IN ALL THE WORLD, there is nothing quite so impenetrable as a
human mind snapped shut with bliss. No call to reason, no emotional
appeal can get through its armor of self-proclaimed joy.
We talked with dozens of individuals in this state of mind: cult
members, group therapy graduates, born-again Christians, some
Transcendental Meditators. After a while, it seemed very much
like dancing to a broken record. We would ask a question, and
the individual would spin round and round in a circle of dogma.
If we tried to interrupt, he or she would simply pick right up
again or go back to the beginning and start over.
Soon we began to realize that what we were watching went much
deeper. These people were not simply incapable of carrying on
a genuine conversation, they were completely mired in their unthinking,
unfeeling, uncomprehending states. Whether cloistered in cults
or passing blindly through the world, they were impervious to
the pain of parents, spouses, friends and lovers. How do you
reach such people? Can they be made to think and feel again?
Is there any way to reunite them with their former personalities
and the world around them?
A man named Ted Patrick developed the first remedy. A controversial
figure dubbed by the cult world Black Lightning, Patrick was the
first to point out publicly what the cults were doing to America's
youth. He investigated the ploys by which many converts were
ensnared and delved into the methods many cults used to manipulate
He was also the first to take action. In the early seventies,
Patrick began a one-man campaign against the cults. His fight
started in Southern California, on the Pacific beaches where,
in the beginning, organizations such as the Hare Krishna and the
Children of God recruited among the vacationing students and carefree
dropouts who covered the sands in summer and roamed the bustling
beach communities year round. The Children of God approached
Patrick's son there one day and nearly made off with him. Patrick
investigated, was horrified at what he found, and immediately
set out on a course of direct action. His first-hand experiences
with cult techniques and their effects led him to develop an antidote
he named "deprogramming," a remarkably simple and-when
properly used-nearly foolproof process for helping cult members
regain their freedom of thought.
Before long, Ted Patrick was in action all over the country on
behalf of desperate parents. Through the seventies, he made front
page headlines in the east for his daring daylight kidnappings
of Ivy League cult members. He made network news for his interstate
car chases in the Pacific Northwest to elude both cult leaders
and state troopers. And eventually he made American legal history.
In his ultimate defense of the U.S. Constitution, Patrick challenged
the confusion of First Amendment rights surrounding the cult controversy
and drew an important distinction between Americans' guaranteed
national freedoms of speech and religion and their more fundamental
human right to freedom of thought. In precedent-setting cases,
U.S. courts confirmed Patrick's argument that, by "artful
and deceiving" means, the new cults were in fact robbing
people of their natural capacity to think and choose. To that
time, it was never considered possible that a human being could
be stripped of this basic endowment.
In many courtrooms, however, Ted Patrick lost his case for freedom
of thought, gathering a stack of convictions for kidnapping and
unlawful detention. In unsuccessful attempts to free cult members
from their invisible prisons, Patrick was repeatedly thrown into
real ones, in New York, California and Colorado. In July 1976,
during a time when Americans were celebrating their two hundredth
year of freedom, Patrick was sentenced to serve a year in prison
for a cult kidnapping he did not in fact perform.
Patrick confirmed our own perspective when he described the method
of control used by many cults, beginning with the moment the recruiter
hooks his listener.
"They have the ability to come up to you and talk about anything
they feel you're interested in, anything," he said. "Their
technique is to get your attention, then your trust. The minute
they get your trust, just like that they can put you in the cult."
It was in 1971 that Patrick infiltrated the Children of God, the
cult that had tried to recruit his son, Michael, one Fourth of
July on Mission Beach in San Diego. His initial concern over
the cults was personal but it also had a public side. Worried
parents had already appealed to him for help in his official capacity
as head of community relations for California's San Diego and Imperial
counties. Patrick had moved to the area years earlier and became
active in local politics working against discrimination in employment.
During the Watts riots is Los Angeles in 1965, he helped calm
racial unrest in San Diego. His public service caught the attention
of then California's Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, who appointed
Patrick, an active Democrat, to the community relations post.
"Thinking to a cult member is like being stabbed in the heart
with a dagger," said Patrick. "It's very painful because
they've been told that the mind is Satan and thinking is the machinery
of the Devil."
Having gained personal insight into the manner in which that machinery
may be brought to a halt, Patrick developed his controversial
deprogramming procedure, the essence of which, he explained, was
simply to get the individual thinking again.
"When you deprogram people," he emphasized, "you
force them to think. The only thing I do is shoot them challenging
questions. I hit them with things that they haven't been programmed
to respond to. I know what the cults do and how they do it, so
I shoot them the right questions; and they get frustrated when
they can't answer. They think they have the answer, they've been
given answers to everything. But I keep them off balance and
this forces them to begin questioning, to open their minds. When
the mind gets to a certain point, they can see through all the
lies that they've been programmed to believe. They realize that
they've been duped and they come out of it. Their minds start
That, according to Patrick, was all there was to deprogramming.
Yet since Patrick began deprogramming cult members, both the
man and his procedure had taken on monstrous proportions in the
public eye. Patrick's legendary kidnappings, a tactic he employed
only as a last resort, often brought him into physical confrontation
with cult members who had been warned that Black Lightning was
an agent of Satan who would subject them to unimaginable tortures
to get them to renounce their beliefs. Cult members who managed
to escape their parents and Patrick before being deprogrammed
frequently ran to the media with horror stories about the procedure.
One young woman charged on national television that Patrick had
ripped her clothes off and chased her nude body across the neighbors'
lawns. Other active cult members claimed to have been brutally
beaten by Patrick, yet no parent, ex-cult member or other reliable
witness we talked to ever substantiated any of those charges.
In truth, Patrick told us, and others later confirmed, many of
the distortions that had been disseminated about deprogramming
were part of a coordinated campaign by several cults to discredit
his methods. In the end, he said, the propaganda only worked
to his advantage.
"The cults tell them that I rape the women and beat them.
They say I lock them in closets and stuff bones done their throats."
Patrick laughed. "What they don't know is that they're
making my job easier. They come in here frightened to death of
me, and then because of all the stuff they've been told, I can
just sit there and look at them and I'll deprogram them just like
that. They'll be thinking, What the hell is he going to do
now? They're waiting for me to slap them or beat them and
already their minds are working."
In the beginning, Patrick admitted, he developed his method by
trial and error, attempting to reason with cult members and learning
each cult's rituals and beliefs until he cracked the code. Refining
his procedure with each case, he came to understand exactly what
was needed to pierce the cult's mental shield. Like a diamond
cutter, he probed with his questions the rough surface of speech
and behavior until he found the key point of contention at the
center of each cult member's encapsulated beliefs. Once he found
that point, Patrick hit it head on, until the entire programmed
state of mind gave way, revealing the cult member's original identity
and true personality that had become trapped inside.
We asked him to describe a typical deprogramming from the beginning
and, then, how he knew when a person had been deprogrammed, that
is when he could say for sure that he had done his job.
"The first time I lay eyes on a person," he said, staring
at us intently, "I can tell if his mind is working or not.
Then, as I begin to question him, I can determine exactly how
he has been programmed. From then on, it's all a matter of language.
It's talking and knowing what to talk about. I start moving
his mind, slowly, pushing it with questions, and I watch every
move that mind makes. I know everything it is going to do, and
when I hit on that one certain point that strikes home, I push
it. I stay with that question whether it's about God, the Devil
or that person's having rejected his parents. I keep pushing
and pushing. I don't let him get around it with the lies he's
been told. Then there'll be a minute, a second, when the mind
snaps, when the person realizes he's been lied to by the
cult and he just snaps out of it. It's like turning on the light
in a dark room. They're in an almost unconscious state of mind,
and then I switch the mind from unconsciousness to consciousness
and it snaps, just like that."
It was Patrick's term this time we hadn't said the wordfor what
happens in deprogramming. And in almost every case, according
to Patrick, it came about just that suddenly. When deprogramming
has been accomplished, the cult member's appearance undergoes
a sharp, drastic change. He comes out of his trancelike state
and his ability to think for himself is restored.
"It's like seeing a person change from a werewolf into a
man," said Patrick. "It's a beautiful thing. The whole
personality changes, the eyes, the voice. Where they had hate
and a blank expression, you can see feeling again."
Snapping, a word Ted Patrick used often, is a phenomenon that
appears to have extreme moments at both ends. A moment of sudden,
intense change may occur when a person enters a cult, during lectures,
rituals and physical ordeals. Another change may take place with
equal, or even greater, abruptness when the subject is deprogrammed
and made to think again. Once this breakthrough is achieved,
however, the person is not just "snapped out" and home
free. Deprogramming always requires a period of rehabilitation
to counteract an interim condition Patrick called "floating
Patrick told us, he recommended that his subjects return him to
everyday life and normal social relationships as quickly as possible.
In that environment, the individual, must then actively work
to rebuild the fundamental capacities of thought and feeling that
have been systematically destroyed.
"Deprogramming is like taking a car out of the garage that
hasn't been driven for a year," he said. "The battery
has gone down, and in order to start it up you've got to put jumper
cables on it. It will go dead again. So you keep the motor running
until it builds up its own power. This is what rehabilitation
is. Once we get the mind working, we keep it working long enough
so that the person gets in the habit of thinking and making decisions
Deprogramming added a whole new dimension to the already complex
mystery of snapping. In one sense, deprogramming confirms that
some drastic change takes place in the workings of the mind in
the course of a cult member's experience, for only through deprogramming
does it become apparent to everyone, including the cult member,
that his actions, expressions and even his physical appearance
have not been under his own control. In another sense, deprogramming
is itself a form of sudden personality change. Because it appears
to be a genuinely broadening, expanding personal change, it would
seem to bear closer resemblance to a true moment of enlightenment,
to the natural process of personal growth and newfound awareness
and understanding, than to the narrowing changes brought about
by cult rituals and artificially induced group ordeals.
What is it like to experience the sudden snap of a deprogramming?
As a result of Ted Patrick's efforts, and others, there are now
thousands of answers to the question. Patrick claims to have
personally deprogrammed more than two thousand cult members; thousands
more have been deprogrammed by other deprogrammers and professional
"exit counselors" who have since entered this fledgling
field. In our first round of cross-country travels, we spoke
with dozens of ex-cult members, many of whom had been deprogrammed
by Patrick. As far as we could see, his clients showed no scars,
either physical of mental, from their deprogramming experience.
Most seemed to be healthy, happy, fully rehabilitated and completely
free of the effects of cult life.
In contrast to the many tales of cult conversion that we heard,
which after a while began to sound virtually identical, each story
of a Patrick deprogramming was its own spellbinding adventure,
rich with intrigue and planned in minute detail. The first step
in the process was almost always to remove the member from the
cult, which might be accomplished by abduction, legal custodianship
or, as Patrick seemed to prefer, simply a clever subterfuge.
One puzzle of snapping that the deprogramming process illuminates
is the enormous amount of mental activity that takes place in
the unthinking, unfeeling state many cult members are drawn into.
Ironically, most people we spoke with fought desperately to preserve
their blissed-out states, although they often were saturated with
fear, guilt, hatred and exhaustion. In the beginning this seemed
to present a disturbing contradiction: How could an individual
whose mind has apparently been shut off, who has been robbed of
his freedom of thought, display such cunning and initiative?
What the deprogramming process demonstrated is that cult members
do not simply snap from a normal conscious state into one of complete
unconsciousness (and vice versa during deprogramming). Rather,
most pass from one frame of waking awareness into a second, entirely
separate, frame of awareness in which they may be equally active
We talked with an ex-member of the Church of Scientology, one
the oldest and cagiest of America's cults, who took steps to preserve
his cult frame of mind during his deprogramming, until Patrick's
adept conversational skills caught his attention and he snapped
"I tried to pretend that I was listening," this former
Scientologist told us, "but I also tried to stay spaced out
and not really pay attention. Occasionally, something would go
pop and I would suddenly be listening to him. From his
continuously talking like that, he just snapped me out of the
spaced-out state I was in. All of a sudden I felt a little flushed.
I could feel the blood rushing through my face."
Through two decades of legal battles and repeated periods of imprisonment
and probation, few people spoke up in defense of Ted Patrick or
the pioneering work he was doing, ultimately, at his own great
personal and financial expense. No mainstream mental health organization
or established social institution has yet taken a stand on behalf
of his concept of freedom of thought. Part of the problem, especially
in those years, was attributed to Patrick's manner of action.
In his single-minded focus on rescuing cult members, he minced
no words and wasted little time on social niceties. As a result,
he often irked and alienated those parents, clinicians and law
enforcement officials who might otherwise be his natural allies.
Yet, regardless of his style, the grave questions Patrick first
flamboyantly brought to public attention are not the ones we can
choose to like or dislike nor will they simply go away if we ignore
them. Is an individual free to give up his freedom of thought?
May a religion, popular therapy, political movement or any other
enterprise systematically attack human thought and feeling in
the name of God, the pursuit of happiness, personal growth or
spiritual fulfillment? These are questions that Americans, perhaps
more than others, are not prepared to deal with, because they
challenge long-standing constitutional principles and cultural
assumptions about the nature of the mind, personality and human
In the months after out trip to the Orange county Jail we spoke
with many people about Ted Patrick: parents, ex-cult members,
attorneys, mental health professionals and others who, at the
time, were only dimly aware of the building controversy over some
alleged forms of religion in America. Some denounced him as a
villain and a fascist, others hailed him as a folk hero and dark
prophet of what lay ahead for America. Yet Patrick himself showed
little concern for titles or media images.
Through the eighties, Black Lightning remained a lightning rod,
a target for aggressive counterattacks and disinformation campaigns
waged against deprogramming by major cults and more mainstream
fundamentalist Christian sects. By the mid-nineties, he was widely
presumed to be out of commission, but Patrick was still active,
working mostly on voluntary deprogrammings and rehabilitation
counseling. In the interim, swayed by a changing religious, political
and social climate, courts across the country grew cold to deprogramming.
Another pioneering deprogrammer, New York cult counselor and private
detective Galen Kelly, was prosecuted on criminal charges in two
separate cases but was convicted and spent more than a year in
prison on the second before an appeals court overturned his conviction.
Those cases and others brought a global chill. In the new climate,
judges were deaf to the pleas of the parents and families of cult
members, and the precarious deprogramming profession was largely
eclipsed by the efforts of the new generation of cult "exit
counselors." Exit counselors we talked with, many of them
one-time sect members themselves who had gone on to acquire clinical
training and credentials, were testing a wide range of eclectic
approaches, some more successful, some less so. Many were generalists,
counseling cultists and families across America and, increasingly,
in other countries. Some specialized in counseling ex-Moonies,
members of Eastern cults, of controlling charismatic groups and
extreme fundamentalist sects.
Most confirmed a pattern we, too, had noted: the new methods of
voluntary deprogramming and exit counseling, while far less controversial
and much safer from a legal standpoint, prompted fewer cult members
to experience a sudden "snapping out" of their controlled
states of mind. Instead, most experienced a slower process of
emergence, or as Rick Ross, an exit counselor from Arizona, called
it, a gradual "unfolding" from the cults' ingrained
altered states. Afterwards, many required additional counseling,
specialized rehabilitation and, for some, ongoing psychotherapy
to recover their personalities and regain full control over their
impaired powers of mind.
But, two decades later, public understanding and professional
support were still in short supply.
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[ISBN#: 0-9647650-0-4. Softcover, 416 pages, illustrated, appendix, notes, index.]
Copyright © 1995 by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. All rights reserved. The authors give their limited permission to readers of the "Rick Ross" World Wide Web site to copy and distribute this excerpt from SNAPPING, provided that the material is copied or redistributed solely for the purposes of public information and education without any charge to recipients, and that any copied or distributed materials carry this copyright notice exactly as printed here.