Friday, March 30, 2012

NATLFED: feedback

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We are a wide but informal network of people. We have watched NATLFED for several years. Some of us are the families of NATLFED members. Others are former members of NATLFED. We are frightened for the current members who are our children, siblings, former friends, and coworkers. We see them as trapped and endangered.
You can reach us by sending e-mail to or by calling 800-398-0203. This new number replaces an old, disconnected number; we apologize for the inconvenience.
We would love to hear if you've had an experience, positive or negative, major or minor, with a NATLFED entity. Your call is confidential. Your e-mail is also confidential, though we would welcome your testimonial on our feedback page. If you do want to write a public testimonial, it will be anonymous unless you request otherwise.
Suggestions on improving this site are also welcome. Tell us how you found us!

I found your site interesting and well-done. My main complaint is that there is very little information about who YOU are. A reader has no way to know that you are not simply a different cult or special interest with an axe to grind, possibly a grudge against those you criticize. I suggest you add more accountability information to your site.

(Name witheld)
Webmaster: Absolutely correct. We have since added a mission statement to our Feedback page.

Thank you for your new Web Site. It is very informative and I appreciated the comprehensive library of articles on NATLFED.
I, too, got trapped in a "left-wing" political cult. I was in The O., a Minneapolis-based "underground" group, for ten years: we had arranged marriages, 18 hour workdays, useless "make-work," financial and sexual abuse, lies and secrecy -- the works. Of course, we did no actual political work, which is what I thought I was signing up for.
Before I got stuck in The O., I had been an activist for several years in the Bay Area: in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, in the women's movement, the co-ops and in rank and file unionism. During my years there I met many concerned and dedicated folks who became close friends and political allies.
I lost two of these friends to NATLFED. I never really understood what happened to them until after I left my group and learned about cults. All I knew was that one day they each up and left and I never heard from them again.
One was a bright and kind young man from the East Coast who loved music and introduced me to jazz and the beautiful singing of Phoebe Snow. He moved to Philadelphia and the last I heard of him he was totally immersed in the Eastern Farm Workers. The other friend was an immensely intelligent woman from the West Coast who had been one of my early political mentors when we worked together in a health clinic. She joined California Homemakers. I was interested in CHA briefly but I felt early on that something was wrong with them, though I couldn't pinpoint exactly what. It was just one of those gut feelings that I later failed to listen to when I joined The O.
I now know that so many of us got waylaid by these kinds of groups, and so much positive energy to improve people's lives has been lost as a result. The New Alliance Party, Lyndon LaRouche (in its early, "left" days), the African People's Socialist Party and Solidarity Committee and so many others have caused tremendous damage in the progressive community; yet this is still a very hidden issue. I know that in trying to talk about the abuses that occurred in my group I have sometimes been accused of red-baiting. But it is critical that we who have experienced this abuse name it for what it is: an abuse of power that has only served to derail people from making their desired contribution to society.
To keep quiet about these issues is like keeping the "family secret" in an abusive family. It helps no one but the abuser. So again, I'd like to thank those of you who've worked on this Web site for getting this information out in the public eye and keeping the conversation alive.

(Name witheld)

I found this site through doing a search on Gino's name. I had a dream about the organization last night, but until today I didn't know the Old Man was dead. I cried. He was a terrible man in so many ways, but there was a time in my life I would have died for him. Even in these dreams I am going back and arguing with him, I want him to admit something, but I'm not sure what...
One of the worst things about leaving, about ever having been there at all, is the sense of disconnection with your own past. There are people I lived with for years whose names I can't even remember, and yet they, better than anyone else in my life, might understand that I still dream of that place, and of Gino, years later. I was surprised to find out Harold was an escaped convict I guess, but towards the end I thought maybe he was too authentic even for NOC. So many of these newspaper stories have little inaccuracies, and sensationalize all the wrong things... It was only one room that was called the Cave, for one thing. Your background work on this site is excellent.
If I might be so brash as to say that people like Jeff Whitnack ("Gino Perente, NATLFED & the Provisional Party," The Public Eye, 1984) get this story all wrong. They get it wrong because they say too much about having done too little. Did Jeff Whitnack join the organization to find something to write about? One can't help but suspect... He misses out because for him it was all a sense of getting in over one's head. But for some of us, we couldn't wait to dive in deeper. We wanted, more than anything, that sense of implication.
I saw reference on this site to the fact that there was no violence at NOC and I want to say that isn't the case. People were beaten, one or two on a fairly regular basis. How long did this go on for? I don't know. At least a year to my knowledge. I think I say this to tell perhaps some of the entity people, current and present, who are thinking -- what harm done, all in all? Black eyes and broken ribs. Plenty of harm done. At NOC to fall into the inner circle (which was not the Central Committee but simply an assortment of people in Gino's favor) was to risk having that happen.
I can't believe now that it was so long ago, at work I still have to remind myself it's OK to go home, it's not required to stay up all night anymore. But I loved him, you know. Even when I knew he was a fraud, even after he made that clear. At the time I thought it wasn't dying I was afraid of, it was living like that for more years. Maybe. I don't know. I used to think that Gino wanted someone to kill him, that that was the only important way he could think of to die. I think that's what he wanted most. To be important. To be at the center of his own world.

(Name witheld)

I feel I should answer the previous testimonial regarding my writings on NATLFED.
I was only involved deeply in NATLFED for about 2-3 months. I freely admit that time frame doesn't give me the in-depth perspective of someone involved for years. If I had been involved for a much longer time then perhaps I might have been able to conduct a better investigation -- and write a better article.
On the other hand, it might have also taken me much longer to get it together on even a personal level before I would undertake any such effort.
It is sobering to think of the damage just this one cult has done to so many people for so many years. As respiratory therapists we calculate the effects of cigarette smoking as pack/years -- i.e., how many packs smoked for how many years(2 packs/day times 40 years equals 80 pack/years). To view the total effect of a cult, one might similarly count people and years spent in the cult. 600 people over the years for an average of 1.5 years would be 900 cult/years (this is just my estimate). A lot of damage done to a lot of really good people!
Please remember that I left this cult in a daze, frightened for my safety, not knowing even if the bizarre claims I had heard may be somewhat true. That seems to have been the standard way most people left.
A bizarre set of personal and historical circumstances led both to my being asked to write the Public Eye article ("Gino Perente, NATLFED & the Provisional Party,") and to my having a basis to start an investigation of Gerry Doeden's life. Does anyone remember one of Gino's wild claims that the original founders of NATLFED were at one time OSPAAL operatives involved in guerrilla warfare in Guatemala in the sixties? Well, I actually contacted via phone Blaze Bonpane, a Guatemalan priest who was in contact with the Guatemalan guerrillas during that time, to attempt to verify/refute this story. Of course he knew of no U.S. citizens so involved. But looking back it seems so bizarre that I even bothered.
I spent a lot of time and money before my investigation was able to center on the essential truth about this group: that it is (was) a cult group organized for the personal benefit of Gerry Doeden. Only then did things start to make sense. Most of my article wasn't about my experiences anyway, but more about the cult group itself.
Yes, I still remember the sense of excitement and intrigue this cult group used so cynically to ensnare myself and many others.
I remember the response of many established leftist groups and individuals to my attempts to unmask this group as a cult. Mostly, they seemed to care less about the individuals so trapped, and cared a great deal that no outwardly seeming leftist group be labeled a cult. NATLFED/Gino used that cowardly one-sided concern to help keep his cult operating without exposure.
In the past, one could understand NATLFED by understanding the motivation and personal dynamics of one Gerry Doeden. He was a man unable to live in the world unless encapsulated by an entire cult. In a way he was also a prisoner, albeit a privileged, dominant one. He is dead now, and the cult's leadership has apparently been taken over by Margaret Ribar. What's her angle? Does this have potential for an HBO movie starring Pamela Anderson as the new cult leader? Seriously, though, we need more input on her goals and motivations.
This Web Site is great! In Medford, Oregon, a while back the local paper ran an article on NATLFED after the Brooklyn raid ("Service Groups with Sinister Ties," 12/15?/96.) The article listed this Web site. Suddenly a reader could look over the totality of NATLFED, and now their attempts at low-level, mole-like secrecy only served to enhance their exposure.
Jeff Whitnack

I was searching on the net and came across this page. I am glad to see it, though I do think it is rather one-sided and could use a little perspective. As someone pointed out, the authors are not named and the only thing given is an e-mail address and an 800 number. For those of us who have been full time organizers with NATLFED -- and became if we stayed long rather paranoid -- this seems rather odd.
You may use my name, Robin Spellman; I am not ashamed or sorry for the time I spent organizing with Eastern Farm Workers Association in Wayne County-Upstate New York. I was the Operations Manager for thirteen years. I, like many who worked with NATLFED, were very dedicated to changing the conditions of low-income workers. We put our heart and soul into this. We did provide material benefit and in many cases did change some things in the areas we worked. I became burned out and rather disillusioned because there is such a great need and the things we did were like a drop in the bucket. I was also rather disillusioned by what I saw as a continuously growing, unresponsive bureaucracy on the upper levels. But this happens in many groups, organizations, and corporations. Our organizing drive was somewhat isolated from what was happening in the rest of NATLFED. We had very limited contact with NOC. To be honest, the drive was always permeated with dissatisfaction with national administration. We had a very active membership and I believe if you ask members (low-income workers) about the organization from 1986-1993, they would tell you that it did try to represent their interests and help them.
I suspected after the first couple of years that many of the things Gino and other claimed were, if not fabrications, gross exaggerations of the facts. But, this did not change the work that was going on. When I started working in Long Island, homeless were gotten shelter at 2 A.M., food was handed out weekly, TB screenings were done in camps, free medical and legal sessions were run weekly, and much more. The same can be said about our work in Wayne County. I will add that we were rather isolated in Wayne County and after 1981 I cannot from direct knowledge tell you anything of what went on elsewhere and, to tell you the truth, I didn't really care.
I decided to leave EFWA because I came to believe that a religious, one-to-one approach to problems was more effective than what I was doing. Being a Christian is what first motivated me to organize with EFWA -- I wanted to help people. But the religious orientation got lost somewhere along the line. I now believe that while material help is important and fighting for social justice is Christian and that both are scriptural, that without God's love and guidance it means very little. I found the National Labor Federation and Eastern Farm Workers Association arrogant, to put it lightly. I also found arrogant the idea that no one but those in the organization knew anything. So I left without telling anyone. At the time my nerves were frayed due to burnout and personal problems unrelated to EFWA and I did not wish to deal with the bullshit that I knew would come if I told someone I was going to leave. I wish now that I had had the guts to do it in person, though at the time I don't know if my nerves would have taken it. I found that the innuendoes that followed were hurtful and am still more than a little angry. I never did understand why some objected to cadre seeing family on a regular basis or were rotten to those who decided full-time was not for them. In most places of business or organizations they give you a good-bye party and keep in touch.
I in no way condone the lying, physical or mental abuse of persons, or stealing which your site alleges to have gone on at NOC. I fully believe that these things could have gone on. I would like to say that if I had known for sure that these things went on I would have done something or would have ended my participation. I can say that about the stealing and physical and mental abuse. But if I am to be completely honest I should have known about the lying and may have in some corner of my mind.
These things were wrong and no cause or social problem justifies them. But they do not make NATLFED a cult. If they do, some government offices and major corporations would also be cults. They are, however, plenty of reasons for someone to end their participation. I lost touch with my family in the beginning of my career with NATLFED. This was not because anyone from NATLFED encouraged it, but because at that time I was filled with a sense of mission and had no time for anything else. I now regret greatly that time and the pain I caused my family. Later, for the last nine years I was with NATLFED, I reestablished ties and remained in touch with them. I do not blame anyone but myself for these actions. Many young people do the same thing when leaving home in many other circumstances than participation in NATLFED. I am not denying that others were pressured to do this, and again there is no excuse for that type of behavior. But again, that does not make NATLFED a cult.
I know that many families of NATLFED cadre experienced great pain and I want to make clear that I do not minimize that in anyway. But it is easy, in those types of situations, to throw blame around and only see part of the story. Most of the cadre I have met were very intelligent. To portray them as people who were merely sucked in by a con man is insulting to me, and I think would be insulting to them also. Many of us had very sincere motives in what we were trying to do, and we endured things we knew to be wrong because we didn't see any other way of addressing the problems we saw. To draw a parallel, consider Louis Farrakhan. He is a fascist and is dangerous. Yet why does he have such a following? I would submit that he is one of the only people in the country who is willing to go into the housing projects in Chicago and other cities and actually start programs to help residents. Very few others are, and so for those who wanted to help housing-project residents, working with Louis Farrakhan is one of the only options they see. Does this mean they agree with him? Does this justify his politics? No. Something of the same is true with NATLFED. It is, in many areas, the only organization available to some of the most disenfranchised people in the nation. It has been the source of last help for many. So it attracts many who want to help. Does this justify the politics? Does it make lying, battery, and stealing right? No. But this parallel should point out that there are problems in this country that need to be addressed and nature abhors a vacuum -- and blanket generalizations.
I believe that many in NATLFED have lost sight of the fact that the mutual benefits associations were created as membership associations, and that the membership (low-income people) are supposed to own them. When organizations lose sight of their original goals and turn inward, they do turn into cults. The deception, abuse, and stealing are not justifiable. NATLFED is guilty of some of the same deception it accuses the government of. I think that to be credible you should try to avoid the same mistake.
As I wrote earlier, my beliefs have changed over the years. I have seen individual actions in everyday lives to be the most effective ways to change things positively for others. I went back to school, earned an engineering degree, and am now at a company that shows many of the values I believe in. If you find any ex-cadre who needs help in starting a new career, getting job training, or simply a listening ear, I would be glad to help; they can feel free to contact me by e-mail.
Robin Spellman

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