by Paul Morantz
(C) May 2011
While Synanon would still not admit it’s intention to the locals, it continued towards its goal of housing thousands in Marin. By mid 1972 Walker Creek had dental and medical clinics, barber shop, print shop, art shop, sewage plants, movie theater, libraries and offices. Tomales Bay now had fishing, sailing, handball, tennis, gyms, horseback riding–26 horses– and swimming in the reservoir. Bathing houses were built. Cows and sheep filled the pastures. Jitneys ran between the Marin settlements and a few member’s private airplanes were at disposal. Synanon had its own fire department and was paid by the state whenever it helped put out fires. It began a lifeboat service to rescue boatmen in the bay.
Open space Living sheds shelter provided members with impromptu game playing. A Game Temple housed perpetual stews. Grazing tables held snacks and coffee for game players. A Video The People Ranch trained people to be generalist not specialist. They were all to learn Cowboys skills and work suitable to maintain Synanon. They were taught to care for and cultivate the earth they walked on.
Dederich developed a new game off-shoot in February, the Hi-Frequency (or Hi-Fi) Game. It was a game to be played when there wasn’t much time, an hour or less; the counterbalance being turn the volume up. It was all red spot gaming. Players got right to the rages and hostility, competing by shouting. It was considered a good game for traveling hustlers and salesmen. In Tomales Bay those with work schedules were ordered to break and play it once a day to review past on-the-job errors and for job motivation. Sometimes the games were called Pelpham Games after New Yorkers in Pelpham Bay who in the l960’s liked to scream at the top of their lungs.
Three hundred character disorders joined in l972 as well as another 64 squares (30 were spouses of character disorders) and 46 kids. Dederich discovered that when people left over his edicts Synanon prospered as the population was replenished by others who accepted his rules. There was also more compliance from squares. The turn over rate was only 10%. He had by now successfully inducted eight doctors, a dozen lawyers, writers, architects, PhD’s, bankers, brokers and manufacturers. But his own training he believed was superior. He was a salesman and those with that trade knew how to motivate, “to make people do what they had not wanted.” They made the best CEO’s.
The population reached 1,824. A military style Boot Camp was developed to increase holding power and commitment. It was a squeeze People were to be tested not to quit while Retread old timers got a refresher course on basic goals and norms of Synanon. Those assigned to it lived in the hills together participating in morning exercise, physical work, study and marching in crisp denim overalls uniforms. They ate and gamed together as the stewdents had done at the old Academy. Big shots lectured on Synanon Philosophy. Those Retreads who couldn’t take it would leave. Dederich’s daughter, Jady, considered more like her Dad than her half-brother Dede, ran the boot camp for girls. She had been directed to learn to give haircuts ala the skills of Jack Hurst.
The Synanon wire was perfected into a private radio network, KSYN. Sorkin, the ex DJ, was in charge. He was now one legged from a motorcycle accident, a common event as many who sought to emulate Dederich hoped aboard the bikes without real experience.
All Synanon houses were connected to the wire. Certain hours were designated for Foundation business which everyone could hear as speakers blasted 24 hours. Some working outside wore headsets. Outside tables with tape recorders were set up as Listening Posts. People could take work breaks, sit in chairs and listen to the latest edition of Dederich pontificating in games or replays of his wire announcements. Microphones connecting to the wire hung from the Temple ceiling as they did at the Powerhouse. Synanites were encouraged to tune in games on the radio. Failure to do so was considered negativity.
Radios also were tuned to the breaking story of Watergate. That President Nixon and his staff were using the IRS to get enemies, committing burglaries, sabotage and cover-ups, lying about it all, added to their feelings of superiority. Synanon members prayed to just get one of those guys in one good game.
Led by Ted Dibble the game came to the San Francisco county jail. Synanon put together a Jail House Tribe to play weekly games with prisoners.
On May 23rd 1972 San Francisco Sheriff Richard D. Hongisto and eight of his deputies checked into Synanon for a month stay to learn how a heroin addict feels. Hongisto was given a private room while the deputies shared the dormitory with Synanon members. All had to play the game, but the hardest sacrifice said a deputy was having to give up smoking. One deputy split early; another said he was going to become a lifestyler.
At the end, Hongisto told reporters they all did not want to leave because “we’ve been having such a good time.” He said he would incorporate some facets into the city’s drug programs and maybe play the game at Sheriff staff meetings and use it with his jail staff to solve internal problems. Synanon members were invited to play the game with inmates. He praised several East Bay Superior Court judges for visiting Synanon and considering it as an alternative to incarceration. “We spend,” Hongisto said, “so much money on mace, helicopters, clubs and other devices when money could be spent on programs like this. America has the worst jails in the world and our stay in Synanon is a step closer to find a solution.”
In Oakland, Synanon established Police and the Public games charging the police a fee to attend. Similar Cops and Robbers games were suppose to reduce friction and create mutual understanding. But Sometimes it didn’t go smoothly. Attending were Black Panthers who were known for slogans suggesting “offing pigs.” Synanon had helped Panthers distribute goods in the neighborhood. Bobby Seale was often a Synanon lunch guest. Special black panther-police games had been held previously in l969.
In Los Angeles Sheriff Peter Pitchess held a different view. “I think Synanon is one of the greatest frauds that has ever been perpetrated on the American public.” Some might have considered his remarks good insight except that he based them on his belief there was drug access and prostitution there.
Dederich gave the population an award, a big festival. It was another opportunity to make headlines and to also show the world Synanon marriages were sacred and successful even though spouses often lived in separate rooms. He had workers erect at the end of a 20 acre meadow at the Home Place Ranch a grandstand and bleachers for 2,000 spectators. They would stage the Synanon Wedding Festival–one large mass wedding for the community where everyone would celibate and reconfirm their prior wedding vows. That’s how he sold the idea, but Dederich knew in reality each would be ratifying their pledge and bonds to Synanon.
Under a blue California sky on Aug. 6, l972 the ceremony opened at 10 a.m. with a flute solo of “Home on the Range.” It begin with an 11-man horse guard coming down a hill led by led by Bill Ullman wearing a silver and black Spanish Don Juan costume complete with a large red plumed hat. One hundred and 21 young newcomers from boot camp then followed marching across the field singing “Boot Camp Boogie.” The marching women wore blue jeans white shirts with red neckerchiefs, the men bib overalls with blue work shirts and close-cropped hair. When they reached the grandstand they sang “Shenadoah.” Next came the Synanon elders, those who had entered in the early ’60s, followed by small children tossing rose petals.
Rev. C. Mason (Dede) Harvey, the ex-baptist minister who brought his family in during the 60’s in protest of Santa Monica’s treatment of Synanon, made his entrance on a small Shetland pony wearing a black tailcoat with white pants tucked into black boots. A Lincoln type top hat sat upon his head.
Then came 72 couples hand in hand to the sound of audience hand clapping. The brides, who had arrived in a brides bus, wore lovely cotton gay-90’s type hand-sewn gowns and wide brimmed bonnets with colorful ribbons; the grooms starched overalls, white shirts suspenders, cowboy boots, western hats, ties and red carnation’s on their lapels, beards trimmed. Many Synanites were dressed like 19th century Iowa farmers.
Harvey mounted a small homemade wooden dais and holding instead of a bible Synanon by Guy Endore now dubbed the book of Synanon.
“Brothers, sisters, mothers and father figures,” Harvey commenced, nodding towards Chuck Dederich who then rose in his seat and tipped his derby to the applause.
“I know you’re all wondering why we called you here today…We are gathered in this circle. Perhaps some of you remember those words uttered to you in another circle… Some of you may want to forget.” He then paused as the crowd laughed at reference to game attacks.
“In the Synanon philosophy, “he continued,” it says a man must accept himself for better or for worse as is his portion. On this day you move beyond that to accepting each other and moving a step forward accepting us as we accept you. In this community not only is Synanon a full third partner in every marriage contract, it must occupy the No. 1 position.
“Marriage takes on a new meaning: we join with you because we care for you. Perhaps what we are signifying here, as Chuck often says, is the death of the nuclear marriage. Perhaps so. What we know is that it is possible for you to know that in this home, this place, this Synanon, you can experience that which you have always dreamed.”
He added that within twenty-five years Synanon will blanket the earth and compared the invention of the game to that of another game, chess, and said each inventor was entitled to equal awards.
After the ceremony the couples did a slow western dance as the 20-piece band, wearing flat top white straw hats, led by famed jazz trombonist Frank Rehak, played Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head from the film Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. Then they bowed gracefully, joined hands and slowly danced a minuet to a waltz called The Dance of Love. Afterwards the stands emptied, the band changed to rock and roll and everyone broke into a 15-minute frantic hoopla dance. At picnic tables they feasted on salads, 2,500 barbecued pounds of their own beef and lamb, 400 gallons of ice cream, 700 water melons and chocolate cakes with white decorated wedding bells.
Picture taking took place in front of the 100 yr. old New England style house where the Founder lived. The media loved it and splashed photographs over northern newspapers and videos on the nightly news.
The most significant event in l972, however, occurred as the year was launched. On January 13, the San Francisco Examiner, founded by William Randolph Hearst, the tycoon fictionalized by Orson Wells in Citizen Kane, ran a front page article by Bob Patterson on Synanon partially headlined “Racket of the Century.” The article accused Synanon of duping donors as it no longer had a program for addicts, stated addicts were being phased out and charitable funds were being diverted for private use. In essence, it accused Synanon of being a fraud and using the “plight of the dope fiend” to bilk the public. It said those who remained were hooked on the place like a junkie on a drug and members lived a “zombie-like” existence. A follow-up article on January 25 claimed the IRS was investigating Synanon over its tax-free status.
Synanon made demands for retraction but the Examiner refused. Then seven months later the Examiner shot itself in the foot. It not only fired the reporter, Patterson, but it made public in a page one story that it had done so for discovering his propensity to fib. Dederich saw an opportunity to once again successfully rally his troops against a vulnerable enemy. Dederich formed an official Synanon legal Department with Dan Garrett at the helm and in October filed a lawsuit against Hearst and his paper for $32 million. Six Synanon lawyers were assigned to the case full time. Second to Garrett was Howard Garfield, a 1964 Stanford Graduate with honors, who like Garret had been first in his college law class when graduating in l968, only in his case it had been at Harvard, considered by some the nation’s top law school. Garfield had a spiritual side, having been a divinity student as well, and after becoming a game player he became a donor lawyer and then on May 29, l971 he was wooed to give up a partner position in a Beverly Hills law firm for a $25 a month salary in Synanon. He believed Synanon offered him the opportunity to use his legal skills for the good of mankind. Next was 36-year old Adrian “Red” Williams, a former Detroit lifestyler. He surrendered a 17-bedroom home and successful personal injury practice, the profits from which helped keep the Detroit House afloat, to move in this year. Like Garrett he had been an unhappy drinker. His wife and kids followed, left and he stayed. Newest to the staff was, like myself, a former public defender, Phil Bourdette, a l970 graudate of University of California at Davis who became impressed with Synanon’s work helping young criminals.
The Synanon lawyers toiled 10-hour days, seven days a week on the case. In addition, two prominent Los Angeles attorneys, Stanley Fleischman, a renowned first amendment lawyer who defended several high profile obscenity cases, and Harry Green, one of the nation’s foremost libel experts, offered their services. Both were father’s of a Synanon resident. Those who could type or assist in investigation transferred to Legal which was now the Foundation’s most prestigious office. The entire population was willing and wanting to serve Legal.
The suit became the community’s biggest occupation. Anything Legal needed was automatically top priority. Synanon became battle trim. It was all-out war, a fight to the finish, them or us. Badges and posters denouncing Hearst and the examiner were passed out to residents and the Examiner masthead was placed on toilet room doors. Toilets were renamed Examiners. Synanon, as a charitable trust, per law, was not allowed to lobby politically. Yet that attack would be taken against the Examiner as well as efforts to publicly denounce it. To protect itself and its tax free status a new entity called SCRAP (Synanon Committee for a Responsible American Press) was formed, managed by Ted Dibble. Individuals donated money to it, much of it paid to them by Synanon. SCRAPATHONS were held to raise money.
To defeat the lawsuit the Examiner would have to either prove the truth of what it wrote or rely on the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Interpreting the latter, Courts held that as to a public figure, which Synanon was, a defendant could not be liable if he or it published in good faith. This rule was to encourage public discourse on matters of public concern and prevent a “chilling” of free speech. Because of this rule Synanon had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the Examiner either knew the story was not true or published it with a reckless disregard of whether it was true or not.
At first instance it would seem there would be enough facts known from which the Hearst Corporation could claim good faith. The idea of the story had gone to and was approved by Edward S. Montgomery, a Hearst investigative reporter of 30 years who had won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corruption in the IRS.
But the article written by Robert Patterson had only one source, splitee Guenther Nurenberger who had spent only 7 months in the Oakland house. The Examiner paid Nurenberger $400 for the interview. And the Examiner itself had run a story challenging Patterson’s veracity as a reporter. It was incriminating just that Patterson had ever worked for the Examiner. He first became employed with the Examiner in l945, the year I was born, by falsely saying he had worked for Time while concealing he had been just released from prison. He had served several sentences for robbery, grand theft, embezzlement, confidence games, forgery and bad checks. He wrote a spicy society column for the paper until William Randolf Hearst discovered his criminal record and fired him in 1949.
Somehow in l967 the younger Hearst hired Patterson back. He specialized writing on various scandals before tendering his draft of “Racket of the Century.” Seven months after his Synanon piece he was fired again for fabricating a story called “Inside China” written instead, some said, inside a Hong Kong bar. After he was fired the Examiner retained him as an investigator at $250 a month. Synanon claimed this was hush money.
The ability of the Hearst lawyers to investigate in order to build a truth defense became compromised by another incredible blunder. On January 25, l973 Synanon members Gil Faucette and Twilver Earle took business records, board minutes and 50 tapes recordings from the Home Place at Tomales and brought them to the law offices of Garett McEnerney II, the Examiner lawyers. At the time they had been hired by the lawyers as $500 a month consultants. Faucette went from Synanon hero, having been the first to marry at Synanon and in l965 going to jail rather than obey a parole officer’s demand he leave, a test case Synanon won, to Synanon traitor. Faucette had recently been ordered out of Synanon for refusing to follow orders of his superiors. It was then discovered earlier that same month splitee Joseph Chico had taken two tapes from the same office. Dederich demanded the trio of spies be prosecuted and blasted Marin D.A. Bruce Bales for dragging his feet. To make the point Dederich wrote his good friend Marin Sheriff Louis Montanos that since Bales wasn’t prosecuting Synanon in order to defend his organization he was going to send 250 members to his office to apply for gun permits. While Montanos turned the request down, Bales said it was unfair for Synanon to threaten to arm itself against burglars, that he just needed more time to investigate. But the publicity delivered Bales the message. He eventually made arrests and in February of l975 Faucette and Earle were convicted. Faucette was spared serving his complete 90-day jail sentence and released because of terminal emphysema.
Synanon claimed the Examiner’s attorneys, who were subsequently replaced, had hired the trio to commit the burglary and that the Examiner also arranged for a favorable story on the Foundation scheduled to appear in the Wall Street Journal to be canceled and was pressuring big corporate donors to withdraw. A second lawsuit was filed in l973 by Synanon for Dirty Tricks. Synanon officials fantasized they would soon own the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Clearly Synanon was in the driver’s seat and enjoying the ride. Legal took long and provoking depositions continuously of Hearst and the paper’s employees from top to bottom. Synanon lawyers traveling to court on motorcycles flaunted the suited Examiner lawyers. One of the three spies who had taken tapes while in Synanon once had been ordered derogatorily to “sweep the bus” as a punishment. When he was deposed Dan Garrett wore a badge that said “sweep the bus” while he questioned him.
To the public Dederich said: “Synanon has never started a fight — — not ever. But let one begin and we will never back down. This is the time for us to get that word out: nobody shoves Synanon around.”
And to his followers he said, “Synanon can only die from the poison within, outside threats only make us stronger…It always has and it always will. That’s just the way it is.”
Synanon was now easily as the London Times had said the largest and most successful commune in United States. It had 13.4 million in assets. 32 percent of the population were squares, 15 percent were dependent children and 17 percent were black. 64 percent were male (Synanon was now encouraging more female admissions) and 69 percent were 39 or younger. 11 percent had been residents more than five years, 44 percent over two years and 61 percent over one year. 50 percent of current admitteds left within one month and a third remained after six months.
Santa Monica with its 800 members remained the reception station for new members. A non-resident, Altina Carey, painted a mural of Synanon’s history on a dining room wall at the Del Mar. Newly acquired Badger, which had 45 members, provided R & R and an educational center. Executive businesses moved from San Francisco to Tomales Bay which also provided R & R.
Officially Synanon was governed by the Board of Regents. Underneath came the directors. All received $50 a month WAM. Next came department heads and then foremen. In reality it was governed by the man who appointed them all–Charles Dederich. He made all rules. Per the by-laws no one was officially a member until he had resided in Synanon for five years. At that point a five-year birthday party was celebrated . They were the owners of Synanon which would care for them for life with the promise No one can get hurt in Synanon. Dan Garrett said they were resolving “the dilemma inherent in human condition.”
Business income totaled 6.3 million and the Lifestyler business in l972 brought in 1.3 million plus the game calling upon residents to donate everything. Additional cash receipts exceeded 1.5 million. Contributions totaled 2.8 million. To hold something back it was said, was to keep one foot outside, to have a doubt as to commitment. One was to sink or swim with Synanon. People gave their stock, cash and others sold homes, giving the proceeds to Synanon. Another leather elbow joined, Brooks Carder. A former assistant UCLA professor of psychology with a PhD in Experimental Psychology, Carder brought his wife and kids and became Synanon’s Chief Educational Officer.
Synanon Industries profited 1.6 million. ADGAP, led by Dederich’s brother Bill D., trained the most attractive ex-addicts in sales techniques, teaching how to flatter and how to close. They traveled all over the U.S. bringing with them pens, key holders, cigarette lighters and the like plus a short film called “Miracle on the Beach.” In 1972 ADGAP netted 1.2 million becoming the largest producer of advertising give aways in the western U.S. with annual sales of nearly 10 million.. It’s salesman received $50 a month salary and like other members could earn credits that could be used at the Synanon store filled with donated items. Excluding hustling, Synanon netted 5.4 million. Despite he Hearst articles Synanon was given free ad spaces by various media including the California State Bar Journal, Billboard Magazine, Ramparts and the Hollywood Reporter. The ads described Dederich as the gentleman farmer who earns just $50.00 a month while his rehabilitation of addicts saved the taxpayers $27 million the previous year.
Synanon now had specialized hustlers for every need and in 1972 brought in 6 million dollars worth of free goods, Dederich taking much of the best for his own use. But the most valuable asset may have been the free labor force building around the clock in Marin and Badger. Betty, who Dederich called “Mother” and could sometimes silence him with a disapproving glance, wondered if the building was becoming more important than the people. Dederich admitted, “I always wanted to be rich and now I am,” but added, “so is everyone else is. People of wealth are the ones who can afford principles.”
And to show those principles, Synanon made a statement in l972 during the oil and energy crises by self-imposing a 50 miles an hour speed limit before President Nixon lowered it to 55 on an emergency basis. That, along with its ride sharing, resulted in its members using 9.8 gallons per resident compared to the 39.5 per Californian. Its public relations department announced once again Synanon leads the country in finding solutions.
In July of l972 Synanon held its first Synanon Olympic Festival in Santa Monica, the same year 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Village were taken by Palestinian terrorists and killed. Synanon’s 3-day version had track, swimming, volleyball, basketball, archery, weight lifting, hammer nailing, paddle tennis, touch football, volleyball, 3-legged races, pie -eating and hoopla dancing. A wealthy lifestyler donated the medals.
The San Diego branch closed for a second and final time. And the rules of the game begin to change. Old time teacher and square Al Bauman conducting a ceremony before loops were put on said:
“The Game is safe and dangerous. It is words, but words are signs for future action. There is “in the Game” and “out of the Game.” The distinction is clear and unclear. Run the risk.
“We create the Game as we play it here and now, with techniques and skill, with inspiration–an artifact–an yet the Game is truth.”
Ellis Kaplan, a resident and architect, wrote a paper in l972 called Territory and Status in Synanon saying that the same attaches to the demonstration of moral position consistent within the community.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter published the book Commitment and Community the then seminal study examining the forces that allow unrelated and different people to come together in communal living. She concluded the key was commitment. She noted people have a natural tendency to adapt to their environment and absorb the value structure. The more one became “invested” in the community the more one would become “committed.” Investment consisted of dependency for need fulfillment. The more the community provided the friends, mates, family, socialization, housing, values and employment the more invested the individual was and thus the more committed. Such members would find it very difficult to leave. Institutional completeness occurs when the community offers everything within.
Kanter dedicated a whole chapter to Synanon. Noting the deification of Dederich, communal child-rearing and critical view of society she compared it with 19th century uptopian communities. She concluded at Synanon the forces of commitment were too strong and the resulting institutional dependence to great. There was more coercion than necessary to remain and too much denial of volition and freedom.
In June of 1972 Edward L. Maillet, a psychologist out of the Brooke Army Medical Health Care Research division in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, spent 10 days in Synanon for a study hoping to benefit the Army’s own drug-related problems. Maillet called Synanon “inevitably reminiscent of Skinner’s Walden Two, except Synanon was not fictional.”
But Maillet was not without concerns. He questioned if the game might traumatize fragile participants, noting there were no studies on the long-term impact of the game on those with left. He said the Synanon approach was cultic citing incest candles burning while the prayer is read. The game was a powerful instrument of behavior modification and, he said, it “is difficult to imagine how any member could for long resist behavior defined as important by the group. To achieve respite from enormously forceful criticism and ridicule, he would have to either change his behavior, change the group’s definition of ideal behavior or leave Synanon.” For all the talk of the game being fun, he imagined there were those who approached the game with dread. He hypothesized that faith in the game for many operated as a self fulfilling prophecy helping their lives.
A member, he wrote, is virtually stripped of all outside social context which might exercise a contrary influence. There was no privacy and squealing was not only approved but required. Persons were to renounce delinquent past behavior and adopt Synanon norms. Synanon had power over those on parole who might go to jail if reported they misbehaved.
Maillet observed other cultish techniques. He compared the Trip to a religious retreat and wrote techniques used forced members to surrender all defenses. Legends similar to those of Saints who founded religious orders formed around Dederich, his every word recorded, analyzed and discussed. He concluded Synanon served as a religious substitute especially to members without formal religion backgrounds. Unlike other drug addiction programs, he wrote, Synanon had no purpose in returning participants to society and made no follow-ups on those who leave, unfortunately losing very viable data. Synanon’s view of splitting as failure encouraged retention. Still Maillet found accomplishments in that character disorders typically consisting of school dropouts were working together with self-esteem to build the New World. Whether these people could sustain such changes without support remained unknown.
Since the Army has not been remarkably successful Maillet said some form of Army relationship with Synanon might be a good resource. Synanon’s use of a sociocultural system to manage and correct behavior was consistent with the Army’s. However, he noted, Synanon’s position against violence might conflict with Army goals.
Synanon liked the report and made copies available through the Synanon News Service in Marshall.
The most prophetic writing in l972 came surprisingly from within. On November 22, lifestlyer and screenwriter Barry Orringer, one of the writers of Columbia’s Synanon movie who had moved in for a more socially committed life, wrote an essay he labeled Power and Dissent in response to a current crisis concerning the community child-rearing edict.
Oringer noted any parental opposition was met with condemnation as potential enemies in an atmosphere akin to a lunatic asylum. To be considered “good soldiers of the revolution,” Oringer wrote, one may only glance at his child from a hilltop. Parents greeting children in the hallway are met with scowls by demonstrators having police power over human relationships. Some Parents wanting to visit their children were ordered to first do a series of physical labors.
In the game, he wrote, rather than following the Synanon philosophy to “Bravely let him speak the utmost syllable of his conviction” it had become an arena for role-playing actors with preassigned rolls. Rather than voicing dissent, people want to back management. Those who back policy are patriots and those who opposed are subversives. People, he stated, feared looking bad more than doing injustice. In enforcing “crazy taboos” the game was no longer about exploration but coercion.
This was wrong, Oringer argued. A person who commits his life to Synanon cannot be negative but only wrong and that is not a sin. To conform in face of one’s own moral convictions is. Such good people should not be forced out the door by dictators.
Oringer also complained of containment becoming “confinement.” He backed the idea of harnessing “our power and creativity” but not punishment for going to outside movies. Synanon members, he wrote, had gone from a past life of self-indulgence to one of self-righteousness that deludes to thinking they may badger and intimidate others. In doing this, he wrote, the game was becoming nothing more than a witch hunt.
Synanites had to remember that Synanon was a society committed to trust and humane treatment of each other. That is what made them unique. The world outside kills, tortures, rapes, destroys and makes war. They do these things in the name of causes created by people who think they are right. If Synanon, too, he concluded, places doctrinal conformity over wisdom and compassion and sees other people as means and not as ends then an “empty and soulless fanaticism will prevail over principal and we will become like every other evanescent utopia.”
Elders, like Garretts and Hurst, were responsible. Dederich, he wrote, was not. Dederich had taught them how to play the game and they had forgotten. By ignoring the teachings of the Founder, he warned, they will perish as they did not learn how to play games once the founder passes on.
Orringer either failed to see where the changes were coming from or knew well the limits of dissent. In two years, Oringer was out, claiming “spooky vibes of violence” in the air.
In the past Dederich often had made deity comparisons. “Jesus, he said, “ran with a bunch of smugglers, drunks and crooks. …a real mad man who was angry enough to walk into a temple one-day and throw everyone out on their asses.” With his Hawaiian shirt and faded overalls as a gag he sometimes put on a tensegrity crown made of paper and popsicle sticks. He had a King Freak Throne. But now Dederich preferred analogies to a new movie that had captivated the nation’s audiences, The Godfather. He identified with it and thought the horses head was a stroke of genius. Now he liked to hang out by the pool, do a little Marlon Brando and entertain those seeking his wisdom or favors. Above his chair a microphone hung from a tree.
The Marin property now had security guards and barred windows. Members were no longer cautioned not to go out alone for just the purposes of containment, but because it wasn’t safe out there. In addition to the enemies at the Examiner, there were occasional local rednecks who expressed their dislike of the invaders with an occasional rock tossing at Synanon buses; a burglar in l970 was said to have shot at a Santa Monica Synanon resident, Jeff Harvey. Betty claimed a vehicle almost forced her off the road. Hunters tore down fences. Bomb threats were continual from the late 60’s. One was taped and the perpetrator was convicted. In city houses windows were broken and vehicles damaged. An alarm was hooked up at the connect that could ring an outside private security force. Additional members were assigned to Night Security.
Splitees in Oakland stole Synanon office equipment and in l972 a man brandishing a gun ran through the Oakland House. The ungrateful also charged through Athens cursing and threatening members. Because of the no violence rule no one did anything but call the police. Dederich, his twitch activated by his temper, was not pleased with the response. Dederich said the residents were cowards to not fight back and defend themselves. He made it clear the nonviolence doctrine did not apply to defending themselves. “Emerson,” Dederich quoted, “says “Always do what you are afraid to do.”” It was the last time the cops would be called.
In addition, merged with the criminal threats non-member parents were going to court for orders returning their kids claiming it was better to be raised by a single parent than an institution. Pressure was again rising on cities to enforce zoning laws.
“It always puzzles me,” Dederich said, “to see our people direct their hostility and resentment toward other members of our community. They do that… They do that…rather than directing it toward the outside society which shut them up in pens of various kinds… This hoodlum approach to human relations they learned in the gutters threatens the well-being of this community which sustains them. Those of us who are ultimately responsible for Synanon must save them from themselves. We must correct their behavior as we originally corrected their drug addiction.”
And in games, required as always to repeat their dirty stories, members nostalgically reminded themselves of the evils outside, the evils they once themselves wielded. One talked of when he had used a hatchet, another the time he fired a gun. Squares listened in awe. They especially liked the talk of a newcomer from New York who had joined on April 6, l972: Joe Musico.
After dropping out of high school, Musico began using drugs in the Army Special Services while in combat in Vietnam. He continued in the Military Police before given a general discharge in l969 after being court martialed for drugs. He had hearings in both DeNang and Washington, D.C. Returning to New York he tried a rehab in Manhatton and a methadone program in Staten Island, failing both. He was arrested seven times for car theft, drugs and sales without conviction. In his last arrest a Judge gave him the option of going to Synanon. His mother, telling him of her dream of a better life for him, begged him to go to Synanon.
Musico did, arriving at a mere 128 pounds. He would beef up and become physically strong again. He was a good looking man and he felt now he had a home and a productive life. He was finally happy. He also felt appreciated, finding an attentive audience in games when he spoke of violence and death, of wearing a necklace made of human ears and of sergeants shot in the back that the troops didn’t like.
While my class did not do so great on the state bar exam, I had been lucky. There were five sessions of essay questions and when I saw a question that might give me difficulty it was matched by an alternate I knew I could handle. As to the two questions that was supposed to be aimed at subjects we had not studied in order to test our creative reasoning, one I had done a term paper on and the other had been a subject of a long night discussion between my older brother, Lewis, an attorney, a week prior. I knew I had passed.
When I got the bar results and was sworn in I then became curious about what practicing would be like. However, unlike my classmates, I had not gone through the law firm job interviewing process during my last year of school. I just wasn’t sure then I wanted to practice. I had gone to law school mainly on advice of my parents who believed it would be a good education to have–a fall back– no matter what I did. My father was going to go to law school but was talked into going into the meat business with his father and brother given the high demand caused back then by the war. My first real love, Sharon Gribow, of whom I had written a teleplay about in my script writing class, also advocated my attending. Then she left me and married a lawyer. Mainly I went because I liked the idea of hanging around USC three more years. I was in no hurry to grow up.
The first couple of weeks as a new Deputy Public Defender we were suppose to roam the halls of the Criminal Courts Building and observe preliminary hearings, pre-trial sessions where the District Attorney must prove it has a prima facie case against a defendant warranting a trial. But as I had done my last year of law school I played a lot of hookey hoping to find a way to do something else. Although his show did not yet exist I dreamed of a career like Geraldo Rivera originally had before he went Hollywood, when he was a hard hitting newsman, not an entertainer. I wanted to bring people important stories. Law to me seemed about money and a game. I did not then see it could be used to tell a story and affect change. Together with a camera friend we approached Jerry West’s agent and a local network to do a special we called Mr. Clutch as the Lakers guard had just led his team to the NBA title. We were told it could be done if we could bring in the advertisers and there the idea died.
The following week I did my first preliminary hearing involving stars, the director and producers of a porno movie called “The Mayor.” As the US Supreme Court ruled such films are protected if there is any story line, prosecutors were using an antiquated law still on the California books that made oral copulation a felony. The charges were conspiracy to commit oral copulation. On cross-examination of the key witnesse I did a good job of showing that the act may have only been simulated. Then came Exhibit-A–the movie and the end of the simulation theory. So much for my first case.
My story on Jan and Dean sold to Rolling Stone in 1974. It was to be the cover story but was bumped for Richard Nixon when he announced his resignation. The photos I took were not used either, the magazine preferring its own photographer, a young Annie Leibowitz. I then did a story published in Coast Magazine about William DePalma, a catering truck driver and father of three daughters, who served several years in a federal prison for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. A crime lab technician who framed people he believed were guilty had planted DePalma’s fingerprint on a teller counter and a witness had picked his photo from an old mug shot. A private investigator named appropriately John Bond ultimately proved the frame and won DePalma’s release. At the time DePalma was represented by the Federal Public Defenders and in doing the story, I met the head of the office, a young start-up public servant I was impressed with, John Vande Kamp.
A producer optioned the film rights and promised to give me a shot and the screenplay but DePalma decided he wanted no more publicity. I had made an oral agreement with his attorney Robert Talcott, whom I had met as a public defender in my first case over the pornography ring, that I wouldn’t make a film deal without DePalma’s permission. I kept my word.
I decided to do a book. While a public defender, I did a stint at the West L.A. courthouse under 39 year old Harry Anderson. A quiet man who sometimes played the guitar in his office, he was going through a divorce at the time and fretted over being single again. We lunched often, I looked up to him, and he told me many legal stories, one he said might be a good story for me to write about. It involved a con man who bilked an elderly woman. When she became suspicious, to calm her, he took her to Europe. He came back alone. Steven Trott, the absolute proto-type of the perfect prosecutor, square-chinned, serious, relentless, was assigned the investigation. He went to Europe, followed the couple’s path and came back with enough to evidence to win the first ever murder conviction in a case where the corpse was never found.
An agent actually got me a job to write another book, one about USC football coach John McKay who had led USC to four national titles, fine-tuned the I-formation and created “student body right.” A man of wisdom and great wit, and one whom I had admired and felt made me grow up some at college; it seemed like a good deal. But I was afraid to be typecast further in sports, I wanted to do something more meaningful and I wanted to honor my friend Harry Anderson’s memory by doing a book on his story. Several weeks after telling me the tale, he told me he felt sick and was going home. Two weeks later he was dead from a large tumor alongside his heart. I turned over the McKay book to USC’s publicist Jim Perry and tried to investigate Anderson’s tale. Trott was cooperative but a key witness was not. A long-time associate of the perpetrator who turned evidence wanted to be paid to talk. I was stonewalled and the book slipped away for inability to obtain the facts. What I had gained from the try, as I had gained by meeting Van de Kamp when doing the DePalma story, meeting Trott. But it would be four years until I knew it as to either.
I had also had upset the office. A veteran deputy, David Vinje, who specialized in defending against the worst of crimes was murdered in a bar hold-up at “LoLa”s a drinking water hole in the valley. I saw the irony and perhaps still suffering from my own father’s death sympathized with his wife and children. I met with them, researched the story and questioned public defenders whether the incident affected their opinions on the death penalty issue. I had a dream of writing for Playboy. Despite the pictures, I thought it published the best articles but my piece was rejected. However, Plaboy said it was great and recommended I send it to West Magazine, the Sunday supplement for the Los Angeles Times, which not only bought it but it did an inside profile on me. I felt on top of the world believing this would be the catalyst to excise me from law and give me the career I yearned. The story was even optioned for film but never got picked up.
The Public Defender’s office, however didn’t share my elation. The head of the office summoned me and gave a lecture on writing about the office without their permission. I realized there was political fear over having an uncontrolled writer in the office. I was told point blank not to do it again. I quit.