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Group Raided By FBI Called Harmless Cult

This story was reported by Frances A. McMorris, Ray Finger, Sarah Pollock and Neill S. Rosenfeld and was written by Rosenfeld.
Newsday, 2/19/84

New York--The organization whose offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan were raided by the federal Joint Terrorist Task Force Friday night is a harmless cult and not a revolutionary terrorist organization, according to a California man who says he used to belong to the group.

No arrests were made in the raids on three sites that FBI agents said were linked to the organization, the Provisional Party of Communists. However, task force agents were believed to have taken papers from the three locations, two in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. The FBI, in a prepared statement Friday night, said the raids were "based on information received by the FBI in August, 1983, which alleges that the Provisional Party of Communists had planned a series of violent acts to be committed within the United States."

It said the FBI's goal was to "interdict a terrorist action prior to violence and destruction of property." All records, including the search warrant, were sealed.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that the group was a cult, but maintained that there was a real fear of terrorist activities. "We would not have interdicted here unless there were sufficient grounds approved by FBI headquarters, the Justice Department, the Eastern District [U. S. attorney's office] and the New York Police Department," once source said.

But the former cult member, Jeff Whitnack, discounted the threat. "They're about as Commie as the Moonies are Christian," he said in a phone interview. Whitnack, now a respiratory therapist, said he was drawn into the group in February, 1981, and belonged to it for three months before fear drove him away. He say that while it may be threatening to members, it poses no threat to society.

"Only the FBI would be stupid enough to be taken in by the claims of a cult organization . . . a group of pathetic people," said Chip Berlet, editor of Public Eye magazine, a journal of social and political issues concerning repression in America. The magazine is carrying a lengthy story on the cult by Whitnack in its next issue.

Berlet said the core organization was surrounded by dozens of community-based organizations involving hundreds of volunteers who are unaware of the cult at the core. Many of the groups provide legitimate health, legal and food services to poor people, he said. Among those he and Whitnack listed are several on Long Island, including the Eastern Farm Workers in Bellport, which has long been active in migrant workers rights. A man who answered the phone at its office, identifying himself as Tom Kessler, refused to comment.

Other Long Island groups aligned with the cult, according to Berlet and Whitnack, are the Long Island Alternative Press in Smithtown; the Long Island Equal Justice Association, the Riverhead Community Service Center, the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals and the Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners--all in Riverhead; and the Citizens for Migrant Workers in Northport.

Whitnak and Berlet say the leader of the cult organization is Eugenio Perente-Ramos.

Perente was reached yesterday and said that during the raid he suffered four compound fractures on his right leg, which was in a makeshift cast.

"The raid was preposterous," he said, adding that he had no idea why authorities might have staged the raid. Asked about the Provisional Party of Communists, which Berlet said had no affiliation with the Communist Party, he said, "I never heard of it before, unless it's something new." He was questioned before information about the cult surfaced and could not be reached afterward.