Let Our Children Go!
TED PATRICK: I never planned to be a deprogrammer. It's not a job I applied for, and in the beginning I never imagined I'd be in it for four years, deprogramming and arranging for the deprogramming of over one thousand Americans, rescuing them from religious cults. It's not a job I want to continue to do. But until now [the fall of 1975] no one else has been willing to step forward and rectify a dangerous situation in this country which I believe poses threats and challenges to the core of our way of life. Until someone does, I feel I have no choice except to continue in my work.
In the summer of 1971 I was Governor Ronald Reagan's Special Representative for Community Relations in San Diego and Imperial counties in southern California. It was an interesting and demanding job which cast me in the role of a sort of ombudsman, fielding complaints, answering questions, cutting through bureaucratic red tape at every level of the government, trying to provide services in general for a very far-reaching constituency from every class, every race, every walk of life. In my three years in that position, I'd worked hard to make myself visible and available. When the cult troubles began to surface, it was logical enough for distraught and frightened parents to come to my office with requests for assistance. At the time I was absolutely not aware of the existence of any cults, let alone those that were evil in their nature and purposes. I don't think many people were, anywhere in the country. This, in spite of the fact that by the summer of 1971 the cult movement in America was widespread, well-entrenched, and mushrooming rapidly.
The first actual step of my involvement in fighting the cults was an incident involving my son Michael, who was then fourteen, at Mission Beach in San Diego on the Fourth of July. I had rented a suite in the Bahia Hotel across from the beach, as I did every Fourth of July; the nature of my work kept me away from home for long stretches of time, and the weekend at the Bahia each summer had come to be a special time for me and my family.
There were fireworks that night at Belmont Park and my children and my nephews and their friends all wanted to go. I gave them permission. I also gave them careful instructions about being back at the hotel immediately after the fireworks were over.
My son Michael and one of my nephews, however, did not return with the others after the fireworks display. After waiting a reasonable amount of time, my guests and my relatives divided up into teams of two and three and we went out looking for them. We didn't find them. Three hours later, around half past midnight, extremely worried by then, I called the police department.
As I was dialing, Michael and my nephew walked in. Naturally their mothers fussed about them, and our relief was mixed with anger over their disobedience, which had disrupted the party. I was struck, however, by the look on my son's face. The first thought that passed through my mind was, "He's been smoking grass!" He looked vacant, somehow—glazed, drifting. "Where the heck you been?" I started in on him. "We've been out all over town looking for you. What did I tell you about getting back here on time?" Michael shook his head, as if he were trying to clear it.
"What's wrong, you been drinking?" I asked him, continuing to bluster a little but puzzled now.
"I don't know," he said finally, speaking very low, his eyes still not focusing. "We were on our way back to the hotel. We saw the fireworks and we were coming back, and then . . ." "Some people stopped us," my nephew put in. He looked nervous and upset but not as vague and "spacey" as Michael.
Michael nodded. "They had Bibles and guitars. One of them asked us, 'Do you believe in God? Do you know Christ died on the cross for our sins? Do you have Christ in your hearts?' " "We didn't want to talk to them, they were creepy. But, I don't know, there was something about them, we couldn't leave."
"They said," Michael went on, "that they had a family. They said the name of the family was Children of God. They wanted us to come home with them, to join them." "No more work, remember?" my nephew prodded Michael. "They said that. And we wouldn't ever be sick anymore. We wouldn't have any problems." Michael nodded; gradually his eyes seemed to clear a little. "Yeah, problem-free. And we wouldn't have to go to church anymore, or school even, because those things are of the Devil."
"Of the Devil!" my nephew supported him. "That's what they said. And they said our parents were of Satan."
And then Michael told me, "Every time we tried to leave, they grabbed us by the arms, made us look into their eyes. I never saw eyes like that before. It made me dizzy to look at them."
My brothers and sisters didn't take the incident seriously. The boys' story sounded like a far fetched lie invented to cover up their delinquency in returning to the hotel.
"You ought to be a book writer," my sister-in-law scolded, "with the imagination you've got."
But then my boy handed over to me some pamphlets they'd given him. It was the first propaganda literature I had ever seen from the group calling themselves the Children of God.
"It doesn't make any sense," I said, glancing at the pamphlets. "All kinds of crazy stuff about what's wrong with the country."
"Maybe it's a Communist-front thing," my wife suggested.
"Maybe," I agreed. "I'll send it all up to the Attorney General's office in the morning, see if they have anything on them."
But by morning the pamphlets had somehow gotten lost, and I ended up putting the whole matter out of my mind. It wasn't until a week later, on July 12, that a woman I'll call Mrs. Samuel Jackson walked into my office to file a complaint about the disappearance of her son the night of the Fourth of July. He had last been seen near Mission Beach, in company with a group of young people carrying Bibles and guitars.
The lady was very upset. "On the morning of the Fourth, Billy told us he was going to have breakfast with some friends. Afterwards they were going surfing near Mission Beach. He said he had a date that night and asked his father if he could use the car. Well, he never came home."
The Jacksons weren't alarmed until after dark, when they began receiving phone calls from some of the friends Billy had supposedly been with that day. The boys didn't know where he was. The Jacksons then telephoned the girl Billy had said he had the date with. She was irritated because Billy had never shown up or called to break the date.
"At midnight we called the police and the sheriff's department," Mrs. Jackson explained. "I told them I wanted to report a missing person. But the police wouldn't accept the report because Billy is only nineteen. 'That makes him a runaway,' they told me. 'We can't do anything about runaways.' So then I called the FBI. They told me to call the local police. It was a run-around."
In the days following, the Jacksons and Billy's friends checked hospitals, called acquaintances, scoured other beaches where he might have gone surfing, appealed again and again to law enforcement agencies. "But there was no sign of him. It was as if he'd been swallowed up, like he'd simply vanished from the face of the earth."
Then, on the ninth, five days after his disappearance, young Jackson telephoned. He was calling from a commune belonging to the Children of God. "I'm not coming home," he declared, "because my problem is in my home. You and Dad are living in sin and if you don't repent you are going to burn in hell. I've found a new family, a real family, a spiritual family."
Mrs. Jackson could hear other voices in the background which seemed to be advising him what to say. She claimed that Billy did not sound like himself. "He sounded like he was drugged, like he was a zombie reading a script."
Then someone else came onto the phone describing himself as an Elder. "We are a Christian family," he said, " and we are called the Children of God. Your son is nineteen years old, he is here of his own free will, and there's nothing you can do about it. He has found God, is serving the Lord, and is free from Satan once and for all." Then the Elder hunger up. She did not speak to Billy again.
Mrs. Jackson had come to me because no one else in the government and law enforcement agencies she appealed to seemed at all interested in her plight. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have taken much interest in her story either if it hadn't been for the incident involving my own son. Listening to her, I at last realized what had happened to Michael. The stories were identical. At any rate, that morning, watching this lady weeping in my office, I made up my mind that I would at least do some telephoning of my own to see what I could discover about the operations of these Children of God.
I started with churches and youth groups. I drew blanks. It was the same with the law enforcement agencies. Nothing. I was on the phone all day, neglecting my other work. The more blanks I drew, the more determined I was to locate someone who knew something about this group. They printed pamphlets. They accosted youngsters on the streets. They had a commune. It must be possible to track them down.
Finally, I telephoned a place called the Crisis Center, out at Ocean Beach, which was in the business of helping dropouts and other kids with problems. A volunteer at the Center said that indeed they were familiar with the Children of God. "They've ripped off a lot of our kids in the past couple weeks."
"I need names, addresses," I said. "I want to launch a full-scale investigation."
The Crisis Center had the names of six people who had reported having trouble with the sect, and I began calling them. I hit pay dirt right off the bat.
I'll call her Mrs. Betty Spahn. She had, as she put it, lost a child to the Children of God and, like Mrs. Jackson, had been unable to get help from any of the governmental agencies she'd appealed to. "Thank God somebody is finally going to do something about that bunch."
"I'd like to get together with you and tape an interview as soon as possible," I said.
"Tomorrow, Mr. Patrick. Come on over tomorrow night, around eight. There are four other families I know who are involved in this too. I'll have them come and you can interview them too. Maybe they'll know others that I don't know with kids inside."
From that point on, the thing just snowballed. Each of the four groups of parents I talked to the next night at the Spahn home knew a couple of other families with children in the cult. Their stories were all identical: the child vanished without a trace, surfaced a week later with a phone call in which he renounced (and in cases denounced) his parents, sounded like a zombie (a word that came up spontaneously from the beginning), seemed to be reading from a script, and so on.
In two days time I had received news of twenty-six families with parallel experiences. By the end of the week, I had names of fifty-two families, all with children who had disappeared into the Children of God. It took me two weeks to interview all of them.
What they told me amazed and disturbed me. I had the uneasy feeling that, large as this group of parents I'd contacted was, it was only the tip of an iceberg. These complaints about the Children of God fell within the realm of my duties as the Governor's Special Representative for Community Affairs. I did not hesitate to inform my superiors in Sacramento that I was going to be devoting a lot of time in the next few weeks to pursuing an investigation of the cult. It was part of my job to investigate, make a judgment, and get action.
The higher-ups in Sacramento—especially my immediate superior Bob Keyes— were interested, concerned and sympathetic, and encouraged me to do what needed to be done. What needed to be done, I decided, was for me to secure firsthand, eyewitness information on the Children of God operation. So I made up my mind to join the cult..
It was about seven o'clock on a Sunday evening toward the end of July that I arrived at Mission Beach, which, everything considered, seemed a logical place to make contact with the Children of God. By this time I was aware that they did what they called their "witnessing" at Mission Beach, the adjoining amusement park, and surrounding areas just about every weekend. There are a series of beautiful beaches along the coast of Southern California which are ideal staging grounds for cults like the Children of God for two reasons: (1) every weekend the beaches are thronged with upwards of 100,000 people and, (2) most of the people are very young and, therefore, very susceptible to hustles and con games.
For all the interviews I'd done since the morning Mrs. Jackson had entered my office, for all the information I'd gathered on the cult, I really didn't know what I would do or say to make them believe that I was a sincere convert, when and if I found them. I was also a little worried about what infiltrating the cult would entail, especially since my wife and children had no idea I was going to do this. I admit too that as I strolled through the park across from Mission Beach, seeing all the weekend picnickers, the kids on the slides and swings, listening to the music from the merry-go-round, enjoying the beautiful summer evening coming down on the Pacific, I really would not have been too disappointed if I had failed to make contact with the Children of God. It was something I was determined to do, but not necessarily something I wanted to do.
At any rate I didn't have much time for this kind of debating with myself, because as I crossed from in front of the Bahia Hotel and headed for the beach, I saw a big blue bus in the parking lot. That bus had been described to me any number of times, but even if it hadn't, the white lettering on its side said
CHILDREN OF GOD.
About twenty yards from the bus, four nicely dressed young men, their arms filled with newspapers, were talking earnestly to a blonde girl in a yellow bikini. The boys appeared to be about twenty, with short hair, clean shaven, wearing coats and ties. The girl looked to be sixteen or so. She had a box of popcorn in her hand and a purse slung over her shoulder. The boys had her surrounded and whenever she took a few steps as though to break away from them, they all shifted around and surrounded her again so she really couldn't move.
"That's them," I thought, and I wandered over and pretended to get interested in what the boys were saying. "Don't you realize that Christ died on the cross for you? Don't you realize that? Don't you care? Don't you want to serve the Lord?"
The girl was embarrassed, shifting from one bare foot to the other, shrugging her shoulders, nibbling on popcorn. Finally she said, "Look, I'm engaged to be married. My fiance is over there on the beach. He's going to wonder what's happened to me. Do you mind?" "Excuse me," I interrupted with an innocent smile. "I heard what you were saying about the Lord. I think maybe you're just the people I've been looking for."
A couple of the boys seized on this, delighted, which gave the girl an opening to leave. She did, but the other two followed her; I couldn't help wondering what kind of reception they were going to get from her boyfriend.
"Do you believe that Christ died for your sins?" one of the boys said. They came up tight on me, close, and while they talked they kept touching me lightly and staring at me with eyes that resembled Michael's the night of the Fourth of July— dilated pupils, empty, staring, as if they were stoned.
"I've been searching for the Lord," I said. "But I didn't know where to find him." And I made up a story about the misery of my life.
"Praise Jesus!" one of the boys said. "We love you, brother. Praise the Lord. Do you want to serve the Lord one hundred percent?"
"One hundred percent," I nodded.
"Hallelujah!" they said. "Praise Jesus!"
And they invited me over to the bus to talk further about becoming a convert to the Children of God.
When I entered the bus, it contained about fourteen other people, mostly young, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, about equally divided between boys and girls. I was the oldest person there and the only black one, but neither of those details seemed to be important. I learned later on that almost every cult has a sprinkling of over-thirty's, and a sprinkling of blacks, so a black forty-one-year-old convert was unusual, but acceptable enough.
Some of the seats had been removed to make room for a table and chairs. They were serving coffee and sandwiches, but I'd heard that there was at least a possibility that the Children of God secured their converts by drugging them, so I refused both the food and drink. Two young men, not the same ones I'd talked to outside, began discussing the Bible with me. "Did you know that in Luke 14:26 it says, 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.'? You agree with that, Ted?"
"Sure I agree with it," I'd say. And they'd do their "Praise the Lord" and "Hallelujah" bits again.
They introduced me to some of their "literature." The pamphlets reminded me of the "eight-pagers" that used to circulate on the streets when I was a kid in Chattanooga—the little crude cartoon books showing Blondie and Dagwood, for example, or the Katzenjammer Kids. The eight-pagers, of course, were also pornographic, and the pamphlets the kids gave me in the bus were far from that, but I would have to say that intellectually they were worse. The three of us used one of them to pray from together. The prayer went like this:
Dear Lord, please forgive me for being bad and naughty and deserving a good spanking! Thank you so much for sending Jesus your Son to take my spanking for me. I now receive him as my savior and as your son and ask you to come into my heart and make me be good and love you.
That pamphlet, incidentally, was called, "You Gotta Be a Baby."
The whole thing was like a Sunday-school class for first-graders. And yet all around me were young adults who looked healthy and intelligent. I guessed that many of them were college students, yet here they were lapping up this kind of drivel with deep emotion and enthusiasm. I couldn't figure it out. We all should have been holding our sides with laughter. Instead we were shouting, "Praise Jesus!" and, "I love you, brother, I love you!" and "Hallelujah!" I think it was then that I first began to credit the theories I'd heard from some of the parents that their children had been hypnotized. How else to explain all this? But it would have to be a sort of "on-the-spot" hypnosis, and at that time I didn't know whether or not this was possible. Since then, the accounts given by many former cult members have convinced me that it is.
At any rate, we prayed and read and talked and "Hallelujah-ed" for about forty-five minutes. I pretended to go along with the program and eventually they asked me if I wanted to go to their house in Santee, a suburb of San Diego, for a workshop and discussion session. I promptly agreed.
By this time more people had boarded the bus, and I was surprised to see the girl in the yellow bikini and a young man whom I took to be the boyfriend she'd mentioned. The girl had changed into a T-shirt and white shorts and her boyfriend, a tall, bearded fellow who looked to be about twenty-two years old, was wearing a denim work shirt and blue jeans. The girl looked very confused and frightened, but her boyfriend was already, apparently, somehow spaced out. The wide staring eyes, the empty face. I wondered again how anyone, however susceptible, could get himself hooked so quickly unless a form of instantaneous hypnotism was involved. The couple were separated at once, the boy being taken to the rear of the bus and the girl kept up front near me. Once she was alone, three people, two girls and a boy, started working on her as they had worked on me, only more so, since obviously she was going to be as difficult as I had been easy. At one point she looked at me with a pleading expression in her eyes, as if to say "Help, get us out of here!" but I made myself give her a zombie grin and chorused along with the others, "Praise the Lord!"
It was almost dark, around nine o'clock, when the bus pulled out of the parking lot and headed for Santee. During the forty-five minute ride, we sang songs and read the Bible and talked about our privat lives with our so-called counselors who were very interested to know how much money we had in the bank, what kind of cars we owned, what our love life was like, and so forth.
I was hungry and thirsty, but I was still afraid that the sandwiches and coffee might be drugged, so I hung on, resisting the temptation to try some, figuring I could get some water out of a tap when we reached Santee.
It was too dark when we arrived to see very much, but I took a good look around the next day. It was a low, frame, three-bedroom house set on about four acres well back from the road on a slope of land that moved uphill to a stand of trees thick enough to be called a woods. To the right of the house, which was fronted along the road by a wooden fence, were five huge army tents. To the left and to the rear was a field filled with automobiles, buses, motorcycles, jeeps. These had all been "contributed" to the cult by converts, and were being sold to dealers as quickly as possible. I estimated the value of these automotive contributions to be in excess of fifty thousand dollars. Thirty or so converts had arrived with me in the bus; I quickly figured that if half of them owned cars and gave them to the cult, and say 100 converts were made each weekend (which was a serious underestimation, as it turned out), then in automobiles alone the cult was taking in two hundred thousand dollars a month.
But there was other merchandise too. One of the army tents was stocked like an electronics store. Dozens of television sets, stereos, speaker systems, amplifiers, cameras, binoculars—all given up for Jesus by converts to the cult—were piled up, worth, I guessed, about another fifty thousand dollars or so. Just seeing and appreciating the size and scope of that secondhand retail operation convinced me that whatever the Children of God's real business was, it had nothing to do with religion and a hell of a lot to do with turning a rapid buck. I think it would have convinced anyone.
When we arrived that first night our bus was met by a bunch of members who came running out of the house singing and shouting: "Thank you Jesus, Praise God for you." They hugged us and cried, "We love you, brother, we love you, sister! God bless you. God bless you, brother!" There was every outward appearance of sincerity and enthusiasm, and several people on our bus were clearly impressed and pleased by this greeting. But to me it seemed without depth or real feeling—it looked like an act, like a performance according to a script. And the script wasn't very convincing and neither were the actors.
We went into the house, into a large living room empty of furniture except for a few tables piled up with the group's literature. The walls were hung with Scriptural quotations and pictures of Fred Jordan and David Berg, the organizers of Children of God. The room was crowded and hot. About forty or fifty young people were sitting on the floor listening to a lecture by one of the so-called Elders of the commune. I sat down in a corner and listened. It was incredible. It amounted to a "Hate your parents" class of indoctrination.
"Your parents are the enemy!" the Elder shouted. "You have to surrender your whole life to God, you have to give him everything, I mean everything, one hundred percent. Not eighty, not ninety, but one hundred percent! And that means giving up your parents too. He that's not with us is against us—and that's your parents. 'He that loveth his father, mother, sister, and brother more than Me is not worthy of me.' That's what the Bible says. Do you believe the Bible? Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God who sent His only beloved son to die on the cross for you? If you believe it, then you believe you gotta hate your father and your mother because they're evil, because they're of Satan, because they are Satan."
For a black boy raised in the South who over the years had heard some of the best when it came to conning people from the pulpit, this was pretty feeble stuff. But not many of the middle-class white kids in the room had any experience at all with real evangelical preaching, and they gobbled it up like it was the Holy Ghost talking to them.
This went on for about an hour, and then when he was finished we were separated into small groups in different rooms of the house and I was presented with an application form filled with very personal questions. "Do your parents own a home? Do you live by yourself? Do you have a family? Do you have a job? How much do you make? Do you have a car? Is it in your name? Is it paid for? Do you have a bank account? How much is in it? Is there any other name on it besides yours? Do you own any furniture? Do you know any influential people with money?"
Their concern with a prospective convert's financial situation is so transparent you would think it would alert the slowest, least perceptive person to what was going on. Or at least make them pause and think. But the indoctrination is cleverly orchestrated, and while you are being queried directly about your financial status, you are at the same time listening to tape recordings of Bible verses, being exhorted by one member to pray and praise the Lord, and being hugged by another member who tells you he loves you, brother—so it is all very confusing and one does not use his powers of concentration or critical ability in a normal way. It's a sort of mental and psychological blitzing. They confuse and harass you quite effectively so that you often don't really know what you are doing or saying.
And if you do hesitate even for a moment, or express some doubt, or ask a potentially embarrassing question, as various people did at Santee, they step up the attack. "That's Satan speaking in you. You don't want to sign? You're not willing to give up your car for the Lord? He died on the cross for you. And you won't give him a lousy car in return? What did the Lord say to the rich man? Forsake all and follow me. You think you can get to heaven in your Oldsmobile? The world's going to end, brother—and it's going to end soon. And we're the only ones going to be saved, that's right, the Children of God. We are the chosen people and you gotta do what Moses Berg tells you to do without thinking about it, if you want to be saved. You want to be saved, don't you? Well, you're not going to be saved unless you do what Moses tells you. 'Cause he's been appointed and anointed by God and God speaks through him, and you have to take that on faith and give up worrying about understanding. You forsake understanding too because your mind is Satan, and thinking is the machinery of the Devil."
On and on like that and pretty soon the convert would meekly sign away his Oldsmobile and his bank account and everything else, including his right to think and all his family ties, without a whimper.
I was never left alone, not for a minute, not even to go to the toilet. After I signed the application—admitting to possession of a car, some stereo equipment, and several musical instruments—I went back to the living room and sat down on the floor again to listen to another lecture and to hear more tapes. Other buses had arrived and the crowd inside the house had doubled in the hour and a half or so since I'd been there. It was a hot, hot night, and everyone was sweating. The place smelled like a sty. It was airless, and I was getting tired and very thirsty. But when I would mention to one of the leaders assigned to me that I would like a glass of water, he would reply, "You're hearing the living word of God. Isn't that more important than a glass of water?"
I've been in the service, and I was a middleweight boxer for a while, and my life has not been what you would call easy. So I figured I was in better physical condition, simply tougher and better able to withstand the heat and weariness and hunger and thirst than the other people, the kids, who looked soft and pampered and vulnerable. I tried to imagine what kind of hell they were going through, what kind of pressures motivated by the desire to eat, drink, and sleep might be at work forcing them to sign anything, to agree to anything. I recalled tales of brainwashing sessions reported by American prisoners of war coming home from Korea and resolved that when I got out of there I would look up some of the literature on the subject of mind control and brainwashing, because what I was witnessing sounded pretty much like what I'd read about in the papers in the fifties.
Another Elder stood up before us and began reading a so-called MO-letter. Like everything else in this cult, the MO-letter is so fantastic it's not easy to describe. MO is an abbreviation of "Moses," which is what David Berg, the leader of the group, calls himself. The letters are actually little mimeographed magazines in which Berg talks to his followers about everything that's on his mind. Much of what he writes makes no sense at all; MO-letters often sound like the ravings of a seriously demented man. To his disciples, however, they represent something close to the inspired word of God, and that night in Santee we were subjected to readings from them, and tape recordings of them, all night long. I've since obtained copies of the letters read to us that night. Here's a sample:
God has broken up the marriages of almost our entire top leadership at some time or another, with one or two exceptions who are apart from their partners most of the time anyway. I've certainly seen a lot of good fruit in these, since this had happened, and also it has borne good fruit amongst the kids. Is breaking up families anything new with God? God is in the business of breaking up families—little private families! If you have not forsaken your husband and wife for the Lord at sometime or other, you have not forsaken all!
And another example, typical of the MO-letters and reflecting the kind of mind that operates the Children of God cult.
I'm picking 'em off in the way that hurts them most! I'm picking off their children for the Lord. When they get to the point they don't deserve us anymore, God may let 'em slaughter us. The parents have filled 'em so full of houses and cars and education and all that shit-it's like making them eat their father's dung! And now the kids want to kill 'em for it! You ■ can hardly blame 'em! I've felt like that myself sometimes! May God deliver me from being around these Systemites! I'd hate to think of what I might do if I'd had a tommy-gun sometimes—I might have been tempted to mow them down! I would have made a hell of a Communist!
It's time for the rape of America, but they're trying to respect her! She doesn't deserve respect: She's an old Whore!
She thinks she owns the pimps, but the pimps own her! But if they sink with her, she does own them see? But if they're smart pimps, they'll cut her off and let her die. But we already told her she's going to die! She's mad at us! And now we have to tell her pimps to let her go, 'cause they're just going to lose money 'cause she's going to die! She's an old whore! She's old and ugly and diseased and proud and pompous! She's so selfish! She's cruel and destructive, and all her little European money pimps better dump her, or they'll go down with her!
To be fair to the kids in Santee that night, I must say that the madness of these MO-letters was not as evident then as it is when you see the words printed on the page. It's quite another situation when the Elder is spouting these words at you, or tapes of Berg screaming them at you are being played at a high decibel count, and you are being badgered continually by a group of Elders who never leave your side—they work in shifts, so they are always fresh and wide awake. They preach Scripture to you even as you urinate, so that the Bible and God and Moses Berg and love of country and hatred of the system and guilt over your family problems and your sexuality all get mixed up and are exaggerated by your lack of sleep, your hunger and thirst.
For those who have never undergone an experience like this, I would compare the effect of the whole program to being in a club where rock music is being played very loud and you happen to be seated near one of the speakers. You are deafened, you can't think or even really hear, but you can feel the rhythms of the bass and percussion inside your bones—the marrow of your bones begins to vibrate, your blood begins to jive. You are swinging! Everybody knows that. Well, make the transfer of that mental and physical condition; add the fact that instead of hearing music, you are being flooded with political and sexual and Scriptural vibrations; extend the time to forty consecutive hours or so; starve yourself; dehydrate yourself; and then try to imagine your frame of mind at the end of those forty hours. That would be a rough approximation of the effect of the program that weekend at Santee.
We were not allowed to sleep that Sunday night. The programming, the indoctrination, the brainwashing never let up. There was very little variation in what the Elders told us, in what tapes they played. It was just the same thing, repeated endlessly.
Around dawn, we were told that we would have breakfast as soon as everyone had memorized three Bible verses. That wasn't a problem for me; I could have recited 300 Bible verses if I wanted to. But nobody could eat until everybody had done that, and you can imagine what it's like trying to memorize anything after more than twelve hours of the sort of ordeal those kids had been put through. It must have been around nine Monday morning before we finally ate. We went outside and were served tin plates with a small portion of oatmeal mixed with powdered milk and water. It was nasty stuff, but we were all so hungry we were grateful for it. Grateful to get out of that stinking house too, and into the fresh air, though even that was spoiled by the fact that we could not escape the tape recorders and the programmers. We listened to Scripture while we sat on the grass eating, and we heard more MO-letters and more repetitious denunciations of the society.
At first you get frantic for silence—just five minutes of peace and privacy. Then your senses begin to get numb—you grow accustomed to the constant noise. You also, as you get tired, stop really registering what they tell you. You don't hear individual words anymore, just a stream of babbling and shrieking. I guess that's when the programming starts becoming effective—when the conscious mind stops functioning out of weariness and all that propaganda begins to seep into your unconscious.
It was a hot sunny morning. About 100 degrees and heating up. The sjun practically blinded you and beat on your head like a hammer. I saw kids who were members painting one of the buses and getting it ready to go out on missions. Tapes were playing while they worked. Other kids were fixing some boards on the porch of the house; they were chanting Scriptural verses. Female members, who were in charge of keeping in order the "respectable clothes" members wore while proselytizing, were working inside, singing hymns as they sewed on buttons and pressed the boys' shirts. (By the way, I have yet to discover a cult in which females are not employed as a servant class. I wish some of those girls had been in charge of what we had to eat. But apparently the Elders cared more about how their members looked than how well they were fed.)
Study groups were scattered all over the grounds; in the tents, on the hillside, in the pasture down behind where the cars were parked—about fifty or sixty kids to a group, each with its own leader preaching and lecturing. Lots of buses had rolled in during the night and the total attendance that morning I estimated at between 250 and 300.
Our leaders concentrated on the family issue, urging us to hate our parents, reading from the MO-letters:
"They live like animals. What do they do? They eat and drink, sleep and fuck, shit and piss—they suck the asshole of the System, that's all they do. Fuck them! They're not your family. There's only one family. This is your family. And you don't leave. Leaving here and going back to that is like a dog returning to his vomit, it's like going back and eating your own shit! Moses is your Father—there's no salvation except through him. You leave here you'll have blood on your hands. You leave here you'll be struck by lightning. You go back to that shit-filth flesh-family and you'll all be killed! "Listen to what Moses says about your vomit-stinking parents. This is what he says: 'You, my dear parents are the greatest rebels against God ... to hell with your devilish system. May God damn your unbelieving hearts. God is going to destroy you and save us ... for truly this is a wicked and adulterous and rebellious generation which I shall destroy and I say God damn you all to Hell!' That's God talking, God talking through Moses, and you'd better listen to him."
Along with the other craziness they sandbagged us with that day was the information that every now and then Moses Berg goes up to Heaven and stays there chatting with God for two or three weeks at a time! Remember, these were mostly college kids, with, I discovered later, above-average I.Q.'s. After being informed that David Berg periodically goes up to Heaven body and soul for a vacation with God, they clapped their hands and shouted, "Praise the Lord!"
We sat outside all day, breaking only once to do a sort of dance, all in a circle, arms around each other's shoulders, and singing, everybody working himself up into a frenzy. Here's a sample of the kind of songs we sung:
Down, down, the sun's going down, The axe is laid to the tree.
Proud America she spins around, She shall be brought to her knees.
Look at the way they raised us.
Look at the way they raised us.
They think their money has amazed us.
America's sinking fast in the sand.
The system is fucked and it's getting me down.
Oh, Lord, I can't stand it.
The system is fucked and it's getting me down.
Oh, Lord, I can't stand it.
We ate again at seven that evening. Oatmeal. It was horrible and so was the stew they served us in the tin army-style mess kits. I gathered that they obtained the bulk of their food from the garbage bins of local supermarkets. It certainly tasted like it. Loudspeakers hung in trees continued to blare Scriptural texts and MO-letters all during this meal.
Then there was more brainwashing, group discussions, lectures, memorizing selected Bible verses. The kids weren't even moving much anymore, they were so fatigued. They just stared straight ahead with blank faces, sitting there, swaying back and forth. I saw the young couple who were engaged to be married, the girl in the yellow bikini and her boyfriend. She was almost unrecognizable—hair all stringy, face puffy, limp as a rag doll, eyes like buttons. The boy was the same way. A few times they glanced at each other without recognition.
At four in the morning they finally let us go to sleep. This was Tuesday. I'd gotten up at eight on Sunday, which meant that I hadn't slept in forty-four hours. Not exactly a record, but when you're forty-one years old, no picnic either. I slept on a floor, on a thin blanket, wearing my clothes, with about sixty other guys (males and females were strictly segregated at bedtime), shoulder to shoulder, head-to-foot, wall-to-wall. It stank, it was hot, it was uncomfortable. And I slept like I was dead. But even then they didn't let up with the programming. Tape recorders played all night long, spewing out Scripture.
When I woke up in the morning, after about three hours sleep, it occurred to me that I'd better start making a plan for splitting. In spite of all my precautions, I was getting worn down. Believe it or not the propaganda was getting to me too. There were things wrong with America, I'd find myself sleepily agreeing with a leader or a MO-letter. And yes, my parents hadn't always been wise in their decisions about raising me. And the Bible did urge you to forsake all if you wanted to be saved.
Then I'd give myself a mental slapping and wake up and snap out of it, feeling scared. The problem was, it wasn't going to be easy to escape. You were under constant surveillance. And it was pretty clear by now that these Children of God weren't above employing ungodly rough stuff to keep you there.
For example, that morning a nicely dressed woman around my age, white, obviously well-off, drove up to the gate and got out of her car. She was the mother of a female member who had been given the Biblical name of Rachel (you had to forsake your name too; my new name was Solomon). She said she knew her daughter was there and she wasn't going to leave until she spoke to her.
Some of the Elders tried giving her a hard time at first, denying that the girl was there, but the woman was angry and stubborn and at last they allowed her to see "Rachel." But they wouldn't let her talk to her daughter alone. Rachel was accompanied by five Elders. "Rachel doesn't want to talk to you alone," they told her. "We are a family here. We do everything together." When the mother insisted, she was told, "Your daughter is of legal age. She has a legal right to do what she wants. She's here of her own free will." They argued back and forth, Rachel at first not saying anything, then interrupting to tell her mother, "I don't know you. This is my only family. You want to kill me. If I leave here I'll die. I'm doing the work of the Lord, and you want me to serve Satan. You have the Devil inside of you, you are possessed by demons!"
The mother, not surprisingly, proceeded to become hysterical. She grabbed for her daughter, trying to drag her out of the house. But the Elders jumped her. One of them struck her in the mouth, two others pinned her arms behind her back, and they all fell to the floor. The woman was screaming and crying, the Children of God were roughing her up, and her daughter just stood there staring, without any expression at all on her face.
They finally got hold of the woman's arms and legs and carried her to the car and told her to get the hell out.
Back in the house there was a celebration. "Praise Jesus for Rachel!" they were hollering. "Rachel has withstood the test. Praise God! This is how Satan tempts you, in the guise of the flesh of your earth parents who are vessels filled with the stink and filth of Satan." And then they began making plans to move Rachel immediately to a commune in Colorado so her mother couldn't locate her again, which is a favorite tactic of all the cults.
So I figured they meant business. And I figured that if I didn't get out of there in the next twenty-four hours, I might never get out; they'd have my mind too.
Trying to figure out an angle for escaping is probably what kept me together the rest of that day, which was the exact duplicate of the previous day, the same mind-numbing tapes, the same idiocy, the same warping and distorting of the Bible and of the minds of hundreds of victims, this incredible mass kidnapping which as far as I could tell enjoyed the protection of the law. Until then I'd been a model subject, pretending to go along with everything, without doubt, without question. That was in my favor, I thought—the element of surprise. Another card I could play—in fact, the only card—was the lure of earthly possessions. I'd told them on Sunday night about my car, stereo, and musical instruments. Now I also told them I had a couple of thousand dollars in a savings account and an uncashed pay check at my home.
I expected much more trouble with the leadership than I got. And in the process I learned a lesson that would prove immensely valuable to me in the years ahead. Most of the leadership of the cults in America are themselves robots, zombies, incapable of rapid thought, decisive action, or instantaneous improvisation. With the exception of David Berg and a few of his close associates, the people doing the brainwashing in Children of God are themselves true believers. So they are very easy to catch off guard.
"I want to serve the Lord one hundred per cent," I told an Elder that night. "I want to forsake all. I want to do the Lord's work." And I explained about the money. "Every minute that money belongs to me, I can feel Satan tugging at me. I want to get rid of it, I want the Lord to have it, I want to give it to
He really couldn't put up any argument. The money is what they've been programmed to go after. The precautions established for my trip home the next morning were more or less automatic. They always travel in groups, less to prevent anyone from escaping—because after a couple of days they are so brainwashed they actually like what they are doing and can no longer distinguish between life in the commune and life in the real world—than to discourage any accidental meeting with a relative or friend who might try to physically abduct them, as Rachel's mother had done.
Knowing that I would be leaving in the morning allowed me to endure the rest of that long evening and night in a better frame of mind. I also began to formulate the outline of the report I intended to send to Sacramento, and I entertained myself with imagining the reaction it would provoke up there. It felt good to know that the information I'd obtained in Santee could be instrumental in seriously interrupting and perhaps even mortally damaging what struck me as the filthiest quasi-under-world operation I'd ever seen. That night when we were finally allowed to go to sleep again, I dreamed about Moses—David Berg. No doubt hundreds of my fellow sufferers did too, but I'm sure my dream was a little different from theirs. I dreamed of seeing him behind bars.
In the morning I climbed into a Ford van with two Elders and two kids, whose new names, as I recall, were Jobab and Aggabus. Jobab drove, with an Elder beside him, and I sat in the back with Aggabus and the other Elder. When they'd come to Santee on Sunday, the two boys—both about eighteen—had hair down to their shoulders. Now, Wednesday, they were shorn, like lambs. Berg is always talking about his "lambs" in the MO-letters, and that's what they were like as we drove toward San Diego, shorn lambs, and as mindless and docile and conformist as sheep.
I tried to make conversation, just to test them, asked them what they had done before joining. They could only answer in Scripture, or with quotes from Berg, or parrot back the nonsense from the tapes. It was spooky and depressing. The idea did cross my mind at one point that I ought to see if I could take them along with me and send them back to their parents. But there would be no way of finding out who their parents were without a tremendous hassle. And then they'd probably only escape and go back to Santee at the first opportunity.
When we arrived in San Diego, I told them I'd better make a phone call to insure that no one was at home. They didn't argue. We parked in front of the Greyhound bus station. "Be right back," I said. And I walked into the station and kept walking out the back door where I caught a taxi and went home.
The first thing I did when I reached my house was to take a bath. I lay in the tub for two hours, my head spinning, soaking all the filth I'd been subjected to out of my soul and body. Then I cooked a huge steak. Then I went to bed, but as so often happens in circumstances like that I was too fatigued to sleep.
I could still hear the tape recordings, the loudspeakers blaring, the voice of Moses Berg, as if it were happening again, all over, right there in my bedroom. I dozed off for a few minutes. Then Ruth Ann was beside me saying, "Where in the heck have you been?" I sat up, grinned, gave her a kiss and said, "I've been in hell, darling." "What do you mean you been in hell?" "You're looking at Lazarus," I told her. "I just come back from the Kingdom of the Dead."
The architect who drew the blueprints for the Children of God was a TV huckster by the name of Fred Jordan, who operated out of California. Jordan was the head of a highly successful religious enterprise that produced "The Church in the Home," a series of weekly telecasts characterized by a sort of primitive fundamentalism combined with a used-car salesman's pitch for cash. It was a lucrative formula, and in 1971, seeking to expand the scope of his operation, he joined forces with David Berg, a one-time Baptist minister whose church had expelled him for unbecoming conduct.
Berg was the author of the MO-letters that were read to Ted Patrick at Santee, and they, plus the description of the^ recruiting tactics that prevailed at the commune in Santee, provide a fair measure of the man's character, psychology and personality. More insight into the nature of this person—who, to the present day, is worshiped by thousands of young people as though he were the Lord Almighty—comes from the testimony of Berg's former daughter-in-law Sarah, which is contained in a report delivered in September of 1974 to Louis J. Lefkowitz, the Attorney General of the state of New York, by the Charity Frauds Bureau, a bureau of the State Attorney General's office. The report, originating in Lefkowitz's office, was the result of a public outcry against the modus operandi of the cult, which by 1974 was recruiting vigorously up and down New York State and reaping increasingly unfavorable publicity.
On page 52, the report says of Sarah Berg:
When she was about 15 years old, her mother, a missionary, permitted her to travel on several trips with the Berg group. Paul Berg [David Berg's son] suddenly demanded that she marry him. When she refused, she was subjected to the following "prophecies" by both Paul and David Berg:
"My daughter, this is my will for you. I have chosen this match that is made in heaven. I have ordained it.
Don't be afraid to slip into my plan, my will. Why are you questioning God, are you trying to bring God's wrath on you? Don't you believe these prophecies? If you don't cooperate or do what God told you to, He is going to strike you dead. Obey God, He has ways of making you."
Frightened, she was forced to have intercourse with Paul in the presence of David Berg. Similar incidents occurred thereafter until her spirit was broken. She then was compelled to obtain her mother's permission to marry Paul because she was terrified and believed mistakenly that she was pregnant.
A year later, after the birth of her first child . . . David Berg wanted to have intercourse with her stating: "I see you with Paul's son. Why can't you have my son?"
On a later occasion, when she declined to perform sexually with her father-in-law in front of a group of the Children of God, she was severely beaten, even though she was pregnant once more. She subsequently ran away.
When Jordan met Berg he was looking for a group of youngsters he could feature on his Sunday morning television show, presenting them as drug addicts, pimps, whores, and drunkards who had been saved by the Lord. Berg already had the nucleus of such a group—a small band of youngsters called Teens for Christ—and he had been casting about for schemes to make money with them. Jordan offered him a headquarters in the skid row section of downtown Los Angeles, and—according to Patrick—paid him one thousand dollars a month to enlist in his religious group young people who could then be used on Jordan's television show.
Berg sensed the potential of the arrangement, and promptly accepted. With a bankroll behind him, and a staging area in L.A., he began to recruit under the banner of the Children of God.
For a while the venture flourished. Fred Jordan had his witnesses for Christ, claiming he had saved them, and Berg gathered the dividends of the free publicity that his organization, the Children of God, received each Sunday. His followers allowed themselves to be misrepresented on Jordan's show, believing—as most cult members do—that it is no sin to deceive an unbeliever. As the membership grew—nourished as it was by that strange climate of religious hysteria that seems endemic to California—Berg saw the possibilities of an empire, and set about organizing it after the pattern Patrick discovered when he infiltrated the cult in Santee.
In a few short months there were communes or colonies in California and Texas, and plans for expansion into several other states. Fred Jordan had donated a 40-acre ranch in Mingus, Texas, about seventy miles west of Ft. Worth, which was soon operating along the lines of the Santee commune.
Patrick's infiltration and its consequences proved to be the undoing of them all. He initiated a major investigation of the sect, and skillfully utilized the media to publicize his activities. He founded an organization of parents who had lost children to the sect and called it FreeCOG (Free the Children of God) which became an effective propaganda and lobbying arm for exposing and attacking the Jordan-Berg axis.
Responding to the pressure Patrick was applying, Jordan called him and invited him to inspect the cult's headquarters in Los Angeles. Patrick went and was appalled by what he saw. When it became clear to Jordan that Patrick was not going to desist in his campaign to expose the Children of God, he sent a telegram to Ronald Reagan, Governor of California, seeking to get Patrick fired. But Patrick had the support and the confidence of the Governor's staff, and once Jordan realized that Reagan's people would not dump his antagonist, he had second thoughts, and decided that David Berg was a liability. Accordingly, he apologized publicly to Patrick, saying that Berg had deceived him, and forthwith severed his relationship with the Children of God, and expelled them from his properties.
When the dispossessed cult announced its intention to set up a base in Dallas, Patrick and some concerned parents rushed down and picketed the Federal Court Building with signs demanding that Attorney General John Mitchell investigate the cult. Television and newspaper coverage of this event was enormous, which is what Patrick had hoped for. He needed a forum, and the media provided it.
The same thing happened a few weeks later in Seattle where another anti-COG picket line established by a host of angry parents ignited a public controversy which the media obligingly kept fueled for days. COG was seriously damaged. The cult was like a fungus growing in the dark and damp. Exposure, sunlight, scrutiny, the Children of God could not abide.
With the publicity attendant on these confrontations, more and more distraught parents contacted Patrick seeking his help in locating their lost children. Which in turn led to the evolution of the technique (some have called it crime) that inside of a few months made Patrick a figure of national interest and debate: deprogramming is the term, and it may be said to involve kidnapping at the very least, quite often assault and battery, almost invariably conspiracy to commit a crime, and illegal restraint. Patrick disputes the charge that saving children from a cult entails illegal behavior; in any event, he contends that no alternative exists.
TED PATRICK: I tried everything to impress on the authorities the dangers of the setup at Santee. But no one was interested. FreeCOG wrote letters to congressmen, senators, the Justice Department, even the President, and received form letters in reply. We got a lot of helpful publicity, but no one would take official action. Freedom of religion is an issue that few politicians are willing to tackle. If guts were dynamite, most politicians wouldn't have enough to blow their noses. No one seemed to understand that with the Children of God religion was not an issue. Psychological kidnapping was the issue—brainwashing, white slavery, prostitution, fraud, false advertising, alienation of affection.
But the laws, and the politicians who administer and interpret them, were protecting David Berg, and the parents' hands were tied. It seemed wrong to me. I thought something had to be done. And, everything considered, nobody seemed better prepared to do it than me.
I admit my getting into the fight was partly an emotional decision. I was sickened by what I'd seen at Santee, and infuriated by the callousness of the government in the face of the grief and torment of the by now hundreds of parents I'd interviewed who had children in the cults and were looking to me as their last hope.
There really weren't many alternatives for me, given the sort of man I am. I hate to lose; I refuse to quit. And it seemed to me that if I gave up in the face of bureaucratic indifference and legislative cowardice and abandoned the parents and let Berg continue to infect the country with his poisons, I could never live with myself, could never face my children or teach them anything about pride and honesty and having the courage of your convictions.
I knew what the price might be. Possible threats to my family, maybe real violence. I could lose my job, be arrested, be imprisoned. I could imagine law suits, endless litigation, my private life and my motives being ruthlessly attacked and maligned in the media. I might even be killed. Nevertheless, I decided I would have to pay whatever the price might be. And I hoped and assumed that after a reasonable amount of time, I would have plenty of allies.
Addressing a meeting of FreeCOG at my house in August, 1971, I told the assembled parents, "We have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to rescue your children. The cult operates illegally under legal sanctions. We have to do the same thing. There's no other way to fight them. Hopefully, in the long run, as a result of what we're doing, the laws will be changed. Until then, we do what we have to do."
What I'd concluded we had to do was bodily abduct the children from the communes and colonies they were living in. I did not feel that I would be disregarding the free choice of those young people who had become members of the cults. Once they had been programmed, like the kids I watched at Santee, there was no longer any question of their exercising anything that could reasonably be called free will. They stayed with the cults because they had been programmed to stay, brainwashed into believing that it was Satan who was tempting them to go. True, the kids at Mission Beach had willingly boarded the bus for Santee. But my question was this: If the Children of God, looking so harmless in their suits and ties, had clearly explained exactly what would happen at the commune that weekend—the harangues, the loudspeakers, the lack of food and sleep, the abuse of the kids' parents, and the end, in effect, of their normal way of life—how many would then have set foot aboard that blue and white bus? When the cults start recruiting like that, I'll stop rescuing and deprogramming.
From my research into the subject I was reasonably well assured that a parent would not be prosecuted for kidnapping his own child, especially if the child was a minor. With that in mind, I began to formulate the basis of my approach to seizing the children and deprogramming them. The first rule was always to have at least one of the parents present when we went to snatch somebody. The parents would have to make the first physical contact; then, no matter who assisted them afterwards, it would be the parents who were responsible. And if a parent was not committing a crime by seizing his or her child, no one else could be considered an accessory to a crime. I also counted on the fact that only the abducted child could bring suit against anyone. I was confident of being able to "deprogram" the child counteract the brainwashing he'd undergone—so that once he had come out of it he would have no desire to press charges. In any case, we have to have proof if we were to win over the authorities. That meant getting hold of a cult victim.
The Sunday after the meeting with the parents, I got a call from a woman who had a daughter in Children of God and had heard of me from the parent of another COG victim. The girl had dropped out of the University of Southern California and gone to live at the COG commune in Phoenix. The woman begged me to save her daughter.
I decided to grasp the opportunity. I explained to her what would be involved—taking the girl out bodily—and she said she would consult her husband and call me back. I had just returned from church when the phone rang. "My husband," she said, "says he doesn't care how we do it, just do it." I told her I'd assemble some helpers and we'd all leave for Phoenix that afternoon. At seven in the evening we were on the street outside the comune.
I had made an attempt on that same Phoenix commune three weeks before, as it happened. Mrs. Jackson's son had been there, and we'd tried to rescue him using private detectives she had hired. But the detectives refused to set foot on the commune's property, and the attempt was a disaster. This time, I resolved, things would be different. I had a plan—involving nine trusted helpers and two cars.
The first car rolled up to the house. In the front was the boy from USC and the girl's mother. In back, hiding, were two helpers. Five hundred yards behind that car, down the block, was a back-up car, driven by me. On the sidewalk was a helper pretending to be strolling by.
The mother and the USC classmate went up to the house and knocked on the door. Their instructions were to coax the girl out of the house and, if they could not do that, to enter and scream bloody murder the minute they saw her—whereupon all the rest of us would burst in and take her away.
When the door opened, the mother and the classmate had an awful surprise: a commune meeting was going on, with 125 youngsters sitting on the floor in every direction. But the girl saw her mother and came to the door. The classmate grabbed her from behind and started pulling her out. The man on the sidewalk ran up and helped. As the angry commune members began pouring out of the house after them, they jammed the girl into the first car and off it went. I rushed up my car and picked up the rest of our people, and we zoomed off too. The whole thing had taken less than three minutes.
We drove straight to San Diego and checked in at the Royal Inn Motel. I picked the fourth floor so the girl couldn't escape out the window. If the girl escaped, I was in trouble. I'd lose my job with the governor for sure. But I resolved to pay whatever price I had to get the goods on the cults.
From my own experiences in the COG center at Santee, I knew the girl had been programmed to the Bible she'd be carrying—that it was a device for self-hypnosis—so immediately I took it away from her. She was enraged and slapped her mother, who stood next to her. Then she started quoting Bible verses at me. But she was misconstruing them badly, and so I began reading out the whole chapters in which the quotes appeared, showing her that the meanings were different from what the cult had programmed her to believe.
She began to call us all "Satan," and she said God would strike us dead. I replied that God was a God of love, not wrath and hate. I said God had delivered her from the pits of Hell and she should be grateful to God that she'd been rescued by her parents.
Then we went back to our Biblical debate. Gradually she began to listen and respond. She'd challenge and I'd explain— until I saw that she was actually beginning to use her mind again. It was exciting to watch.
After two days of talking, with three of us taking turns, she suddenly gave in. She snapped, just as if someone had turned on a light inside her. The change in her appearance, her expression, her eyes—it was startling. I was amazed. It was like seeing someone return from the grave. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
"I told you earlier that your daughter was programmed," I said to her mother. "Now she's been 'deprogrammed.' " It was the first time I'd ever used the word.
Almost immediately, news of this success got out, and I began to get dozens of calls. I went up and down the West Coast deprogramming. The more I did, the more stringent security precautions the COG communes adopted, and the harder it got. It was about this time that they gave me the nickname Black Lightning because of the way I'd strike out of nowhere. The more difficult it got and the greater the danger and risk on my part, the greater became the need for very strict and elaborate counter-security and detailed planning.
The case of the girl I'll call Pamela Collins is a good example of the sort of thing I had to cope with in those early days of what some people have called my crusade.
Ralph Collins was a Denver realtor. His daughter Pam, a sophomore at the University of Colorado, was engaged to be married to a boy who was also attending Colorado. The wedding plans were far advanced—the invitations had been mailed, the church reserved, the hall for the reception booked, the wedding cake ordered—when suddenly their daughter vanished without a word.
What had happened was that Pam's finance—the son of a prominent physician—had entered the Children of God colony in Woodland Park, about 100 miles from Denver, and when Pam went out there to try to talk him out of it, they got her too. Collins had contacted the boy's father to determine whether he wanted to cooperate in trying to free their children. But the boy's father wasn't interested. He argued that his son was of legal age, that he seemed to have found a religious focus to his life which was meaningful and rewarding, and that he did not feel it was his place to interfere. Nevertheless, Ralph Collins was determined to get his daughter out, and asked me to make the attempt.
The security precautions at Woodland Park were the toughest I'd seen. The colony was way up in the mountains, some twenty-four miles back on a dirt road five miles off the main highway. There was nothing else on the road except the colony, which consisted of three buildings—old farm buildings—surrounded by a seven-foot-high fence with a locked gate. There were 350 kids living there. The grounds were patrolled by three vicious German shepherds. And one of the buildings was topped by a watchtower so that no one could come up that road without being detected at least five minutes before he reached the gate. I had to feel vaguely complimented when I heard these details; the security arrangements were a direct result of the heat I'd been putting on them.
Evidently Ralph Collins did not know that I was a black man, because when I got off the plane in Denver he was visibly shocked and disappointed. I'd brought along a friend I'll call Roger Holmes, who had been an ally from the beginning of the fight against the cults, and I guess neither of us were physically impressive on first sight. Holmes is tall and thin, and I'm kind of short, and you could tell right off that Collins was wondering just what the hell he was getting into.
The drive to his apartment was very uncomfortable. No one could think of much to say. I tried to question Collins about his daughter, but he looked preoccupied and would only reply in monosyllables.
The apartment building they lived in was very handsome—a new high-rise in a fashionable neighborhood, with swimming pool, security people at the entrance, spectacular views from all the apartments. I remember thinking as we rode the elevator up to Collins' apartment that his real estate business must be all right.
Mrs. Collins was a pretty, gracious, but extremely nervous woman who wanted reassurance from me that we would indeed get Pam out. Her husband was appearing more pessimistic every minute. As Mrs. Collins served us coffee, I caught him eyeing me with a thoughtful, dubious expression on his face. We made awkward small talk for a while, and then Collins suddenly asked me if I had any credentials or identification. I realized for the first time that he could not believe I was even the right person. I showed him my driver's license and said, "Yes, I'm really Ted Patrick. And I've snatched and deprogrammed a lot of children just like yours." "Do you guarantee success?" he asked. "Can't guarantee anything in this life, Mr. Collins. But I'll guarantee you this—I'll give you my best."
"The police and the FBI told me it would be impossible to get inside and take Pam out. We were up there with them the other day. It's like a concentration camp. The police told me the only way is to catch her when she's outside, on the street." "I don't have time for that," I told him. I was still working for Governor Reagan, and had to confine my deprogramming to the weekends. "If Pam's in there, then we're gonna go in and get her if it's possible to get her."
The doorbell rang and a young well built boy named Danny came in. He was a friend of the Collinses who had volunteered to assist in the job of getting Pam back. I was glad to have him, especially when I learned that he was expert in karate. I believe firmly that the Lord helps those who help themselves— and a few little things like karate, Mace, and handcuffs can come in handy from time to time.
As soon as we were all introduced, I said, "Okay, let's get down to business. First, I want you to call Woodland Park and ask for your daughter. They'll probably lie to you and say she's not there, but don't be put off. Act friendly, real friendly, and tell them that you're leaving for Florida to do some business and you won't be back for a long time. Say that you have a check for her for eight hundred dollars, the money that was in her bank account." When Collins learned his daughter was in the cult he'd withdrawn that money from Pam's account ft> make sure she didn't turn it over to the group. "Say that you have a lot of her clothes and things, and that you'd like to bring all of it up to her before you leave. Tell them you also want to leave her the key to the house so she can come up and stay while you're gone. Ask for them to have her call you back and when you hang up tell them 'God bless you.' "
Collins continued to be very gloomy, but he agreed to do as I told him, thinking, I suppose, that he might as well, since there were no alternatives. In spite of his doubts, Collins carried the thing off nicely; he sounded perfectly convincing, even to his "God bless you" which must have made him want to gag. But the ruse worked, and ten minutes later Pam was on the phone.
"Daddy!" she said. "Daddy, oh, God bless you, Daddy, oh how I love you. I'm so glad you finally understand how I have to do the Lord's work." She proceeded to give him directions how to get up there, and said they would be looking out for him.
"That's fine," I said. "They fell for it. Okay, now here's what we're going to do." And I began to outline my plan. "Danny, you drive the car. I'm going to give you the Mace. And Mrs. Collins, I'm going to give you some of it too. Whatever happens, I want you to hold on to it. Don't let go of it, and use it if you have to."
Mrs. Collins turned very pale at this, but nodded gamely, accepting. Danny said, "I'll use the Mace, but I'm also gonna use my feet. I'll be barefoot, with my feet taped. I'm quicker with my feet than with my hands."
At this Mr. Collins changed color, and looked as if he wanted to object, but I ignored him and went ahead outlining the plan.
An hour later we were on the highway, in two cars, the Collinses' and Danny's. As we drove I rehearsed the plan over and over with the Collinses, and made them recite it back to me.
As we approached the twenty-four mile cut up into the mountain, Danny pulled his car off to the side of the road, parked it, and joined us. Then we drove on up, stopping once at a restaurant for some coffee, and I went over the plan still one more time.
"Remember," I said, "we can't make any mistakes. There are over three hundred people in there. They have guards, a warning system, vicious dogs. This is strictly a one-shot deal. If you mess this up, you'll never see your daughter again, and we're all going to get hurt and maybe even killed. Okay? Okay, let's get rolling."
The back of the car was heaped with Pam's belongings— dresses, coats, slacks, shoes. Holmes and I lay down on the floor beneath a blanket as we entered the five mile stretch of deserted dirt road. Danny was driving, Mrs. Collins with her can of Mace was next to him, and Mr. Collins was by the door.
No one said anything. Holmes and I were all scrunched up together beneath the blanket, jouncing up and down and swearing under our breath as one or the other of us caught an elbow in the throat or poked a finger into an eye.
Long before we reached the gate we could hear the dogs barking. "I hope they're on chains," Mrs. Collins said worriedly. "If they're not, you Mace 'em right in the face," Danny said. "That'll take care of 'em." I was hoping none of that would be necessary. I was counting, as I always do, on the elements of swiftness and surprise.
Danny drove up to the dead end of the road, turned the car around, and brought it back in front of the gate. Mr. Collins and his wife got out, each scooping a bundle of clothes from the back seat.
The guard at the gate, a young boy in khaki pants and a flannel shirt, opened the gate, and welcomed them. "God bless you, welcome, we all love you," he said. The Collinses gave him strained smiles and moved up the path to the house.
Pam, a pretty, slight, graceful girl with light brown hair to her shoulders, ran out onto the porch and embraced her parents. "I'm so glad to see you, God bless you, Mommy and Daddy!"
"We're glad to see you too, Pam," Mr. Collins said.
"My name is Sarah, now, Daddy," the girl corrected him. "We've forsaken our earth names."
Collins swallowed. "Yes, Sarah. We're so glad for you," he forced himself to say. "So glad you've found peace with all these nice friends."
"It's wonderful," the girl said, as other members, including her fiance, gathered around. The Collinses greeted the boy, were introduced to the others, and then Collins took the check out of his wallet and handed it to his daughter.
"This is for your expenses—if you need anything while we're gone."
"Bless you," she said and kissed him.
"We have some other things of yours in the car, darling," Mrs. Collins said. "Come help us get them out."
No one suspected anything, but as a matter of course Pam was accompanied by a gang—five guys, including her fiance, and three girls. Mrs. Collins fingered the can of Mace in her coat pocket, mentally reviewing her instructions, picking out possible targets, thinking that the girls would pose no problems, selecting two of the ugliest boys to Mace, thinking that if it came down to it she probably could not bring herself to Mace Pam's boyfriend, whom she had once been very fond of.
Holmes and I could hear them approaching. They were talking and laughing. Danny said, "They're about eight feet away, coming around the back, Pam first." I heard the dogs barking, and prayed we'd pull this off before they turned them loose. I heard Danny opening his door and getting out. It had to be fast; as soon as they saw those bare taped-up feet there was going to be tension. The back door opened. It was now or never. I flung back the blanket and found myself staring into Pam Collins' very amazed face.
There was a frozen instant. Then she gasped, "Kidnap!" and started to back away. But her mother was behind her and pushed her hard, and I got my arms around her shoulders and sucked her in on top of us like a vacuum cleaner—whoosh!— and she vanished inside. Immediately her boyfriend piled in on top of her, or tried to, and I remember thinking even in the middle of all the action what a pity it was that his father had not been interested in rescuing him because I could have had him too. As it was, I had to get rid of him, so I kicked him in the stomach and he went reeling back and Mrs. Collins tripped him and sent him sprawling.
In the meantime, Danny was mixing it up with three of the other large dudes, clipping one in the jaw with his feet, and Macing two of the others. Fortunately the three girls did not get themselves together in time to do anything. They just stood back and shrieked.
Collins fought his way around to the driver's seat, and shouted to Danny to get in. Mrs. Collins had already made it back inside. Holmes and I were wrestling with Pam who was screaming her head off. I was sitting up by this time and saw people running from the house, and one of the dogs sprinting towards us. Danny decked Pam's boyfriend with his fist, and dove in just as the first of the German shepherds arrived and lunged at the door, banging against it as Danny swung it shut, and we went rolling off down the hill, leaving a scene of great confusion and disruption behind. The entire operation had taken less than three minutes.
"You did just fine and we're in good shape," I told them. "They've probably got our license plate number and they'll be calling the police, but there's nothing to worry about. It will take the police half an hour to get up there, and another hour or so to take the complaint and get the story from all the eyewitnesses. We'll be a long way from here by then, believe me."
In fact, the police were quicker than I thought; we met them coming up the mountain about fifteen minutes later. When we reached the highway, we stopped the car, let Danny out, thanked him, and said goodbye. Then we changed positions, the Collinses getting in back with Pam, and Holmes and I in the front with me driving. I headed for San Diego and we never stopped except for gas. I drove all the way.
Pam behaved the way almost all of them do. She put up a terrific struggle for the first few minutes. Then, realizing she was trapped, she calmed down. Some try to use silence as a weapon. Pam was a talker. She wouldn't keep quiet. Things like, "You're not my father and mother—you're demons, sent by Satan. You're possessed. My real family is back there at Woodland Park. Look at him, that black devil driving. Don't you see the evil in him? You're all going to be punished for this. I have my rights. You can't kidnap me. I'll bring charges against all of you. Don't call me Pam! My name is not Pam! My name is Sarah, and you're not my parents. My family is back there."
One of the occupational hazards in this business—aside from German shepherds—is the monotony of listening to this fairly limited repertoire that the kids have at their command. They parrot the same old Bible verses at you, spew out the same monotonous programmed rubbish. It's mindless and it's boring, the more so because it's so utterly predictable.
The trip was without major incident. When we stopped for gas we would all accompany Pam to the bathroom, me in front, Holmes in the rear, and her parents on either side of her. It must have looked pretty strange to the filling station attendants, but no one ever said anything. We arrived in San Diego about o'clock the following afternoon and I checked into the Royal Inn Motel. And then we got right down to the business of deprogramming Pam.
Deprogramming, I think, is widely misunderstood—I mean, what I do, what goes on. To read some of the accounts that have been written by reporters who have never witnessed a deprogramming, you would think it was a cross between the Spanish Inquisition and an orgy sponsored by the Marquis de Sade. It's nothing of the kind. Essentially it's just talk. I talk to the victim, for as long as I have to. I don't deny that that's the catch for many people—"for as long as I have to." Yes, in some cases that means restraint. Yes, it also means the victim may not be free to leave when he wants to. When a victim is exceptionally vigorous, it may even mean a measure of physical restraint.
But let me say this. The techniques I employ do not in any way approximate or parallel the psychological kidnapping and mind control that the cults employ. The cults strike at random; they will approach anyone anywhere, without regard to the person's age, background, sex, or occupation. When they go out into the streets to witness—which is their dressed-up term for proselytizing (which is only another dressed-up word, in this instance, for psychological kidnapping)—they attempt to snare people indiscriminately. The Children of God, for example, have attempted to recruit children as young as nine years old. Once they get a victim, they consciously and deliberately set about to destroy every normal pattern of living the victim has known; he is separated from his friends, he is turned against his family, he is led to renounce his education, his career, his responsibilities. He is literally robbed of whatever financial assets he may possess, and his parents are as a matter of course blackmailed into contributing large sums of money to the cult merely in order to be occasionally permitted to see their child. He is physically abused and often expected to work as much as twenty hours a day fund-raising for the group. He is frequently undernourished and psychologically manipulated to the degree that he cannot distinguish between reality and the grotesque fantasies and illusions the cult fosters. He is programmatically turned against his country, taught that patriotism is sinful, the system Satanic. He is urged to become a revolutionary, to destroy the institutions of society in the name of David Berg or some other phony god. Discord, division, hatred, grief—those are what the cults bestow.
Against that, the deprogramming method is first of all very selective. I don't go into a commune and indiscriminately grab the first person I see, as, in effect, the cults do when they are witnessing on the street. The parents of a young person will contact me—usually after months of deliberation, fear and uncertainty. When we take the person into custody he is, admittedly, held against his will. But it's arguable whether at that stage of his indoctrination he can be said to have a will, any will, let alone free will in the sense that we normally use that term. Regardless, the child is rarely held in custody by the parents and me for longer than three days. Usually it takes me less than one day to deprogram a person. I've managed to do it on occasion in an hour.
The important things to remember here are how the cults treated the individual, what their motives were, and how we treat him, what our motives are. The child is with his family throughout the process. He is well-fed. While I admit that limiting his sleep is a basic element in deprogramming, he sleeps at least as much as he did in the cult, almost all of which use fatigue as a strategic weapon. I do not brainwash. I ask questions, basically, and I try to show the victim how he has been deceived. Whereas, in the cult indoctrination, everything possible is done to prevent the person from thinking, in deprogramming I do everything I know how to start him thinking, talk- lot of talk. It only lasts two or three days. Not thirty or forty days as when a person joins a cult. Not three or four years of constant indoctrination and slave labor. I'm criticized for holding these children against their will. But once you go into the Children of God, or the Unification Church, or the Hare Krishna movement, you are not, practically speaking, free to leave either. Now, that seems to suggest I'm fighting fire with fire—or that, at best, I'm no better in my methods than the cults.
But let's look at motives. I do not make money off the deprogrammed person. His parents pay for my travel and living expenses, and whatever other expenses are incurred during the snatch and deprogramming. He certainly does not become a follower of mine, selling plastic flowers in the streets to support me in a life of great luxury. I do not seek to implant in him any dogma, any preconceived or manufactured view or philosophy of life. Once he is deprogrammed he is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do. Go to school, go to work, lie on a beach and look at the clouds. Whatever. That's none of my business. All I want and all I do is to return to them their ability to think for themselves, to exercise their free will, which the cults have put into cold storage. I thaw them out, and once they're free of the cult, with very few exceptions they begin again to lead productive lives—and not necessarily conformist lives. Deprogrammed people are as various and individualistic as any group in the society. Motives are important. The cults' motives are destructive—this can be demonstrated. My motives, I hope I have demonstrated here, have nothing in common with those of the spiritual gangsters who populate outfits like the Children of God.
With Pamela Collins, the deprogramming took about two days. We arrived in San Diego in the early afternoon, following a twenty-hour journey from Colorado. I was pretty tired so I left Pam with her parents, Betty Spahn, and her daughter Linda, who was a former COG member, and went home to take a nap and catch up on some business.
I returned to the motel early in the evening and stayed until about one in the morning. I was back at the Royal Inn early the next morning and stayed until late that night when Pam came out of it.
The arrangements there more or less typified what had become and would continue to be our standard operating procedure. 1 rented a room in which there is no bathroom window. We removed the lock from the bathroom door and the mouthpiece from the phone. Somebody was with Pam at all times. Legally, of course, it's vital that the parents be present throughout, and it's helpful psychologically too. The victim has a constant pressure on him from the parents, reacts subconsciously to their constant expressions of love, their unhappiness over his condition, their tears. It's helpful to have the parents soften up their child with questions and arguments. The same goes for the others there, former cult members who know in advance all of the victim's arguments, responses, and psychological tricks, and can counter them effectively.
The sleeping arrangements were also typical. Mrs. Collins slept with her daughter in one bed. Mr. Collins slept in the other bed, which was pulled over so that it was blocking the door. The others who were helping slept on the floor.
My approach to deprogramming Pam was also more or less standard. Since a cult's basic point of attachment to a person's psychology is the convert's relationship with his parents, I concentrate on that. I stressed to Pam how unnatural it was for her to renounce her parents. "That's nowhere in the Bible," I told her. "The Bible says you should honor your father and mother, that the days may be long upon the land which thy God gives thee." She argued that the Bible meant to honor your spiritual father and mother. "Then why doesn't the Bible say that?" I replied. "Show me where it says that." I kept hitting her on her inconsistencies in that area, on her ignorance of the Bible in general. I pointed out how the cult had taken certain selected verses out of context and distorted their meaning. I forced her to read the whole chapter from which the verse was taken, forced her to think about the real context of those words.
She was sporadically violent, slapping her mother in the face at one point. "What kind of God do you worship?" I asked her. "What kind of God tells you to slap your mother, to hate her, to renounce her? That's no God telling you to do that, that's Satan. You are a Devil worshiper."
Gradually, Pam began to soften, began to think about some of the things I was telling her, gradually began to perceive the truth about how she had been deceived. Suddenly, late that night, she broke. The moment when that happens is always unmistakable. It's like an emotional dam bursting. Pam began to weep, and she embraced her parents and kissed them. I went out of the room and left them alone for a while. When I came back, Pam turned to me and said, "Ted, I feel so terrible about all the things I said to you, all the names I called you."
"You called me some pretty good ones," I said with a grin. "Some I never heard before. I mean to write them down so I can remember them. Might come in handy some day." "Really, I didn't know . . ." "I know. You don't have to explain." "I'm so grateful to you, you've saved my life. I really feel like I've just woke up from some incredible nightmare. Do you forgive me?" "Of course I do. Don't worry about it. You were a different person saying those things." "I'll never forget what you've done for me," she said, and came up to me and kissed me.
It's a very beautiful thing to see when a kid comes out of his bondage. It makes the whole business worthwhile to me, it's what keeps me going.
As a side effect, let me add that after one of these experiences the family is greatly strengthened. They have all gone through an emotional and psychological and philosophical experience very rare and very meaningful. They have literally gone through hell, and the victim has been brought back from the dead.
When I prepared to report to my office that Monday morning, I assessed the weekend and came to a couple of conclusions. One, if I was going to continue to deprogram kids I would obviously have to leave my job with the state government. I had about fifty requests to rescue children piled up on my desk, and more were coming in every day. I either had to do it full-time, or not at all. It seemed to me worthwhile doing it full-time. However, and this was number two, there was going to be a survival factor involved if I resigned my position. How was I going to support my family? I couldn't bring myself to charge distraught parents anything more than my expenses for a deprogramming. My wife is a teacher, but could not possibly make enough money to support a family of seven, and I could envision ending up losing everything in my fight against the cults (that, unfortunately, proved to be all too accurate a prognostication). But finally money did not seem to be a major consideration. I would do what I had to do, and provide for my family however I could. Three, I now had the confidence that I could get a kid out of anywhere. I wasn't likely to run into security precautions any more ironclad than those that I'd dealt with at Woodland Park. The FBI and the local police had informed Mr. Collins that there was no way to get Pam out of the commune. I'd gotten her out. After that weekend I felt confident that with enough careful planning, the right sort of helpers, with guts and daring and resolution, I could snatch a kid from Alcatraz if I had to. The next morning, after conferring with my superiors in Sacramento, I sat down and drafted my letter of resignation. From now on, it was all-out war against the cults.