Theodore "Ted" Patrick (born 1930) is widely considered to be the "father of deprogramming." Some criminal proceedings against Patrick have resulted in felony convictions for kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment.
Born in what he calls "a red-light district" in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was surrounded by "thieves, prostitutes, murderers [and] pimps. From the time [he] was old enough to remember, [he] saw people being killed, shot up, cut up, beat up. The place was so bad even the police didn't want to come there."
He had a speech impediment, which set him apart from the other children. Until he was sixteen, no one could understand what he said, which made him "shy and backwards and miserable and embarrassed" for most of his childhood. According to Patrick, after being taken to countless faith healers, witch doctors and voodoo practitioners, the final straw was an embarrassing spin the bottle game. The bottle pointed to him and the girl wouldn't kiss him. He then decided to take his problem into his own hands. His speech improved, and with it his confidence and interpersonal skills. He dropped out of high school in tenth grade to help support his family. After working in a variety of jobs, he saved enough to open a nightclub called the Cadillac Club with his cousin. The venture was successful, and eventually he sold his share of the business to his cousin. Patrick was the co-chairman of the Nineteenth Ward in Chattanooga. He planned on opening a restaurant and cocktail lounge; however, according to Patrick, his political enemies obstructed this.
At twenty-five he left his wife and infant son in Tennessee and went with a friend to San Diego, California. There he started the Chollas Democratic Club to assert the rights of the Black community. Perhaps their main accomplishment was picketing supermarkets and other stores to get them to employ Blacks. After he had saved enough money, he brought his wife and children to San Diego. Other organizations he started in San Diego were the Logan Heights Businessmen's Association, the Junior Government of Southeast San Diego and the Volunteer Parents Organization (VPO.) During the Watts Riots in 1965 the VPO was instrumental in keeping the violence from reaching San Diego. For his efforts in the Watts Riots Patrick was awarded the Freedom Foundation Award, which ultimately led to his job as the Special Assistant for Community Affairs, under then-Governor Ronald Reagan.
Career as a deprogrammer
Despite a lack of formal education and professional training, Ted Patrick was able to gain the trust of hundreds of parents and family members who hired him to "deprogram" their loved ones. A high school dropout, Patrick based his techniques and practices on his own life experience. According to Ted Patrick himself in a TV debate with members of the Hare Krishna group (May, 1979), "How I got into deprogramming was through my own son. All outdoor boy, couldn't nothing keep him in the house. Then one day, he was psychologic... psychological kidnap by a cult". In this interview, Patrick also explained that his quest to understand cults led him to speak to "witches, warlocks, healers" and in fact, he went "all the way to New Orleans" to the same person his mother brought him to for his speech impediment. He also stated that he spent time in a religious group and after a week "..didn't know where I were, nor how I got there... I was hook.". Patrick stated that this research and his understanding of the mind from his ongoing struggle with his own speech, was the background for his work in deprogramming.
On June 12, 1971, Mrs. Samuel Jackson contacted Patrick to file a complaint concerning her missing son, Billy. As Billy was nineteen, the police and FBI would not look for him. Billy was involved with the cult known as the Children of God, which had approached Patrick's son Michael a week earlier. Patrick contacted other people whose relatives were in the cult and even "joined" them to know how the group operated. This is when he developed his method of deprogramming. He ultimately left his job to deprogram full-time.
Ted Patrick, one of the pioneers of deprogramming, used a confrontational method:
"When you deprogram people, you force them to think.... 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 working again."
According to a 1979 Washington Post article, Patrick gave himself the moniker "Black Lightning." However, anti-cult activists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman state, in their 1978 book Snapping, that cult leaders gave him that nickname.
Patrick described details of some of his kidnappings in his book Let Our Children Go! (E. P. Dutton, 1976, page 96)
"Wes had taken up a position facing the car, with his hands on the roof and his legs spread-eagled. There was no way to let him inside while he was braced like that. I had to make a quick decision. I reached down between Wes's legs, grabbed him by the crotch and squeezed--hard. He let out a howl, and doubled up, grabbing for his groin with both hands. Then I hit, shoving him headfirst into the back seat of the car and piling in on top of him."
Patrick stood in trial several times for kidnapping activities. After the first trial (which found him not guilty), he stopped executing the actual kidnapping but continued with his deprogramming.
Patrick testified before an ad hoc Congressional committee organized in 1979 by Senator Bob Dole. According to The New Republic, Dole intended the hearing to "provide a forum" for Patrick and other anti-cult activists.
Criminal proceedings and convictions
Some criminal proceedings against Patrick have resulted in felony convictions for kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment.
- In 1980, Patrick was convicted of conspiracy, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. These charges were related to the abduction and attempted deprogramming of Roberta McElfish, a 26-year-old Tucson waitress. Patrick was sentenced to one year in prison and fined five thousand dollars.
- On 28 December 1981, Judge Clinton Olsen dismissed the Church of Scientology's lawsuit against Ted Patrick and three others for lack of cause of action in Multnomah County, Oregon.
- On 11 June 1984 Scientologist Paula Dain was awarded $7,000 in compensatory damages by a federal court jury in a $30 million civil-rights lawsuit against Patrick. The jury ruled that Patrick had violated Dain's civil rights and freedom of religion, but determined that Patrick did not act "with evil intent" or in "reckless and callous disregard for Miss Dain's safety."
- In the case of Kathleen Crampton, where Patrick and her family members were acquitted from kidnapping, the judge wrote: "The parents who would do less than what Mr. and Mrs. Crampton did for their daughter Kathy would be less than responsible, loving parents. Parents like the Cramptons here, have justifiable grounds, when they are of the reasonable belief that their child is in danger, under hypnosis or drugs, or both, and that their child is not able to make a free, voluntary, knowledgeable decision."