Synanon (1965)

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This film chronicles the goings on at Synanon House, a rehabilitation center for people with all kinds of addictions. Chuck Dederich, a recovering alcoholic, founded and runs Synanon House.


5.9/10
154

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29 January 2020 | dolorespark
6
| Synanon Was a Dangerous, Violent Cult That Makes Scientology Look Mild.
Ever wonder why this supposedly wonderful organization isn't around anymore?

Synanon is purported to have been involved in several criminal activities, such as the disappearance of Rose Lena Cole around late-1972 or early-1973. Cole had received a court order to enroll in Synanon before she disappeared. She has not been seen or heard from since. Initially Synanon did not support violence; however, Dederich later changed the rules to allow for violence in order to maintain control. Much of the violence by Synanon had been carried out by a group within Synanon called the "Imperial Marines." Over 80 violent acts were committed including mass beatings that hospitalized teenagers and ranchers who were beaten in front of their families. People who left the organization were at risk of physical violence for being a "splittee"; one ex-member, Phil Ritter, was beaten so severely that his skull was fractured and he subsequently fell into a coma with a near-fatal case of bacterial meningitis.

During the summer of 1978, the NBC Nightly News produced a news segment on the controversies surrounding Synanon. Following this broadcast, several executives of the NBC network and its corporate chairman allegedly received hundreds of threats from Synanon members and supporters. However, NBC continued with a series of reports on the Synanon situation on the NBC Nightly News. The Point Reyes Light, a small-circulation weekly newspaper in Marin County, would later receive the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their covering Synanon at a time when other news agencies avoided reporting. Several weeks after NBC began receiving threats, on October 10, 1978, two Synanon members placed a de-rattled rattlesnake in the mailbox of attorney Paul Morantz of Pacific Palisades, California. Morantz had successfully brought suit on behalf of people who were being held against their will by Synanon. The snake bit him, and he was hospitalized for six days. This incident, along with the press coverage, prompted an investigation by the police and government into Synanon.

Six weeks later, the Los Angeles Police Department performed a search of the ranch in Badger that found 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 snarled. "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." During the investigations researchers also came across multiple lawsuits and arrests against Synanon members.

Dederich was arrested while drunk on December 2, 1978. The two other Synanon residents, one of whom was Lance Kenton, the son of the musician Stan Kenton, pleaded "no contest" to charges of assault, and also conspiracy to commit murder. While his associates went to jail, Dederich received probation because his doctors claimed that due to ill health he would most likely die in prison. As a condition of probation, he was disallowed from taking part in managing Synanon.

Synanon struggled to survive without its leader, and also with a severely tarnished reputation. The Internal Revenue Service revoked the organization's tax-exempt status and ordered them to pay $17 million in back taxes, which bankrupted Synanon, which formally dissolved in 1991.

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