Lerma became an advocate for the revival of the practice of “deprogramming” that attempts to forcibly pressure members of religious movements to denounce their faith. Deprogramming often involves kidnapping, assault, holding the person against their will and subjecting them to food and sleep deprivation until they “break” and recant their religion.
The practice largely stopped after several criminal convictions of deprogrammers for kidnapping and multimillion-dollar judgments against deprogramming groups such as the Cult Awareness Network.
However, deprogramming fit neatly with Lerma’s penchant for violence.
In 2005, Lerma worked with deprogrammer to deprogram a staff member from the Church of Scientology in San Francisco. At the time, Lerma was associating with another deprogrammer, Hana Whitfield, a South African woman who had conspired to murder her own father, then fled to the United States.
Viewing himself in the role of the priest in the movie The Exorcist, Lerma refused to let the young man being deprogrammed go and put him through several days of intense abuse in an effort to force him to “shake off that evil.”
“The excitement was intense and I enjoyed playing the part of Father Flanagan,” Lerma later wrote after the young man had cracked from days of badgering and harassment.
Lerma continued to “deprogram” Scientologists for many years. In the end, as with all those who hate, Lerma’s self-generated loathing imploded on him.