by Paul Morantz
Synanon, is the first ever self help–no doctors– drug rehabilitation program, founded by Charles “Chuck” Dederich Sr. (1913–1997) in 1958 in Santa Monica, California. The name was chosen when a member slurred the words “Symposium” and “Seminar.” One of its early cardinal rules was “no violence” or threat of same. It went from the first ever no doctor involved self help drug rehab (Synanon I), to a building of a new society in Synanon cities to lead the world into the 21st Century (Synanon II), to becoming a self-claimed religion (Synanon III). Eventually followers took on the paranoia of its founder, Synanon developed the Imperial Marines and commenced a Holy War against its enemies. Its ultimate doom came when Dederich and members tried to kill by means of a de-rattled rattlesnake in the mailbox, Pacific Palisades lawyer Paul Morantz who was battling Synanon in the court and trying to expose the Foundation for criminal conspiracies. The below Synanon 1, II and III are Synanon’s own designation of its history (Deposition of Charles Dederich; People vs. Dederich; IRS vs. Synanon, Morantz Synanon archives)
Synanon I The Drug Rehab 1958-1966
Dederich was born in Ohio in 1913. At age 4, when his father died in an auto crash, his mother, an accomplished pianist, made him the family male figure and her favorite. At age 8 his youngest brother died of influenza and Dederich felt guilty and responsible. He would never bond with kids again, including his own until they became adults. At age 12 his mother remarried and Dederich went on a jealous rage turning to drinking and rebel rousing. He flunked out of Notre Dame for lack of effort and worked for the Mellon family. He married, but drinking ended it. He was saved from meningitis in the l940s by the discovery of penicillin. It left a droopy eye and a facial tick. He decided to move to Santa Monica and become a beach bum. He got a job at Hughes Tools. He remarried, but alcohol did in that marriage, too. He was found passed out on a kitchen floor and was told, “Fatso,” if you do not go to Alcoholic Anonymous you will die.” (Dr. Dan Casriel, So Fair a House, Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon.)
Dederich became an AA favorite speaker and went to an AA meeting every day. During a bout of paranoia where he would not leave his room, he read Emerson’s “Self Reliance” and using it as a bible he quit his job to devout full time to cleaning up other Alcoholics. He existed on a $35 unemployment check and charity from others. He volunteered for a Dr. Keith Ditman LSD experiment and felt he had a cathartic break through and now understood the world and that good and bad were the same. He studied on his own in a library and his AA speeches changed from typical religious overtones to a psychological/philosophy slant. He gathered his own following in AA and after a time of meetings at apartments, they rented a small store in seedy Venice. The original name was The Tender Loving Care Club. They played the “game” in which anyone was allowed to say anything, true or not, to someone to cause an effect. Only the threat of violence was prohibited. It was a game because one being gamed could turn the game on another. They survived by begging stale food from catering trucks, hookers doing tricks and donations. For a shower, a hose ran through a window (Casriel, So Fair a House, Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon).
Drug users started coming, and the alcoholics objected, and since there was already AA Dederich tossed out the drunks and kept the “dope fiends.” A member’s sluring the words “symposium” and “seminar” led to name Synanon.
On the wall was a lifesaver called the “U.S. Hang Tough” and Dederich pulled on everyone to stay, promising that a great future would “emerge.” When members kicked and their shakes disappeared many were told their problems were they still loved their mothers and were given suggested mates for holding power. Addicts’ behaviors and past lives were attacked viciously in games, members were told their lives depended on staying, contacts with family were prohibited, and a system of rewards and punishments was applied. Publicly one was berated (“haircut”) for misdeeds and this was designed to “carom” off and affect behavior of those watching. Dederich and Yablonsky acknowledged that the system was brainwashing (thought reform) as described by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton in “Coercive Persuasion—The psychology of Totalism (Yablonski, The Tunnel Back). So did Synanon member Steve Simon in his Harvard dissertation (the danger of being a participant observer is that you may be converted). Simon, not heeding what he wrote, later went to prison for destroying evidence unfavorable to Synanon (People vs. Simon). Dederich said freedom to think to a dope addict was like a gun to a baby, and they wash dirty brains. Dederich is credited with coining the phrase “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” (Casriel, So Fair a House, Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon).
Dederich preached “Act as If” which meant do not try to reason as to what Synanon asks they do; as thinking got them there, just trust what they were told and act as if it is right. (Dederich, “Act as If).” In 1962 Dederich moved to an empty National Guard building on the beach in Santa Monica. Neighbors complained fearing Synanon would unleash non-recovered addicts into Santa Monica who came from other areas. Dederich was arrested for operating in Santa Monica without a health license and out of zone. Convicted, rather than move as condition of probation he chose to go to jail. This made him a public hero and Governor Edmund Brown, Sr. signed a save Synanon bill giving Synanon an exemption from Health licensing laws. Synanon was allowed to have members kick addiction “cold turkey” without drugs. The medical board was to establish rules for Synanon but never did. The imprisonment made Dederich a public martyr. Monetary donations came in from the rich and Hollywood, as guys like Robert Wagner, Leonard Nimoy and Ben Gazzra came to Synanon to play the game with ex-addicts and ex-hookers. Life Magazine did a 14 page photo spread, which a Congressman called the “Miracle on the Beach”, and Columbia Pictures made a movie “Synanon, ” starring Edmond O’Brien, Chuck Conners and Stella Stevens. (Casriel, So Fair a House, Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon, Columbia Pictures: Synanon). With its sudden fame, by early 1964 Synanon had also become an alternative community, attracting people with its emphasis on living a self-examined life, as aided by group truth-telling sessions known as the “Synanon Game.” With its new wealth, they started building its first “city” in Marin County (Tomales Bay). (Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon). Professionals, even those without drug addictions, were eagerly invited to join, provided they transferred their assets to the organization. Control over members occurred through the “Synanon Game.” The “Game” could be considered a therapeutic tool, likened to group therapy; or a social control, in which members humiliated one another and encouraged the exposure of one’s innermost weaknesses, or both. Members were to confess in games and no secrets were allowed.
Synanon II Utopian Society 1967-1973
Dederich concluded in l967 that the program was not a success, and ended the concept of “graduation.” Without continued peer pressure, most ex-addicts reverted on leaving, as did the Korean prisoners of War (giving up Communism) in 90-days. (Robert Jay Lifton, Coercive Persuasion, the Psychology of Totalism). As full recovery for graduates was not happening sufficiently, Dederich proclaimed no one should ever graduate. Remain forever and they could build a Utopian world designed by Dederich. Dederich was familiar with “Walden’s Pond” and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and B. F. Skinner. The organization developed a business that sold promotional items, a successful enterprise that eventually generated roughly $10 million per year of revenue. Synanon enterprises would run gas stations, pottery making, apartment buildings and other income businesses without having to pay workers or taxes. Dederich bought and sold real estate. ( Dederich tapes on Synanon history; Tony Lang, Synanon, Guy Endore, Synanon, Gerstel Paradise, Inc)
Synanon purchased in 1967 the Club Casa del Mar, a large beach side 1926 hotel in Santa Monica (during WW II it was a military headquarters), and used it as a center and dormitory for drug treatment and business operations. Synanon pressured old club members to leave and complaints led to the city taking a wrongful action that may have changed Synanon’s course in history. The city claimed it owned the beach front and rather than take the issue to court it sent police officers and bulldozers across the sand knocking down cabanas and paved courts. Paddy Wagons awaited Synanon protesters. Dederich appeared at a press conference and declared the city had fallen into the hands of Mad Dogs and Synanon would sue them all. As a result of its poor conduct, Santa Monica surrendered and Synanon became untouchable. It no longer obeyed zoning rules, sympathetic donations reheated and Synanon soon became Santa Monica’s largest land owner.(West Magazine, l967, Morantz archives on Synanon) Subsequently, Synanon acquired a large industrial building in Oakland, California, transforming it into a residential facility for its members, outsiders were permitted to attend the “Game” there as well. California donated a block long building in San Francisco.
Babies were taken from the parents and raised in the “Hatchery.” Mothers who wanted to see their kids too much were called “head suckers.” Children were reared communally in the Synanon School where eventually they wrote essays on Dederich telling everyone what to do, Syndo (karate) “changing partners,” childliness, and fighting the “Holy War.” (Casriel, So Fair a House, Yablonski, The Tunnel Back: Guy Endore, Synanon; Charles Dederich tapes on history of Synanon; Dederich, “Childiness; Time Magazine l977).
Synanon instituted “containment” which was disallowing contact with outsiders. One was to participate only in Synanon. Synanon’s goal, Dederich said, was to lead the world into the 21st Century and “anything less than changing the world is Mickey Mouse.” (Morantz archives on Synanon, Gerstel, Paradise Inc.”)
Dederich experimented with environmental manipulations so as to recreate the heightened awareness and inner discoveries he experienced while taking LSD. To recruit needed non addict club members, Dederich created The Trip, forerunner of Werner Erhard’s est training, which was a combination of group psychotherapy, coercive persuasion, mysticism and old fashion spiritual revival. (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
Dederich designed an efficient program of individual emotional breakdowns followed by a mass group euphoria all designed to re-educate individuals into the Synanon II philosophy and lifestyle. It was first offered to the selected few as an honor, but the entire population was eventually targeted. Dederich called it an “insight producing” experience.
Dederich said: “At the end of this rainbow, there will be a pot of gold. Through dissipation, or long hours of activity without very much sleep, we hope to bring about in you a conscious state of inebriation… we want to get you loaded without acid.
“You will learn more about yourself, your fellow man, the world, the nature of reality in one weekend than you would in four years. “Let your ego go…let things happen to you. It’s a feeling of closeness to each other we are after, the death of the ego. A reference point for the rest of your life. You may change your value system, notions about life and viewpoints about people. It will produce a new breed of human beings with greatly expanded potentials. If you do your best, you can’t fail.” (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
At 7 p.m. on Friday the chosen Trippers, around 50 in number, of all ages, were met in the Del Mar lobby by people dressed in long white robes and yellow silk scarves. A Shepherd led them through candle-lit and incense-burning corridors to a locker room filled with rows of Army cots with name cards. Each person stripped and put on white robes. Watches were taken as time was no longer important. Women removed all makeup and jewelry, a symbolic stripping of past selves. (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
The Guides, all experienced game players, turned each group from enthusiasm to a depression and defeat, wallowing in its collective shame. Sitting in comfortable green armchairs, they made the dope fiends tell their tales of drugs, rape, crime and beatings. The squares were pushed to confess their prior loneliness and despair. The games turned on one than another. Disoriented by lack of sleep, each was moved to the point of intense disillusionment. Aids, who did their homework, provided ammunition to the Conductors on each Tripper. Everyone was to cop-out (confess to past sins).
The result was implantation of a common bond and sense of ideals, all identified with Synanon. Each Tripper was to write a paper on some feeling or admission. A big shot would advise the Trippers they were not really chosen as an honor, but each was really selected because each was a resister, thinking he or she knew better the direction Synanon should go, part of the “dummies that hold Synanon back.” “Maybe,” Dederich said, “one day we will just put dingbats like you against the wall and wash them off and bring them back into the human race.” (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
There was The Witching Hour which featured a Ouija Board to be operated by Witches, two women in black and white robes. The board would spell out Emerson messages on self-reliance, but self-reliance was interpreted as the ability to make choices and the best way to end loneliness and suffering was through trusting in Synanon. They would adopt the Synanon family, said the board, or the “fifth circle” in Dante’s hell, where tormented souls are terrorized and torn, awaited them. (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
When the first Tripper, physically and emotionally exhausted, “broke” and wept it caromed to the others. Crying, Trippers embraced, feeling euphoria and transcending love. The Conductor made it clear this was the resisters’ last chance. Their last hope. The game took on each unbroken’s dirty rotten story with great brutality. Aids returned with smut obtained from the un-broken’s spouses to use. The broken joined the attack. Some Trippers began to hallucinate, Dederich having achieved his LSD replicated altered state of consciousness. Fighting to stay awake, defenses wiped away, the unbroken broke and asked for forgiveness. Some rolled up on the floor in fetal positions. Some laughed, others howled and sobbed. Some cried for their mothers. When they asked for friends they were hugged in mass. All thought the experience was beautiful. (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon). Dederich would elsewhere declare that if you kept people up long enough you can make them believe anything (Deposition of Charles Dederich, Morantz vs Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon.
At eight a.m. Monday hand in hand the Trippers went down the corridor toward the sounds of band music. Now in a ballroom the Trippers were surrounded by hundreds of cheering, clapping Synanites. The Trippers, many of whom had been awake for 65 or more hours, were hugged and cheered. A hoop-a-la began (Synanon’s dance). Everyone bonded. All had pain. One just had to surrender to Synanon. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, police, politicians, all got hooked, many forming an allegiance previously not matched in their lives to the group and trainers that trained them. The Trip was so successful that in only its second year the lifestylers business contributed $500,000. (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon). (Tony Lang, Synanon, Morantz archives on Synanon).
Despite the Trip conversion success, the old-timers, the Retired Dope Fiends, aka The Walking Dead, remained a problem. As the alcoholics had not wanted change, neither did they. Curing dope fiends was what they wanted. Dederich placed them in a 72 hour game (“stew”) and harangued them for not seeing his vision. Later the “flies” (Dederich trained youngsters) took over the attack. When all were exhausted Dederich returned and offered forgiveness for surrender. (Tony Lang, Synanon).
Synanon III Church of Synanon 1974
Juveniles in the 70’s were often sent to Synanon by juvenile agencies or by courts on juvenile officers’ recommendation. Synanon wanted the kids to try to keep their tax free status and placed them in a militaristic “Punk Squad” (forerunner of Scared Straight and other failed camp programs). As these juveniles did not want to be there, Synanon methods failed. Violence was then permitted upon them, breaking for first time Synanon’s “non violent rule.” Children were struck across the face, knocked down, otherwise punished and then “gamed.” Soon the OK on violence would spread to “splitees,” suspected thieves and perceived spies and enemies. (Synanon Punk Squad Files; Deposition of Synanon school master, Morantz vs. Synanon, IRS vs. Synanon)
Dederich was ahead of times in ordering aerobics, running, diets and non smoking. All such “notions” Dederich declared were also a “squeeze” to get rotten fruit out of Synanon (those who will not obey). (Deposition of Charles Dederich, Morantz vs. Dederich; Morantz vs. Synanon, IRS vs. Synanon.) Beginning in the mid-1970s, women were required to shave their heads (men did the same and bib overalls became the uniform). (Gerstel, Paradise, Inc.)
On remote properties in California such as Tomales Bay in Marin County and Badger, Tulare County, the organization had built un-permitted buildings, a trash dump, and an airstrip. (Gerstel, Paradise Inc.) Beginning in 1974 the authorities began to question Synanon’s promises and practices. The concept of “lifetime rehabilitation” did not agree with therapeutic norms, and eventually in l977 attorney Paul Morantz would bring to the Health Dept’s attention that the group was running an unauthorized medical clinic and taking in people with medical needs Synanon had no license to treat. Tax issues arose. In response to these accusations, Dederich declared in l974 that Synanon was a tax exempt religious organization, the “Church of Synanon.” A memo declaring it a religion asked a question that didn’t need to be answered: “Who will be God?” (Gerstel, Paradise Inc.; Morantz vs. Synanon, IRS vs. Synanon) Dederich declared no more children (1976) as they take time away from Synanon goals. Males were forced in games to have vasectomies performed by Synanon doctors, and a few pregnant women were even required to have an abortion. One was four months pregnant. Childbirth said Dederich, was no more important than squeezing out a football. (Dederich, “Childbirth Unmasked.) Dederich and his wife sat on thrones and often wore robs. Dederich declared when he moved to The Home Place in Badger he did not want ex dope fiends around him (Gerstel, Paradise Inc.). In l977 when Dederich’s wife Betty died he married a volunteer to be his wife and decided to save others from pain of death or divorce by ordering all married couples to break up every 3 years and take new partners selected by Synanon (“love matches”). (Time Magazine, Dec, 1977). Some believe Betty’s Death unleashed Dederich’s fury. Yet the Imperial Marines were named officially “Her Majesty’s Imperial Marines,” and she was often at their training and spoke of a militant Synanon (Wendell Stamps Imperial Marine diary).
The Holy War
The Foundation had the “wire,” an internal broadcasting system that played 24 hours with repeated talk of getting the enemies. George Orwell’s l984 had arrived early. In not too long of a time, Synanon commenced training the Imperial Marines in Depot Flats in the Badger Mountains and then attacked over 40 people (some attacks were before Marines trained—Dederich, “New Religious Posture, Don’t Fuck with Synanon. “Carom” shots now involved public beatings and getting “enemies” on missions that went coast to coast. Members were taught that if caught on a violent mission to go to jail and to not blame Synanon. (Synanon board minutes—Jady Dederich, Wendall Stamps Imperial Marine diary, People vs. Dederich, IRS vs, Synanon). Publicly, Dederich warned that people should not mess with Synanon because the organization could not control its members. “Bombs,” he would say in l978 to news reporter Connie Chung (CBS NEWS l978), could go off in homes of critics (Deposition of Dederich, Synanon vs. Time, Inc.; Synanon vs. ABC). Synanon members bought stock in ABC and attended a stock holders meeting, and naming their names, the members, identifying themselves as former members of Murder Incorporated, asked if the board had protection for their wives (Synanon vs. ABC, AP Western Union Telegram; Pat Lynch, NBC segment 3). Inside, Dederich compared Synanon to the mafia (Synanon Think Table Summaries; Dederich, “New Religious Posture—Don’t Fuck with Synanon). The Marines were led by Dr. Douglas Robson who would eventually flee in fear of arrest and set up practice in Seattle. (Synanon Holy War file, Robson letters, IRS vs. Synanon).
Abused Children assigned to Synanon began running away, helped by an “underground railroad,” led by neighboring rancher Alvin Gambonini, who sought to return them to their parents. A Synanon mob beat Gambini in front of his family. (Dave Mitchell, The Light on Synanon; Gerstel, Paradise Inc.: Letter from Dederich to Mike Garrett. Synanon Holy War file memos on beating). Beatings of opponents, alleged thieves and ex-members ( “splittees”) occurred across the country. Synanon mobs attacked teenagers and youngsters who got too close to the property. (Dave Mitchell, The Light on Synanon; Gerstel, Paradise Inc.. Synanon Holy War file memos on beatings, Dr. Doug Robson letters, various police reports).
In l977 in Santa Monica, Synanon took in a woman in a pre-psychotic break, and would not return her to her husband and transferred her to Tomales Bay. The husband hired attorney Paul Morantz, who had recently finished a case against persons who had kidnapped skid row alcoholics and kept them on thorazine in nursing homes in order to bill the State. Morantz and Synanon locked horns for 8 years. (IRS v. Synanon; Morantz vs. Synanon; Winn vs. Synanon; Renfroe vs. Golden State).
A Grand Jury in Marin County, pushed by Paul Morantz, issued a scathing report in March of 1978 attacking Synanon for its child abuse and for the profits that flowed to Dederich, weapons, threat and also attacking authorities for their lack of oversight. Remarkably, the authorities refused to intercede. (Marin Grand Jury Report on Synanon l978). Though local newspapers and broadcast media covered the case, they were largely silenced by lawsuits from Synanon lawyers charging libel. The Associate Press did a study of Synanon’s efforts to discourage the press (AP Study on Synanon Retraction Program).
Local authorities refused to investigate after the Gran Jury report issued and this caught the attention of Dave Mitchell who ran a small weekly, “The Point Reyes Light.” Mitchell found the report rejection was led by Sheriff Lou Montanos who turned out to have been nominated for Sherriff with Synanon help and who had given gun permits to Dederich and second in command Dan Garrett. Mitchell developed a “deep throat” in the Sheriff department, Art Disterheft. (Mitchell, Light on Synanon. Other journalists who took on Synanon were LA Times reporter Narda Zuchinno and CBS’s Connie Chung. Synanon’s purchase of over $200,000 dollars of weapons from a single gun store also brought media attention. (Synanon vs. KGO, Los Angeles Times archives, CBS News archives)/ Law suits brought by Morantz, and ones by Synanon against ABC and Time Magazine ultimately turned out to be Synanon’s undoing, giving through legal investigation journalists access to some internal documents on violence. Synanon members were instructed in writing to physically harm others, take responsibility for it and never reveal Synanon’s involvement. Those who went to jail for Synanon were treated as heroes. Dederich officially declared it a “Holy War.” (Dederich letter to Mike Garrett, Synanon Holy War file, 1978 Board minutes of Synanon—Jady Dederich, Morantz vs Synanon, IRS vs. Synanon.
In June of l978 Ernestine White, a black grandmother was trying to get her three grand kids out. Her daughter died in Synanon and the husband split. Paul Morantz got the court order giving Ms. White custody, but Synanon refused to turn them over. Morantz had prepared for that. Upon Synanon’s disobedience, 13 police vehicles surrounded the building and drew their weapons. The police told Synanon the kids were coming with them; the only question was how? All three minors were then returned to Ms. White. (White vs. Butler, Herb Caen column, Pat Lynch, NBC Synanon segment 3.)
During summer l978 California congressman, Herschel Rosenthal, a long-time Synanon supporter, attached a rider to a bill that if passed would exempt Synanon from all health licensing laws regardless of condition person taken in. The Marin County Supervisors, including Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein did not want to take a public position against Synanon as it was a constituent. Through a telehone call to Paul Morantz by the Marin County council, the Supervisors requested Morantz lobby to defeat the bill which was in its last committee for vote. Morantz did and the bill was defeated by one vote.
Eventually, on September 21, 2008 the Marines tried to murder ex-member Phil Ritter, who was trying to get his child out and had gone to the authorities complaining of forced vasectomies in Synanon, by clubbing him over the head (Berkely Gazette September 1978; Mitchell, the Light on Synanon). At the same time Pacific Palisades attorney Paul Morantz won a $300,000 judgment against the group on allegations that it had kidnapped, imprisoned and attempted to brainwash a woman on the verge of a psychotic break. He had been litigating against the organization, getting children returned to their families, giving information to the media, lobbying against a Synanon bill and fighting to expose its hit squad to law enforcement. Ex-Synanon members heard from members inside Synanon, that they had Morantz’s address and that he was next, While Morantz was meeting with the California terrorist unit and LAPDID (intelligence) for protection on October 10, 2008, Synanon Marines Joe Musico and Lance Kenton, son of band leader Stan Kenton, as part of conspiracy with Dederich and other top officials, placed a 4-foot rattle snake sans rattles in Morantz’s mailbox. (Mitchell, the Light on Synanon).
The Imperial Marines had caught and caged rattlesnakes in training (Wendall Stamps, Imperial Marine diary) and the snake was from Visalia (expert testimony, People vs. Dederich). Morantz was bitten and hospitalized for 11 days. A Los Angeles District Attorney search warrant led to a discovery of an audio tape wherein Dederich bragged of beatings that had occurred, the Imperial Marine training, and said one day the message would be delivered to everyone “Don’t mess with Synanon. You can get killed Dead. Physically Dead.” Morantz’s name was mentioned in the tape along with threats to get the wives and children of adverse lawyers. (Deposition of Paul Morantz, Morantz vs. Synanon; People vs. Dederich; IRS vs. Synanon.
Before the snake in the mailbox, Dederich, to escape a warrant for his arrest in Washington, D.C. fled to Europe where he returned to alcohol drinking. He was passed out when he was arrested for the assault and attempted murder of Paul Morantz. (People vs. Dederich; Arrest report on Charles Dederich; IRS vs. Synanon).
The Department of Justice in the 80’s, hiring Morantz and sociologist Richard Offshe as consultants, sued Synanon to remove its tax-free status retroactively for committing a reign of terrorism. The concept was based on law that even charities are taxed if they commit acts against public policy. Synanon fought and lost the action on summary judgment based on their own admissions in their internal records. After litigation over the tax assessment, which in the end it could not pay, Synanon doors finally closed for good in 1991. (IRS vs. Synanon) Before the attack on Morantz, Synanon had opened a new “private corporation” city in Lake Havasu which was a plan to send Synanon money to the private corporation and then into the hands of Synanon leaders through salaries. (Dederich tape: The Freebies are Over; Arizona vs. Home Place Inc., Morantz archives on Synanon.)
Main Criminal Behavior
On March 20, 1978, a former member of Synanon, Tom Cardineau was severely beaten (for being an alleged spy) while tied to a post during his honeymoon when he took his bride to show her where he had once lived on the Walker Creek Ranch. (Dave Mitchell, Light on Synanon; Dave Gerstel, Paradise Inc.; Marin County crime report on Cardineau beating.)
They also beat a neighboring rancher, Gamboninni, who was helping children run away from Synanon and return to their parents (Light on Synanon; Dave Gerstel, Paradise Inc.; Marin County crime report on Gambinini beating, Synanon memos describing incident.
Ron Eidson, after a road skirmish, and refusing Dr. Robson’s demand for apology, was pistol whipped and hospitalized while shotguns were held on his watching family. He and his family were represented by Paul Morantz and Ed Martin in a civil suit. (Eidson v. Robson, Synanon; Synanon memos describing incident)
Many young teenagers who got too close to Synanon property were beaten brutally by Synanon mobs. Teeth were knocked out. Believed trespassers were taken into the basements of Santa Monica Del Mar building and worked over on directions of Dr. Robson. Synanon evicted by tossing people and belongings out of apartments (even off a roof). (Robson letters, crime reports, Synanon memos on each event, Synanon Holy War file, Depostions of ex-Synanon member, Morantz vs. Synanon; IRS vs. Synanon).
Dan Garrett ordered a kidnapping and then changed the order to beating the person on the spot. (People vs. Dederich, Synanon memos on incident).
Synanon lawyer Howard Garfield ordered Marine head Dr. Douglas Robson to collect all Synanon memos describing their violence and transfer them to legal department so attorney client privilege would attach. Robson wrote back the mission was accomplished (Garfield-Robson letters). But in fact Robson had failed and the violence memos, including the Garfield-Robson letters were scatter in the Synanon San Franciso warehouse which was opened for copying to the law firm of Lillick, Mchose and Charles (to avoid discovery sanctions) who then found them (Synanon vs. ABC; IRS vs. Synanon).
After the rattlesnake incident, Mary Robson, wife of Imperial Marine leader Dr. Douglas Robson, went to a neighbor of Paul Morantz’s mother and left her card so Morantz would know Synanon knew where his mother was. (Robson card, Morantz memorandum).
In the summer of 1978 NBC produced a “hard hitting” news segment on Synanon. Following its broadcast, executives of the network and its corporate chairman received hundreds of threats from Synanon members and supporters, including letters that said, “Your actions place you in legal and physical peril” and “We are going to teach you a lesson you will never forget.”
September 21, 1978 ex-member Phil Ritter, was severely beaten by two members, causing him to fall into a coma for a week. Fluid leaked into his spine causing a near fatal case of spinal meningitis. Former Synanon President Jack Hurst spoke out against Synanon and found his home door open and his dog hung. (Berkeley Gazette l978, Mitchell, Light on Synanon).
Several weeks later, October 10, 1978, two Synanon members placed a de-rattled rattlesnake in the mailbox of attorney Paul Morantz in Pacific Palisades, California. Morantz had successfully brought suit on behalf of a woman abducted by Synanon, winning a $300,000 judgment, obtained release of children, gave information to the press and lobbied (defeating) another Synanon bill written by Herschel Rosenthal. The snake bit Morantz but did not kill him. Before the incident, Synanon investigator Chris Reynolds wrote a memo on Morantz, giving his home address to Synanon legal department. (Reynolds memo, People vs. Dederich; IRS vs. Synanon). It was read on the Synanon wire while Dederich would bellow when will one of you have the guts to go to LA and do something about him, break his knees.
Six weeks later the Los Angeles Police Department performed a search of the ranch in Badger that turned up a recorded speech by Dederich in which he said, “”We’re not going to mess with the old-time, turn-the-other-cheek religious postures … our religious posture is: Don’t mess with us. You can get killed dead, literally dead…these are real threats,” he snarls. “They are draining life’s blood from us and expecting us to play by their silly rules. We will make the rules. I see nothing frightening about it … I am quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs and next break his wife’s legs and threaten to cut their child’s arm off. That is the end of that lawyer. That is a very satisfactory, humane way of transmitting information. … I really do want an ear in a glass of alcohol on my desk.”
A drunken Dederich was arrested on December 2 in Lake Havesu. The two other Synanon Imperial Marines, one of whom was Lance Kenton, son of musician Stan Kenton, pleaded “no contest” to charges of assault and conspiracy to commit murder. While his associates went to jail, Dederich avoided imprisonment by pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit murder, agreeing as part of probation to formally step down as Chairman of Synanon and agreed to have nothing to do with running Synanon. Most of his remaining time he was segregated in Synanon, as the foundation tried to revert back to early images and goals.
Much of the violence was carried out by the “Imperial Marines.” The tiny Point Reyes Light, a weekly newspaper in Marin County, received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1979 on account of its coverage of Synanon when other news outlets avoided covering the group. Mitchell had tried to warn authorities, without success, that Synanon was going to try to kill Morantz. (Dave Mitchell, The Light on Synanon). Synanon struggled to survive without its leader but with a severely tarnished reputation. The tax assessment due to the violence conspiracy led the properties to be confiscated and/or sold. By 1991 the community had essentially folded. (IRS vs. Synanon)
A View on Success or Not
While the early Synanon has been declared a success by most observers, there were also early critics who claimed the success only applied to those who remained in the environment where no drugs was pushed by peers or in cases of old timers who had reached saturation point. (Freidenber, Nation 1965). The new drug rehabs that came afterwards followed the advice of Dr. Dan Casriel who wrote the first book on Synanon. He noted psychological testing revealed Synanon members (“dope fiends”) were still anti-social and recommended that the “game’s” fierce attack on self be lightened over a time, and that psychological counseling be given along with follow-up care to those who exit. Dederich refused all suggestions. Casriel went on to found Day Top in New York and thus came the birth of modern day drug rehabs (Casriel, So Fair a House). But Synanon still remains the Granddaddy of all drug rehabs, the failure that launched an industry, its failure teaching us more than whatever its success had (Richard Ofshe, The Failure that spurned an Industry). Brainwashing is powerful enough to cure drug addiction while members remain subject to it. It can also make dangerous criminals out of good people, also subject to it. (Robert J. Lifton, Coercive Persuasion, The Psychology of Totalism; Dr. Edgar Friedman, The Nation 1965, a review of Yablonski’s the Tunnel back– The author fails to see the inhumanity he observes…Synanon is a trade of one addiction for another..one day there will be a Synanon state of Mind more important than the club itself). Several of the famous jazz musicians credited with cure returned to drugs.
Synanon’s ultimate biggest critic was Dederich himself. Knowing away from the environment people were using, he closed the doors in l967 and ended the idea anyone should ever leave. “Containment” was instituted, which meant no contact with the outside world. Dederich declared they were better than the world and through his “experimentation” Synanon would lead the human race into the 21st Century. To keep people in, he posted and announced as a warning all reports of anyone who left and returned to drugs. (Dederich, The Graduate Question). These changes led Synanon to its then certain fate.
Synanon would possess its own fleet of trucks and automobiles, hundreds of motorcycles, a mini-armada of 21 boats, a squadron of ten airplanes and its own airstrip. Its members believed in Synanon enemies and encroachment of spies, created their own words (synanese), sought isolation from outside contaminants and committed to its destiny. Synanon became a Third sector within United States borders, seeking to have its Embassy in Washington, D.C. It became the format of destructive cults. Ultimately, it purchased an arsenal of high-powered weapons, developed its own security force and in an isolated concealed valley across its airfield called Depot Flats, it set up camp to train the Imperial Marines. Then it went to war. (Morantz archives on Synanon, People vs Dederich, IRS vs. Synanon).