Scientology group reaches kids through PBS videos
By JOSEPH MALLIA
More than 30 million American schoolchildren have watched PBS-TV math videos made by a Los Angeles-based foundation with intimate ties to the controversial Church of Scientology, the Herald has learned.
With lively camerawork and guest stars such as supermodel Cindy Crawford, comic Bill Cosby and athlete Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Peabody Award-winning videos have been paid for with at least $12 million in taxpayer funding since 1990, U.S. government documents show.
But the video company - known as FASE - has a hidden agenda promoting the "Purification Rundown," the Church of Scientology's $1,200 per-member detoxification ritual, said former top-ranked church member Robert Vaughn Young.
"FASE was originally created to put Scientology covertly into schools and government, to give the Purification Rundown an air of respectability," said Young, of Seattle.
"Scientology created FASE so they could use it to get in the door," the church defector said.
All the top executives at FASE are Scientologists and some are former members of the Church of Scientology's notorious Guardian's Office, some of whose leaders - including L. Ron Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue - were imprisoned for spying on the U.S. government in the 1970s, Young said.
Founded in 1953, the Church of Scientology is criticized by anti-cult activists as a money-grabbing and fraudulent organization that uses deception to get new members for its high-priced programs.
FASE was created by the Church of Scientology in 1981, during the Cold War, to gather scientific proof that Hubbard's controversial detox method could protect humans from radiation sickness in the event of a U.S.-U.S.S.R. nuclear war, Young said.
"Hubbard thought the end of the world was coming, through nuclear warfare. That really rattled some people," Young recalled.
While the danger of U.S.-Soviet nuclear war subsided, the Purification Rundown is still widely practiced by Scientologists as a $1,200 preliminary religious ritual that all new members must buy - the first step on the Bridge to Total Freedom.
And the Rundown is sold only through the church - including its Boston branch at 448 Beacon St. - and two Scientology-connected organizations also headquartered in California: the non-profit Narconon and the for-profit detoxification clinic HealthMed.
The drug rehab regimen requires strenuous exercise, five hours of sweating in a sauna, megadoses of niacin, and ingesting a half-cup of vegetable oil - each day for two or three weeks.
Another ex-Scientologist, Dennis Erlich of Glendale, Calif., also said that FASE is intent on promoting the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"They're trying to pass themselves off as independent. But their real job is to spread Hubbard's philosophy," Erlich said.
Stand and deliver
For FASE, popular success began in the mid-1980s when it hitched its wagon to a star - Los Angeles math teacher Jaime Escalante, whose story was told in the 1987 feature film "Stand and Deliver" starring Edward James Olmos.
Buying air conditioners for his sweltering summer-school classrooms and backpacks for his students, FASE's Scientologists were Escalante's early supporters.
With the gruffly humorous Bolivian immigrant, FASE produced the Peabody award-winning "Futures... with Jaime Escalante" for junior and senior high school students.
Since 1990, the Scientologists at FASE have paid Escalante up to $160,000 a year to help produce math videos, federal documents show.
And since 1993, the video company has teamed up with exuberant math teacher Kay Toliver, of Harlem, whose series "The Eddie Files" is being distributed by PBS this year.
FASE denies any strong ties to the Church of Scientology. But a review by the Herald has found several, including:
-- Incorporation papers filed in 1981 with the Attorney General of California, in Sacramento, showing that FASE was created for the explicit purpose of promoting "the works of L. Ron Hubbard." The papers were later amended to remove Hubbard's name.
-- Several recent FASE publications that promote Scientology's Purification Rundown. FASE's own Internet site (www.fasenet.org) also promoted the detox method as recently as January. These "research reports" are cited by Narconon, a worldwide Scientology group whose New England chapter in Everett has given anti-drug lectures to more than 375,000 schoolchildren, the Herald reported this week.
-- An Internet link to FASE on the Church of Scientology's official 30,000-page Internet site, promoting Narconon. The Scientology link says "a 1989 study by the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education" proves the effectiveness of Narconon.
-- An identical phrase that appears in Scientology scriptures and in a teacher's guidebook for the PBS video series "Futures." The guidebook phrase, "across a distance to a receipt-point," is from a standard Scientology definition of the word "communication," and it appears repeatedly in Scientology's religious teachings, including the church's "Axiom 28."
While it is a short phrase, it covers a subject that church critics say is crucial to Scientology's recruitment techniques. Mind control over new members starts with Scientology's communication courses, said anti-cult specialist Steve Hassan of Cambridge.
The church connection
Meanwhile, many FASE employees have held full-time jobs with the Church of Scientology, or with church-connected organizations like Narconon or HealthMed, according to the church's press releases and documents obtained from U.S. grant agencies.
Among FASE's employment links to Scientology:
-- Steven R. Heard, the founder and president of FASE, was a longtime member of the Church of Scientology's powerful Guardian's Office, ex-Scientologists said.
-- Kathleen Heard, Steven Heard's wife and another former member of the Guardian's Office, was once Scientology's chief spokeswoman and is now senior producer at FASE. In the 1970s Kathleen Heard's name appeared on numerous Church of Scientology press releases while the church battled fraud suits filed by Boston lawyer Michael Flynn on behalf of embittered ex-members.
-- Dave Hendry, FASE's director of teacher enhancement, worked from 1974-1990 in Oregon for Delphi Academies, a chain of Scientology schools (including a location on Blue Hill Avenue in Milton), according to a resume Hendry submitted to U.S. government grant-makers. Hendry did not state in the resume that FASE or Delphi Academies are linked to Scientology.
-- Shelley L. Beckmann, a molecular biologist who is FASE's science director, has since 1985 devoted much of her research time to Narconon and HealthMed, church press releases say.
-- Dr. Megan G. Shields, FASE's medical researcher, is the top researcher for Narconon and HealthMed, and wrote the 1992 introduction to Hubbard's detox textbook, "Clear Body, Clear Mind."
-- Jack Dirmann, FASE's associate director, used to run the Scientology drug-rehab company HealthMed, according to published reports. HealthMed sells the "Purification" detox method to firefighters, municipal unions and other groups.
-- Carl Smith, FASE's video producer, also directs a FASE anti-pesticide campaign that is directed in part against pharmaceutical firms like Prozac maker Eli Lilly and Ritalin maker Ciba-Geigy; the Church of Scientology has long battled these companies as part of its stance against psychiatric drugs. Smith's pesticide work also helps promote the Purification Rundown detox program by calling attention to toxins in human body fat.
Carl Smith acknowledged in a Herald interview that all FASE's senior employees are Scientologists.
But FASE's videos do not promote Hubbard's religion, Smith said.
"Are you trying to say that we're making LRH videotapes? It just doesn't wash," Smith said. "It's an incorrect statement to say that these are vehicles for Scientology."
Steven Heard, the foundation's top official, denied that religion plays a part in FASE's TV shows.
"I am a Scientologist, but that doesn't affect our work," Heard said.
Heard acknowledged, however, that FASE continues to study and promote the Church of Scientology's detoxification program.
"It's the only method that actually addresses fat-stored chemical residues," Heard said in the interview.
Hendry, the teacher-training director, said that the company keys in on minorities. "We have always tried to feature minorities in our work. That's what the NSF (National Science Foundation) wants," he said.
Escalante, who came from La Paz, Bolivia, inspired his mostly Latin-American students with the "ganas" - the desire - to overcome anti-Hispanic prejudice and pass a tough advanced placement calculus test.
And in his "Futures" videos, FASE appealed to wider audiences by bringing in celebrity guest stars like Cosby and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Futures" made math relevant for inner-city kids, and showed them how Hispanics and African-Americans used math to earn good salaries as engineers and doctors. It attracted 15 million young viewers in 44 states, PBS said.
In Bay State schools
The public school system in Boston, for example, bought at least three sets of "Futures" videos. And a math teacher at Brighton High School who is also a Scientologist, Gerald Mazzarella, said in an interview that "Futures" was shown to every class in the school.
Boston Schools Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant, in response to questions about FASE, said he was concerned whether "the line separating church and state isn't breached" by the TV company's links to Scientology.
In more recent videos, FASE's top star is Kay Toliver, an exuberant math teacher from East Harlem Tech in New York. Her programs, "Good Morning Miss Toliver" and "The Eddie Files," have also reached an estimated 15 million children.
New segments of "The Eddie Files" are on the air this school year.
Based on dozens of documents about FASE's activities, obtained from the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act, the Herald has learned that:
-- Nearly two-thirds of FASE's $17 million production costs over a six-year period from 1990-1995 were paid for with $12 million-plus in U.S. government grants from the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Energy, Education and Labor; and the National Science Foundation. In its grant applications, FASE did not state that it was linked to the Church of Scientology.
-- The remaining one-third of FASE's budget was paid for with $5.5 million from major charities and corporations. These include Arco, IBM, the Carnegie Corp. of New York, and the Ronald McDonald Children's Charity, government documents show.
-- FASE commissioned a 1992 survey by the Dedham, pollster Research Communications Ltd., which showed that Hispanic and black children were influenced by the videos.
-- FASE is now reaching bigger audiences with a Sci-Fi Channel special and other for-profit television shows, on the Internet, and at regional conferences with public school teachers nationwide. U.S. government agencies are paying for some of these efforts, including a FASE proposal to provide education news on video to superintendents, teachers and parents.
FASE's yearly budget went from $729,342 in 1989 to $3 million four years later, the tax documents show.
In one year - 1992 - FASE paid $160,049 to Escalante; $112,000 to Kathleen Heard; $73,000 to Jack Dirmann; $130,000 to co-producer Rob Mikuriya; and $122,133 to Steven Heard. In 1993 and 1994 Steven Heard was paid $140,000, and Dirmann $87,400 in 1993 and $80,783 in 1994.
And its "free cash" bank account rose from $33,660 in 1992 to $611,626 two years later.
The church now enjoys tax-free religious status that it received from the Internal Revenue Service in 1993.
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