We’ve been really busy with an investigative story that we hope to uncork tomorrow. But in the meantime, we want to thank reader QBird, who took it upon herself to follow up on one of our recent stories.
You might remember our piece on Scientology claiming that it got $5.7 million from Google in the form of advertising grants. We first reported the story in 2014, but just recently it blew up again when it got picked up by other media. So on Thursday, we posted for the first time the audio recording of Scientology official Brandy Harrison talking about Google’s largesse at a Los Angeles “Ideal Org” fundraiser.
Brandy talked about other things as well. She quoted from a letter that a police chief in a small Minnesota town had written about the success he’d had with Scientology’s anti-drug campaign, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
“The Foundation for a Drug-Free World has put together one of the most comprehensive drug education programs in this country, and their commitment to drug education is clearly admirable,” wrote police chief Chad Loewen of Babbitt, Minnesota, a burg of about 1,500 people some 230 miles north of Minneapolis.
QBird, also a Minnesota resident, decided to call Chief Loewen and ask him if he realized that he was being used as an advertisement by the Church of Scientology as it tries to get donations from its members. But when she got him on the phone, instead they ended up chatting about what they had in common.
“We talked weather, fishing, his town, my town, where I work, how great our burgers are. He loves patty melts,” QBird says.
After finding out what a down-to-earth, pleasant guy Chief Loewen is, QBird then got to the point. She asked him if he realized he was being cited by Scientology as one of its success stories.
He told her that when our 2014 article came out, he received an e-mail from someone about the Foundation’s connection to Scientology. (“Was that you?” he asked QBird, but she said it wasn’t.) He looked up our article, and then learned about his letter being used in Brandy Harrison’s speech.
He was good enough to tell QBird the letter’s backstory.
“In 2014, the federal government awarded a $1.5 million grant to Minnesota toward drug education, and some of the money became available in Saint Louis County, where Babbitt is. He had three weeks to spend the money. He went online and found the Foundation for a Drug-Free World website. He didn’t know it was a front group for the Church of Scientology; it wasn’t stated anywhere on the website or in the literature,” QBird tells us. Loewen found that the quality of the materials were better than what the D.A.R.E. program puts out, and it looked like the kind of thing he needed to fight the serious problems of drug addiction in his community.
Even better, the packets of literature the Foundation offered were free — the city would only have to pay for shipping. So Chief Loewen ordered 56,000 of the packets, with shipping costing $7,000.
Loewen told QBird that he then received a call from Bob Adams, who said he was calling on behalf of the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, and that Loewen was going to be given a special award that would include being flown to Washington D.C.
Adams told Loewen that he was an NFL tight end who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots back in the 1970s. But he didn’t say that he was also a public relations man for the Church of Scientology.
Loewen didn’t learn about that connection until he received the plane tickets for him and his wife to fly to DC to receive his award.
“They said ‘Church of Scientology’ on them,” QBird says. She adds that it “perplexed” Loewen and his wife. Up to that point, they didn’t know that Scientology had anything to do with what was going on. “His wife Googled Scientology, and she did not like what she found. They were very concerned. Chief Loewen talked to his priest — he’s a devout Catholic. His priest told him that as long as they did not push any doctrine on him, it was OK to accept the gift and use the packets.”
And what a gift. Not only were he and his wife being flown to DC for placing such a big order of anti-drug literature, but he also got a chance to meet his US Senator, former SNL cutup Al Franken, at a “breakfast with Al” with other Minnesotans. Also, Loewen’s US representative, Rick Nolan, attended the ceremony. And Scientology supplied some serious eye candy in the form of actress Erika Christensen. “His picture with her hangs in his office,” QBird says.
That’s Loewen on the left and Rep. Rick Nolan in the middle, with Christensen, who thinks L. Ron Hubbard’s old taped lectures are “out of this universe!”
Besides the photo shoot, Loewen also got to experience a tour of the Scientology Org in Washington DC, and found it “big and beautiful” — but also empty.
So now, Loewen told QBird, he is well aware of the connection between the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and Scientology, and told her he will not “go to bat for them.”
“In fact, after the trip to DC he was contacted again by the church. They asked him if they could come up to Minnesota and film his lectures to the kids. He said no. He understands that they’ve used his letter and his acceptance speech in DC for their public relations,” she says. But he did write the letter, and it’s not something he can take back. It expressed how he felt about the materials from the Foundation, which he still believes are well done and useful in his fight against the scourge of drugs in his community. The booklets, although published by Scientology at its state-of-the-art printing facilities, say nothing about the Foundation’s connections to the church.
QBird said Chief Loewen was obviously deeply sincere about wanting to help his town with its drug problems, and she figured he wasn’t too happy about being used as a prop in Scientology’s fundraising. She asked him if he’d seen Going Clear yet, and he said he hadn’t. But he wanted to. We hope he does.
Yesterday, we sent an email to Chief Loewen, hoping to follow up on what he discussed with QBird. We’ll let you know what he says. And we want to give special thanks to QBird for following up on this story.
UPDATE: We talked to Chief Loewen today, who helped us correct a few details in this account, and gave us this quote to add:
“I don’t like publicity, good or bad. I just like the program and I think it’s helpful — it’s something I can use. I’m totally neutral in this. I’m not for or against them. I’m just a guy that uses the material. There are many reasons why I do this, and it’s not to go to bat for Scientology.”
UPDATE, JANUARY 14: Chief Loewen called to let us know that the city will not continue to teach the Scientology-backed Truth About Drugs classes. He also let us know that he had seen Alex Gibney’s documentary, Going Clear. “I didn’t know a lot of that stuff,” he told us.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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