CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

 Appendix A

Sampler of Deprogramming Cases

(Documented in Shupe, Moxon, and Darnell, 2001)

1.JAMES BOLAND was raised a Roman Catholic. In 1982 he switched to become a Baptist, then eventually to Pentecostalism, a charismatic form of Protestantism. His unhappy parents sent him first to talk to a Catholic priest, then to a psychiatrist. According to Boland’s notarized testimony: "My father thought that I must have been being controlled by someone to have turned against the Catholic Church." Boland’s parents then sent him to Anne Greek of the Positive Action Center in Portland, Oregon, a group with ties to deprogrammers and both CFF and CAN. Greek met with Boland and (again) also a Catholic priest. Boland was adamant about remaining Protestant. Then things turned coercive. Boland was abducted by deprogrammers and Greek, accompanied by violent restraint and a bloody nose to Boland. Then came the typical ACM mind control harangue. Boland frequently told her and the others that he felt they were using against him the very tactics they accused the "cults" of using. Ms. Greek and others all replied that this confinement was different because they were the "good guys."

Eventually the deprogrammers were at a loss as to how to undermine Boland’s refusal to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church and decided he was not in fact a victim of mind control. Rather, they concluded that he had rejected the church because he once had been sexually molested by a priest. Boland denied this fall-back excuse for having been physically traumatized and imprisoned.

2. In the early 1980s deprogrammer TED PATRICK was almost hired by a Cincinnati couple, Marita and William Riethmuller, to deprogram their 20 year-old daughter Stephanie whom they feared was being influenced into becoming a lesbian by a female apartment roommate. Patrick turned the parents down because he was already on probation for a kidnapping conviction in Arizona. Stephanie’s eventual deprogrammers kidnapped her and then raped her over several days. One, James Roe, was charged with five counts of sexual assault. One of us at the time contacted a Cincinnati journalist about details concerning the alleged rapes. He replied that the proceedings were bizarre: that the judge had sealed the court transcripts but that there were known semen samples from the deprogrammer.

3. KAREN LEVER, aged 33 years, self-supporting for six years and president of Sunyata Systems, Inc., a computer consulting company in Redmond, Washington was returning to Seattle from southern California where she had been holding business meetings in late May, 1990. (She had had appointments with a data processing manager at Paramount Studios and a bank vice-president.)

At the Seattle airport’s parking lot, as she was loading her luggage into her car, three men grabbed her and shoved her into a van. She recalled: "One man sat on me and clamped his hand over my mouth to prevent me from screaming as we passed through the airport parking pay booth. I could hardly breathe. My face was cut in several places."

Her parents had hired the deprogrammers, afraid she was in danger of falling under the influence of the Rama Seminars held periodically by Dr. Frederick Lenz. The head deprogrammer was Joe Szimhart, the same one who had led the abduction/assault on 39 year-old Laverne Collins Macchio (the subject of case #4).

Ms. Lever was guarded 24 hours a day, with no privacy at a remote location. Even the bathroom door was nailed open. She was constantly confronted with a barrage of the ACM mind control message and (however illogical on the deprogrammers’ part) repeatedly shown tapes of Charles Manson’s group. She spent eight days of captivity with no fresh air or exercise. She refused to take a shower because she was not allowed privacy. When she stated her concerns about missing her business meetings and being unable to check her messages and return any business calls, her captors told that deprogramming was far more important than success in her business. Altogether over seven deprogrammers monitored her. One of them told her that each participant in the deprogramming carried enough cash to escape by airplane in the event police were notified. Things in the deprogramming eventually went sour, however. Finally the frustrated deprogrammers returned her to her car at the Seattle airport. She called the Seattle police and was told she had grounds to press charges for kidnapping and false imprisonment. (A parenthetical note: Ms. Level later saw a newsletter from the AFF with an article about the group honoring one of her female deprogrammers.)

4.LAVERNE COLLINS MACCHIO, 39 years-old, belonged to the Church Universal and Triumphant, a Montana-based New Age mystic communal group. The Church U & T is several decades old and numbers several thousand members worldwide. It preaches a spiritual message put together from world religions as allegedly revealed by various spirit guides, or "ascended masters," including Jesus Christ. During the 1980s the church’s critics feared that it was obsessed with a last-days’ nuclear war, that it was stockpiling weapons, and that it might imitate Jonestown in a murder-suicide feast.

On November 20, 1991, at 8:30 P.M., Collins Macchio was violently abducted from her Boise, Idaho house. She had just settled her four young boys in bed and changed into her nightgown. Then the doorbell rang.

Peering through the front door peephole she saw a person who appeared to be a pizza delivery man. Earlier than evening she had ordered a pizza for dinner, but now she assumed the store had made a mistake by delivering a duplicate. She opened the door, she debated with the apparent delivery man that she had not ordered a second pizza, he showed her a forged receipt, then he abruptly grabbed her arm and pulled her towards a van at the curb. According to court documents, "...Collins Macchio yelled to her children to call the police. Collins Macchio’s son Roy tried to call the police but was unable to because the deprogrammers had disconnected Collins Macchio’s phone service." In front of her terrified children Laverne Collins Macchio was dragged out into the street and forced into a van by two men she did not know. She was thrown face-down on the floor, both men on top of her, with their hands over her mouth. Later court records showed she had bruises on her mouth, an arm, and a leg from her abductors’ rough treatment.

The deprogrammers drove Collins Macchio to a remote cabin, dragged her inside, and informed her that her mother had hired them to prevent her from taking her children to a Church Universal and Triumphant shelter in Montana. (It turned out that Collins Macchio had no such intention; however, she had been contemplating a family move to Bozeman, Montana, almost ninety miles from Church U & T headquarters.)

At the cabin they were joined by a woman and another man. Then, the next day (with continued rough restraint) they took her to a motel. Here a second woman appeared, ostensibly to counsel her about her dangerous religious affiliation. Then it was another night drive to another motel, always with her face pinned down on the floor of the van so that she had no sense of where in Boise she was.

Each day she was grilled about her religious beliefs in mocking terms, with only brief chances for meals or restroom breaks. Harangued, nervous for her safety and for her children, worn thin, and embittered that a middle-aged woman in the contemporary United States was being imprisoned for her religious beliefs by vigilantes, she still resisted.

Then, on November 26, she was moved to yet another motel, continually resisting.

By November 27 the pseudo-therapists let her go. Collins Macchio went to the police, several of the deprogrammers (including Joe Szimhart) fled the state and only returned after government agents tracked them down in New Mexico, the kidnapping defendants tried to claim in court a "necessity" to abduct her for her own good, and they won an acquittal in a lower court. The prosecution appealed. Eventually the deprogrammers agreed to plead guilty to the felony of second degree kidnapping after the Idaho Supreme Court overturned the acquittal. That was five years after Collins Macchio had been kidnapped in front of her children.

5. TED PATRICK, a poorly educated and often unemployed but self-styled "community worker" in San Diego, California coined the term "deprogramming" in 1971. Over the next three decades he was lionized by families and ACM groups dedicated to opposing NRMs as a hero and humanitarian seeking only "to liberate minds" from authoritarian cultic control.

In 1990 a Mennonite couple, Bob and Sue Miller, put Patrick in contact with an Amish husband in rural LaGrange County, Indiana. (Two of us live in the region and followed the ensuing folly.) The husband’s name was Ezra Miller, aged 36, and he was concerned that his wife, Elma, was straying from the Old Order Amish faith. She had begun attending meetings of a "splinter" discussion group of Amish that took up, among other scandalous matters, whether there was a biblical basis for not operating gas-combustion-driven machinery. Shortly before Thanksgiving, 1990 Ezra paid Patrick between $10,000 and $15,000 (one estimate was $25,000) in cash to abduct Elma and deprogram her back into the Old Order Amish world view opposing modern entanglements such as automobiles and electric generators. So in late November, 1990 Patrick, along with the Miller couple and Ezra Miller’s brother, abducted both Elma and her 9 year-old daughter Annie and transported them variously through Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

Patrick, the original deprogrammer, was at this time in his sixties and showing that such abduction was a younger man’s game. Annie was put screaming in a farmhouse basement, distracting Elma upstairs, who was not in the perfect mood to be argued to about her religious beliefs. Moreover, Patrick let Elma go to the toilet by herself -- a colossal mistake for a seasoned deprogrammer -- and she crawled out a bathroom window, hiked cross-country across two fields, and jumped a fence before using a farmer’s phone to call police. Realizing the deprogramming had turned into a fiasco, Patrick fled the scene back to California.

There were several unusual outcomes.

First, Amish husband and wife reconciled. Ezra was apparently sensitized to the sincerity of his wife’s beliefs, she was touched by his devotion to her, and Patrick -- who returned to his home in San Diego as soon as Elma had escaped -- declared to Fort Wayne newspaper journalists that he was keeping the money. Deprogrammers don’t give receipts, and Ezra was out as much as $25,000. And Indiana Amish stay out of courts.

Second, prosecutors in LaGrange County dropped the case since the abductees declined to press charges.

Third, the case was the first in the history of the modern ACM where a deprogrammer actually attempted to force someone, or reprogram her, back into a minority religion (the Boland case excepted).

6. During the early 1990s KATHY TONKIN and her three sons -- Jason, Thysen, and Matthew -- as well as three younger children, attended the Life Tabernacle Church, a Seattle, Washington branch of the United Pentecostal Church International (an evangelical Christian faith). Following an upset with a business partner who was also a Life Tabernacle member, Tonkin reversed many of her religious views and began to withdraw from the congregation, encouraging her sons to do the same. Her three sons, Thysen (16) and Matthew (13), and Jason (18), disagreed and insisted on remaining in the church. As a result, Tonkin ejected the two youngest sons from her home. Matthew went to live with his grandmother (who also lived in the Seattle area). Thysen moved in with another family from the church.

Meanwhile, Jason remained and tried to manage some truce between his mother and the church community he loved. Eventually he failed. His mother ejected him as well from the household, and he too went to live with his grandmother.

This dispute sent in motion a far-reaching chain of events.

Tonkin contacted the local Cult Awareness Network "contact person," Shirley Landa, through a local hotline (Landa had been a co-founder of CAN.) and then through Landa came into contact with a deprogrammer. Although no one at CAN had ever heard of the Life Tabernacle Church, the alleged "expert" to whom Tonkin was referred was a self-styled "Bible-based cult" expert, a manifestly hostile person toward conservative Christianity, and a former convicted jewel thief named Rick Ross. (Ross, a vigorous self-promoter and entrepreneur, had played a significant role in poisoning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm’s opinion of David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Indeed, he well may have inspired in part the BATF’s ill-conceived raid on the group’s rural compound.)

Deprogrammer Ross, with absolutely no formal training in counseling or psychology and who admitted he knew nothing about the Life Tabernacle Church, was heartily endorsed by Landa as successful at getting persons to leave religions. So Tonkin the mother was put in touch with Ross by phone and retained him to deprogram her three sons.

Ross assembled a "security team" of two, the three traveled from Arizona to Seattle, and they locked the two younger boys in their grandmother’s basement. Tonkin and Ross agreed that the young boys should be abducted first because the third son, Jason, was a legal adult, physically large and athletic and made what one of them called "a more complicated legal situation."

After several days both boys were harangued into renouncing their Pentecostal beliefs. Then the deprogrammers went for Jason.

Ross upped his deprogramming fee, he told Tonkin, because of the risk of legal prosecution. He also added "muscle" to the operation in the form of a karate black belt expert. When Jason returned to his grandmother’s home one evening, they were waiting in the house. They jumped him, wrestled him to the ground, and dragged him into a waiting van, its windows covered by towels taped over to hide what went on inside.

Jason kicked violently to get free, but they restrained him effectively: one man held his torso, another his legs, another his head and shoulders. They handcuffed his wrists, tied his ankles with rope, and gagged him from ear to ear with duct tape. He was finally thrown onto his stomach, his hands crushed beneath him while one of the deprogrammers, weighing 300 pounds, sat on his back. Meanwhile, Jason’s back, legs, and upper body were bruised and sore from being dragged across floors, stairs, and a cement patio into the van.

The deprogrammers drove some hours to an ocean-side cottage. There Jason’s ankle restraints were loosened just enough to permit to walk into the isolated house, with one of his captors holding a nylon strap as a "leash" and another with a tight grip on his handcuffs. By now both his hands were numb from the cuffs’ pressure.

First he was led upstairs, taken into a bathroom, and dumped into a shower stall. He could hear them preparing another room where he was eventually taken.

He could see they had made a prison. Thick nylon straps had been riveted in place over windows in a mesh-like pattern to prevent escape. The room had two doors, but each was guarded. As added insurance against escape. they took Jason’s shoes and installed motion detectors in the room.

Initially Jason demanded that he be permitted to leave and asked Ross if he was going to try to change his mind against his religion, Ross responded, "Yeah, that’s what I’m paid to do." Scott threatened with criminal prosecution but was laughed at. Ross bluntly told him, "You’re not going anywhere and if you give me any problems I’m going to handcuff you to the bed frame, and it’s going to be more uncomfortable than the ride over here."

Then began five days that were non-stop personal degradation and belittling of his beliefs, his girlfriend, and his pastor. Ironically, Ross, who was Jewish, would wax long into the night on the errors of conservative Protestantism and Christianity. When Jason was finally permitted to sleep a guard slept in front of each of the room’s two doors to prevent escape. When Jason went to the bathroom at least two of the deprogrammers accompanied him. Worse, given the poor, greasy food he was fed, he developed nausea and diarrhea on top of multiple bruises and scratches, not to mention psychological trauma, from his violent abduction.

And so it went for almost a week. Ross would argue with Jason daily about religious matters, refuse to allow him to respond, and tap or hit him in the head to emphasize points, Jason meanwhile restrained or closely guarded to discourage resistance. He was told in the coldest words that he would not be set free until the deprogramming was concluded, which in practical terms meant he had to renounce the Pentecostal faith and agree to leave the Life Tabernacle Church.

Jason held up resistance despite the anxiety, sense of helpless isolation, and physical illness and injuries. However, he overheard several deprogrammers talking about how they planned to send him to a so-called "rehabilitation" facility in a remote area of rural Ohio, called Wellspring, after he was deprogrammed. Wellspring often treated coercively deprogrammed religious followers and was operated by CAN board member psychologist Paul Martin. (Among the items eventually seized by police after Jason’s escape were plane tickets to Wellspring.) Jason decided to play along and hoped to fool the deprogrammers.

Jason began to feign acquiescence in the hope that his captors would become careless and give him an opportunity to escape. By January 22, Jason thus convinced his captors that he was ready to renounce his faith, appearing to break down in tears and remorse. He remained cooperative with Ross and the other deprogrammers, still hoping to escape. He spent the last day forced to watch videos on New Age religions and "channeling," subjects which have nothing to do with Pentecostalism.

Jason’s ploy succeeded. Pleased at the deprogramming’s evident success, Ross suggested that they all go out to a celebration dinner at a restaurant in a nearby town. At his earliest opportunity once in the establishment, Jason excused himself to go to the men’s room. And as a prime example of deprogrammer arrogance and credulity, Ross let him go–alone. Jason literally ran out the front door of the restaurant and called the police from a telephone across the street. They came, Ross and company were arrested, Jason was free, and the incident ultimately had profound fallout for CAN.

CAN, We Hardly Knew Ye: Sex, Drugs, Deprogrammers’ Kickbacks, and Corporate Crime in the (old) Cult Awareness Network

A Correspondence about “CAN, We Hardly Knew Ye”: Letters from Herb Rosedale, Anson D. Shupe and Massimo Introvigne

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

cesnur e-mail

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]