40 Years in America

Wendy Helander Abduction

Wendy Helander at her press conference

However, Andrew Wilson’s case paled in relation to furor over Wendy Helander, an eighteen-year-old Connecticut native who dropped out of school at the University of New Hampshire to join the church in late 1974.

About a month later, she was taken from Barrytown and subjected to deprogramming by Ted Patrick. Convinced that she could only win her freedom by agreeing with her captors, she agreed to sign an affidavit stating that she had been brainwashed by the church and in the event the church psychologically or physically "kidnapped" her back, she requested immediate action by the authorities to come and remove her from the "cult." Shortly afterwards, she escaped and returned to the church. A few days later, HSA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. received a writ of habeas corpus ordering the church to bring her to the Superior Court. The church contested the order, and the opposing side maintained that there was reason to believe that she was held against her will. Wendy hired her own lawyer who informed the court that she did not want to appear, fearing another kidnapping attempt.

The dispute went to trial on August 19, 1975. The Helander’s lawyers claimed that they would prove that the church had a hold over Wendy as certain "as a gun to her head" and proceeded to produce a succession of deprogrammed ex-members, all of whom had been affiliated for a short time and had been active in Ted Patrick’s movement. However, the star witness was Dr. John Clarke, a psychiatrist whose statements that Unification church members had absolutely no free will and had been reduced to "a state not unlike hypnosis" received prominent coverage in the Washington Post. The defense more than held its own, producing several church members who had escaped from Patrick. One testified that he tied her up and threatened to kill her. Another testified that he had been forced to sign a similar affidavit and was given Wendy’s as a guide. Still another recently escaped member testified that while being held at the Helander’s house, he had overheard Mrs. Helander say that she would not hesitate to have Wendy kidnapped and committed to a mental hospital. The defense’s star witness also was a psychologist who over objections played a tape recording of an interview with Wendy the night before. He pointed out signs of healthy interaction, and concluded that "she had a capability of exercising free will more than most people, including those in the courtroom." On September 23rd, the judge dismissed the case, stating in a fifteen-page comment that the petitioners had failed to establish that the respondents used "impermissible means...[or] techniques substantially different from those used by other religious organizations for purposes of converting or proselytizing."

The church had little time to savor this victory as on September 27th, a short-term member from California, recently deprogrammed, took to the media, announcing that she had been "thoroughly brainwashed." The next day, New Jersey State Insurance Commissioner James Sheeran, the father of three daughters in the church, held a press conference to charge that he had been assaulted by at least ten church members and knocked unconscious when he went to Barrytown to get his daughters. In response, the three Sheeran sisters and Barrytown director Joe Tully held a press conference on October 1st. Amid a circus-like atmosphere and with as many as a hundred news-people with cameras and sound equipment jammed into the church’s 71st Street center, Joe Tully maintained that Mr. Sheeran arrived at the training center at 4:40 a.m., having already been informed that his daughters were not there, entered the premises illegally, was "disruptive, violent and utterly unreasonable," persisted with "force and vulgarities," and "struck me repeatedly and bit me on the arm."

The charges and counter-charges were inconclusive but provided great theatre for New York tabloids, and Mr. Sheeran’s call for a congressional investigation of the church struck a responsive chord for some.

Public hostility and opposition to the movement began to affect some of its projects. The most prominent example in 1975 was the Fourth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences. The inaugural conference had been held at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 1972. It moved to Tokyo in 1973, London in 1974, and back to New York on November 27-30, 1975. The meeting increased dramatically in size compared with previous conferences, having four section chairmen, 12 committee chairmen, boards of International and American advisors, and some 360 participants from 53 countries, including a number of Nobel laureates. The previous deliberations and proceedings were highly regarded. Nevertheless, questions about the conference’s sponsorship surfaced during the summer and led to the withdrawal of two of four section chairmen as well as several committee chairs and advisors, all of whom were replaced. Some who withdrew did not want to lend "credibility to Rev. Moon and his organization." Some were "critical of the methods" understood to be "used by Moon’s Unification Church to proselytize and retain members."

Others opted out because of the movement’s alleged ties to the authoritarian regime in South Korea. Still others objected "to the financing of the conference with funds" said to derive "mainly from street selling by young members."

The Church responded to these threats in a variety of ways. In January, it created a "Committee to Combat Kidnappings." Its Public Affairs Department sent out letters and information packets, held press conferences, ran paid advertisements, sponsored service projects and public events, and retained legal counsel. There was some optimism that the church could go on the offensive. Still, after the extremely negative May 17th NBC documentary on the movement, Neil Salonen acknowledged that Rev. Moon’s "name has been hurt in America." After viewing the same NBC documentary, Rev. Moon admitted, "There may be some people in our movement making mistakes" but noted that all the blame was shifted onto him. In a later speech, he suggested that controversy would help the church "become famous faster." As he put it, "If the [village] dogs don’t bark, no one will come out to meet me." Nevertheless, in a speech entitled, "God’s Sorrow and Human Ignorance," he stated that he "may have to be jailed in America."

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