"Fixin' people! That's what we used to call it in Chattanooga. Put a mojo on that man! Gonna put a spell on you! Man, we seen all that! We experienced it!"
Ted Patrick, self-styled "Black Lightning" and king of the deprogrammers, is definitely getting down to it here, waiting for a cab on Connecticut Avenue.
Earlier, up in the Senate Caucus Room, he'd had to lay it out cool and straight to the congressmen and the cameras, talking about the Unification Church, the Children of God, the Divine Light Mission, the Scientologists and so on and so on:
"I have worked for eight years. I have rescued 1,600 people. I beg of you to do something to eliminate these cults, this conspiracy to turn the country into a totalitarian nation."
Now, it's a February afternoon, the cold and the glare smashing at all huddled under the awning outside Duke Zeibert's, waiting for Ted Patrick's lawyer. There's Goose the bodyguard, 6 feet 5 of frozen California corduroy, and Patrick himself, stoked with bluefish and Michelob, stomping and bobbing as he lays down the word.
"Man, you get that Neil Salonen, he's the president of the whole Unification Church, and I'll deprogram his a-- in front of the whole FBI, if they want it that way."
The problem, he says, is naivete: the college-educated ignorant, Patrick likes to call them. "That's how they get these kids into these cults, 'cause they don't know better! They haven't seen the hard-core life! Man, I grew up with my daddy running numbers and the bootlegger in the apartment downstairs."
Tenth Street, Poplar Street. Ted Patrick, 48, remembers. Boiling water on the wood stove for the once-a-week bath, and the neighbors buying hope by sending money off to Sweet Daddy Grace, Father Divine, those beautiful men with the eyes you could climb inside and go to sleep...
"Until a few years ago, this only went on in the black community. Now it's spread, because these kids are overprotected, they trust everybody. See, there's more ways of hypnosis than what they teach in the psychology labs. The mental energy comes out of the eyes and the fingertips, and all they need is your trust and they've got you."
Mojo! The fix!
Ted Patrick has done jail time in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Colorado. There's a warrant out for his arrest in Massachusetts. He recently claimed to have $60 million in lawsuits pending against him, $200,000 paid out in lawyers' fees, and to have saved 1,600 people, aged 13 to 81, from being programmed into "mindless robots" by the cults.
It all began July 4, 1971, when Ted Patrick's son came home late from the fireworks near San Diego, where Patrick was working as a community relations executive for Gov. Ronald Reagan -- having previously organized two large political clubs while driving a truck for General Dynamics.
"The first thing I noticed was his eyes," Patrick told a magazine interviewer recently. "The pupils were dilated and the first thing I thought about was drugs."'
As he told the congressmen yesterday, to shouts of "lies!" from an audience well stocked with Moonies (members of the Unification Church), "My deprogramming began after our son was caught in the Children of God.
"After talking with 52 people who had relatives or close friends with experiences with cults of this sort, I decided it was something different. I also decided to try it myself. I stayed four nights and three days with the Children of God. We had constant repetition of slogans, we had to memorize Bible verses before we ate breakfast. If I'd stayed a few more days I never would have left."
Since then, the son has stayed clear of cults. Patrick has been incurring both wrath and gratitude by abducting cult members and isolating them for days while he argues them out of their certainties. He calls it deprogramming. ("I do the snatching," says Goose, bearded with an earring. "I grab them and put them in the car. Then I sleep on the floor in front of their doors.")
He is reported to have charged up to $10,000 for a deprogramming, but that particular one involved "two or three people," he says.
"What I have to do is get the mind working again," Patrick told the congressional panel. "The most painful thing for these people to do is to think. Once you get a mind open, you've got something for them to compare their beliefs with. They start thinking."
At a back table, snug in the beefy, burnished bustle of Duke Zeibert's, Patrick confers with his lawyer while a recent deprogrammee named Joanie Ross, 27, talks about coming home to Stamford, Conn., to see her parents for Thanksgiving. For the last 5 1/2 years she'd been a disciple of the Divine Light Mission, headed by guru Maharaj Ji, once noted as the 13-year-old whom 40,000 people said was God.
"My parents said: 'We brought somebody to talk to you about the Divine Light Mission.' It was Ted.I was scared to death. I tried to meditate, to sing songs, I felt he was trying to take away everything I had. All he did was ask questions I couldn't answer," she says. She lights a cigarette. She is wearing a powder-blue angora sweater.
"He was with me for five days. He said, 'What if the guru asked you to kill yourself, would you do it?' I said -- do you believe this? -- I said I hoped I'd be devoted enough to do it.
"Then he asked me if I'd kill my parents. I knew I was supposed to say yes, but I knew that was wrong, too. Later on, I realized that no, I didn't believe 100 percent that guru Maharaj Ji was God. I really didn't."
What if that pudgy little guru strolled in this restaurant right now, she is asked, by a questioner who flashes a glance toward the door.
"I'd feel... a little uncomfortable," Joanie Ross says. She thinks about it. Her face says she doesn't want to but she does: She looks. He isn't there.
"I don't know who's in charge of this operation," she says, contentedly.
"Once I know, once I make up my mind to do something, I'm going to do it until, do it until victory -- I never have been a quitter," Patrick says.
"I learned better. For instance, I made cornbread better than anybody in the family. One day, I had to make cornbread, but I wanted to go out with my friends and I got jiving around till it was so late I made it bad, all burnt. My momma took a stick and she beat my a--, beat my a-- with a stick. She used to say:
"'Labor either large or small, do it well or not at all.'
"My father wouldn't raise his voice but my momma would slap me in church, she didn't wait till you got outside, no. She turn around and wham."
Patrick quit school in the 10th grade, "but if they're an example of education, I'm glad," he says, talking about four lawyers and clergymen who protested his deprogramming tactics at the Capitol Hill session.
He flexes and recoils in the cold, as if there were a warm spot somewhere to be wrestled into -- though ease is foreign to him, he'll admit. Even in sleep, consciousness is all. "I can be snoring, and I'm conscious of everything going on in the room. Last night, in the Quality Inn, I was conscious of that clock every second."
But then even mere talking is such an effort -- he overcame a speech impediment by pure will, after years of being hauled from one healing preacher to the next, "and there are still words I can't say right."
The mojo, the fix...
Of the lawyers and ministers who attacked his methods on the Hill a few hours ago, he says, "Man, you ask them a question and they go through Texas, 'round through Alabama, and up through Georgia before they come up with the answer, and it still doesn't make any sense."
But when he warns that a cultpowered cabal is plotting to overthrow the government, he must realize that his credibility is going to look a bit...
"I don't care!" Patrick announces, his joy snapping in the cold air like a flag, coming on so strong that even Goose is laughing now. "I don't care."