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Scientology’s 2012 in Review: Narconon Goes Into Withdrawal [UPDATED]

Stacy Dawn Murphy

Stacy Dawn Murphy

Happy Boxing Day! We’re still looking back at this amazing year for Scientology watchers, refreshing your memory about what got our attention in 2012.

We hope you have plenty to say as we look back at the stories that mattered in the past twelve months…

One of the most surprising things about 2012 was the way that Narconon’s meltdown kept stealing the spotlight from celebrity divorce and other crises for Scientology.

UPDATE: AND RIGHT ON TIME, THE STATE OF GEORGIA FINALLY WAKES UP. In a deceptively soft-pedaled piece, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that state regulators are planning to revoke Narconon Georgia’s license after yet another investigation into allegations that it is running an unlicensed residential program. Damning documents produced in the Patrick Desmond wrongful death lawsuit made it crystal clear that the Scientology drug rehab facility runs a housing unit even though it is not supposed to, and its own internal paperwork shows that its housing was plagued by drug use. The best part of the story is that Narconon has requested a hearing — we can only hope that it is an open event, and that the state will put on a devastating show based on what is clearly spelled out in Narconon’s own paperwork. First Quebec, now Georgia — Oklahoma, are you ready?

Back to our year in review…

In August and September in particular, Scientology’s drug rehab operation repeatedly took center stage as its deceptions and calamities became the stuff of nationwide news coverage.


Sadly, much of that momentum was owed to the July death of Stacy Dawn Murphy at Narconon’s flagship operation in Oklahoma. By August, outrage over her overdose death was reaching a boiling point.

Hers was the third death in only nine months at Narconon Arrowhead, which sparked multiple investigations on a local and state level into the facility. We launched an investigation of our own, and it yielded a couple of interesting results. After hinting that we had begun talking to a prominent former employee of the rehab center, we revealed that our source for information on Narconon Arrowhead’s shaky state certification was coming from none other than its former president, Lucas Catton. The former Narconon executive confirmed that there is almost no drug counseling going on at the rehab centers — instead, patients are getting “watered-down Scientology” training instead.

We also revealed a stunning bit of news that so far no one else has followed up: The president of the Scientology umbrella organization that oversees the supposedly “secular” Narconon operation has been a prisoner of the church’s ecclesiastical prison — “the Hole” — since at least 2007. If Narconon centers are, as its executive directors tirelessly insist, independent from Scientology, why has its organizational president not been seen in public in years? Where is Rena Weinberg?

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, another Narconon crisis produced shocking court documents and a rare view inside the deceptive way the drug rehab centers operate. In the lawsuit filed by the family of Patrick Desmond, who had died while an employee and former patient at Narconon Georgia, stunning testimony suggested that executive director Mary Rieser had intentionally deceived a Florida drug court in order to hide the center’s lack of state certification. Rieser’s conflicting testimony and the center’s delaying tactics earned it a rare “death penalty” decision from the judge in the case, and we’re still waiting to see how that plays out in the lawsuit. It was particularly gratifying, however, to see local media in Atlanta banding together to cover this story.

Local media in Oklahoma has also been all over the Narconon crisis, and in August, the deaths of Stacy Murphy, Hillary Holten, and Gabriel Graves went nationwide as NBC’s Rock Center produced a powerful segment about Narconon Arrowhead.

In September, there was another explosion of national interest in Scientology as Vanity Fair published Maureen Orth’s look back at “auditions” that were held by the church in 2004 to find Tom Cruise a new mate. British-Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi was selected for that process, and lived with Cruise from November 2004 to January 2005, when Cruise dumped her (through an intermediary). Coming so soon after the news of his divorce to Katie Holmes, the Cruise brand was taking a serious hit from a publication that is almost synonymous with the Hollywood establishment.

Also in August and September…

— Amy Scobee, John Brousseau, Mike Rinder, and others help us put together a comprehensive guide to all of the Scientology Sea Org officials who have spent time in the church’s bizarre office-prison, “the Hole,” since it was created in 2004.

A visit from Andreas Heldal-Lund leads to an unexpected visit to the New York org!

— Reality TV personality Mimi Faust gave us an exclusive interview about how, at 13, she was abandoned by her mother, who chose Scientology over her own family.

Jason Beghe was happy to leave a lawsuit with the church behind him.

— Tom Cruise’s daughter Isabella Cruise found herself facing a dilemma — follow her boyfriend into the Sea Org or cut off all ties with him.

We wrote about Keith Relkin, who for a time had acted as Scientology’s token gay guy in West Hollywood. After Relkin’s death, his e-mails and other documents showed that privately, he was exasperated by the church’s homophobia.

— Scientology is sued by two of its own private eyes, who were employed for 24 years to follow just one man. We’ll have more about this later.

— And finally, perhaps no story this year meant as much to us personally as breaking the news that Scientology had tried to get Marc and Claire Headley to spy for the church in order to forgive more than $43,000 in court fees. Instead, the Headleys told the church to go fish, emptied their savings, sold their van and the kids’ swing set, and came up with the money. They then created an online fundraising account, and our readers rapidly helped them raise the entire amount to make them whole.

We are still recovering from that display of the human spirit. Our natural cynicism may never recover.


Links of Note

Former Class IX auditor Caroline Letkeman has posted some wonderful old FBI documents regarding L. Ron Hubbard and the early years of Dianetics and Scientology. If you’re familiar with Russell Miller’s definitive biography of Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah, you’ll recognize some of them. But researcher Jeff Jacobsen pulled out the gem in the pile: a 1954 letter from Hubbard (well, from his Hubbard Association of Scientologists) to the Better Business Bureau. Obviously concerned about all the negative information about him floating around, especially since the nasty press over his divorce to his second wife, Sara Northrup, Hubbard attempts to snow the BBB with an accounting of Scientology’s early years that is pure fantasy. As Jacobsen pointed out at WWP, nearly every statement in this letter is the opposite to the truth. And such fun. We particularly loved the notion that Dianetics was published against Hubbard’s own judgment and with a title imposed on him for popularity’s sake. We really are having a hard time stopping the giggles over here in the bunker.

Also, our friends at Seattle Weekly, the Village Voice newspaper in that fair city, asked us to write a profile of one of Seattle’s favorite sons, Jason Terry, who now plays for the Boston Celtics. We went up to Beantown last month to meet Terry, and talked to people important in his life, like his irrepressible mother, Andrea Cheatham, and his college coach, Lute Olson. Our thanks to Weekly editor Mike Seely for the assignment.


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