New York -- The people arrested in Monday night's raid on a Brooklyn building were followers, police say, of a labor organizer turned cult leader who died last year, a man whose past is clouded by aliases, murky organizations and questionable claims.
Gerald William Doeden, known for much of his life as Eugenio Perente-Ramos, was the founder and leader of the National Labor Federation, a group that, according to cult experts and police, operated through a series of front organizations around the country. Some of the federation's front groups were based at 1107 Carroll St., the Crown Heights building where police arrested 28 people and seized weapons.
On his death last year, Perente-Ramos -- who was also, at times, known by the name Gino Perenti -- was hailed by his followers in a handbill as "America's most experienced and successful labor leader." He and his organizations held themselves up as important labor groups and revolutionaries, but neither labor leaders nor more prominent radicals knew of them.
"I've never heard of these guys," said Stanley Cohen, a lawyer whose clients range from East Village squatters to Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, the political leader of Hamas, the Palestinian political group.
The police and people who investigate cults contend that Perente-Ramos' many groups were, in fact, nothing more than cults posing as radical political organizations. Chip Berlet, who has written extensively on cults and is a senior analyst for Political Research Associates in Cambridge, Mass., which studies extremist groups, said that Perente-Ramos' groups sought out troubled young people, housed them in communal quarters, deprived them of sleep and convinced them that they were the true leftist underground. Others also questioned the group's legitimacy.
"He was a small-time operator who obviously got kicks out of controlling 40 to 100 people," said Janja A. Lalich, a California researcher who writes about cults and has studied Perente-Ramos' followers. "I don't think money was the big thing for him. Power was the big thing, power and sex."
In the 1970s and early 1980s, she said, female members of Perente-Ramos' organization were expected to sleep with him. She said the members were cut off from the outside world, and that Perente-Ramos would give hours-long lectures, beginning at 2 a.m.
In his later years, Perente-Ramos had a leg amputated and used a wheelchair, Ms. Lalich said.
Perente-Ramos adopted a partly Spanish surname, said he was of Mexican heritage and that he was born in Montana, in 1935. Cult researchers contend that he was not Hispanic, and that he was born in Minnesota, in 1935 or 1937.
Ruth Mikkelsen, who was married to Perente-Ramos from 1960 to 1962, said after his death that he had changed his name several times. She described him as mentally unstable. There seems to be agreement that in the 1960's, he worked as a disc jockey in San Francisco and ran a book store that sold Communist literature.
He often said he played a prominent role during the same period in the United Farm Workers, the union founded by Cesar Chavez, but Ms. Mikkelsen said those claims were greatly exaggerated. The farm workers union did not return telephone calls Tuesday.
In the early 1970s, he moved to Long Island and organized the Eastern Farm Workers Association, and in 1972, led the group in a strike against I. M. Young Co., a major potato processor.
After that strike, he largely receded from public view, but over the years he drew the attention of law enforcement. The Carroll Street building that was raided this week was also raided in 1984, by the FBI, which claimed it had evidence that the Provisional Party of Communists, led by Perente-Ramos, "planned a series of violent acts."
But police officials said Tuesday that none of the related groups was known to have a history of violence.