By Tony Ortega
The Village Voice
February 26, 2012
The Tampa Bay Times has done it again with another explosive report on the Church of Scientology. Drew Harwell’s thorough report shows an alarming partnership between Scientology and the Nation of Islam that has drained dry a troubled charter school in Dunedin, Florida.
We also have a startling report out of Israel, where a new court pleading has Scientology’s own attorneys accusing church leader David Miscavige of lying in order to drum up donations.
With reports like that coming in, we couldn’t wait for our usual Thursday worldwide roundup. So hold on to your hat as we summarize this Sunday’s bombshells.
First, today’s Tampa Bay Times features Harwell’s story on its front page, and it’s a densely packed and shocking look at Life Force Arts and Technology Academy, a struggling charter school in the town of Dunedin.
Harwell reports that Life Force receives about $800,000 a year in public money, but after opening in 2007, by 2009 it was on the ropes financially. That’s when “Dr.” Hanan Islam, of California’s World Literacy Crusade, stepped in with another one of her businesses, the Art of Management, saying that she was going to save the place.
Parents and former teachers, however, charge that Islam instead led a covert takeover of the school by the Church of Scientology.
Islam’s World Literacy Crusade promotes L. Ron Hubbard’s “study tech,” which it argues is a secular set of study materials. But as Harwell points out, Hubbard’s materials — which place an oddly single-minded focus on the use of dictionaries for nearly all educational problems — has been rejected by school boards around the country as a covert way of getting Scientology’s ideas into schools. [For a thorough expose on Hubbard's "study tech" and how it attempts to wedge Scientology into the schools, see this series of essays by Carnegie Mellon professor Dave Touretzky.]
Even stranger, the takeover of Life Force appeared to be a joint effort between Scientology and the Nation of Islam. We’ve written previously about the strange relationship that has been growing between Scientology and Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader.
At the center of that odd pairing is a man named Alfreddie Johnson.
[photo of Alfreddie Johnson, Louis Farrakhan, and Stacy Frances]
That’s Alfreddie in the photo behind Farrakhan and former X-Factor contestant Stacy Francis at a Scientology Celebrity Centre event from a few years ago.
It’s Johnson who reached out to Farrakhan and got him interested in Dianetics about six years ago. And Harwell reports that Johnson was on the scene as a Nation of Islam “brother,” Louis Muhammad, was made board chair of the charter school. Johnson himself showed up at fundraisers for Life Force.
But that fundraising didn’t seem to get Life Force out of its struggles. Harwell reports that parents were concerned about the meager resources at the school. But while the school struggled, it “funneled tens of thousands of dollars more to Islam’s business interests than she told the bankruptcy court she would charge.”
At the same time it was funneling money to Islam’s Scientology front group, the school was so poor, it argued to the local sheriff’s station that it authorized a parent to rip out the copper wiring and other fixtures of a closed nearby hotel as a way to raise money. (The hotel denied that it gave the school permission to do so, Hartwell writes.)
Hartwell even shows that Islam’s “doctorate” is from a diploma mill.
With the school such a train wreck, Pinellas County would like to close it, but it can’t do so because Life Force is currently in bankruptcy court.
Perhaps the most troubling detail: once Scientology took over the school, it seems to have installed its own version of elementary school RPF.
Rehabilitation Project Force is the name for Scientology’s prison detail for its Sea Org members who run afoul of rules or otherwise disappoint their leaders. It can take years of working at menial labor and shunned by other church members for parishioners in the RPF to restore themselves to good standing. In the case of Life Force, the Pinellas County school district found that children needing discipline were assigned to work with janitors. “Islam defended the practice,” Hartwell writes.
For now, the school is trying to change its name, and Islam’s group is still aggressively marketing it to locals.
One parent objected that his 11-year-old daughter was sent home from the Christmas Party with a book by L. Ron Hubbard with the title The Carnival of Death. He burned it.
Hartwell’s story is packed with amazing detail. Please give it a look, and we’ll hope the Times keeps us updated as the school moves through bankruptcy.