DEPROGRAMMING . The term deprogramming has been used since the 1970s to refer to a range of behaviors, all of which are aimed at convincing members of so-called new religious movements (NRMs) to leave such groups and return to more mainstream social and religious lifestyles. Such groups might be “cultic,” that is, communal and with high-demand authoritarian leadership, or they may simply hold unconventional beliefs and rituals. Definitions of cult have been extremely variable and inclusive, and the term has been used to refer to groups ranging from Old Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses to members of the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, the Seventh-day Adventist–derived Branch Davidians, and even Pentecostals.

Deprogramming is regarded by its advocates as a “liberating” process that frees NRM members from a presumed hypnotic state of involuntary servitude or “mind control” that has been previously “programmed” into them. Deprogramming (as a term and practice) began in 1971 as the ad hoc vigilante response of one man, Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt Patrick Jr., to the intense missionizing activities of the Children of God, a fundamentalist Christian sect that was later renamed The Family. Patrick was a civil rights activist and Special Representative for Community Relations under California governor Ronald Reagan. According to Patrick’s autobiographical Let Our Children Go! (1976), his teenage son and nephew met several missionaries of the Children of God and returned home noticeably and “mysteriously” disoriented. Patrick attended a meeting of the group and, by his account, found himself powerfully drawn to surrender his rationality and free will. Patrick claimed that he was contacted within a single week by fifty-two families who complained that their children had been similarly affected by the Children of God. Patrick developed a rough explanation of the “programming” (or conditioning) performed by that group. At the time, he had no knowledge of the post–Korean War coercive influence/brainwashing literature developed by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) propagandists and psychologists.

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