By John T. Armour
I was a member of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) from July 1980 until January 1981. I affiliated with the group after meeting with a TFP sympathizer in my home state of California. As a member, I lived at “the TFP seat” in Mount Kisco, New York where I received the training and indoctrination that all members are given. I consider myself very fortunate to have been convinced by some good friends to separate from this group.
Looking back, I can now see that the TFP is a dangerous personality cult whose purpose is the glorification of its Brazilian founder, Dr. Plinio Corea de Olivera. Many highly idealistic and religiously motivated young men have been captivated by its persuasive program. The appeals to moral, dogmatic and liturgical tradition which are so refreshing in this age of turmoil are, in my opinion, simply a means to lure individuals into the cult.
During the period of training which I received, I was taught:
* Dr. Plinio will never die. When his mission on earth is fulfilled, he will walk into an earthly paradise and then ascend into heaven.
* Dr. Plinio’s mission is to defeat “the revolution,” the Communistic and/or demonic forces which are corrupting the human race. He is the “pilgrim of justice” sent by God for this purpose.
* Next to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dr. Plinio is most loved by God. Hence, St. Michael the Archangel is his own personal guardian angel.
* Dr. Plinio has the power to read a man’s soul in order to determine if he possesses “Tau,” the vocation and quality to fight the revolution. He is even supposed to be able to make this determination from viewing a photograph. “Tau” can be found only in males.
* Members of the TFP are required to pledge their allegiance to Dr. Plinio. They make a consecration of slavery to the Blessed Mother and to Dr. Plinio. So highly regarded is Dr. Plinio that we were encouraged to kiss one of his hats that had come into our possession. And we kept a special room set aside for him where we had a special bed raised on a platform above the floor.
When I first arrived at TFP headquarters in New York, the leaders convinced me that the group was not a cult. They asked me what I had heard about the group and, after correcting minor mistaken notions I had, and after I had assured myself that I was not getting into something I would later regret being a part of, I became a member. Right away, a man was assigned to watch over me, answer my questions and keep me from knowing too much until they were sure of me. He even told me what to write in my letter to my parents. Those of us whose parents did not agree with the TFP soon found ourselves referring to our mothers and fathers as the “fountain of my revolution” (FMR). The inference was that each of us had a trace of the revolution in him, and it had been obtained as a result of the corruption and leniency of our parents. We were convinced to reject and ignore any advice from them, to see this corruption in all our family members, and to treat them accordingly. In time, I grew to despise my family. On one occasion when I was being encouraged in this attitude, I told the leaders that I had caused my mother to cry when I had talked with her by telephone. The leaders actually laughed. But, at the same time, we were urged to convince our parents that they should be proud of us because we were clean-cut gentlemen who were doing God’s work.
It may seem odd that a group such as the TFP could attract and hold anyone’s confidence and loyalty. But the appeal of spirituality was very strong. We all knew that something was wrong both in the world and in the Church. Here was a dedicated group living an exemplary semi-monastic life, ostensibly formed to fight the decay we knew existed. And we were young and inexperienced. I was actually convinced that I was in the Blessed Mother’s special army.
The religious overtones were very heavy. We were encouraged to receive Holy Communion daily in the TFP Chapel. That it was distributed to us by a layman who was one of our own was done only out of supposed need. That need, of course, served to provide more evidence of the spread of the revolution. (A large number of hosts were consecrated three or four times a year by a visiting priest from Canada. He left them in our Chapel tabernacle.)
The converted mansion where about sixty of us lived was full of holy pictures, statues and other religious articles. We were required to pray all fifteen decades of the Rosary daily, and meditation was encouraged. Each evening, after dinner, instruction from Dr. Plinio was given to all. Most often, this instruction came via recordings; sometimes it was a printed message that was read. All messages were in the Portuguese language which was translated into English by one of the leaders.
We were led to believe that, if we left the TFP, Our Lady would chastise us because She did not want anyone to leave Her army. Many tales of terrible deaths suffered by those who left were recounted. We actually knew a Brazilian member who had been transferred to the United States, but who left the organization to get married. When he contracted a bone disease which killed him, many were pleased to learn that such justice had been delivered to a turncoat.
The atmosphere cultivated within this group is one which holds that the entire world is corrupt and only the TFP has escaped the corruption. Even traditional Catholics, such as Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers, are scorned—though never publicly.
Very few members ever attend Mass on Sundays, not because of any inability to locate a Tridentine Mass chapel, but because most do not want to go. A few do attend Mass at a nearby Byzantine Catholic Church. Members of the TFP derisively refer to faithful Catholics who do attend the Tridentine Mass as “trads.” I was mocked one Sunday for reading the Mass to myself out of a missal. TFP leaders even joke about “trad” priests saying on one occasion that they would like to have one kept in the basement to be brought out when needed.
The TFP members I knew do not believe that Pope John Paul II is a true Pope because, according to them, he has excommunicated himself by stating heresy. The group believes that the See is vacant. Neither of these attitudes, nor many other of the aforementioned attitudes will ever be stated in public, however. TFP members are very anxious to cultivate a favorable image, even among those they constantly denigrate.
It is my hope that no one will accept the TFP at face value. I believe the group to be a dangerous cult which does harm to those within its web, and to the Catholic Church which I thought I was serving while I was with it.