Shadowy Past: Gun Arrests Latest Event in Group's Secretive History

Newsday/November 17, 1996
By Robert E. Kessler

The secretive Brooklyn group at whose Carroll Street headquarters police found a cache of 49 firearms last week has a history of small-time fraud, attempts to infiltrate mainstream social action groups and grandiose claims to be at the forefront of an imminent revolution in the United States.

But the Provisional Party of Communists, as well as its onetime 40 front groups around the country, has never been considered other than a fringe cult, more harmful to its college-educated and professional members than to society, according to court records, federal reports, cult watchers, radical activists and law enforcement officials.

The FBI raided the same headquarters in 1984 acting on a tip that the group was about to launch an armed takeover of the government, but few weapons were found and no charges resulted. "They're all twelve years older and their guns have twelve more years of dust on them, but they still can't shoot them," said one law enforcement official who has investigated the group.

The 28 members who were initially rounded up on gun charges are believed to be the last remnants of a self-styled revolutionary underground that never had more than several hundred members and that was founded on Long Island in the early 1970s by a man who called himself Eugenio Parente-Ramos. Gun charges have been brought against only three.

The group's attorney, Thomas Sheehan, did not return several phone calls from Newsday.

Former followers say Parente-Ramos, who died last year in Brooklyn at the age of 59, adopted the minority sounding name, although he was actually born Gerald William Doeden in Minnesota of Norwegian parents.

Before showing up on Long Island, Parente-Ramos' previous "radical activities" in San Francisco in the late 1960s were considered so bizarre by other left-wing activists in the Bay area that they assumed he was a provocateur paid by law enforcement officials, according to radical activists there.

At one point while running The Little Red Bookstore in San Francisco, Parente-Ramos was said, by law enforcement officials, to have sent a notice in 1970 to various county officials in the name of an organization called LARGO, the Liberation Army Organization, announcing that armed guerrilla groups were about to attack public buildings. Parente-Ramos denied the accusation, and LARGO was never heard from again.

But on college campuses on Long Island and around the country in the early 1970s, Edward R. Murrow's CBS television documentary "Harvest of Shame" had generated outrage about the conditions of migrant farm workers.

This helped Parente-Ramos to enlist a small band of young, college-educated and professional people, initially on Long Island, ostensibly in a combination of social work and revolutionary activity under the name of the Provisional Party of Communists, according to former members.

A charismatic figure claiming ties to Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers of America, Parente-Ramos was active on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He recruited several members from a less militant group there called the Red Balloon to help migrants under the banner of a group known as the Eastern Farm Workers Association.

Other Parente-Ramos front groups were formed ostensibly to help migrant workers and domestic workers in Ohio, western Massachusetts and New Brunswick, N.J.

Parente-Ramos was able at first to attract a core of several hundred youthful idealists, in part, because his associates had taken over a Protestant group at the Riverside Church Center in Manhattan called the Committee on Voluntary Service and Action that put out a booklet titled Invest Yourself, according to critics of the group and former members. The booklet, which circulated widely on college campuses, listed charitable organizations in which socially concerned college students could become involved. Most of the 180 organizations listed were church-related social action groups, but among them were 40 that were fronts for the secretive Provisional Party.

The idea was that volunteers, once they had been screened and their dedication tested, would be told the group that they had joined to help farm workers or domestic workers was actually just the front for the secretive party, which planned to transform all of society, according to former members and cult experts.

Parente-Ramos was active on Long Island until 1973, mainly trying to organize migrants, when two incidents caused him to retreat to Brooklyn and set up the complex on Carroll Street in Crown Heights, former members said.

First, the Justice Department filed a civil suit against the Eastern Farm Workers alleging that in leading a strike against a Suffolk County potato grading plant, the organization was acting as a union, but had not filed the required reports under federal labor law.

Secondly, the Suffolk Police Department raided the organization's headquarters in Bellport, charging a Parente-Ramos associate with illegal possession of two handguns.

The civil suit was settled by a consent decree, and the gun charges were thrown out on the grounds that the search warrant the police used was obtained illegally.

But the incidents had a profound effect on Parente-Ramos' character. "They really convinced him that the world was out to get him," said one former member. He ordered the organization's core membership to retreat to a fortress-like headquarters in Brooklyn, far from the scene of organizing activity in Suffolk or other sites in the country.

In Brooklyn, the group increasingly became cult-like, using brainwashing to control its members, according to former members and critics.

Lookouts were posted around the clock, members were given little opportunity to sleep and spent much the day filing endless reports, and a small inner circle began to practice with weapons, according to former members.

Members also listened to endless lectures on revolutionary tactics by Parente-Ramos and it was understood that Parente-Ramos could sleep with the women in the group, according to the former members.

Parente-Ramos set up a complicated hierarchy within the group, with newly initiated members being called "viables," according to a 1984 FBI report. "Once elected to the status of viable, the individual is considered to be full-fledged, completely dedicated member of the organization," the FBI report says. "The individual can think only through the frame of reference and dogma of the organization and will never verbally or even internally question the policies or actions of the organization. No complaints are tolerated from the viable. All wordly possessions are assigned over to the organization . . . Constant pressure is placed on increasing commitment to the point where outside life and organization come into conflict."

The group's activities on Carroll Street eventually began to attract the attention of law enforcement officials.

In one complex case, seven members of the group, including four lawyers, were convicted of charges in 1987 brought by the Manhattan District Attorney relating to defrauding a woman of $7,800.

The woman, Mia Prior, a Manhasset heiress and great-granddaughter of the founder of National Cash Register, had fled the group after 10 years in a leadership role, writing Parente-Ramos in a letter, "I concluded that the way the organization was being run made any thought of revolution not only hopeless, but also scary." She could not be reached for comment.

But even the FBI concluded in a 1984 assessment that while it could be dangerous, much of the group's activities bordered on harmless fantasy.

Still, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes wants to make sure that the group is harmless.

Thirty of the party's members have been subpoenaed to appear in two weeks before a grand jury investigating the organization, according to Hynes' spokesman Pat Clark. Speaking of the weapons that were seized at the Carroll Street headquarters, Clark said, "We consider that a possible threat to public safety."

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