Scientology and the FDA: The conspiracy that never was - 2019-07-11
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays an outsized role in Scientology's roster of villains. On January 4, 1963, five US Federal Marshals, accompanied by an FDA inspector and an officer of the Washington, DC police department, raided the downtown row house of the Washington Scientology org, as well as two other Scientology facilities in Maryland. The raiders seized three truckloads of books and papers and around a hundred E-meters. Newspaper reporters were there to witness it. The following day's press showed photographs of grim-faced US Marshals carrying out piles of books and E-meters.
For decades, Scientology has cited the raid as a prime example of a government conspiracy against the church. Scientology's own website links the FDA to a supposed effort by psychiatrists and the US intelligence community to "suppress Dianetics and its assault on the mental health field". However, declassified FDA records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the remarkable R.M. Seibert (whose help was key for me to write this article) show a very different story — one in which Scientology's problems with the FDA were largely self-created. In fact, far from being part of a conspiracy to target Scientology, the FDA was wary about acting against it. It was pushed into action by political pressure resulting from complaints about Scientology's false healing claims.
Scientology had been in the sights of the FDA for several years before the raid. The agency's interest came about because of frequent public complaints about Scientology's claims of physical healing. These had indisputably originated with founder L. Ron Hubbard himself. Even before he launched Dianetics in June 1950, he had written to the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and Gerontological Society to claim that his methods could cure illnesses including "migraine headache, ulcers, asthmas, sinusitis and arthritis." The list of ailments that supposedly could be cured through Dianetics and Scientology grew to include poor eyesight and even cancer.