Inside Scientology's Rehab Racket
Sociologist Steven Kent told The Fix that he approached the F.B.I. a number of years ago with similar concerns about Scientology’s forced labor and re-education program, “but got nowhere.” He said that he’s skeptical about whether the current investigation will result in charges, especially if the allegations come only from adults. “But if the accusations of abuse come from young adults who report on their childhood and teen abuses, the agency is more likely to act,” he added. “If a number of current children defect and speak about criminal behaviors that adults forced upon them, then the chances are very good that the F.B.I. will take action.”
Critics also wonder if the I.R.S. will pursue the church for possible violation of its tax-exempt status via its involvement with practice management programs to dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians and other professionals—and, of course, with Narconon. Given these stakes, Narconon’s ability to raise money and convert addicts—to keep feeding the beast—has never been more critical to the survival of the church.
At its height, Narconon persuaded many of the nation’s most powerful school boards that it had a magic bullet to combat teen drug use. Supported by millions in tax-payer funding and donations from local businesses, Narconon’s traveling troupe of lecturers criss-crossed the country, reaching at least 1.5 million students a year. Though its educators sometimes won high marks for their ability to grab glassy-eyed students’ attention, Narconon educators, versed in L. Ron’s pseudoscience, flunked out when it came to the ABC's of actual drug facts. Over the decades, most US school districts have given Narconon the boot.
Yet the drug education program has managed to circumvent schools that have shunned the program, marketing their services to private and parochial schools that are less averse to Scientology dogma. Just as it targeted American Indians in its successful effort to build its flagship Narconon shop on tribal lands in Oklahoma, it now appears to have teens in poor urban and rural America in its cross-hairs. In 2009, the organization enlisted young hip-hop and rap artists to pitch its “drug free” message.
Still, Narconon’s growing list of survivors and other critics have their own message to convey. “Narconon’s a front-group for the Church of Scientology—another way to get new people into the system,” said Patty Pieniadz, the former executive director of a Narconon facility. “It’s a recipe for disaster and a scam.” As for David Love, he settled out of court his case alleging psychological harassment against his former employer on March 25, but Narconon has his four remaining lawsuits to contend with.” They threatened to harm me, to hunt me down and destroy me,” Love told The Fix. “I entered a Narconon for treatment for my addiction. I ended up in the hospital for post-traumatic stress.”
Mark Ebner is an award-winning journalist, a New York Times bestselling author, and a familiar presence in recovery circles. Walter Armstrong is the former Editor-in-Chief of Poz, and has worked as an editor for a variety of other health-related publications. He is now Deputy Editor of The Fix. Additional research and reporting by James Partridge