Ted Patrick

Ted Patrick, the “father” of deprogramming and thrice-convicted felon, typifies the “deprogrammer” once used by the now-defunct Cult Awareness Network—prone to violence, scornful of the rights and beliefs of others, and willing to do anything for a price.

The practice of deprogramming by Ted Patrick and others was fought by religious and civil liberties leaders, and many of those subjected to it filed lawsuits. One of the first landmark decisions that struck a blow to deprogramming came in August 1981 in a case brought against deprogrammers by Thomas Ward, a 28-year-old member of the Unification Church. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled: “The conspirators did, in fact, interfere with Ward’s constitutional right” by kidnapping him and subjecting him to physical and emotional abuse in the deprogramming attempt.

Still, the practice continued for more than a decade, kept alive until the mid 1990s by the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). Patrick had been revered by the old CAN and its predecessor, Citizens Freedom Foundation, appearing as an honored guest and featured speaker at their conventions. His methods were emulated by numerous deprogrammers, including Steven Hassan, Rick Ross, Hana Whitfield and many others.

Patrick worked to make kidnapping and assault appear acceptable. As long as the crime was directed against individuals whose beliefs could be held up to ridicule by the rest of society, any common thug could earn substantial sums simply by billing himself a “deprogrammer.”

Patrick worked to make kidnapping and assault appear acceptable.

Patrick came from a background that made him no stranger to crime. His father was a pickup man for local mobsters running a numbers racket. Patrick began earning his living as a professional kidnapper and hired thug, targeting members of various religions for violent “deprogrammings.”

Patrick admitted that deprogramming “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 asserted that religions recruit members by hypnotizing them on the spot with “beams” emanating from the knees and elbows and other parts of the body. This to Patrick classified a potential victim as a “mindless robot” and fair game for violent tactics. When once reminded that such tactics violate constitutional protections of the First Amendment, Patrick retorted by describing freedom of religion as “one of the biggest rackets the world has ever known.”

Patrick’s career earned him a string of criminal indictments stretching from San Diego to New York, the charges ranging from kidnapping to violent abduction and sexual assault, including rape.

Brute force was the hallmark of Patrick’s kidnappings. In a book defending his violent techniques, he described the kidnapping of a Christian who resisted abduction by bracing himself against Patrick’s getaway car. Patrick forced the man into the car by squeezing his genitals until he let out a howl and doubled up in pain.

Then I hit,” Patrick wrote, “shoving him head first into the back seat of the car and piling in on top of him.

He described another abduction: “Joe and Goose [two of Patrick’s henchmen] both had a hold of Ronnie … so I started on the other guys, you know, maceing them, hitting, whatever. The Mace didn’t really work. I mean it worked, but they kept fighting. I’d spray somebody and then they were still kicking and I had to just kick them back.”

Court papers filed in Massachusetts show that Patrick assaulted a man with a straight edge razor during an abduction. By Patrick’s own accounts, other abductions utilized kicks, punches and other forms of violence.

In Ohio, Patrick and several others were indicted after abducting a 20-year-old woman and taking her to Alabama, where she was repeatedly raped over the course of the seven-day “deprogramming.” At the time of the Ohio abduction, Patrick was on probation for abducting a Tucson waitress. His probation was revoked after police learned he had accepted several thousand dollars for the “deprogramming” of the Ohio woman. He was sent to prison for a year.

One of Patrick’s attacks, an unsuccessful deprogramming attempt on a Catholic nun in Canada, resulted in a government ban on Patrick entering the country. He slipped back and forth across the border numerous times to continue his career in Canada as a kidnapper-for-hire, eventually assaulting more than 50 people in that country.

Patrick resorted to rape in an attempted deprogramming of a lesbian woman.

Patrick, who received up to $15,000 plus $250 per day for expenses for a single deprogramming, used violence not only to try to change individuals’ religious beliefs but their political affiliations and even their sexual orientation. In one case, Patrick resorted to rape in an attempted deprogramming of a lesbian woman.

In 1980, Patrick was convicted of conspiracy, kidnapping, and false imprisonment for the abduction and attempted deprogramming of Roberta McElfish, a 26-year-old Tucson waitress. Patrick was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $5,000.

In 1984, Scientologist Paula Dain was awarded compensatory damages by a federal court jury in a civil rights lawsuit against Patrick. The jury ruled that Patrick had violated Dain’s civil rights and freedom of religion.

In 1990, Patrick attempted to deprogram Elma Miller, an Amish woman who had joined a liberal sect. He was hired by her husband to return her to him and the Amish church. Criminal charges of conspiracy were filed against Miller’s husband, brother, and two others.

In addition to his deprogramming activities, Patrick’s criminal record includes charges of cocaine use and parole violations.

Government prosecutors, wise to Patrick’s lifestyle of violence and force, jailed him repeatedly on numerous charges, with three felony convictions, ultimately putting an end to the practice of violent deprogramming in the United States.

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