By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 12, 2005
W. Mark Felt and Joan Felt are like many fathers and daughters. Their roles have been reversed by time. The 61-year-old daughter now takes care of the 91-year-old father as his health falters, his twilight deepens.
They have found familial common ground and emotional space together. A former home health aide for the elder Felt describes how he would light up with a smile while talking to his doting daughter. A friend and university colleague of the younger Felt describes how she would scramble to make sure her father had the proper care.
But as fathers and daughters are wont to be, they were estranged once upon a time, and a study in extreme contrast.
He was the FBI man, the company man hunting down and spying on radical or countercultural movements of the kind that attracted his free-spirited daughter. She lived in a commune back in the 1970s, and her father disapprovingly told her she reminded him of the radical activists his agency was chasing, according to the Vanity Fair article that revealed her father as Deep Throat.
One can easily imagine each being embarrassed by the other, so different were they then. The establishment father. The hippie daughter. And even more striking contrasts have emerged since Joan Felt became a public figure through her father's unmasking.
But who is Joan Felt? And where was she while her father was skulking in a Rosslyn parking garage confirming hunches about the Watergate scandal? Much remains unknown about this woman who has been catapulted into the national limelight at the center of the most riveting of political mysteries.
Some of what is known adds to the mystery: Joan Felt is a devotee of an unusual and controversial self-proclaimed guru who, in two California lawsuits and several public statements 20 years ago, was accused of sexual abuse, slavery, false imprisonment, assault and brainwashing that was said to include persuading people to give him all their money.
Asked about the guru today, Joan Felt says, "None of this has anything to do with the Deep Throat story." She won't talk about the guru's group, known as Adidam as well as the Johannic Daist Communion. Nor would she discuss the length and scope of her role within it. Earlier this month, when asked about it in a brief encounter outside her house, she said Adidam was like Buddhism.
Her name and home phone number are listed on the Internet as a contact for an Adidam Study Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., where she lives with her father and sons. Whether Joan Felt ever lived at any of Adidam's many communal households and sanctuaries throughout California and elsewhere is unknown.
Adidam is named for its leader, known variously as Adi Da Samraj, Bubba Free John and Da Love-Ananda, among several other names. He was born Franklin Albert Jones in New York in 1939 and founded the religion in 1972 in Los Angeles, according to news accounts of his life.
Since 1982, Adi Da has lived with several wives and his closest followers on the tiny Fiji island of Naitouba, according to defectors as well as news articles. He bought the island for $2.1 million from actor Raymond Burr, say news reports of that era.
The lawsuits and threatened suits that dogged the group in the mid-1980s were settled with payments and confidentiality agreements, says a California lawyer, Ford Greene, who handled three such cases.
The heart of the practice of Adidam is "the devotional and spiritual relationship with Adi Da Samraj," says an Adidam Web site, and "to bring one's life and body-mind into greater balance." Its purpose is "to transform every moment in life -- whether one is eating, sexing, meditating, doing business or whatever -- into Divine Communion."
It is unclear how many devotees Adidam has, though some sources estimate a few thousand. Adidam study groups and bookstores can be found in major cities around the country, including one in Bethesda, where several phone calls went unanswered and where no one could be found yesterday. Messages left at Adidam's main ashram in Fiji, as well as its main stateside sanctuary in Middletown, Calif., and an office in San Rafael, Calif., were not returned.
Steve Hassan, a licensed mental health counselor and a Boston-based cult expert for nearly 30 years, says Adidam fits the classic cult model. "I have counseled victims of this man," says Hassan, " . . . a couple dozen over 20-plus years," including as recently as 2002.
Felt finds the questions about Adidam troubling. Her pleasant disposition turns testy when she is pressed to discuss past allegations against the guru.
"That's all way far in the past," she says by telephone. "This is 20 years ago, 20 years ago, that you're digging up stuff."
She would like us to focus, instead, on 30 years ago -- on the Deep Throat story. She has three sons, and the youngest, Nick Jones, 23, is in law school. There are bills to pay and she has been quoted as saying she hopes the story will make some money for her family.
But neither she nor her family nor their lawyer, John O'Connor -- the author of the Vanity Fair article -- will discuss any aspect of the family's background or the Deep Throat secret.
Joan Felt and her younger brother, William Mark Felt Jr., now 57, were born as their father's career was taking him to FBI field offices all over the United States, from the District to Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas.
By the time he returned to headquarters and settled down with his wife, Audrey, on Wynford Road in Fairfax to begin his ascent up the FBI ladder, daughter Joan was off to college.
She received her bachelor's degree in Spanish at Stanford University in 1965, then took off as a Fulbright Scholar in Chile. She extended her Chilean stay from one to two years with a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
During those years, Felt studied theater and performed in stage productions at the University of Chile, as well as six television programs.
Back at Stanford, Felt earned her master's degree in Spanish in 1970, then taught at the University of California at Santa Cruz until 1972, according to her current boss, Suzanne Toczyski, chair of modern languages and literature at Sonoma State University. Felt has taught Spanish there for 13 years, as well as an occasional world literature course. She incorporates song and music, including her own guitar playing, in her teaching technique.
Since 1990, she has also taught Spanish at Santa Rosa Junior College. Periodically, she also teaches high school students and social workers.
Her friends at Sonoma State know Felt as a diligent, admired, well-respected and organized lecturer. Because she does not have a PhD in her field, she cannot be on a tenure track.
An avid reader, she shares her literary discoveries and impressions with colleagues. She gave "The Secret Life of Bees" (a novel about a girl who believes she killed her own mother) to the department's administrative assistant, Dolores Bainter, and urged her to pass it along when she'd read it.
Her colleagues also know her as health-conscious, a vegetarian who prepares grand salads and often brings them in for lunch. She even requires that her wine be organic, recalls Elizabeth Martinez, a good friend and chair of the Chicano and Latino Studies Department at Sonoma State.
For her three sons, says Martinez, Felt likes to cook and celebrate their birthdays with special dishes.
As for Felt's past as a commune dweller, revealed in the Vanity Fair article -- well, that was something new to her colleagues. Toczyski called it an "Oh" moment, a "surprising" thing to learn.
But Martinez, who also did not know, says, "I'll tell you the truth: All of the longtime professors, they've all been counterculture or hippie-connected from years ago."
Little is publicly known about Felt's life between 1972 and 1990. Whether she has been married or is divorced is not clear. In addition to Nick Jones, the law student, she has two other sons: Rob Jones, 27; and Will Felt, 31, a musician.
While at the commune, the 1974 birth of her eldest son was recorded for a documentary called "The Birth of Ludi." The purpose of the documentary is unknown. The episode was described in the Vanity Fair article.
It also described Felt's parents visiting her and finding her sitting naked in the sun while breastfeeding her baby.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, when Mark Felt was at the FBI and lived with his wife in Fairfax, he was very much immersed in the status of high government service; and very much immersed in Watergate, as was much of official Washington.
People from Wynford Drive later speculated on whether Felt was Deep Throat. When asked, he denied it.
He and Audrey are remembered mostly as fixtures at the annual Kentucky Derby parties thrown by a neighbor with Louisville roots. The partygoers would watch the race on TV and drink mint juleps.
Before each party, the Felts sent a bouquet to the hosts. And even after his wife died in 1984, says neighbor Christine Pike Dean, Felt continued to send the bouquets, still signed from Mark and Audrey.
Loraine True, another neighbor, recalls that Joan Felt, the daughter from out of town, attended one of the Derby parties. She was memorable for her beautiful red large-brimmed hat, her slim frame and pale complexion.
Linda Cohen, a niece of the couple who threw the Derby parties, says she remembers Audrey had been upset by Joan's refusal to accept the family silver, thus breaking a family tradition.
Joan, to these neighbors, was "sort of bohemian," says Cohen. "Mark and Audrey had concerns about the daughter. She was quite different, but the son was quite normal and quite reliable."
The son, William Mark Felt Jr., was in the Air Force, where he retired in 1990 as a lieutenant colonel. Efforts to contact him for this article were fruitless. He has remained mum throughout the tumult surrounding his father's revelation.
Mark Felt Sr. ultimately retired and moved to Santa Rosa in 1990, where he and Joan took up residence on Redford Place in a quiet middle-class neighborhood that in recent weeks has become perhaps the best known cookie-cutter subdivision in the nation.
There, he lives in a garage renovated as residential quarters. Because he uses a walker, this ground-level arrangement makes it easier for him to enter the house without navigating stairs, says a former home health aide, Atama Batisaresare.
A former Fijian army corporal and U.N. peacekeeper in global hot spots, Batisaresare worked for the Felts for nine months beginning in December 2001, after Mark Felt's stroke that year. He said he left for a different position. He now cares for an elderly man near Petaluma, a town just south of Santa Rosa.
Batisaresare spoke fondly of the Felts, saying of Mark Felt, "Oh, I love him" and "He's a good guy, that guy."
O'Connor, the Felt family lawyer, asked Batisaresare to sign a confidentiality agreement that would prevent him from speaking about the Felt family. But it remained unsigned when Batisaresare showed the letter to this reporter several days ago. He said he didn't think he would sign it.
The May 19, 2005, letter, on stationery from O'Connor's San Francisco law firm -- Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin -- explained that Batisaresare could earn up to $1,000 if he participated in a Felt book or film project for which Felt was paid $20,000 or more.
Both Batisaresare and Felt's current home health aide are Fijian. But Batisaresare said he had never heard of Adidam. He said he got the Felt job after being referred through another Fijian contact in California.
"All I know is that when I went to work there that Joan said that her religious leader is from Fiji," Batisaresare said.
Though his tenure with the Felts was relatively brief, Batisaresare did what many home health aides do: He kept a log of important or memorable events and dates. It recounts the three occasions when Mark Felt fell inside the house and had to be taken to the hospital. It recounts interesting phrases he would use.
Caring for Felt was like caring for a lecturer, Batisaresare says.
"These are all the vocabs he would say," Batisaresare says, showing a listing of words like "conscientious" and "iconoclastic."
"He's very smart in vocabs."
Batisaresare says Felt often talked about loyalty. He never talked about being Deep Throat or Watergate, but loyalty and duty were themes to which he often returned.
Batisaresare believed the things Felt said should be remembered. Using his own pronunciation of Joan, he says, "I told Joans once, 'Joans, you should give me a tape [recorder].' " He recalls her thinking it was a good idea and saying, " 'Okay, one day I'll bring it.' " But it must have slipped her mind. And Batisaresare could write down only so much.
"When he's on, he's a very intelligent person," says Batisaresare.
But sometimes, on their daily drives, a familiar street would be totally unfamiliar to Felt.
"He'd say, 'Oh, this seems a new road to me,' " Batisaresare recalls.
And sometimes, when he'd tell Felt that Joan was not in the house, Felt would forget and "try to go upstairs to find her," saying, " 'Where is Joan?' "
Washington Post staff writer Tommy Nguyen and special correspondents Chris Richards in Washington and Jim Dignan in San Francisco contributed to this report.