Page 4-Saturday, January 20; 1979-The Michigan Daily
By Jon Stewart
C HARLES (CHUCK) DEDERICH, the alcoholic who 20
years ago founded one of the most successful alcohol
and drug treatment programs in the country, had a fantasy
about his own funeral arrangements. According to a former
associate, Dederich once told a group of friends somewhat
"I want my body to be dropped into a glass case of
brandy, a huge fish tank. My hair would float. My eyes
would roll back. I'd also like a constant tape-loop of one of
my lectures. I'd loll and float in the brandy. People could
come and look and see me, and the tape-loop would play on
Whether he was serious or not, Dederich's odd little
fantasy has become almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Through the fish tank lens of the television screen and
newspaper column, Americans have had a disturbing
glimpse of what many former followers believe is the
symbolic death of both Dederich and the organization he
"He was unsconscious," said a police officer who
participated in Dederich's Dec. 2 arrest on charges of
conspiring in the bizarre rattlesnake murder attempt on
Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz. "He was sprawled out
in front of an empty bottle of Chivas Regal."
Too drunk to be arraigned on the day of his arrest,
Dederich was later legall declared to be "mentally
incompetent." He is now recuperating in Arizona while his
attorneys fight an extradition request to California, where
authorities want to try him in connection with the Morantz
g murder attempt.
The rise and fall
W ITHIN RECENT memory the story of Dederich's
rise to great power, wealth and influence through
good works was still framed in almost mythic proportions.
From a stumbling drunk with no money and little education
he had risen Phoenix-like to build a non-profit corporation
,.valued at $30-$50 million, founded on a unique approach to
teaching drunks and drug addicts to help themselves.
Within a decade after being sobered up by Alcoholics
Anonymous, Dederich had built Synanon into a program
that was admired and emulated throughout America and
Europe. It grew into one of the richest and largest land-
owning non-profit companies in California.
Dederich, using an intensive kind of encounter therapy
that came to be known as the Synanon Game, took people
whom he scornfully called "the scum of the earth" and
tuned them into the pioneers of a brave new utopian,
communalist world. It was built on a foundation of no-
nonsense morality, self-reliance, rigid honesty and hard-
nosed business principles. It was, as Dederich often said,
"the sane society."
Today, Dederich is once again a victim of the alcohol he
avoided for 20 years, and Synanon is as much feared as it
was once respected. Reduced to a hardcore of about 900
devoted members, the organization is under investigation
by numberous law enforcement agencies for a bizarre
series of gruesome beatings, intimidations, possible tax
frauds and massive weapons purchases. Former members
hint darkly that millions of Synanon dollars have been
moved 'to numbered Swiss bank accounts and that the
organization maybe preparing a mass exodus to a foreign
country. Some even suggest -that Dederich's return to
alcohol was encouraged by others in the Synanon
leadership as a means to "kill him off and make him a
A high official of the California Attorney General's office
who has been conducting an investigation of Synanon
echoed a comrnon sentiment when the told Pacific News
Service he sees "some similarities between Jonestown and
Synanon-the obedience to cult values, the attitude of 'if
you are not with us, you are against us."'
What had happened to bring this once acclaimed man and
his life's work to such an ignoble pass? Some answers are
provided by another factor that Synanon has in common
with the People's Temple-a large body of former
members who dropped away from the organization and
warned of a dangerous new course.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of former Synanon members
remain loosely affiliated through the "Network," a dues-
paying "alumni organization" with its own newsletter.
While most of these and other former Synanon members
remain leery of speaking to the press, they do stay in close
touch with family and friends who remain in Synanon.
Thus, they have watched with growing concern as the
organization has progressively become more isolated,
more involved in violence and ever less involved in treating
alcoholics and drug addicts.
These "former members-many of whom were
personally close to Dederich-agree almost unanimously
that the undoing of Synanon began long algo when middle-
class people began joining the organization not for drug or
alcohol treatment, but simply to participate in what was
an exciting alternative lifestyle.
"Chuck Dederich was headed on the course that he has
followed since 1968," Says Terry Hurst, who was known as
Snyanon's "Second Lady-In-Waiting" because she was the
wife of Synanon Foundation president Jack Hurst. She left
her husband and one child (two had already left) in
Synanon when she quit in 1974. "That's when he began to
discover how powerful he was. He found he not only had
control over dope friends and alcoholics, but that the could
control people in the community for whom he had
respect-merchants and doctors and attorneys and
psychiatrists. He saw that he could turn them around, that
they were just as willing to go along as the desperate
Another key factor, says Hurst, was Dederich's deep
need to always have "an enemy, somebody to fight."
"The enemy without ceased to be-he won the battles
with the media and the community and with tryingto get
recognition and money. What was the use of going on if there
was no one left to fight. We always had to have'bigger and
better challenges. So he started turning people against each
other. The enemy became (people) within Synanon. It
began with a stew that later came to be known as the
"bloodbath stew" when he started turning husbands and
wives against each other. Nobody could have any secrets.
Nobody could have any discussions outside a public forum.
In order to maintain any position in Synanon you had to
really turn on your friends and your mate. People had to
relate through Synanon. If you weren't for us, you were
against us. And if you were against us, you were an
Ellis Kaplan, a prominent San Francisco architect who
designed many of Synanon's buildings during his seven
years in the organization, quit 14 months ago. Kaplan was
director of Synanon's San Francisco house and head of the
advertising sales products division, a multi-million dollar
Synanon business. Kaplan, who says he had "no regrets"
during his years in Synanon, nor the $60-70,000 he donated
over the years, believes the "unraveling" came quite
recently: "It began when his wife fell it. No one really
knew the role she played in his personal life. Above all, she
tempered him in an extraordinary way.",
Dederich's wife Betty was diagnosed with terminal
cancer in December 1976 and died the following April. She
was a black woman from a lower-middle-class Kansas
background. After moving to Los Angeles she became
peripherally involved in movies, then drugs, and then
"She was a very high-class hooker before she cane to
Synanon and married Chuck," said Kaplan, who came to
know both of them well.
"She could humor him," he said. "She'd kid him in.
games, poke fun at him in ways no one else could."
Her influence was critical, Kaplan believes, because even
Dederich "described himself as an intolerant person. He
didn't like minorities. Dope fiends were a real albatross
for him. He despised them. As an ex-drunk, he looked down
on dope fiends. And he had no respect for people who were
"He was a man of tremendous intolerance and rage who
was tempered by a woman-a black dope fiend. When she
went, he simply lost that temper."
Nina Bauman, another recent Synanon "splitee," as
quitters were called, agreed that "the lid came off with the
death of his wife, but it started way before that. Everybody
in Snyanon thought this man was god. Nobody would do
anything bad about him. You couldn't question him, you
couldn't express any doubts. Betty could't do that either,
but she could temper him and cajole him. He always went
in the same direction, the direction he wanted, but she could
A "real world" bigshot
K APLAN BELIEVES that behind much of Dederich's
drive and ambition was a desire to be recognized
by what he called "the real world" as a "bigshot," a word
he often used to describe himself.
"He felt he had created a $33 million corporatio and
was entitled to relate to big executives as an equal. But the
call never came. Even after he got all his money, he was
never accepted into the circles of the big corporate and
Even when prominent figures joined Synanon, sai
Kaplan, the very fact of their joining made them "weak" in
Dederich's eyes. "He felt that anyone who moved into
Synanon had to have some kind of weakness. He's often say
'You come to my house; I didn't go to your house.
"Chuck had no peers in Synanon in terms of his own age
and wealth. His only peers were outside, in 'the real world.
Even when he was suing Time magazine he liked to say that
he had more in common with (Time publisher) Hedley
Donovan than with Synanon."
But as more and more professional people joined
Synanon, said Kaplan, "Chuck felt increasingly that the
outside world had little to teach him. Synanon was the
Kaplan left Synanon because he "didn't like the lifestyle
anymore, and I didn't trust the younger leadership that was
coming up to have respect for the older members. I
watched my best friends, people who had given much more
than I had to Synanon, become so dependent on Chuck that
they had no life they could call their own."
Kaplan was still present in Synanon when some of the
more recent quirks began to occur, things like the enforced
vasectomies and abortions for all members and the
formation of militaristic self-defense units called the
"Imperial Marine" and "Synanon National Guard," armed
with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of guns and
ammunition. "I stood by and watched things that were
despicable," he recalls.
Nina Bauman viewed the latest twists as part of a process
that had begun at least a decade ago.
"It was a result of his restlessness, and the fact that he
could never accept what was. He'd get bored. Then, as he
became more imbued with his own sense of power, he
wanted to see not only changes in his personal life, but he
began to say to himself, 'How far can I change people. I got
them to give up their booze. I got them to give up their dope.
I got them to give up their smoking. I got them to give up
sugar. I even got them to give up their sperm and their
babies and their wives and husbands."' Asks Bauman,
"What's the next step?"
In fact, the next step is what now concerns former
Synanon members more than anthing. Several formesr
members who have been outspoken about the organization
have in the past few weeks received ominous telephone
calls from current members accusing them of being
responsible for Dederich's renewed drinking.
According to many sources, the heavy drinking began
last August in Rome, while Dederich, his daughter Jady
and other Synanon leaders were on a business trip,
allegedly opening Swiss bank accounts and setting up a new
corporation in Lichtenstein.
Now, with Dederich "mentally incompetent in Arizona
and wanted in California, no one knows who can lead the
organization or what will become of it. Dederich's daughter
Jady, 27, is now nominally in charge of Synanon. And Dan
Garrett, his longtime legal counsel, is considered a top
challenger for the leadership. Otier recognized leaders
have left the organization in recent months.
"The top leadership is bankrupt. They sat by and allowed
the old man to drink," says Kaplan. He'pridicts "a big
stink" over Synanon's millions, much of which he believes
has been siphoned off into the private accounts of
Dederich's family and top associates. Dederich himself
was given a $500,000 retirement gift by the foundation when
he retired earlier this year, and his son and daughter have
been paid salaries ranging up to $60,000 a year.
He says the non-leadership members will attribute
Dederich's condition to the pressures brought on him by the
ex-members and the media. "They'll feel that everyone is
out to get Chuck. Is there a capacity for violence? You bet. I
really don't know what would happen if the sheriff's
department tried to take their guns away from them. I just
hope we get out of this thing without a tragedy."
Nina Bauman is concerned that Dederich might die. "If
he dies he will be a martyr, and that's the worst thing tha
could happen," she says. "If that happens, it will become
that much harder for those still in Synanon to ever sort out
the real from the unreal."
Jon Stewart is an editor of Pacific News Service.
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Fighty-Nm(e Years of Editorial Freedom
Congratulations on Union
Mr. Stechuk's common error
Vol. LXXXIX, No. 92
News Phone: 764-0552
Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan
The child's welfare
T HE MICHIGAN Supreme Court's
decision to allow a mother, who
happens to be a lesbian, to maintain'
custody of her 12-year-old girl was a bit
surprising, but welcome news for those
who believe that the government has
no right to legislate morality.
Margareth Miller has been fighting
in the courts since 1976 to retain
custody of her daughter Jillian. The
Millers divorced in 1973. A temporary
arrangement was made; Ms. Miller
took custody of Jillian and Mr. Miller
took custody of the other child, Rick.
Mr. Miller remarried and in 1975 began
procedings to obtain custody of Jillian.
In 1977, Oakland County Circuit Judge
Frederick Ziem ruled that Mr. Miller
The high court, in its decision, put
the emphasis, and rightly so, on the
welfare of the child. The court stated:
"The record does not present clear and
convincing evidence that the change of
custody is in the best interests of the
What the court's ruling means is that
no longer, at least in this state, will the
sexual preference of a parent be a
relevant factor in the decision to award
custody of children. The landmark
decision brought two victories. First, it
demonstrates an increased awareness
in society that a person's sexual
preference does not decide what kind
of human being they are. Second, and
most important, the court has made
To the Daily:
On behalf of the Michigan
Student Assembly (MSA )
Student. Union lobby, I'd like
to give my thanks to everyone
who helped us, and to MSA, the
(UAC), and the Michigan Daily.
Special thanks go to Scott
Kellman and Steve Carnevale
who started this entire process.
Never at the University of
Michigan have I ever seen such a
united student effort on behalf of
a common goal. This is further
evidence to me that there exists a
strong desire for a student
center, and we're now looking
forward to seeing the results of
We must give a lot of credit to
the Regents of the University for
taking the time to listen to
students. They received our
phone calls, and heard
everything we said to them. A
few of, the Regents met
personally with us, and again
were very open to our ideas.
We (the students) have
accepted a great responsibility.
It is important that we now do our
got the student Union that we
wanted; we now all have a
responsibility to see that the
Michigan Union becomes the
To the Daily:
I. was pleased to read that
apparently none of the persons
who came to view the
"controversial" showing of Birth
of a Nation on campus were
swayed from their intentions by
the NAARPR protesters. After
all, unless one actually sees the
film oneself, as I did one year
ago, one cannot know what all the
furor is about!
If it were sufficient merely to.
listen to the opinions of others
who had viewed a film firsthand,
there would be no need of
theaters. We could rely instead
on the movie reviews of film
critics. Next, we could dispense
with the printing of books, the
production of plays, etc.
To the Daily:
Much as I value the activities
and intellectual tolerance of
LS&A Student Government, I
must challenge Bob Stechuk's
Open Letter of January 13 for its
commonly held error.
It is false to assert that "the
relationship that exists between
the University, corporations, and
government agencies directly
impinges on students' education
and access to different opinions
and analyses of issues and
events, both current and
historical." There is not a shred
of evidence to prove direct or
How the University behaves as
a corporate institution cannot
and does not affect an individual
faculty member's teaching
unless that member so chooses.
However, if a professor comes
under the influence of business or
government, the instance belongs
to a more general category of
liability that no faculty member
can hope to avoid.
That is, each professor is
responsible for justifying the
shape and scope of issues in
why information is structured as
it is, and why some methods
rather than others are
demonstrated for understanding
it. But both the information and
the methods are freely selected
by teaching individuals. An
abstract, collective Universityis
All existing alternatives are
made available in the course of
examining the subject matter
(the definition of a "course").
But since preferences are
unavoidable as well as rationally
defensible, a scale of alternatives
emerges. In plain terms: class
discussion, outside reading,
counsultation with faculty.
Professors teach by private
conscience and informed choice.
Students must feel free to
question the packaging, and to
pursue alternative opinion.
Both freedoms are necessary in
an honest learning (or research)
process. Not necessary is a
confused abstraction that viewi
the University as a collectivity:
The fiction of institutions
impingement on access to opinio
is a crutch that LS&A-SG does n