Narconon at Trout Run: “People of the Lie”

Social Betterment Properties International, a subsidiary of the Church of Scientology, has purchased part of the property long known as Trout Run for Narconon, also a subsidiary of Scientology. Narconon wants to operate a drug rehabilitation program on this property, even though the property is zoned “Resource Conservation,” where, under normal circumstances, that use is not allowed.

HPClogocolor280wBut there’s a little glitch in the zoning regulations, that will allow this use if the property is deemed historic and placed on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places. (This glitch should be seriously examined after the dust settles from this issue.) So, Narconon has applied for this designation and has passed the first hurdles. The Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission unanimously agreed that, to some degree, the property meets at least some of the county’s criteria to be placed on the short list of registered properties.

Now it’s up to the county council to make the final decision about placing the property on the register…or not.

There’s no question that people in our area and many other areas have drug addiction problems. The heroin epidemic has taken a terrible toll. Just in the Thurmont area, heroin use has affected many families that I personally know and has taken the lives of people that I’ve known. Certainly, we need to find some better solutions to this insidious problem.

There are a number of reasons, however, that a Narconon facility in our area should not part of the solution and its application should be turned down.

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First, I believe that a good case can be made that the Trout Run property isn’t historically significant for Frederick County, and should not be only the eleventh property put on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

There is no mention of Trout Run in any files of the Frederick County Historical Society. This facility was created in and around 1929, or later. It was not a part of the early formation of Frederick County. No well known Frederick County figure lived there, such as Thomas Johnson, John Hanson or Francis Scott Key. This property has not contributed in any significant way to the economy of Frederick County. It was not constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, as the nearby camps Misty Mount and Greentop were.

It’s reported that Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower fished and relaxed there, but does that make it historically significant for Frederick County? Is every place that a president vacations at or visits of historical significance? I think not.

This facility has not contributed in any significant way to the general life, culture or economy of Frederick County.

But let’s say that the property does have some buildings that may reflect a “rustic camp” type of construction from the 1930’s and 40’s. And let’s say that these may be worth preserving for the appreciation of county residents. One of the purposes of the Historic Preservation Ordinance is “… to promote the preservation and appreciation of the sites, structures, and districts for the education and welfare for the residents of the County.”

If this property is operated by Narconon as a drug treatment center, it will be closed to the general public of Frederick County. The site would definitely not be available for the education and welfare of county residents. Narconon’s use would not fulfill that particular purpose of the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

More significantly, perhaps, given the intended use, one also has to question whether the scale and intensity of the “drug rehabilitation facility” might actually diminish the prospect of both restoring and preserving the property. Under county ordinance section 1-19-8.600, a “Special Exception” was approved that allows for a “Group Home” here, where it would not usually be allowed, and only if the property is listed on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

Click on the image below to open a larger and easier to read version, then ask yourself it this proposal fits what you imagine of when you think of a “group home” in a historic building, in the middle of a forest zoned “Resource Conservation.”

(excerpted from the staff report to the county council)

(excerpted from the staff report to the county council)

In addition to wondering if this use would actually restore and protect the property if it is placed on the historic register, there are also concerns about the potential impact on the rare Class A trout stream that runs through the property.

Although, technically, the council is only deciding whether or not to place the property on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, there are no legal requirements that they have to do this, even if the property has some historic elements. Currently, in the entire county, there are only ten properties on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

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The application for historic designation should not be evaluated completely separate from the applicant. If we are talking about preserving history, we must consider the possibility that a particular applicant and proposed use might not restore and preserve and use the property in an appropriate manner.

I am going to say this very bluntly, but I don’t say it lightly: The Church of Scientology is a fraudulent and dangerous money-making scheme. And because it was created by Scientology that DNA is in also inextricably embedded in Narconon, which is also a fraudulent and dangerous money-making scheme. But Narconon’s sort of harm may be more insidious and dangerous, because they deal with — and exploit — very fragile and vulnerable people.

Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard who was a prolific science fiction writer in the 1930s. During and after World War II, Hubbard exaggerated and lied about his accomplishments in the military service and later was relieved of his command for gross mistakes he made during his service. When married, he was physically abusive to his wife and threatened her life.

(Much more can be said of Hubbard, and I encourage you do your own further research.)

This may be somewhat simplistic, but L. Ron Hubbard’s gift for fantasy creation and deception, as well as his abusive character, were built directly into the foundation of Scientology from the start.

Some may think that I criticize Scientology because its theology is a bit weird or off the beaten track. So before I go further, let me briefly share a little bit about my own history.

marklongI was raised in a small protestant denomination, the Moravian Church, at the village of Graceham (the village, “Hamlet of Grace” was once owned by the church), outside of Thurmont. This congregation was established in 1748, about the same time as Frederick County. Although the pastor was a man of the church, he also had an interest in science and astronomy. About the time when I was 11 or 12, and going through the catechism to become an adult member of the church, he came to our home a few times with his telescope and together we would look at the stars and galaxies and revel in the wonders of the universe. My pastor at the time was also encouraging me to enter the ministry. I didn’t follow that path but my spiritual path and development has always been important to me.

I discovered meditation and yoga around 1967 or 8 when I was 14 or 15, and continued to practice those disciplines on and off at various times in my life. When I completed high school I left the church of my youth, as do many young adults, and embarked on something of a spiritual quest. In 1971, among other activities, I participated in a shamanic ceremony in Mexico and while hitch hiking though Los Angeles ended up in the home of the teenager, Maharaj Ji, who at the time was purported to be the next messiah. I studied scriptures from every major religion and looked into and/or participated in many of what came to be known as “new age” religions or philosophies. Around 1978, when I was a counselor working with adults with developmental disabilities, I almost answered an ad in the Washington Post for a Dianetics Counselor. Dianetics was L. Ron Hubbard’s mental health program that he developed prior to starting Scientology. After researching the program, I didn’t answer the ad.

Skip ahead a decade or two, I rejoined and became very active for a time in the Moravian Church. I also entered a three year spiritual formation program with the Shalem Institute of Washington DC. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a workshop with the Dalai Lama as well as a workshop and walking meditation with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve also gone on a three day silent retreat with Roman Catholic nuns.

I have explored and embraced many spiritual traditions and disciplines, and just as Scientology’s theology may be considered weird to some, some of these traditions or philosophies may be considered unusual or off beat. I can actually understand some of the appeal that Scientology may have for spiritual seekers. My position has been, that if it does some good for the adherent, and if it does no harm, who am I to criticize someone else’s belief system? After all, I grew up in a church that had as its leader someone who claimed to be born to a woman who never had sex, walked on water, turned water into wine, raised people from the dead and raised himself from the dead after being dead for three days.

So who am I to criticize?

I think the phrase “first do no harm” is critical here. It’s at the core of the Hippocratic Oath. It should be the guiding principal of any treatment system. I think it should also be at the core of any religious, spiritual or philosophical system. It is possible to differentiate between groups. I would have absolutely no problem with having a mosque next door, but I would, indeed, have a problem if the Taliban wanted to set up shop in the neighborhood.

Scientology is harmful and Narconon is harmful. Initially, on the surface, Scientology’s system may seem innocuous, and perhaps beneficial. In simple terms, they offer a graduated system to help people overcome past trauma and eventually be healed and obtain a stare of being “clear”. On the surface this doesn’t sound much different from conventional psychotherapy. In some other spiritual settings, it may be referred to as obtaining “enlightenment”.

As members progress through the system, they are asked to pay larger and larger sums of money to gain access to the secret knowledge that will make them “clear”. And if this was the worst of it, if people just shelled out lots of money and got nothing in return, I might be tempted to say, this is a free country: “buyer beware.” But there is a long and well-documented history, including the testimony of many former Scientology members, that reveals the system is a subtle form of brainwashing. The testimony also makes it clear that the church makes it very difficult to leave. Disaffected members are intimidated and harassed. Family members still in the church will likely disconnect from them and shun them. Sometimes private information gained in auditing sessions (the sessions that lead to becoming “clear”), perhaps embarrassing information, is used against members when they try to leave.

The Church of Scientology doesn’t tolerate any criticism, especially from anyone in the church and especially from any one higher up in the system, such as those in the “Sea Organization.” (At one time L. Ron Hubbard created an elite organization within the church that literally went to sea in ships order to help avoid tax and other legal issues.) There is testimony that critics have been placed in the “hole” where they have been subjected to sleep deprivation, unsanitary conditions, and physical abuse in order to “re-educate’ them and bring them back to the fold. There are reports of children of some of these people being were removed from their parents and were also subjected to filthy and unhealthy conditions.

There are reports that David Miscavige, who took over the leadership of Scientology after Hubbard’s death, has personally abused people within the church who disagreed with him or otherwise didn’t toe the party line.

I won’t begin listing or linking to articles, documentaries, legal documents, etc. that demonstrate the systematic fraud and abuses that Scientology has committed over the years. There is a great abundance of information out there, and you can do your own research (knowing full well that everything on the internet isn’t necessarily true), and draw your own conclusions.

Worth mentioning, though, is a very recent HBO documentary that provides a good history and overview of Scientology: “Going Clear.” I suggest watching this film.

Or view the trailer on the HBO page for “Going Clear”

Although they purport to be a secular treatment program, Narconon is the offspring of Scientology and follows its system. Again, on the surface Narconon may seem innocuous. They advocate the use of saunas in their treatment along with a vitamin regimen. I use saunas at the YMCA and I take vitamin supplements. I think they are good things, at least in the right dosages. But there are many reports that Narconon takes these treatments to extremes.

They offer no medication to addicts as they withdraw from the affects of narcotic addiction, and this can be harmful and sometimes fatal. They offer no other therapy to get at the root cause of clients’ addictions, besides introducing them to the system of Scientology. They are not told, however, that they are being introduced to Scientology. In fact, Narconon denies that they do this, but there are many reports from ex clients and former employees that Narconon does, in fact, take advantage of these very vulnerable individuals to create new members for the church, as well as to take their money. It’s an insidious form or brainwashing.

While it’s likely that some addicts have gone through Narconon and have come out clean and say it has helped them, there are no independent studies to verify Narconon’s claims of high success rates. There are many allegations of improper or lack of certifications for employees as well as lack of proper, professional care. There are reports of abusive treatment. There are accounts of deaths of clients while at Narconon, including three in one year at their flagship facility at Arrowhead, Oklahoma. That facility is currently under investigation by the State of Oklahoma. Narconon is under investigation in many locations.

Their facility in Georgia has recently been shut down for fraud by the State of Georgia.

There is much more that can be said, but again, do your own research and draw your own conclusions. There are many links on the internet such as Narconon Exposed.

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You may ask, how is it that Scientology can be classified as a religion? How could the IRS give them tax exempt status? For years, L. Ron Hubbard was essentially underground in hiding from the IRS. But at one point the church mounted a pro-longed assault on the IRS. They not only filed law suits against the organization, but Scientology had some of their wealthy members mount numerous law suits against individuals. This assault went on for years until the IRS relented and caved in, granting them tax exempt status. (There’s a whole other conversation to be had about what is a church or religion and who should have tax exempt status.)

The county council has a difficult decision to make. Given Narconon’s history (and Scientology’s history), it’s possible the county will be sued if they don’t grant Social Betterment Properties’ request to have Trout Run placed on the county’s historic register. I’d hope that Narconon wouldn’t resort to their well-known tactics of harassment, intimidation and persistent legal challenges.

But, if they do, it is worth noting that the courts tend to defer heavily to local government on land use matters, and there is nothing in the relevant county process or law that requires the council to list a property either because it meets some criteria (to some degree) or because the Historic Preservation Commission recommends it be listed. The council is specifically given this role and responsibility, without any such requirements, and is given the discretion to consider the arguments on both sides as they deem appropriate, and in the interest of our community.

Some years ago, the psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck wrote the bestselling book, “The Road Less Travelled.” He later wrote another less known book, “The People of the Lie.” His premise of “People of the Lie” was that evil was perpetuated by the lie, by untruth. Evil people can look you in the face, and with a smile can tell you the most outlandish lie and make it seem like a worthwhile and beneficial truth.

Narconon leaders are “people of the lie”. They are harmful and I don’t want them in our community. I don’t want them in any body’s community. I hope that the county council will have the courage to make a stand and do the right thing for our community.

Along with many others, I will stand with them.

If you would like to weigh in on this with the county council, here are their email addresses:

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Bud Otis: BOtis@FrederickCountyMD.gov
MC Keegan-Ayer: MCKeegan-Ayer@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Tony Chmelik: TChmelik@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Jessica Fitzwater: JFitzwater@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Jerry Donald: JDonald@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Billy Shreve: Billy@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Kirby Delauter: KDelauter@FrederickCountyMD.gov

I also recommend that you copy County Executive Jan Gardner in your correspondence:

Jan Gardner: JGardner@FrederickCountyMD.gov


No Narconon at Trout Run group page on Facebook