Escapee's Tale of Seduction, Peril

The New York Daily News/November 13, 1996
By Michael Daly

Word of the raid in Brooklyn reached Jeff Whitnack at his home in California, and he was reminded how lucky he was to have escaped a cult that sells revolution the way other cults sell salvation.

In its extreme moments, this cult kept reality at bay with threats, beatings, imprisonment and "trials" where the death penalty is intimated.

The group calls itself the Provisional Party of Communists and, by the 43-year-old Whitnack's account, it operates myriad front organizations with innocent, idealistic names, like Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals. He says it conceals its true nature until the newcomer is drawn in. It is able to present such an innocent public face that for a time Brooklyn Tech gave students credit for working with its offshoots. A number of colleges are said to offer similar credits to this day. Its favorite recruiting grounds are believed to include Rutgers University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The group was founded by a former advertising salesman and disc jockey named Gerald Doeden, who called himself Gino Perente-Ramos. Whitnack joined it briefly back in the early 1980s, and he remembers being bombarded by tapes filled with talk of links to the Sandinistas and a branch office in Havana.

"It was a whole lore of secrecy," Whitnack says.

He was one of the fortunate ones who perceived this talk to be as loony as indeed it was. He fled after a few months and became what he calls "a Capt. Ahab," following the group's evolution and warning others of its dangers. He could understand how so many stayed, for Perente-Ramos was nothing if not persuasive.

"It's like this overwhelming current that sucks you in," Whitnack says. "His friend said he could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo and charge him 30% extra for being so far north. A lot of really good people got deflected into this for years."

To the faithful, Perente-Ramos promised a revolution that would see the group's iron force transform society for the benefit of the "unrecognized worker." He went so far as to set a particular time and date the upheaval would occur, February 1984.

"People would talk about the deadline seriously," Whitnack says. "They'd say, 'We'll be in power in so many months.'"

Two days before the big moment, the FBI raided the group's headquarters on Carroll St. in Brooklyn. The agents carted out mounds of documents, including a map of where the group's arsenal was hidden. The agents did not recover any guns.

"I heard the guns were there, but the FBI didn't find them," Whitnack says.

Whitnack believes Perente-Ramos never intended to use the guns, that they were real enough, but simply "stage props" to further the revolution fantasy. Whitnack also suggests that the raid gave Perente-Ramos a handy excuse why the upheaval did not occur on schedule. He said the raid was a "pre-emptive strike."

"It actually seemed to serve [Perente-Ramos'] purpose to have a raid: 'Why didn't we have a revolution?' 'We got attacked.' " Whitnack says. "At a time when it may have been dying out, the raid breathed new life into it."

The fantasy continued, as did the seeming true purpose, the aggrandizement of its conjurer, the group's leader. "It's like an ant colony," Whitnack says.

Perente-Ramos ruled on, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes even as his lungs grew so weak he needed an oxygen bottle. He died in March 1995, and a West Coast woman became his anointed successor.

Whitnack continued as Ahab, joined by other escapees and by parents of those who had fallen in the group's thrall. He heard of a Brooklyn high school student who sought a community service credit working with one of the front organizations and all but vanished for three years before escaping. He heard of beatings, imprisonments, tribunals. He heard that female members were warned that the streets around the Brooklyn headquarters were dangerous and they should never venture out alone.

The result was that the members remained sealed in fantasy, perhaps even after the FBI and police raided their headquarters Monday night. Years of hitting crackhouses have made the cops more proficient at finding stashes, and this time they found an arsenal behind a false wall in a closet.

Afterward, the members stood handcuffed, scruffy, bleak- eyed, looking like they had stumbled from a time machine. The guns were carted away, and when word reached Jeff Whitnack, he could only hope that this time a raid would not prove to be just a way to keep those less lucky than himself in a spell spun a quarter century ago.

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