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Programming Fascism: The Drug War on Our Children
Taken from: High Times, June 1994
PROGRAMMING FASCISM - THE DRUG WAR ON OUR CHILDREN
You may think your children are being protected from the world of drug
abuse by programs like STRAIGHT and D.A.R.E., and ad campaigns like
those created by the PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG FREE AMERICA. But who's
backing those programs, what are they really teaching, and what are
they really accomplishing?
- by Leslie Stackel
On a sunny morning in June 1983, high school sophomore Richard Bradbury
drove 30 miles to visit his sister in a St. Petersburg, Florida drug
Their reunion would be the first since her admission, so Richard
would have to be "interviewed," making certain no pro-drug conversation
would pass his lips.
No problem, Richard thought.
Mr. Bradbury, Richard's father and travelling companion, would wait
in another room.
But Richard's five-minute "interview" quickly turned into an intake
procedure. Escorted down the hall to a windowless, concrete box of a
room, he was promptly told by a staffer that his "evaluation" was
negative. His skinny, teenaged interviewer had come to an instant
diagnosis: Richard was at risk as a drug user. He'd have to be
detained for treatment.
"This is a joke, right?" Richard asked. "I'm just here to see my
sister. Besides, I've tried marijuana a couple of times, but I'm no
Within minutes, the door was sealed. Richard could not leave the
room, speak with his father, or make a phone call. Later, a team of
staff members transferred Richard to a "host" home, strip-searched him,
and locked him in. Thus began an 18-month-long nightmare of abduction,
abuse and emotional terrorism. Richard's dad, like many parents
targeted by the costly rehab program known as STRAIGHT, had been
convinced on the spot by a savvy marketing representative of its merits
and his son's dangerous inclination towards drugs. STRAIGHT, its
promoters told him, would protect Richard, "cure" him.
Nearly 10 years later and halfway across the country, in southern
Maine, another disturbing event occured. Fifth-grader Crystal Grendell
one day after school decided to stop by the local police station and
tell Chief Officer Gillmore of two people she knew who were growing
pot - her parents.
Three days later, the Grendells' home was searched, and both parents
promptly arrested. Crystal's mom lost her two part-time jobs, and
Crystal developed a neurotic fear of police, admitting later she could
no longer trust "any adults except my parents."
What prompted Crystal to inform on her parents was a nationwide
program called D.A.R.E. - Drug Abuse Resistance Education - taught by
uninformed cops to students in public school classrooms from
kindergarten through 12th grade. D.A.R.E., a $700 million program
developed under the direction of former Los Angeles Chief of Police
Daryl Gates, intends to "keep kids off drugs." But instruction by
police often means asking children who they know who use drugs.
Marijuana and other substances are very harmful, kids are told, and
they can help people who take them. Crystal wanted to help her
parents. She trusted Officer Gillmore. He was her teacher. Crystal,
in the end, was more than betrayed. She was emotionally traumatized
and, no doubt, scarred for life.
What both events, occuring in two seperate regions of the country
and nearly a decade apart, have in common is that they reflect the
fallout of the Drug War on our youth. Manipulative "Just Say No"
policies, inherited by a new administration, seem to be taking programs
for kids a step beyond education and treatment; they've entered a realm
akin to indoctrination and mind control.
Which has some parents worried. They object to their kids being
continually dosed with anti-drug curricula in classrooms and turned
into miniature drug warriors, or abused in treatment detention camps
for being out of synch with a government-mandated attitude about
certain controlled substances.
So parents are organizing, forming groups to do battle for their
kids. Some view their newfound activism as perhaps the first major
populist counter-assault in a Drug War gone too far.
Ever since the mid-80's when the Regan-Bush Drug War coffers reached
upwards of $20 billion and drug ed and treatment programs became a
multi-billion dollar industry, the wear and tear on our nation's
children began to show. Hordes of packaged drug ed programs, with
names like ALERT, STAR and Project SMART, began to turn up in public
schools. Over the next few years they proliferated. But among the
dozens of acronymic "alphabet soup" nonprofits (as another reporter
recently dubbed them), one stood out in highly publicized, sharp
relief. That is D.A.R.E. As the largest, costliest and favorite of
the feds, D.A.R.E. has spread to cities across the country with rapid-
fire speed. Part of the reason was money - lots of it.
D.A.R.E. has the dubious distinction of being the sole anti-drug ed
program actually legislated into popularity. When Congress passed the
Drug Free Schools and Community Act of 1986, one provision ordered that
10% of state grants to governors go toward curricula that are
specifically "taught in classrooms by uniformed police officers." Only
one national program fit that description: D.A.R.E. Thus, last year,
D.A.R.E. America, the national coordinator for the program, received
about $10 million for training and paying cops as class instructors and
building community relations - i.e., advertising. Additional funding
sources came from city monies, corporate and private donations, and
property seized in drug asset forfeiture. What has resulted is a
promotional phenomenon not witnessed in recent educational history, a
pro-D.A.R.E. marketing campaign pursued with Perotlike zeal, and a
nationwide onslaught of D.A.R.E.-think in our public schools.
Gary Peterson, the Colorado-based founder of Parents Against
D.A.R.E., sees this as dangerous.
Students from kindergarten on up get D.A.R.E.-dosed, but the
program's core concentration group, fifth and sixth graders, receive 17
full-hour lessons, one per week, explains Peterson. And "you'll find
the program content not only in D.A.R.E. coursework, but in other
subject areas, like math or spelling. D.A.R.E. has included in its
Implementation Guide an agreement to be signed by each local school
district, establishing the right to inject D.A.R.E. material in other
subjects. So all over the country kids are living and breathing
D.A.R.E. And when the officer's not around, they're still sharing
about D.A.R.E. They're still spelling D.A.R.E. They're reading
D.A.R.E. They're saying D.A.R.E."
Peterson believes the program ought to be abolished altogether. The
course material, methods of delivery and, in fact, basic philosophical
premise of the program is seriously flawed, he claimed.
For one thing, says Peterson, the "facts" taught by police are
incomplete and often incorrect. In one parent meeting on D.A.R.E., for
example, an officer warned that "marijuana was the cause of a lot of
family dysfunction, that it could lead to permanent brain damage and
could kill." Peterson, holding up the Merck Manual medical text,
corrected him, reading "verbatim from it that marijuana was not toxic,"
adding, "nowhere did the text say it was a killer."
Secondly, he adds, D.A.R.E. sends kids the wrong message. It's
based on psychotherapeutic - not educational - theory, which has since
been discredited by its own creator, humanist psychologist Carl Rogers.
Founded on Rogers' "therapeutic classroom" model, the program's aim
is to "empower" kids, through information and skill-building, to enable
them to make autonomous choices and resist peer pressure to do drugs or
Police instructors, who receive 80 hours of training, use lectures
and clinical techniques such as role-playing to communicate their
message. In the training, certain guidelines are set down. Among
them: 1) Don't tell kids not to use drugs outright, offer them
autonomy; tell them the choice to use or not is theirs alone. 2) Build
an atmosphere of openess and trust. Make the kids feel unjudged. Be
their friend. 3) Tell kids to be aware of people who do drugs, but not
to name names. (Refer any tips to the police department; don't
jeopardize your own position of trusted teacher.)
Sound oddly Orwellian?
In fact, some critics fear D.A.R.E. may do more harm than good.
Police Chief Nicholas Pastore of New Haven, CT, points out the
problem of duplicity: "It's difficult for kids to comprehend a message
coming in the morning from Mr. Rogers who's the same person that turns
into Rambo at night." Pastore dismantled D.A.R.E. immediately upon
assuming his current post four years ago, opting instead for more
"holistic prevention education" which puts the drug issue "in a broader
Better programs than D.A.R.E. exist. According to research done by
Nancy Tobler - an educator and PhD candidate at the State University at
Albany - and presented at a California conference on prevention last
summer, of 114 drug ed programs, more than 70 scored higher than
Critics believe not only do D.A.R.E. - like programs siphon money
from better alternatives, but may spur rather then curb drug use in the
Dr. William Coulson, research director of the Institute of Ethno-
psychology in Compthche, California and a long time, close associate of
Rogers, spends much time proselytizing against D.A.R.E. and other
Rogerian educational clones, like Quest. Here's Looking At You, and
values and Choices. Rogers, he says, denounced his "therapeutic
classroom" as a total failure before he died in 1987. Rogers concluded
that children should not be "empowered" via "nondirective therapy" in
classes to make critical life decisions. Kids need more guidance than
adults. And Rogers worried that once "empowered," they may make the
wrong choices later on. His fears were borne out by an early
predecessor of D.A.R.E.'s Project DECIDE, tested by Stanford
University. Kids in DECIDE, compared to a control group, it turned
out, indulged in drugs sooner or upped their usage after the program.
A second trial in 1978 mirrored those findings. Nonetheless, Rogers'
model caught on in education circles. And Coulson today continues
trying to undo the original damage.
Whether these programs survive the decade will depend largely on
scientific data. And so far the results are mixed. For example,
D.A.R.E.'s own research shows there's no proof that D.A.R.E. prevents
drug use, but it does help students in terms of knowledge and attitude
about drugs and the social skills needed to resist peer pressure. Such
were the findings in a preliminary report issued by the Research
Triangle Institute of Durham, North Carolina, hired by D.A.R.E. to
cumulatively analyze a spate of small, independent, regional studies of
the program. Critics, though, noting that more teenagers are now doing
drugs (mainly marijuana and hallucinogens) than a year ago, point blame
at D.A.R.E.-type programs. Two studies are cited as evidence: a PRIDE
(Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education) survey of more than
236,000 students in 40 states - revealing that junior and senior high
school student usage levels increased or remained status quo - plus a
NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) report reflecting a hike in use
among, specifically, eighth graders.
Because D.A.R.E., the most widespread of ed ventures, concentrates
so heavily on fifth and sixth graders, observers consider these stats
significant, given Rogers' prediction; a sign that D.A.R.E.'s not doing
the job - or worse, reversing the odds in favor of drug use.
The federal government, though, is not yet convinced. William
Modzeleski, the top drug official at the Department of Education was
quoted in a USA Today article last October as saying that "research
shows that, no, D.A.R.E. hasn't been effective in reducing drug use."
The department has considered asking Congress to repeal the law
requiring states to give D.A.R.E. federal money. But so far, no such
action has been taken. A number of governors have, however, already
requested that the D.A.R.E. requirement be stricken from state
Meanwhile, during "National D.A.R.E. Day" celebrations last Sep-
tember, dozens of congressional representatives turned out for a high-
visibility photo-op; also noticeably present were Attorney General
Janet Reno and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Diehard program boosters counter any D.A.R.E.-bashing by pointing to
the "enormous popularity of the program."
And D.A.R.E. America continues to deride current study data,
including RTI's, as "inconclusive," insisting that what's really needed
to measure the program's success is an original, long-term,
longitudinal evaluation, which, incidentally, is expected "to happen
very soon, and by an independent organization." Moreover, a cur-
riculum revision is underway. (Cops in classrooms, though, will remain
a fixed element, notes a D.A.R.E. spokeswoman. The "snitch" factor is
negligible; of "twenty-five million kids in D.A.R.E., only a handful of
cases like [Crystal Grendell's] have occured. And when a child reports
a dangerous situation at home, we applaud teachers (who)... report it
to the proper authorities." Even when a child like Crystal Grendell is
traumatized in the process.)
Glenn Levant, D.A.R.E.'s executive director, wasn't avaliable for
comment, but spokeswoman Roberta Silverman emphasized that in a
national Gallup poll of D.A.R.E. students, "more than ninety percent
said D.A.R.E. has `taught me what to do when someone's trying to make
me do something I don't want to.'"
D.A.R.E.'s popularity among kids is inevitable, say activists like
Steve Wallace of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who belongs to a loose,
bipartisan coalition of parents that includes liberals, libertarians
and right-wingers the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, who oppose D.A.R.E.
"There's D.A.R.E. Day in school, and the nice officers regularly
hand out t-shirts and wrist watches, bumper stickers, notebooks, and
other assorted program reminders featuring the D.A.R.E. logo. And
there are parades with colorful banners waving and big D.A.R.E.-
mobiles. The students see the D.A.R.E. logo plastered everywhere.
It's insidious," says Wallace, "but gimmicks don't prevent substance
William Hansen, a researcher at the Bowman Gray School of Public
Health in Winston-Salem and an early consultant for the program who
later defected from D.A.R.E., concedes that "this is something police
can use to build community relations." But, he adds, "however well-
intentioned, D.A.R.E. is not doing the job, it's not preventing drug
Meanwhile, all the controversy surrounding D.A.R.E. has led to a
barrage of negative publicity.
First, the Wall Street Journal covered the Grendell case in 1991,
reporting that "D.A.R.E. has pitted students against their parents in a
handful of cases." National T.V. shows, including Larry King Live and
60 Minutes also aired D.A.R.E. segments. Then, last season, T.V.'s LA
Law dramatized the Grendell incident in an episode. Finally, a USA
Today article last October blasted D.A.R.E. with the headline: "Studies
Find Drug Program Not Effective."
One wonders, if D.A.R.E.-like programs are so bad, why are they
"Packaging," explains Tobler. Late '70s and early '80s anti-drug
curricula, some based on Rogers' experiment, "were written to be
duplicated and make money." No genuine effort went into evaluating
these programs before use, she says. But they were glossily packaged.
The newer, interactive programs, which "spent a lot of time on testing
and research, were slower to package. Very few of these (many backed
by NIDA) are set up for reproduction."
The net effect? "Teachers look at programs like D.A.R.E., see
they're well-written and well-packaged and think, "this should keep the
D.A.R.E.'s plan to deflect criticism has also helped keep public
opinion positive. According to Madeline Webster, a civil-liberties
activist in Massachusetts, parents initially weren't permitted access
to D.A.R.E. school materials. Peterson says he had to sue in Colorado
under the federal Hatch Act to establish their right to examine cur-
riculum information and instructors' manuals. Parents were also told
by D.A.R.E. cops the lessons were mandatory when, in fact, their
permission is required for student participation. Parents who com-
plained or doubted or probed into D.A.R.E. were often verbally attacked
or slandered. Scientific researchers critical of the program's content
or operation were also angrily rebuffed by D.A.R.E. officials.
Hansen comments, "D.A.R.E. cuts people off who are trying to help
them... they do tend to be paranoid."
The current debate over D.A.R.E. is a microcosm of America's Drug
War dynamics. It's triggered questions about the violation of civil
liberties and privacy rights, what constitutes effective drug policy,
and whether an ideology advocating "no use" rather than "responsible
use" can work.
While the viability of "Just Say No"-type programs are being called
into question, hardline "treatment" operations, like STRAIGHT and KIDS,
are emerging as even more damaging to teenagers. Both these
organizations, among the worst in the drug treatment orbit and by-
products of a harsh, Reaganite political agenda, have been exposed as
abusive and, to a degree, fraudulent ventures.
Like others that have since perished, both are descended from the
early '70s, California, cultlike Synanon and The Seed. STRAIGHT was
shut down following years of reported adolescent abuse, but KIDS still
thrives in Bergen County, New Jersey.
What finally closed STRAIGHT's doors was a one-man campaign waged by
Richard Bardbury following his "incarceration" in its St. Petersburg
facility in 1983. Upon his release he began to challenge the
organization - a wearying task given the owner's political clout. Co-
founded by Mel Sembler, a Florida businessman tight with Republican
politicos (he headed Bush's Florida election fundraising effort and
dropped $125,000 himself into the GOP pot), STRAIGHT had grown into a
multi-million dollar 12-state nonprofit network since its 1976 opening,
receiving off-quoted praise from Nancy Reagan.
When reports of brutal beatings and mental torture of STRAIGHT
clients leaked out, local newspapers around the country began to cover
the story, and WNBC-TV ran a short segment on the organization. But no
investigations were prompted and no serious action taken by state or
local authorities in response to the complaints in Florida where
STRAIGHT was headquartered.
"What I witnessed there couldn't be believed," says Bradbury. He
describes routine deprevation of sleep, food, and medication as part of
the "treatment," plus forced admissions of illegal drug use (even when
nonexistent). Physical assault was commonplace. In some cases,
adolescents had to be sent to hospital emergency rooms for care of
broken limbs, bloody noses, black eyes and skull contusions incurred
"When a kid wouldn't sit up straight in a chair and admit to
whatever someone wanted him to admit, he'd be slapped, punched, and
screamed at," recalls Bradbury. "When clients resisted, staffers would
organize 'war parties' consisting of other clients, who were told to
beat up those who wouldn't comply... you had to go along or you'd be
the next victim."
Bradbury spent $40,000 out of pocket and eight years of his life
battling STRAIGHT. He rallied parents and ex-clients around the cause
and finally won several lawsuits against the organization for multiple
licensure and negligence violations.
Like campaigns against other drug warrior-run operations, this one
was hard-won. STRAIGHT's strong support system and well-oiled promo
machinery kept it flourishing. An example: Word of a negative news
story on STRAIGHT, scheduled by WNBC-TV prompted its executive director
to travel to New York for a meeting with the station, while engineering
a nationwide protest-letter-writing blitz by parents of STRAIGHT kids.
And when newspaper articles chronicling STRAIGHT's abuses would run,
testimonials to the program by grateful parents would invariable appear
within, as well.
When confronted with tales of abuse, Virgil Miller Newton, former
national clinical director of STRAIGHT and later head of KIDS of South-
ern California, told the L.A. Times that "starry-eyed' social workers
and other gulliable officials are deceived by 'manipulative' drug
addicts who tell 'wild stories' about treatment methods.
Why do parents tolerate such violent "curative" tactics?
"Partly fear and partly indoctrination," says prevention specialist
Arnold Markowitz, director of a cult hotline and several adolescent
treatment programs at the Jewish Board of Children and Family Services,
in New York City. "Parents dealing with teenagers who have drug
problems get desperate, and desperate people are willing to do
anything." But, he says, "the parents don't know what's really
happening inside these programs. I've dealt with people who've been in
these facilities who were weekend users of marijuana, moderate to small
amounts. Their families were being told basically that their child was
a drug addict and on the way to crack and heroin and need their
treatment program. They terrify the parents, who then turn over all
parental control." Such programs, like STRAIGHT and KIDS, are cultlike
in several respects, says Markowitz.
"There's a stripping down of the client's ego structure and an
attempt at brainwashing. They tell kids even after three or four years
that they can't function outside and very often get them to work for
very little or no pay."
The fact is, fanatical "tough-love" programs like STRAIGHT and KIDS
existed long before Nancy Reagan first mouthed her infamous mantra.
But the Just Say No sensibility created a kind of social petri dish
where such programs could breed. Even now, as one dies, another
Today, as the FBI checks into allegations that STRAIGHT double- and
triple-billed for the same insurance claims, new centres run by former
STRAIGHT staffers have opened up in Georgia, Michigan and Florida,
under different names.
So long as the Drug War's "carpet bombing of lies" continues, such
disreputable outfits, many focusing on children for "total saturation,"
will persist, says Rob Stewart of the Drug Policy Foundation. What's
needed is education about drugs that's honest, accurate and informative
to counter the hysteria that's overtaken our nation.
Unfortunately, organizations with access to the broadest audiences,
like the Partnership for a Drug Free America, continue to censor
important drug data and perpetuate a simplistic, black and white view
of all illegal drugs. In the coming year, the Partnership's message
will reach millions more individuals. Its latest mission is to
encourage regional replicas of its national campaign. New York State,
leading the nation with its $75 million budget for drug prevention, for
example, has just signed on, forming Partners For A Drug Free New York
While the state "has been more concerned with the crack epidemic and
misuse of inhalants and other medicinal drugs," says Rich Hunter of the
Govenor's Anti-Drug Abuse Council, it will air Partnership ads cov-
ering the full spectrum of illegal drugs.
The Partnership's list of "enemy substances" hasn't changed in
years. Booze is not yet targeted; marijuana, however, lumped together
with crack, cocaine and heroin, is.
Despite the spread of Partnership propaganda, activists like Wallace
optimistically predict change.
"By revealing D.A.R.E. for what it is, we may have precipitated a
credibility crisis in the nation's entire Drug War policy. What people
are willing to put up with is changing. And it's obvious that programs
like D.A.R.E. are using our children as cannon fodder in the name of
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