and
wouldn't want to let go of what I had lived and believed in so many
years. Because I so firmly believed it and I liked what I was
"It was a chance to totally commit
myself to what I believed in. There was such enthusiasm and
involvement that I wanted to become involved, too. We gave to one
another from what we learned in our faith. We felt very victorious,
very glad to be saved and alive and able to tell others about our
beliefs. It caused me to trust completely."
The mind cannot trust completely and
question at the same time. Deprogramming is not by nature a rational
assault. It is an emotional bombardment, perhaps the best way to
break total devotion. How many of us could hold on to our most
adamantly held beliefs if forced to admit the reasons we hold them
so dearly? The deprogrammers did not break Petri, but they did
manage to convince her by what seemed well-documented evidence that
the fund in which she thought she was a shareholder was being
funneled into the personal accounts of the Alamos.
"I was told the typical
reaction was anger," Petri continues. "I never
felt that. I think I will when I come to fully realize that I've
been had. Now I just feel rather defenseless. I've come to evaluate
quite a bit lately. I look at the family structure that used to be
so close-knit now separated by miles and jobs. The churches have
been totally undermined. Kids are out looking for that again. The
Alamos took advantage of that.
"But how do you determine God's
will? I know it's a state of being. Happiness is not just where you
are but your inner being and your relationship with yourself, with
God and other people. The church on the corner doesn't offer that.
That's what I felt the foundation was, but if I had stayed, I would
be contributing to a crime. Even if I were free to go back, I guess
my uncertainty would keep me from going back.
" But faith can't ever really
be betrayed. Not if it's sincere. I would never have left on my own."