Former President of Narconon Oklahoma Now Calls It "Watered-Down Version of Introductory Scientology"
A week ago, we reported that a former "employee" at Scientology's flagship drug treatment center in Oklahoma -- Narconon Arrowhead -- told us that the controversial center was delivering Scientology training rather than drug education, and that its officials have been concerned for years that its state certification was "extremely vulnerable." (The center is currently under investigation by local and state agencies for four deaths that have occurred there, three since last October.)
We didn't name that source, but now, he's come forward on his own.
We can now say that it is a former president of Narconon Arrowhead, Lucas Catton, who spoke to us about the troubled facility's past, and about his involvement not only in promoting the place, but also helping to operate its deceptive Internet referral network.
We had promised to keep Catton's identity secret, but then yesterday, he decided to out himself publicly with a lengthy blog post explaining to his former friends in Scientology why he was driven out of the church. We spoke to him briefly this morning, and now we can report what else he told us.
It was Catton who explained to us that Scientology officials have spent considerable resources lobbying and schmoozing state officials, worried that they would take a hard look at Narconon Arrowhead's certification.
"When I left in 2006, they were eagerly trying to get some type of amicable relationship with the Department of Mental Health," he says.
Narconon's first facility in Oklahoma, at Chilocco, had fought with the state for years to get its certification and then, in 1992, had got around the state's objections by submitting approval from a private group, the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Scientology closed that facility in 2001 and moved to its present location at the Arrowhead Lodge on the shores of Lake Eufaula in the eastern part of the state.
Catton became president of the facility in 2002. And he says he became aware that Gary Smith, the center's executive director, and other officials were very worried: in the time since Narconon had received the 1992 exemption, the law had changed, and if the state took a hard look at its certification, the place might not stay open, Catton says. He explains that when the state accepted the CARF approval, the state did so only to certify the initial part of Narconon's four-part program of treatment.
"They were worried that they had to get their entire program certified by the state, or get the law changed, or they would not be allowed to operate at all," he told me.
As for the program itself, it was Catton who confirmed to me that its "students" learn almost nothing about drug addiction or drug education. Instead, they are trained almost exactly the same way beginning Scientologists are.
"It is true that there's very little drug information. You do the training routines, the sauna program, learning improvement, the objectives. You learn about Scientology's ethics. About overts and withholds. You do 'conditions,' and then The Way to Happiness, and then you're done. You feel bright and polished, but there's no real addressing of what the real problem is for each person," he said, naming the various steps of early Scientology training, such as hourslong staring exercises and talking to inanimate objects such as ashtrays.
And on the blog post he published yesterday, Catton writes that Narconon, "needs to be fully transparent and call it what it really is, rather than pretending to be something it is not. It needs to be compliant with treatment center regulations or not call itself a treatment center, but cop to really being a watered-down version of introductory Scientology methods applied to substance abusers."
Catton left his role as president of Narconon Arrowhead in 2006, and declined when he was urged to return to the job by Rena Weinberg, president of the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), Scientology's division that runs Narconon.
Catton then spent the next five years operating dozens of highly profitable websites that refer people to Narconon centers.
The websites are designed to be as generic as possible, saying nothing about Scientology, and they are created to capture people searching online for information about rehab centers. Convincing people who call in for more information to send someone to a Narconon center then earns that referrer a commission, typically ten percent of the $30,000 Narconon centers charge.
"I had a couple of dozen websites, some people have many more than that," he says. "They're basically unbranded websites for attracting people looking for some kind of drug treatment help. We had people manning the phone lines. And the whole pitch was to get them over to Narconon."
He adds that he would help people find non-Scientology treatment programs as well. "Did I make most of my money for Narconon? Yes, of course I did."
And from his blog post: "I believe the most important part is for people to be fully informed about the decisions they make and that they find what is going to work for them, based on actual truths rather than misleading statements or false representations."
In his lengthy blog post, Catton explains how things began to sour for him. Like so many other church members, he was getting worn down by the constant fundraising that Scientology leader David Miscavige had committed the organization to.
Seeing the protests by Anonymous in 2008 was also a shock, he writes, and as we've seen numerous times before, a copy of Scientology's propaganda magazine, Freedom that trashed former church executives only made Catton more curious about what those former members were alleging -- that Miscavige had physically attacked his top employees and housed them in a bizarre office-prison at the International Base east of Los Angeles.
As more questions about Scientology came up in his mind, Catton writes that he wanted to talk to Rena Weinberg, who had previously showed so much confidence in him. But by then, 2010, she seemed to have vanished, and Catton only got excuses when he tried to get her on the phone.
"The problem was, nobody could tell me where she was. I asked people at Narconon, people at ABLE, even called her husband and the Vice President of the Church, yet either they didn't know or they wouldn't tell me. So I kept digging and reading more and more," he writes. Eventually, "I learned about 'The Hole' and that she had been held captive in there."
(We reported on Tuesday that three eyewitnesses place Rena Weinberg in Scientology's concentration camp -- "The Hole" -- from at least 2007 to just a few months ago.)
In his blog post, Catton describes the hellish mental warfare he went through as church officials threatened him with being "declared a suppressive person" -- Scientology jargon for excommunication -- and the threat of "disconnection." For Catton, that was very much a worry: his wife was pulling away from him, but he didn't want to lose contact with his young daughter. Although he and his wife share legal custody, Catton knew that the church could make it very difficult for him to see her.
And that's part of the reason he asked that I not name him last week, even though he has been "declared" by the church. As much as he wanted to tell what he knows, he didn't want to lose his relationship with his daughter.
Now, just a week later, he's decided to go public.
This morning, he told me that he wanted it to be clear from his writings that he does not see himself as an anti-Scientologist, but someone who sincerely wants to reach out to his former friends in the church. I'll give him the last word:
To all my former friends -- I wish you well and hope that things reform soon, for your sake, and for the well-being of others. Did you honestly believe that one day I was one of the most respected members of the Narconon network internally, and the next I'm some evil Suppressive Person? I wish you no harm and never have. If, one day, you decide you can be my friend again, I will be here.
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Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.