A Canadian activist who told The Village Voice, “I think I have Scientology by the balls,” is focusing his attention on the religious group’s flagship drug treatment center in Oklahoma. Narconon Arrowhead, located in the small town of Canadian—near McAlester in southeastern Oklahoma—was the site of the death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, who overdosed last week. Murphy’s death marks the fourth at the facility, three of which have occurred in the past year.
According to Murphy’s father, interviewed by the McAlester News-Capital, the young woman was found unresponsive in the “DeTox” room of the facility, where she’d been left alone for at least two and a half hours without any medical attention. “Something’s terribly wrong there,” Robert Murphy told the paper. It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed around the world.
David Edgar Love, a former patient at Narconon in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, was recruited to the facility’s staff after completing a six-month treatment program for his methadone habit and, upon quitting his job, took with him a trash sack full of documents that he’s used to effectively shutter the center, The Village Voice reported.
Love, during his tenure at the Quebec facility, “realized that Narconon was not just a Scientology enterprise but one that was trying to turn patients into Scientologists through its bizarre ‘training routines’ which required, in part, talking to ashtrays.” As both patient and a staffer, he witnessed abuses and “unscientific treatment, which combines weeks of 4.5-hour daily stints in a sauna with huge doses of niacin and other vitamins.” Love then lobbied the Canadian government to take action, which it finally did, forcing employees and residents to relocate while it conducts an investigation. (Hear David Love tell his story on CBC Radio Quebec City.)
David Touretzky, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a longtime and outspoken critic of Scientology and Narconon, operates the website Stop-Narconon.org. He told The Village Voice: “Getting a Narconon shut down is an unprecedented accomplishment. Some Narconon franchises have closed or relocated for business reasons, but getting one shuttered by a government agency is nearly impossible. David Love has been working on this for years; he richly deserves a victory lap.”
Now, Love told the New York City alt weekly, he’s “turning his attention to Narconon’s flagship center in Oklahoma.”
“I’m going down there to meet Colin Henderson, my friend who was in Narconon down there,” he says. “I’m going to go down there and shut it down. I don’t care what it takes.”
Henderson was a patient at Narconon Arrowhead in 2007. He checked himself into the facility in July to get help with his prescription drug addiction. He checked himself out two weeks later, troubled by what he witnessed and experienced.
Henderson wrote a detailed description of his experience at Narconon Arrowhead for Stop-Narconon.org that includes accounts of the staff’s refusal to give him vital blood pressure medication (which officials refuted for a news story on Oklahoma City’s Fox 25 News), unorthodox treatments where patients are given high doses of niacin and other vitamins and forced to sit in a sauna for up to five hours, and deceptive instruction in the philosophy and religion of Scientology. (Read more about Narconon’s policies and procedures at the addiction and recovery website The Fix.)
Henderson told his story in an effort to reach out to and help others who’d experienced the same thing. “I couldn’t reach out to anybody,” he said. Since then, and in light of the three most recent deaths, he’s become not just an advocate for former patients, but also an adversary to the facility, staging protests and lobbying state government officials—including Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon—to raise awareness and incite an investigation, which finally began after Murphy’s death.
But Henderson isn’t doing it alone. He’s working with Love and other interested parties—former Narconon patients, ex-Scientologists, and other folks who are “sick and tired of hearing about the human abuse cases”—to shut the facility down.
On Aug. 23, Love, along with Tory Christman, a once-dedicated Scientologist, and a host of others (some of whom are still being confirmed and others Henderson is keeping under wraps) to protest the facility—either on the Narconon Arrowhead grounds, at the state Capitol, or at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health.
His efforts should start showing up in national news, too: Henderson said Brian Williams and the crew of NBC’s “Rock Center” are in town filming this week for a broadcast scheduled to air Aug. 16.
—Holly Wall, News Editor