Emeritus Professor, Psychology in Education
University of Pennsylvania
In a concluding comment, I will briefly compare our experiences in liberating a cult victim with contemporary exit consultation. I share these reminiscences in order to give people new to this area some appreciation of how far the field has evolved.
It promised to be a hot day in Los Angeles that August At 9 a.m the smog was beginning to lift in the empty mall parking lot. A white van drove in; it dropped off a a tall young woman, casually dressed, then drove away. Energetically the tall young woman set up five laser photographs for business. Shortly a black van parked a few spaces away and a smartly dressed, thirtyish woman strode toward the paintings. After a few minutes of negotiations, the two women approached the black van, carrying all five photographs. The young seller appeared jubilant. Then quickly two pairs of brawny arms lunged out of the van and yanked her inside. Angry and frustrated, the young woman screamed for help.
“I’m being kidnapped!”
Then she noticed a familiar figure inside the van.
“Mom,” she yelled, “You promised not to do this!“
“I changed my mind.”
Meanwhile another car had entered the lot. A man ran over to the black van and tapped on the door.
“Is something wrong?”
“No. This poor girl has overdosed. Her mother’s right here. Thank you for asking, sir.”
“Oh. O.K.“ The fellow walked away.
The black van sped off to a secluded house in Pasadena. Two burley men dragged the tall girl inside and secured the exits.
“No harm will come to you. We just want to talk with you privately.” Her captors assured her. Her mother dialed a number and handed her the phone.
“Happy birthday! I’m on my way to see you.”
“Dad, how could you do this to me? “
The young woman slammed down the phone.
She was angry and scared. She knew what was going to happen to her. She prayed to Father Moon for inner strength.
Meanwhile, the white van returned to the mall in Los Angeles at noon. There was no sign of the young woman and her photographs.
* * *
This event is pivotal for understanding what preceded and what followed the rescue of Carole Dole.
Our Search Continues
Once three years before “Jim Blue,” a former Moonie, had attempted a voluntary exit counseling, using a shock and awe approach. It failed. Thereafter we rarely saw Carole and we were rarely sure of her exact whereabouts. We realized with despair that the likelihood was slim that Carole would leave her group on her own or that we could arrange another exit counseling. We kept searching for solutions. We identified prospective deprogrammers and secure residences in California. But the apparent opportunities to rescue her vanished like smoke. At the suggestion of Judge Eisen, we hired a lawyer and petitioned the Merit County Family Court for a temporary guardianship. Although the Judge was persuaded, Carole always fended off our warm invitations to come home for a visit.
We read with interest accounts of involuntary deprogramming. Quite a number succeeded. At a meeting in Westchester County, New York, we met a former high-ranking Moonie named Steve Hassan. While Steve was driving a Church van one night, tired from a heavy day of fund-raising, he fell asleep, crashed, and was hospitalized. His parents arranged for a deprogramming. Since Steve was in traction, he could not escape. Eventually he decided to resign from the Unification Church.
Other involuntary deprogrammings were less successful. “Elsie Blue,” Jim’s sister, slit her wrists while a captive; several others escaped and then sued the deprogrammers and the parents. Although juries and police were consistently lenient, some judges were less sympathetic. When communities and state legislators attempted to control cults–for example by blocking real estate deals or requiring that “churches” file financial records, civil libertarians and politicians pointed to the first amendment. Some of the richer and more powerful cults joined together, hired lawyers and public relations people, and mounted strong criticism. They alleged that deprogrammers overcharged parents and abused cultists. Thus opponents of cult controls steadily gained in strength.
Marj’s anguish about Carole intensified. “I’d do anything to get her out!” My belief in the power of non-violence and in freedom of religious choice further hurt her terribly. She was torn, as was I. Rather reluctantly I relaxed my scruples. “O.K. Let’s do it right this time. Forget the cost.”
From her irregular phone calls we knew that Carole was now fund-raising somewhere in the Los Angeles area. “Evan and Betty Nordstrom,” as I’ll call them here, were recommended to us as helpful resources, staunch cult opponents. They had lost a daughter to the Unification Church and then rescued her. We flew out and consulted. They were understanding, supportive, and very consoling as they described their own experience.
”’Enid Palmer’ (not her real name) is a fine, reliable, mature, and experienced deprogrammer. She’s a former Moonie. She knows them inside out. She lives in Pasadena. Check her out.”
We did check her out—very thoroughly. We flew her to Philadelphia. She was a poised, self-assured, affable but business-like woman in her early thirties. We liked her immediately. We told her about Carole as a person. She told us how she conducted a rescue. She stressed respect and kindness toward the cultist. No Ted Patrick shock treatment. She relied heavily on presenting facts about the Unification Church. We checked out her references. We were satisfied. Let’s give it a try.
It took several months for us and Enid to develop a plan. To start with, Enid knew where the Moonies owned a house in which Carole might be staying. Armed with a picture of Carole Dole, she staked it out. On several mornings she spotted a tall young woman who along with other Moonies climbed into one of several vans. This girl resembled the picture of Carole.
Next Enid lined up two more deprogrammers, “Mike Inscom,” a former Moonie, and “Ted Savage,” once a member of the Church of Scientology. Mike lived nearby, Ted in Minnesota. “George,” a security man she trusted, was in Buffalo, New York, and “Mohammed,” a second experienced guard, lived in Canada. We learned later that Muhammad had once been bodyguard for an Arab leader until he was overthrown. George was a professional wrestler.
Enid had the use of a large house while her parents were on vacation: A window of opportunity. She laid in a supply of food for eight people and rented two vans.
When Carole called in July, her mother said,
“How about giving me a phone number so I can call you on your birthday?”
Amazingly, after consulting her supervisor, Carole, pleased, agreed. Carole’s birthday is August 13.
A flurry of phone calls followed. From Marj to her travel agent. From Enid to Buffalo, Minnesota, and Canada. From Art to the bank and the kennel. The logistics were too complicated to recall in further detail here.
For the plan to succeed we needed to be sure that on her birthday Carole was indeed at the Moonie house and that Carole and her chaperones thought her mother and I were in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. In case the wary Moonies checked out our whereabouts I stayed home to answer the phone and Marj flew alone to Los Angeles. The rescue team was ready. Our hearts accelerated.
Waiting for the Call
Anxiously I eyed the phone and paced the house all day on August 13. It did not ring until dark. Marj had mixed news. She had reached Carole early that morning from a public phone in a noisy hospital waiting room. After she heard the conventional birthday greetings, Carole asked suspiciously, “What’s all that noise?”
“Oh, I’m calling from the hospital. That’s the cleaning woman.”
That was not entirely a lie, since she knew that Marj was chief microbiologist at Pennsylvania Hospital. Carole had no idea her mother was in a hospital 3000 miles from Philadelphia. Or that an actual cleaning woman was vacuuming near the telephone Marj was using.
A few minutes later, Marj told me, the rescue team sat in two parked vans, where, inconspicuously. they could observe the Moonie house and talk via walkie talkies. Several vans filled with Moonies drove off to breakfast at a Jack in the Box. No Carole. So the rescue crew drove all the way to Riverside where Carole had said (lied) that she was going. Again no Carole. Marj was disappointed, upset to the point of tears.
The next day, as I learned later, Marj and her team set up again near the Moonie house. Here’s her recollection.
”We were pretty sure we saw Carole get in a white van. The two black vans followed it, making many turns, going on a freeway and then taking an exit. But Carole’s van driver was clearly lost and he was winding over many back roads with little or no traffic. The driver of my van, George, was petrified that he would be obvious in the rear mirror of the white van so he decided he would have to drop out and go back to Enid’s place—which he did. I was beside myself: All that time, effort and money to no avail. In tears I sat with George in the living room.
“Suddenly, the phone rang. It was Enid. She had been able to follow Carole’s van to a shopping mall where Carole was let off to sell paintings. George and I quickly drove to the mall, parked at some distance from our quarry and peered through a telescope. Sure enough, it was Carole and she was by herself.”
* * *
I was sitting in our bedroom about one p.m. with the air conditioner mulling and Kala panting beside me, when the phone rang.
“The rescue worked! Would you like to talk to your daughter?”
After Carole hung up on me, I called American Airlines, was able to book a flight, phoned Marj to arrange to be picked up in Los Angeles, locked up our house, stopped the mail, placed a big fat envelope in my breast pocket, and rushed to Philadelphia International Airport. I was nervous about that envelope because it contained a huge wad of crisp new bills–the payroll for the rescue team. As the continent passed below me in the perpetual sunset, I worried about all the things that might go wrong in this crazy adventure. I felt like a CIA agent.
The involuntary deprogramming in Pasadena was completely different from the one near San Francisco three years before. Carole was scared and defiant, so angry at us she barely spoke. She refused to eat, even her birthday cake.
Enid reassured her. “What you’ve been told about deprogramming is false. We won’t harm you. Your parents will be right here. As former Moonies, Mike and I have a lot of information to share with you. Ted was in Scientology; he’s going to tell you about brainwashing.”
“I’m not brainwashed. This is illegal. Let me go. I suppose these guys,” pointing to Muhammad and George, “are here to make friends.”
“They won’t harm you. They will make sure we aren’t interrupted while we discuss what we have to tell you.”
That night Carole slept in a room with her mother. When she used the adjacent bathroom, Marj watched to guard against self-harm or escape. Carole wept and prayed for strength from Father. Meanwhile Muhammad stretched his muscular frame across the stairs. George guarded the downstairs and the grounds from intruders. The following morning Carole and her three deprogrammers sat together in Enid’s comfortable living room. Marj and I read (if we could) on the pleasant patio; we could make out the Rose Bowl in the far distance. Muhammad and George lounged near the exits.
We could hear the even tone of conversation in the living room but not the words. Sometimes there was laughter but no screaming or crying. From time to time Mike or Enid emerged to give us a progress report. They were reviewing Lifton’s chapter on the essential characteristics of brainwashing (Lifton, 1961). They were discussing Moonie doctrine and practices. “But we don’t criticize Rev. Moon directly.”
As we ate dinner together, Carole broke her fast and finished with a piece of the birthday cake. Though serious and pensive, she became involved, seeming to realize that Enid, Mike, and Ted were genuine and that perhaps she could trust them even though they were wrong. We were cautioned that sometimes cultists at this stage feign cooperation in order to grasp an opportunity to escape when the rescue team is off its guard.
The next morning Marj reported that Carole had cried during the night.
“I was wrong. I’m a fool.”
She was especially perturbed by discrepancies Mike and Enid had pointed out to her in Moon doctrine; his divinity was perhaps questionable. As the discussion continued in the living room Carole decided she would resign from the Unification Church. Within 36 hours she had changed from zealot back to college girl. As she sat down to write her letter to the U. C., Marj and I were jubilant; our daughter had been rescued.
The repercussions of Carole’s rescue both for our daughter and for us continue to this day. For Carole the first major step after the successful rescue was to make sure she did not return to the Unification Church. The rescue team advised us that ex-cultists experience frightening flashbacks, called floating, after they have been deprogrammed. A reminder such as the thought of Church teaching about those who leave—terrible punishments, severe illness, satanic fire—trips a terrifying flashback. Hearing a casual dirty joke or drinking a glass of wine can return the ex-cultist to her former conscious state—guilt.
The rescue team took us and Carole to a local diner for a victory breakfast. There was much joking with waves of laughter. Suddenly Enid and Mike got up from our booth and rushed outside with Carole.
“She’s floating,” Ted explained. “It’s very common after a successful deprogramming. Something caused a flashback. Enid and Mike will help her to regain control.”
The three returned. Carole looked scared. But then she seemed to perk up. And we all returned to our hashed browns and wise cracks.
Enid recommended a farm for cult victims in Boise, Idaho. With Mike as chaperone Marj and I and Carole flew to Idaho. Mike, a small dark haired, personable young man who was studying social work, was good company. He told us something of his days as a mid-level U.C. administrator. Carole was shocked to hear about the hypocrisy and male chauvinism of Moonie leadership. Money, not doctrine, was what mattered. Her long dormant passion for feminism began to return.
In Boise, Mike left us, Marj, Carole and I moved into a big two story farm house with a large lot and swimming pool. A high wall discretely hid the lot from outside view. The manager, a retired minister, and his staff were warm and friendly but alert for intruders or unplanned departures by their guests. Food was ample . Guests could sleep late in the morning. One or more staff were always present during the day and chaperoned on scheduled excursions to the city. For two weeks Carole relaxed, rode horses, bought new clothes, went to a bar, drank a beer, danced, and played games with the three other guests. She was beginning to relearn the basics of adolescent life. The farm staff counseled her in individual and group settings. They encouraged intensive reading about cults and mind control in the center’s carefully selected library. Until we left, after the first week, we had time to become reacquainted with our daughter. A heart-warming experience.
Among the other guests one had been in the Way, another in Scientology, and a third had been a devotee of Hare Krishna. As trust and friendships developed each told about life in the cult. Carole was impressed with the similarities in recruiting, in deception, in mind altering methods, and in doctrines among cults. Each of these ex-cultists had been deeply wounded. For instance, “Harry Adams,” once a star lineman and honors student at Dartmouth, could not concentrate, could not make sense of the daily paper. His cognitive abilities had been addled by hours and hours every day of chanting his mantra, “om, om.” He and the others made evident progress while we were there. But floating and emotional outbursts were common.
One of the staff, I’ll call him “Adam Adonis,” guarded the only exit at bed time and chaperoned nights in town. He had been a high ranking official in the Canadian branch of the Unification Church for several years. He also shared his experiences. Adam, a tall handsome blond fellow in his late twenties, made a strong impression. He confessed that while his crew was fund-raising in the streets and bars of Toronto, secretly Adam snuck off to enjoy the good life—wine, filet mignon for lunch, and porno movies in the afternoon, all paid for courtesy of his missionaries. The lesson: Cults are corrupt and abusive. And even powerful adult men can be ensnared.
A week after our stay at the farm we drove to the airport to pick up our daughter. We were apprehensive. She had to change planes in Fort Worth. Would the Moonies find her? On her own for the first time, would she seize the chance to go back to her former group? To our relief, she was first to deplane.
For several weeks after she settled in, Moonie friends telephoned, urging her to rejoin the Church. Politely she declined. And she wrote the Moonie house in Los Angeles requesting the return of her personal possessions. Finally they complied.
Victories for independence regained.
The road back to normalcy was not easy for our daughter. For a year she lived again in her old room. At 24 she faced the usual developmental tasks of a late adolescent: Finding a vocation, finding a life partner, finding a philosophy of life, finding confidence and autonomy, and finding new social relationships. In addition to adapting to a world that she had left for five years, she had to cope with intense feelings. She was angry, angry at the Unification Church, angry at herself. And she was scared and vulnerable. She felt guilty about using heavenly deception, about the dollars she had conned from poor Latin Americans. As her parents, Marj and I represented a sensitive problem.
On the one hand, she felt ashamed because she had failed while on her own in California against our wishes. And now we were clearly apprehensive that she would regress; her occasional floating was terrifying to all of us. On the other hand, she craved full independence but realized she was not ready. We three had many intense discussions. As parents we tottered to find the balance between sensible protection, encouragement, and hands off. She relived her experiences by writing them down. And therapy little by little strengthened her. Good group counseling with social workers Linda and Bill Goldberg and individual sessions with clinical psychologist Margaret Singer helped immensely.
During that first year of her regained independence, Carole became a professional exit counselor. She became an articulate expert on the abuses of deception and coercive mind control. She was a dramatic example of how a normal well-balanced person could get ensnared by an abusive group. With Steve Hassan, Harry Adams, and others she learned how to help young women and men who had been trapped by a cult. Our home became a center for former cultists. She assembled her own library of counter cult material. And she flew off all over the country to rescue victims of abusive groups, She joined us at local and national counter cult meetings; she lectured at schools, colleges, and churches. She appeared on radio and television. She earned enough to buy a new wardrobe and small indulgences. She matured, learned how to speak to large groups, acquired increased confidence and authority.
One lovely spring Sunday, Carole, and Marj and I were driving home from Lancaster. We had made a presentation at a church. Carole had recalled in vivid language the story of her sudden transformation from butterfly to hustler
The nice kids at Berkeley had been so friendly, so concerned with ecology (her college major), that she was excited at the opportunity they offered her to visit their farm in Booneville, 60 miles north of San Francisco, just for the weekend. At the farm everybody was extremely friendly; they lavished her with praise and attention. One girl, Amy, was almost like a big sister. Amy stayed with her during the games, the singing, and the lectures that continued intensely from morning to late at night. At the end of the weekend, Carole agreed when Amy suggested she stay “a few more days.”
After a week, Carole announced that she needed to return to San Francisco. “Carole,” Amy accused her, “you’re selfish.” Carole, shaken, decided to stay “just a little more.” In two weeks of calculated and scripted pressure Carole heard not one word about Sun Myung Moon or the Unification Church. She did hear a great deal from long and tedious staff lectures and from Amy and her fellow campers about the importance of leading a pure life and about the evils of society. Because of the long hours and a bland diet she felt tired and fuzzy headed.
The Moonies encouraged her to meditate alone on a hillside. In her words, “After so many days of endless lectures, work, and scripted group meetings, always accompanied by at least one group member, being alone was like that moment you stop getting hit on the head with a hammer.” She broke down. She wept. See, the Moonies insisted, God is telling you to join us in our important work. She was overwhelmed with love for her fellow campers and with excitement at her new commitment. She would help to build a better world.
For several weeks she joined the camp staff in entertaining new “guests.” Then she was informed: Because of your exceptional qualities you have been chosen to go to Barrytown, New York for training as a missionary: Cheers, smiles, hugs all around. She had no idea what a Unification Church missionary did.
“”Had I known before my emotional breakdown that this camp was run by the Unification Church, “she explained to the congregation, “I would not have touched it with a ten foot pole.”
We drove away from Lancaster. I broke the silence.
“You were quite eloquent today, Carole.”
“Are you sure you did not know when you went to the farm in California that your conversion was scripted by the Moonies?”
“I wouldn’t have touched the Unification Church with a 10 foot pole!” She spoke emphatically.
“That’s deception in merchandising. Why don’t you sue?”
And Carole did sue.
After years of lawyers, judges, depositions, hearings, appeals, and counter suits, the Unification Church settled (Cf. Molko, et al, vs. Holy Spirit Association, 1989, as cited in Abraham Nievod’s summary, 1993, in contract and probate law of undue influence by totalistic groups.) Carole now has a pleasant stock portfolio to show for her five years as an unpaid missionary.
Besides the Moonie settlement and the gratification of helping other cult victims after her rescue, there were other positive consequences for Carole. She capitalized on opportunities to give back to the Latin American poor whom she had once scammed. When she resumed her higher education, she chose Spanish as one of her majors and to satisfy a living abroad requirement chose Mexico. After half a year living with a Mexican doctor and his family, she became quite fluent; when she graduated she earned a master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language. Several years after she married Colombian Santiago Ruiz, they moved with their two sons to a suburb of Bogotá. Together they collaborated in founding AGUA, a non governmental organization. AGUA’s mission was to help campesinos help themselves and to promote sound agricultural practices. In forwarding this enterprise, Carole capitalized on the skills in fund-raising and in leadership she had mastered in the Moonies. Of course, she abandoned deception in soliciting donors.
Also the healthy settlement from Moon helped Carole and her husband to devote seven years to these ventures.
The Ruizes have moved to Minnesota, where Carole has completed her doctorate. She is a research specialist for a national research institute and an adjunct associate professor at a local university. Her current professional concern is the education of Spanish speaking immigrant children. I think she has much more than compensated for the phony crucifixes she once palmed off on Latinas “for a donation.” Thus, some of Carole’s terrible experiences as a Moonie many years ago continue to contribute positively to her activities today.
Over the past three or four decades cultic groups, counter cult organizations, victims and their families, scholars of cultic behaviors, and supportive specialists have changed. One example of many, because of litigation and official inquiries some intense religious groups have modified their practices in recruitment and fund-raising, while deprogrammers (the term has come to imply “kidnapping”) have largely been replaced by exit consultants and rehabilitationists. As described by Kent and Szimhart (2002) and Giambalvo (1995), today parents such as Marj and I, if their loved one appears to be the victim of a controversial ideological group, can more easily find an experienced, ethical exit consultant who will gently and respectfully and without restraint encourage freedom of mind.
Dole, A. A. (2002). Senior papers. Haverford, PA: Infinity Press
Giambalvo, C. (1995). Exit counseling. A family intervention. Bonita Springs, Florida: American Family Foundation
Kent, S. A., & Szimhart, J. P. (2002) Exit counseling and the decline of deprogramming. Cultic Studies Review, 1(3), 241-291.
Lifton, R. J. (1961). Thought reform and the psychology of totalism. New York: Norton.
Nievod, A. (1993). Undue influence in contract and probate law. Cultic Studies Journal, 10(1), 1-18.