Ted Patrick — The First Cult Fighter

by Paul Morantz
(C) Sept. 2010

Ted Patrick , a black man born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, moved to San Diego at the age of 25 where he united workers at Convair against discrimination. He became involved in Democratic politics and during the Los Angeles Watts riots in 1965 he helped calm unrest amongst blacks in the Logan Heights section of San Diego, forming a volunteer program. At age 41, his work got him appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to a Community Relations post in San Diego in the summer of 1971. A family man, his life was irrevocably changed by an event on Fourth of July of that year.

His 14-year-old son came home late from the fire works display at Belmont Park explaining his tardiness was due to being stopped by some young men with Bibles and guitars who asked if he believed in God and did he know that Christ had died for “our sins.” They explained they were a family called the Children of God. They spoke of a life without work, without problems and where no one would ever be sick. They wouldn’t even have to go to school. Those things were all of the devil. The boy had a difficult time getting away.

A week later Patrick received a phone call from a woman who said that her son, age 19, had disappeared from Belmont Park that same Fourth of July evening. Her son called five days later, sounding like he was reading from a script, to announce he had joined the Children of God and was not returning. He announced that she and his father were living in sin and if they didn’t repent hell awaited. He had found a new family, a spiritual family. The police, she said, her son being of age, would not do anything.

Investigating, Patrick found that several children had disappeared into the Children of God that evening and later phoned in similar announcements to their parents. In two days, Patrick came up with 26 similar stories. By the end of the week the number had reached 52. He decided there was only one thing to do. Go into the group and see for himself.

He found them at Mission Beach spotting across from the Bahia Hotel in a parking lot a blue bus with CHILDREN OF GOD written in white letters on the side. Patrick walked up and said he heard what they were saying about the Lord and he was interested. Patrick was asked to board a bus filled with about 14 boys and girls, ranging from ages of 16 to 25. He was given literature to read and was driven with the others to their property in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. It was dark but he counted six army tents set up along the road by a wooded fence. He could see inside tents and in the fields automobiles, buses, motorcycles, jeeps, stereos and televisions donated by converts and now ready to be sold.

When he entered the main house he observed an Elder lecturing 40 to 50 young people sitting on the floor around him. “Your parents are the enemy,” he shouted. “You have to surrender your whole life to God… 100 percent.”

The leader of the Children of God was David Berg, a.k.a. Moses, a former Baptist minister expelled for misconduct. In his absence his word was delivered through the reading of Mo-letters and the playing of tapes. Elders worked in shifts keeping people awake and constantly preaching. They were beside the recruits even when they went to urinate. Tapes of Berg speaking blasted away and in other areas Mo-letters were read about parents. “They live like animals… They eat and drink, sleep and fuck, shit and piss — — they suck the asshole out of the system… Fuck them. They are not your family. There’s only one family. This is your family. And you don’t leave. Leaving here and going back to that is like to a dog returning to his vomit. It’s like going back and eating your own shit. Moses is your father — — there’s no salvation except him. You leave here you will have blood on your hands. You leave here you will be struck by lightning… you will all be killed.”

Another Mo-letter read:

“God has broken up the marriages of almost our entire top leadership… I’ve certainly seen a lot of good fruit in these, since this had happened, and also it has borne good fruit amongst the kids… God is in the business of breaking up families — — little private families. If you have not forsaken your husband and wife for the Lord at sometime or other, you have not forsaken at all.”

Patrick observed Elders giving a mother a hard time for wanting to see her daughter. They finally allowed it but surrounded the younger girl with five elders. “Rachel, does not want to speak to you alone, ” the mother was told. “We are her family now.” After the daughter told her mother she did not want to leave her new family and die, the mother grabbed for her daughter only to be struck in the mouth by an Elder. The daughter watched as her mother was roughed-up and removed. Afterwards, Rachel was the subject of a celebration for having withstood the test.

It was 48 hours before Patrick was allowed three-hours sleep on a floor. What concerned Patrick most was that in his sleepy state he found himself sometimes agreeing. He knew he had to leave and that leaving might not be easy. Conversation was difficult because when Patrick spoke the only responses he got were scriptures, Mo-letters and tapes. He finally convinced the Elders that he needed to go home in order to collect money to donate. When they drove him back, he asked they stop so he could make a phone call at a booth. He walked towards it, then around it and around the corner. He jumped into a cab.

Back home Patrick continued his investigation. What had upset him most was a sense that if he hadn’t left he might have become one of them. He learned more about COG history. Berg had first started with a small band called Teens for Christ. The new name came when he joined with Fred Jordan who put on a morning Sunday religious television show called “the Church in the Home” presenting reformed drug addicts, pimps, whores and drunkards to seek donations. Within months, COG had grown to several communes in California and a 40 acre ranch in Mingus, Texas donated by Jordan.

When another mother called Patrick about her daughter dropping out of the University of Southern California to join the Children of God, Patrick made his decision. With the family of the girl, he committed the first-ever kidnapping — de-programming. It was successful.

Using the media and his newly founded parental organization FreeCOG (Free Children of God) he got government attention. Eventually Jordan abandoned Berg and Berg’s former daughter-in- law turned evidence, stating Berg forced her at age 15 to marry his son, watched her have sex with his son and later demanded it for himself. She said on an occasion when she declined to perform sexually with Berg before the group she was severely beaten despite being pregnant. A report by New York’s Charity Fraud Division of the Attorney Generals Office led to Children of God fleeing the United States for Europe in the early winter of 1973. Berg told his followers they had to leave because the comet Kohoutek was going to strike the United States.

But there were other groups. Other parents seeking help. Emotionally, Patrick was hooked. Across the country he went, kidnapping and de-programming. Physically grabbing a follower and keeping the person under guard while forcing them to listen to truth’s about the particular group and confront their family. One after another. The Moonies, the Krishnas, others. Over a thousand times he did it. Almost always successfully. He became known as “the Black Devil” and “Black Lightning.” The first cult fighter.

I didn’t agree really with the idea of kidnapping. It was taking law into your hands and deciding who was brainwashed by force. Mistakes were made, wrong groups targeted. Patrick went through many criminal trials over failed attempts. Most of the time he was acquitted on theory you can do a crime to prevent a greater time; but there was jail. When I spoke to him in l978 he lived in hiding. The other side of the coin was there was no mechanism for a parent to challenge the psychological hold groups had on their children. And I met many who claimed Patrick save their lives.

In 1988 when I argued successfully to the California Supreme Court in Molko vs. Superior Court to recognize brainwashing as a tort I said establishing the right to sue may inhibit the use of brainwashing and make unnecessary the kidnapping/deprogramming that were being used by parents as a last and only recourse. After the Supreme Court ruled it seemed that kidnapping deprogramming became less heard of.

Patrick was hired in 1978 by a grandmother to counsel children I got out of Synanon but kidnapping was not involved; we had lawfully obtained custody of the children (see Escape From Synanon III).