Last week, a prominent local citizen of Frederick County, Maryland, assured one of our best sources that a majority on the county council had been convinced to vote no to putting a property known as Trout Run on the county’s list of historic places, which would have allowed the property’s owner, the Church of Scientology, to put a drug rehab clinic on it.
Weeks of negative press about the matter, as well as the efforts of many longtime opponents to Scientology’s drug rehab network, Narconon, had had its effect, and our source was assured that at least four council members had decided to vote against adding the property to the county’s historic list. “Maybe 5-2,” the person said, and added that even a vote of 6-1 was possible.
Yesterday afternoon, that 6 to 1 shellacking of Scientology actually came true, with many of our readers watching it happen live over the Internet.
There was much rejoicing at places like Facebook, where various groups have kept an eye on the impending battle. The Washington Post and New York Times, which each have provided excellent coverage on a complex local issue, more soberly reported the 6-1 vote.
But in all the euphoria over seeing Scientology denied, we’ve seen little to answer our own concerns about Scientology’s gambit in Maryland.
Because, honestly, this project makes no sense whatsoever. And when Scientology does something that makes no sense, you know there’s only one question to ask.
What in blazes does David Miscavige think he’s up to?
For a few years now, we’ve been reporting on the mess that Scientology’s drug rehab clinics have become. Long a reliable moneymaker for the church, Narconon only pretended not to be a part of Scientology when it came to recruiting new patients who might be nervous about the connection. At private church events, there was never any need to pretend that Scientology doesn’t run the rehab network and count on its expansion. And Scientology’s celebrities could always be counted on to repeat the mantra that Scientology was the “expert” on “getting people off drugs” through its Narconon centers.
But then everything went to shit. We’ve documented patient deaths in Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, and California, some more well known than others. The overdose death of Patrick Desmond while he was in illegal patient housing (yes, the housing itself was unlicensed) turned into a lawsuit which also revealed that the Narconon in Georgia was allegedly engaging in credit card fraud, and that its executive director had been caught lying to a judge about the very nature of the place. Meanwhile, three patient deaths in Oklahoma in only nine months caught the attention of the national press, and then suing Narconon centers around the country developed into a sort of cottage industry in the last two years as attorneys discovered that Narconon’s business model is steeped in deceit.
Not only had Narconon hid its connection to Scientology when it felt it needed to, but its essential pitch to prospective patients made it vulnerable to fraud lawsuits. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple: Narconon promises drug counseling delivered by medical professionals in a safe environment, but instead, it delivers Scientology training by recently dried out addicts, and in facilities rife with drug use.
When they’re pressed on the matter, the Scientologists (and they’re always Scientologists) who run Narconon centers will say that their program is “secular,” and is only tangentially related to Scientology. This is a dodge. Take the ashtray process, for example. One of the things you will find yourself doing, if you attend a Narconon clinic, is yelling at an ashtray, telling it to stand up and sit down. This has nothing to do with helping an addict understand his or her drug cravings or what to do about them. It is entirely an exercise in telling an ashtray what to do. Now, in Scientology, there is an identical process known as “Upper Indoctrination Training Routines.” Like other Scientology processes, it has been recorded faithfully in the set of nine booklets that make up the Narconon program.
Scientology wants you to believe that yelling at an ashtray in a Narconon is “secular,” as opposed to yelling at an ashtray in a Scientology church, which is “sacred,” we suppose.
You can see why a growing number of lawyers are salivating over the prospect of suing Narconon centers on behalf of clients who actually thought they were going to receive drug counseling. (And why did they think that? Well, because to this day that’s what they’re told they will receive by Narconon representatives. We’ve seen absolutely no effort by Narconon to change any of its procedures even as the lawsuits around the country continue to mount in number.)
By 2012, Narconon was in a world of hurt. The death of Stacy Dawn Murphy on July 19 that year at Narconon’s flagship facility in Oklahoma, the third patient death at the center in only nine months, roused the attention even of the national mainstream media. (Since then, Narconon Arrowhead, which had been built with a capacity of more than 200 beds, has suffered from all the attention, and our sources tell us that it’s barely hanging on.)
And then, Armageddon: Narconon’s problems were featured on NBC’s news magazine show, Rock Center. The date: April 5, 2013.
That same day, it was revealed that Scientology had made the first of two interesting moves, each of which cost it about $5 million.
In California, a wholly-owned Scientology entity known as Social Betterment Properties International (SBPI), which purchases land for Scientology fronts like Narconon, paid $5 million cash for the Larry Hagman estate in Ojai, California. Then, three days later, a process began in Frederick County, Maryland that would end up with SBPI spending a similar amount, $4.85 million, for a 40-acre parcel that included a deteriorating private fishing camp known as Trout Run. Each of the properties are in isolated locations not very far from major and important cities (Los Angeles and Washington DC).
Each also had connections to television, oddly enough, with the Hagman connection in Ojai, and Trout Run’s use as a stand-in for Camp David in episodes of The West Wing.
But the Trout Run property had a special set of problems. Although Scientology had paid a substantial amount of money, there was no guarantee that it would get to open a Narconon clinic on the property. The reasons are intriguing and complex, and we recommend that you take a look at the excellent breakdown written up by former county commissioner Kai Hagen.
As Hagen explains, despite Scientology’s ownership of the parcel (through SBPI), it could not use it for a Narconon unless the county council decided to put the property on the county’s list of historic places.
A local newspaper claimed that Scientology had the county over a barrel — the council, the newspaper argued, couldn’t consider the merits of Narconon or Scientology, and the council was restricted to determining whether Trout Run was “historic.” And since Herbert Hoover had once caught a fish there, it was hard to deny.
But Hagen demonstrated how wrong that notion was. The council didn’t have to determine if the property was historic. It only had to determine whether the property should be put on the list of historic places. There’s a difference. The county, for example, has been very stingy about putting places on the list, which currently consists of only ten properties. Also, it wasn’t improper, Hagen said, for the council to consider whether a drug rehab clinic should be the best use for a property that the county wanted preserved.
At yesterday’s meeting, the council members opposed to listing the property were extremely careful not to mention Narconon or Scientology. Councilman Jerry Donald, for example, said he wasn’t convinced that Trout Run was really so unique, and he listed numerous other locations in the county that were similar but weren’t on the historic places list. Three others also spoke up, and similarly said they were basing their ‘no’ vote strictly on Trout Run’s lack of historic character.
This was smart, and anticipates the prospect of a Scientology lawsuit against the county.
But is that where this is headed? We decided to ask the same person who had explained to us why Scientology was buying the Larry Hagman estate, and who tells us that understanding the mind of Scientology leader David Miscavige is the only way we’re going to understand what’s happening in Maryland.
Last October, David Miscavige made an announcement that proved his former spokesman, Mike Rinder, had correctly predicted what Scientology wanted to do with Larry Hagman’s estate.
With Narconons in trouble around the country, Rinder explained that Miscavige, instead of retreating, would “out-create” the problem. He announced that he was going to build a whole new set of Narconon facilities around the world, and that they would be “Ideal.”
Since 2003, Miscavige has been pushing for drab old Scientology “orgs” (the word for churches) to be replaced with gleaming “Ideal Orgs.” It’s been a great fundraising tool for him, and now Miscavige has gone a bit “Ideal” happy, with announcements that there will be Ideal Advanced Orgs, Ideal Missions, and even Ideal drug rehab clinics. The Hagman estate was held up as the crown jewel of these, and, as Rinder predicted, it would become a new kind of upscale clinic where celebrities could get special treatment as they dried out.
We asked Rinder why in the world Scientology would pay nearly $5 million for an isolated Maryland parcel that would need an extensive and expensive renovation, not to mention the legal fees and consultant fees it must be forking over in the zoning fight, and all for a tiny facility — beds for only 20 patients are listed in the detailed plans submitted by Scientology. There’s no way such a small number of patients could produce the revenue to justify such an expensive project.
“Tony, it’s all a PR move by David Miscavige,” Rinder told us. “When the flaps really started happening with Narconon in Oklahoma, Miscavige went out and said, we’re going to out-create this, and he purchased these properties for the equivalent of Ideal Orgs for Narconon. Really they’re for show. And so he can tell Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley and whoever else is left that we have the perfect place for you to bring your friends who have drug problems.”
Rinder also emphasized that everything is for show — but a particular kind of show. “Really it’s just to deflect criticism and so they can show it at an event. Everything they do now is for showing at one of Miscavige’s Nuremburg rally events,” he says, referring to the showy New Year’s Eve and other major events that Scientology puts on and that were featured pretty prominently in Alex Gibney’s recent HBO documentary, Going Clear.
“With Going Clear, with Narconon going down the crapper, Miscavige goes to Basel, Switzerland to pull the ribbon on a stupid little building?” Rinder says, referring to Miscavige’s most recent public appearance, to open another “Ideal Org,” this time in Basel. “The only reason that happened was so that he has something to show at the Maiden Voyage event in June,” Rinder adds. “It’s a joke. It’s a tiny city, and was never a big place for Scientology. It’s all PR, and it’s not PR for the external world. It’s PR for the internal Scientology public.
“So they’ll fork over $4.85 million for a place with a dozen beds for patients in the DC area just so he can say Narconon has a new Ideal location.”
And there’s no way Miscavige is about to give up, he adds.
“This is going to get challenged. They’ll bring in [longtime Scientology attorney] Eric Lieberman, or some super-specialist to find some way to legally challenge this. If I were a gambling man, I would lay my money on there being a legal challenge. They’ll comb through the statements made by the council members, and not just what they said in that vote meeting, looking to find a rationale to challenge it. Because it’s an insult — that’s how Miscavige will treat it, and he doesn’t take kindly to being insulted.”
Thanks for that insight, Mike. We’ll be interested to see if things suddenly get hot for those six county councilmembers who dared to go up against Scientology’s diminutive dictator.
And now, for you details junkies, here’s a cool interactive timeline put together by a friend of the Underground Bunker…
Check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour.
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, so we’re posting them at the Underground Bunker. We’ve created a dedicated page for them, and we hope you go through them all, then come back here and tell us your thoughts!
June 11: New York City (with Paulette Cooper) 5:30 to 7 pm. We’re keeping the venue on the down-low at this point. If you’re interested in coming to this unique event — Paulette in New York talking about Scientology where her story began — drop us a line so we get an idea how many are coming.
June 20: Chicago (with Christian Stolte) The Annoyance Theater, 5pm: This event is SOLD OUT.
June 22: Toronto (with Paulette Cooper) Toronto Public Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd, 7:30 pm, sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry-Canada
June 23: Toronto (with Paulette Cooper) The “Getting Clear” conference
June 28: Clearwater, Florida (with Paulette Cooper) Clearwater Public Library, 2 pm
July 12: Washington DC, Center for Inquiry (with Paulette Cooper)
Late July/Early August: ENGLAND
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 3, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield