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Deprogramming PDF Print E-mail

Lee Coleman

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Tokyo, Japan May 23-25, 1998

What I want to do today is briefly go over some of the mistakes that America has made so that your country can avoid some of them. The philosopher George Santayana said that those who choose to forget the past are condemned to relive it, or something along those lines. I like to say that you can choose to ignore history, but it is not going to ignore you. The forces of history will keep rolling on and, if you are ignorant of what has happened, you will be a victim rather than make an impact by your actions and perhaps changing it.

So I want to go over what has happened in the United States starting in the 1960s and 1970s to trace the beginnings of a trend that is obviously very much still a problem throughout the world. How many of you know the name Ted Patrick? Don’t be bashful; if you don’t know it, don’t worry about it. How many don’t know who Ted Patrick is? OK, fine, there are enough people that I want to go over some of this.

Ted Patrick is a man whose nephew had some contact with a group in Southern California that call themselves the Children of God. This occurred in the late 1960s. He was upset that his nephew spent some time there, and he came up with the idea that he would just go and take him back. The nephew was a minor at the time. Afterward, he began to talk about what he was doing. Now this man was not a scholar. He did not have any advanced degrees, but he came up with a brilliant move, which incredibly advanced his cause. What he did was to call what he did deprogramming.

What exactly did he do? He committed the crimes of kidnapping and false imprisonment. Those are crimes everywhere. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. But if it happens, it still shouldn’t be happening and it is against the law. If you take somebody where they do not want to be and they are an adult, that is kidnapping. If you hold them against their will, that is false imprisonment. Those are two very serious crimes. But by calling those crimes deprogramming, he was able to fool—with the help of other forces—millions and millions of people. They didn’t see what he was doing as crimes.

Deprogramming means I am taking somebody who is already programmed, so I am not a bad guy. I am not committing crimes. Somebody else is the bad guy. The people who did the programming are the ones who did something wrong. I am doing something good. I am undoing the harm. What is the harm that is supposedly done? Their mind has been stolen from them. Now, these were not children, even though he wrote a book called Let Our Children Go. But the children weren’t children but adults. Obviously, if they truly were children, you don’t have to kidnap your own child. You have legal control of them already. You can call the police. You can go and take them yourself, bodily. What he was doing was kidnapping and falsely imprisoning adults. But by using those words he made it look like he was liberating the minds of people whose minds were already imprisoned.

In your communities and countries, you need to know about this background. I will go into more, so that you can teach people not to be fooled by these words. You need to learn what the correct words are and teach them to others. When somebody is taken bodily, you need to call it kidnapping and you need to attack the kidnappers. You need to put them on trial.

Too often, members of new religious movements have spent too much of their time simply denying that they were doing anything wrong. They were saying, we don’t brainwash people or hold them prisoner. While that is true, what they were not doing was putting the focus on their attackers. They were not saying that the people who say that they are deprogrammers are kidnappers, are criminals who are violating the law.

I remember when this was getting started, I watched a false imprisonment on television. Just to show you how these words had such an effect on the dominant society, Ted Patrick actually let a television network station know what he was going to do. He wanted to show everybody what a good thing was going on. So, after he and his assistants kidnapped someone, the television cameras were all ready as they brought this person into the motel room where they were going to lock him up for days and verbally beat on him until he agreed to leave the religion. This was shown all over the nation, and everybody applauded Patrick as a hero.

He not only was seen as a hero by millions of Americans, but he received the cooperation of people such as the police. The police would sometimes actually assist him. Most of the time they didn’t have to assist him. They simply looked the other way, because they had been sucked into this fraud by the use of language in which they saw these adults as children because Patrick said they were children. They believed he was freeing somebody. They accepted the notion that deprogrammers had to steal the person’s body to free his mind. This was true not only for the police—which in America are usually local—but even the FBI. The FBI is a national law enforcement agency that generally does not get involved unless it is outside the scope of a city or state, but on this issue they were sympathetic.

The courts, the judges, responded the same way. The media—radio, television, and newspapers—presented these crimes as though they were good and the people who were protesting them (Jeremiah Gutman, Newton Malony, some other people, and myself) were the bad guys. We were defending cults, etc. It has been an uphill struggle to try to get people to realize who the criminals were.

Eventually, even though they had all this initial success, the criminals needed to justify their actions in a better way. Just Patrick saying this I have to steal their body in order to free their minds wasn’t going to satisfy forever. What the deprogrammers had to do was find people who spoke with an authority that would last for years: experts. In the United States, there is no question who the high priests of modern society are. When difficult social and moral problems come up, the people who are expected to have answers are psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. What they say is supposed to be expert science. So the movement to justify these crimes was put in the hands of, rationalized and justified by, a small but influential group of mental health professionals.

You have already heard about Margaret Singer. There are a number of others. In Dr. Malony’s and my material, you will see the names of these mental health professionals. They took Ted Patrick’s statement that it was deprogramming and created a set of ideas which in American slang we would just say is total crap, total nonsense. It wasn’t really any more sophisticated than what Patrick was saying, but it used a little more jargon. The idea was that even though members of new religions say that they joined of their own free will and want to continue, that they are not being held against their will and that this is their choice, they are actually under mind control. Such statements, it was asserted, only proved how effective mind control is.

In my debates with supporters of deprogramming, I remember more than one set of parents saying: “The only way I will ever be convinced that my son or daughter is not brainwashed is if they leave the group. As long as they stay I will be convinced that they are only staying because they don’t really have free will anymore. They think they are making a choice, but that is only because of how clever this religion or this group is that has manipulated them.”

Once this movement to justify these crimes was started, the new helpers—the mental health professionals with this doctrine of mind control—enabled them to develop strategies to do the same thing but clean it up. You don’t just physically grab somebody, because a little at a time, people began to think maybe that was against the law. Maybe that was kidnapping. So they came up with a new idea. They called it legal deprogramming. That was kind of an admission that the other deprogramming was illegal. Of course, they would never admit that. Nonetheless, they came up with this term legal deprogramming. What was that? You simply get a mental health professional to write a letter saying that in his opinion this person has lost the ability to make a choice. It was the same old nonsense but on letterhead stationery.

Dr. Joe Smith or Dr. Margaret Singer would state that, in their opinion, a person had lost the ability to really choose to be in this group. A judge would hear this report or testimony, sometimes without the mental health professional ever talking to the person. But don’t you dare leave this room thinking that if they did talk to them, then it would have been OK. It is just as wrong either way, because there is no mental examination as to whether you have free will. That is ridiculous. With or without any conversation between the mental health professional and the individual, it still was a fraud that the courts were accepting. The fraud was that a mental health professional has some expert way to determine whether you choose to do something. Under the law, this type of legal deprogramming in many states was called a conservatorship. Now there are a small number of situations where a person is truly unable to care for his needs through physical disability or mental deficiency, and the court will then appoint somebody to be his guardian. That is not what this was all about at all.

Another method was to simply put a person in a mental hospital against his will, because the law allows people to be put in a mental hospital if a doctor thinks they need to be there. Another strategy they came up with was to go after not just one member but the whole church. Sue the church and claim that it is brainwashing everybody, that all its members are victims of mind control. A number of those cases were successful at the trial, but when higher courts reviewed these cases, they declared “Nonsense! There is no way to judge that some conversions are OK and others are not, and certainly not by mental health expert testimony.”

Those were some strategies that worked for awhile. Then they came up with other ideas. Some people said, “Let’s not wait until the person is in the group and then try to get him out; let’s do some evaluation when he seems to want to join. Let’s get a psychiatrist to examine him or have a psychologist give him tests. Those people who have converted because they really want to, go ahead, we hate to lose you, but go ahead. But those people who have converted because they have lost their free will, according to a psychiatrist, will be removed.” Again, this is complete fraud, using psychiatry and psychology as the cover.

You are going to see those things in many of your communities if you have any kind of controversy about a religious or political group that is disapproved of. Sooner or later you are going to see mental health professionals brought into it to justify what somebody wants to do.

I want to just briefly mention a new threat that I have been working on for about 14 years. To my knowledge it has not become a regular part of the assault on new religious groups, but it is so dangerous that you need to know about it. In the United States, we have a system of evaluating child abuse accusations that is totally out of control. Thousands of people who are completely innocent have been incorrectly convicted of child abuse—especially child sexual abuse. If you are involved in a child custody battle in a divorce and so forth, it is a major weapon with which you can instantaneously get the upper hand.

That system is dangerous, primarily because children from ages as young as three or four years old up to adolescence are being interviewed by agents of the government, social workers, and police officers in secret sessions where nobody ever finds out exactly what was said to those children. They are interviewed in such a way as to tell the child, “We know that something has been done to you, and you have to tell us. It will be good if you tell us.” Now I don’t think any of us are too unhappy about the fall of communist governments throughout the world. But I can tell you this: I am not aware of any communist government coming up with the idea of using the state to browbeat children until they accuse their parent of having sexually abused them. Then the child is taken away from the person and he is put in prison, sometimes for the rest of his life. That is happening right now in the United States and a few other English-speaking nations. It may spread to your county as well.

I see that as a very dangerous weapon waiting to be used against movements such as many of you belong to. Beware of it. Learn about the stuff that has been going on as well as this new stuff, and you will then be prepared to educate your community. I hope you will not make as many mistakes as we have made in the United States.