A San Diego man who specializes in deprogramming cult followers has admitted that he had tried to change the religious beliefs of an Amish woman.
Theodore Patrick Jr. of San Diego is being sought by police in the kidnaping of Elma Miller, who was taken from her parents’ home Oct. 31 and held for 20 days while Patrick tried to sway her away from a religious splinter group.
Patrick invented the term deprogramming and turned the controversial practice into a national movement in the early 1970s when parental complaints were on the rise over the activity of authoritarian Christian and Eastern-based sects.
In a telephone interview with the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel, Patrick admitted taking part in the attempted deprogramming. “I don’t know what they (police) are going to do,” Patrick said.
Miller, 32, and her 9-year-old daughter, Annie, had lived in her parents’ home since she left her husband earlier this year. On Nov. 19, Elma Miller escaped from a Mt. Vernon, Ill., farmhouse, telling police tales of being secreted from home to home in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.
Her estranged husband, Ezra Miller, 37, of rural LaGrange; her brother, Alvin Yoder, 34; and Middlebury restaurateurs Robert Miller, 47, and his wife, Sue Miller, 44, have been charged with conspiracy to commit criminal confinement and conspiracy to commit burglary. They are free after posting bond.
Charges may be filed against people in three states who allegedly hid Elma and Annie Miller in their homes, often keeping them in locked rooms, said LaGrange County Prosecutor Susan Glick.
Charges also may be brought against Patrick, who allegedly led daily sessions intended to bring Elma Miller back into the Amish church.
The deprogrammer wouldn’t comment on the roles those charged played in the abduction, but in general terms defended their actions.
“This man was legally married to her,” Patrick said. “He had a right to take her and talk to her. He had a right to get his family. He knew she was in imminent danger.”
Patrick said Elma Miller was abducted because she had joined a liberal Amish sect whose charismatic leader is considering allowing his followers to have phones and electricity. Rumors have circulated in the mainstream Amish community that the sect’s leader, Wilbur Eash, has supernatural powers.
Controversy is nothing new for Patrick, said Anson Shupe, a sociology professor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Ft. Wayne. Shupe has written numerous books on new religious movements.
Shupe worked with the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department to tentatively identify Patrick as the deprogrammer by matching the description of the man and his methods given by Elma Miller.
“Deprogramming an Amish may be a first,” Shupe said. “This is another bizarre story in his legend.”