A 63-year old man is to spend nine months walking the entire coastline of the United Kingdom in order to raise funds for drug awareness lecturer Peter Dwan so he can continue visiting the nation’s schools and “reach the kids before the dealers do”.
Well, I admit, it’s not easy, and I’m not writing this with much relish. Steve Cook, the 63-year old grandfather embarking on this epic trek, comes across as a sincere and affable chap, earnest in the belief of his cause. The same goes for Peter Dwan, a former Thai boxing champion and martial arts trainer who seems genuinely passionate about the issue he has set his sights on.
But there’s something not so benevolent underneath it all. Something questionable. Something hidden.
Steve Cook has mentioned in several interviews that his own awareness of drug issues came about because he worked with addicts himself. More detail on this aspect of his past is not forthcoming, but the truth is that this was with Narconon, the Scientology front group that uses the highly questionable methods of the cult’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, to try and get people off drugs.
Does it matter who’s behind the project? Surely getting information to kids and warning them of the dangers of drugs is more important than any strange spiritual beliefs someone might hold? Scientology themselves certainly profess that, and are constantly at pains to stress that Narconon is a secular organisation, totally separate from the “Church“, and only there to do good community work.
But there is a problem – in fact more than one. Narconon is not independent of Scientology, it is Scientology, and Scientology is a dangerous cult. Narconon exists in order to further spread the works and philosophies of L. Ron Hubbard – a very problematic individual, to say the least. And the programme is reliant on pseudoscience that can be genuinely dangerous – especially to addicts.
Narconon has its strongest foothold in the US, with at least ten rehab centres across the country, the most prominent of which is probably the controversial Lake Arrowhead complex in Oklamoma – the site of four inmate deaths, three within just nine months.
But what about in the UK? We have had Narconon centres here, most notably at St. Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, but none of these has really had any staying power (St. Leonards lasted from 2005 until 2009). Narconon UK now mainly seems to consist of a number of amateur and decaying websites – all with different names and identities, a few mostly out of date phone numbers, the occasional effort to restart it or introduce a worryingly dubious home self-help programme, sporadic leafleting, and a handful of individual educators who go out into schools to spread the Scientology message on drugs – such as Peter Dwan. (Update: On 5 Sep 2015 a new UK Narconon centre was opened in Heathfield, Sussex).
If you ask Dwan, or Steve Cook, or any of his supporters, they’ll tell you that his drug education project is now independent of Narconon and has nothing to do with Scientology. He just wants to get the information to the kids. If it’s good information, that would be fine, but unfortunately it is not good information.
The Narconon programme consists of several components including self-awareness, self-improvement, detoxification and life-skills. This holistic approach sounds great until you realise that it all comes straight from the mind of L. Ron Hubbard – a man who created his own science-fiction religion for the purposes of money and ego, who lied about and exaggerated his own history, who spent many years on the run from several international authorities, and ended his life, in hiding, as a sick, paranoid drug addict.
One of the first things a new patient (or ‘student’ as they are called) will do at Narconon is a ‘therapeutic training routine’ to improve their communication and attention span. The terms have been softened, but this is the same course that greets a new recruit to Scientology – the Communication Course, consisting of several ‘training routines‘ known as TR0, TR1 and TR2, etc. Scientology critic and author Jon Atack calls these drills a form of hypnosis, creating malleable minds ripe for indoctrination.
The detoxification scheme is the centrepiece of the programme, but also one of the most troubling aspects. It involves taking mega-doses of vitamins and spending long hours in a hot sauna. This is because Hubbard believed that drug residue becomes lodged in body fat and stays there for years, sometimes restimulating the individual and causing further harm. High doses of niacin are supposed to break up these deposits, the sauna is supposed to sweat them out, and then vitamins and minerals are replaced through supplements.
This so-called ‘New Life Detoxification programme’ is called the Purification Rundown in Scientology. It’s exactly the same thing and it’s pseudoscience. There is no evidence that drugs stay for years – or even months in most cases – in the body’s fat. Niacin and vitamins are both instructed to be taken in doses that are known to be dangerous. It’s part of the whole scam that is the detox industry.
One of the side effects of niacin is that it can bring on an uncomfortable hot prickly rash. As a child brought up in Scientology I can attest to this as my sister and I were made to do the ‘Purif’ when we were 11 or 12 years old in the early 1980s. Once it came out in sore patches around my eyes and the supervisor told me this was because it manifested in patterns that relate to past-lives – these were evidently echoes of the goggles of a WWII fighter ace! (Hubbard actually believed the reaction was old sun tans and that the niacin was eradicating radiation from the body – also not true.) Another side effect of high-dose niacin intake is liver damage. Imagine that on a recovering alcoholic.
Scientology’s misaligned worldview is evident throughout the rest of the course too: important medication (for instance, anti-seizure drugs) may be taken away from the participant (reflecting Scientology’s mistrust of mainstream medicine and psychiatrists), the person will be persuaded that the cause of their problems may be to do with the influence of other people in their lives, including family members (invoking Scientology’s policy of Suppressive Persons and disconnection), and a graduating ‘student’ will be encouraged to stay on as a staff member, to bring more people into the centre (for a commission), and to take further Scientology courses within the main organisation.
So should Peter Dwan and Steve Cook be trusted as drug educators to our nation’s schools? If teachers were aware of their connection to Scientology they would probably be more reluctant to let them have any influence over their pupils.
Steve Cook worked at the Hastings Narconon centre, and his wife was one of the directors there. Both have been Scientologists since the early 1980s. Peter Dwan was an ambassador and director for Narconon Manchester, and has been a Scientologist since 2003. All have strong connections to Scientology, Narconon, and support other Scientology front groups such as the deceptively named Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR, Scientology’s anti-psychiatry organisation).
In addition they come with the baggage that afflicts many Scientologists – an anti-scientific view of the medical profession and pharmaceuticals, and a strong tendency towards conspiracy theories. Cook supports the long-disproved notion that vaccines cause autism, but goes even further down the rabbit hole into the ideas of the so-called New World Order and its various false flag agendas – so much so that he’s become editor and writer for the UK edition of the Liberty Beacon website, a brand that’s fully immersed in the conspiracy and pseudoscience nut jar.
Peter Dwan is not averse to these sorts of ideas either, tweeting in support of the ridiculous and dangerous ‘MMS‘ – the industrial bleach concoction that its creator, ‘Bishop’ Jim Humble (an ex-Scientologist who has since created his own religion), claims will cure everything from AIDS to Malaria and Cancer. And again, like many Scientologists, he seems to be chasing the ‘quick-easy-fix’ in life – earning money off the questionable claims made by multi-level-marketing brand Juice Plus, and promising speedy mastery of several martial arts by selling Al Case’s highly dubious ‘Matrix‘ fighting system (Al Case is also a Scientologist). To guide him through all this, Dwan is in the thrall of American ‘get rich quick’ marketing guru Grant Cardone – another Scientologist.
The quick fix, the magic bullet … health in a tablet, the tincture that cures all ills, the DVD that gives you black belt in a year, the sure-fire marketing method, the complete by-numbers drug programme … and the answer to life the universe and everything in a single package: Scientology.
The erasure of Narconon from Dwan’s websites and printed literature and promotions is a recent thing. His current leaflets and hand-outs are the same as those used by Narconon, only now the Narconon logo has disappeared and been replaced with ‘Peter Dwan Drug Education’ and ‘Smart About Drugs’.
But there’s no doubt that Dwan is using “the very successful Narconon lecture format” – his flip-chart drawings are the same as those used by other Narconon lecturers and the information remains the same, including the blatant misinformation about toxins stored in body fat as well as other Scientology-related ideas about the reactive mind and drug restimulation. His mantras to “reach kids before the dealers do” and to give them “the truth about drugs” are straight from the Narconon script.
I do wonder if this is part of new strategy for Narconon UK. Director Lucy Skirrow announces that they “currently have eight active presenters who work in schools, youth clubs and businesses, based in Sussex, London, Manchester and York”. But the name Narconon is not as visible as it used to be. And if you want one of these lecturers you can expect to pay about £140 for a session (2006 price) – for many schools it’ll be your taxes that pay for it.
As I said earlier, Peter Dwan is evidently passionate about teaching children the dangers of drugs, and he almost certainly believes he’s giving good information. But he’s been hoodwinked by Scientology’s usual ways of pulling people deeper and deeper into their clutches and then utilising them for dissemination, recruitment and financial gain.
However, Dwan does have another aspect to his story that is much more positive. After drugs (alcohol, cannabis and speed in his case) he found focus in life with martial arts – a noble endeavour – and he was successful at it. As he says in his lectures, the buzz of training and winning the British Thai boxing title was greater than anything that could be provided by some chemical high.
If he could fortify this enthusiasm and experience with some proper training as a drug counsellor and educator, utilising up to date, peer-reviewed science, and recognise the reality of mental health problems that often accompany addiction, incorporating modern education methods rather than out-dated propaganda, scare tactics and misinformation, then he’d truly be a welcome positive force in the UK’s schools.
In the meantime, Steve Cook Walks the Kingdom to fight the “UK drugs epidemic”. If you want to donate then there’s a button to pay through PayPal, but no public accounting, such as there would be if a service such as Just Giving was used. (Update Jul 2015: almost two months into the walk Cook started a GoFundMe page – not linked to from his website; it has, to date, raised £100, with a target of £20,000).
How much has he raised? I have no idea, as of this writing there doesn’t seem to be any way to know. How many people have seen the dozens of articles and heard the radio interviews and donated? Well, Cook says that all donors will be publicly acknowledged online, and I count 14 listed on the website at the time of writing (8 days into the walk) – at least ten of whom are Scientologists.
I wish this were for a better cause – it’s an astonishing thing to walk over 4,000 miles of rugged coastline, especially when you’re 63 and a smoker (not very drug free!). (Another Scientologist, Danny Fitzgibbon, is planning to row unaided across the Atlantic ocean for Dwan in September, a feat he has abandoned once already). Cook’s early diary videos gave a hint that perhaps he was having doubts about his ability and stamina, and his schedule doesn’t appear to include a single rest day. I can’t help but have some admiration for the guy. (Update: Cook has ended his walk halfway through, see updates at the end).
As for Narconon, it is a gateway drug to philosophies that were born out of the skewed mind of L. Ron Hubbard – a man addicted to cigarettes (3 or 4 packs a day – he actually believed they could help prevent lung cancer), who popped “pinks and greys” (benzedrine), and who died with the psychiatric tranquilliser Vistaril in his bloodstream; a man who claimed to have travelled to Venus, and that an intergalactic overlord called Xenu had ruled the Galaxy 75 million years ago and dropped billions of his citizens into volcanoes on Earth from spaceships that closely resembled DC-8 aircraft.
Scientologists believe that only they have the “tech” to save the planet, and that the thoughts and ideas of Hubbard are infallible. If what they taught about drugs was true, if it was evidenced science, could anyone take this data and lecture it in schools? Or administer the Purification Rundown in their own centres? I think it’s more likely that Scientology would try and take them to court for infringing on their exclusive system.
I know Dwan and his fellow lecturers aren’t going into schools and administering Hubbard’s Purification Rundown to children, but they are almost entirely informed and backed-up by Narconon and Scientology, and the schools who pay for these lectures (how much of the fee goes to Narconon/Scientology?) are allowing poor science, outdated educational methods, and questionable philosophies into their classrooms.
Bad information about narcotics and alcohol will lead to bad decisions by kids when they eventually come face to face with drugs, and schools should be 100% certain of whose ideas are influencing their young pupils. They should know if it is Scientology.
Update Jul 2015: Cook got as far as North Queensferry, just across the Forth from Edinburgh, before a bad foot caused him to return to East Grinstead on 11 July 2015 – this has not been updated on his website, which still shows him in Scotland.
Update Aug 2015: It seems the walk is over for now, as Cook has announced on Facebook that he plans to possibly get back to the walk in Spring 2016, though the Walk the Kingdom website has not been updated with this news. (20 Aug: his website has at last been updated. Aug 2016: no mention or continuation of the Walk.)