Straight and Medical Research
by Wes Fager (c) 2000


Straight was founded on April 22, 1976 by Melvin and Betty Sembler and twelve other citizens from Saint Petersburg, Florida–almost all of whom had been parents in the Saint Petersburg Seed. The Seed had been a U.S. government sponsored synanon for kids-only. It had been funded principally by a million dollar grant from NIDA, was under consideration for another million dollar grant for expansion programs at the time of its abrupt closing in 1975 and had received lesser federal funding from the U.S. government’s Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA). [The Seed also received funding from municipal, county and state funds from the state of Florida.]

Five notable problems which led to its abrupt demise occurred between 1974 and 1975 with the always controversial Seed program.

  • First Florida state health regulators instituted a set of regulations to administer the host home element of The Seed. Art Barker, The Seed’s founder, had declared that the new regulations undermined the effectiveness of his program and he refused to abide by them. 
  • Second, the U.S. House of representatives had conducted a study of The Seed and concluded that Barker had refused to let government auditor’s see where federal grant money was being spent. That is, he refused to open his books to federal auditors. 
  • Third, the U.S. Senate had conducted a study of The Seed and had determined that the methods used by The Seed were experimental. The Senate found that NIDA’s own regulations require that human subjects participating in U.S. government sponsored research projects be required to sign consent forms. Thus the Senate had directed Robert DuPont (the head of NIDA) to require that Art Barker get consent forms from both parents and children who were being subjected to experimental and potentially harmful treatment. 
  • Fourth, the Senate determined that under its federally mandated charter LEAA had not been established by Congress to sponsor medical research and thus the Senate directed that LEAA cease all funding for research projects like The Seed. In February 1974, in direct response to pressure from Senator Ervin who headed the Senate’s investigation of LEAA, Don Santarelli, head of the LEAA, held a press conference to announce the cancellation of all LEAA funding for medical research, psychosurgery, and behavior modification programs because, in his words, there "are no technical skills on the staff to screen, evaluate, or monitor such projects." 
  • Fifth, and most damning of all, was the finding by the U.S. Senate which likened The Seed’s approach to juvenile drug rehabilitation to the methods employed by North Korean Communist to attempt to "brainwash" American prisoners-of-war during the Korean War.
For these reasons, Art Barker abruptly closed all Seed expansion programs in 1975. In that same year the founding Seed in Fort Lauderdale had its licensed revoked for failure to comply with the new host home regulations, but it operates today claiming that it administers to adults-only (18 and over).

It was six months after the founding Seed lost its license that Melvin and Betty Sembler and some other former Saint Petersburg Seed parents formed Straight, Inc. It was Melvin Sembler who would inherit the host home regulations that had been drafted to regulate The Seed. And for sixteen years Straights would pop open all over the country, locking kids in bedrooms and nailing windows shut, forcing them to urinate in jars in those over-crowed bedrooms, refusing them the right to read even a Bible in those host homes--battling state health officials from Florida to California as if each cited violation was the first time they had ever heard kids should not be treated that way.

Straight had been incorporated back in April 1976. The board waited till late July to announce plans for an imminent opening of the flagship facility. At that time board member Leon Sellers stated that Straight hoped to avoid government financing. But just two weeks later Jim Hartz, Straight’s executive director, announced that Straight had accepted a $47,394 grant from LEAA to be administered through the Pinellas Metropolitan Criminal Justice Planning Council. The city of St. Petersburg would be Straight’s sponsor. The Council was responsible to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Justice Planning and Assistance (BOCJPA) in Tallahassee. In spite of the Senate’s directive to LEAA to stay out of the medical experimentation/medical treatment business LEAA was back at it as early as July 1976, and gave Straight another $50,000 grant in 1977. But since LEAA was not chartered to sponsor medical research in the first place, it did not require any silly "human consent forms" for medical research, so Sembler was able to dodge that bullet.

Now if you think that medical doctors are too savy to join a cult, just look at The People’s Temple. Remember it was a licensed medical doctor who fed the children Kool Aid laced with cyanide. Of course as the children wreathed in agony on the ground, Reverend Jim Jones himself had one of his parishioners simply shoot him in the back of the head. Or look at our own Synanon Church. It was licensed medical doctors who performed around-the-clock mass sterilizations on all Synanite males ages 18 and above (except, of course, for Reverend Chuch Dederich who was exempt). Like attorneys and politicians, medical doctors are special recruitment targets for Straight. Especially pediatricians. Consider, for example a Clearwater, Florida pediatrician named Don Ian Macdonald. In 1979 he sent his 15 year-old son Andy across the bay to Straight in Saint Petersburg. Dr. Macdonald went on to head Straight’s medical research program. But before we discuss him you have to understand his teacher–Dr. George Ross. And before you can understand Dr. Ross you have to know about Helen Petermann.

Vice President George Bush shedding a tear at a Straight-St Pete Open Meeting in March 1987.  On his right is Florida Congressman Michael Bilirakis.
Straight's National Medical Research Director 
Drug Czar Carlton Turner,  Macdonald's predecessor,  embraces the front page of Miller Newton's book NOT MY KID: A Parent's Guide to Kids and Drugs with these words:  Not MY KID should be required reading for any parent concerned about their children's future.
Maybe George Ross had narrowly dodged three bullets, but three years later he attended a White House meeting with Dr. Donald Ian Macdonald as part of the White House Conference for a Drug Free America.

You recall that Macdonald, a Clearwater pediatrician, who placed his 15 year-old son, Andy, in Straight-Saint Pete? When Dr. Macdonald placed his boy in Straight in 1979, after learning that Andy’s "drug of choice was marijuana", he became a natural target for Straight. Not only was he a pediatrician with a kid in trouble but his wife Bobbie was active in Pinellas County Republican politics and even served on the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission. In 1988 she told a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader that Andy owed his life to Straight and added, "and he knows it." When Macdonald wrote an article on drug abuse for NIDA in 1981, he referenced Miller Newton. In 1982 Macdonald served with Robert DuPont on NIDA’s Workgroup on Marijuana Abuse in Adolescence. [Robert DuPont had been the founding director of NIDA, the second White House Drug Czar and a paid Straight consultant.] 

In 1982 Dr. Macdonald became Straight’s National Research Director. In 1984 he authored the book Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Abuse which pushed five juvenile drug rehab program models. One of those programs was Straight, Inc. On page 16 he shows those four silly diagrams of druggie mood swings that he got from Miller Newton–the same charts that all Straight parents get bombarded with when they go through the "Six New Parent Raps" produced by Dr. Newton. In 1984 he became director of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration. In 1985 he was appointed acting assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. And in 1987 Dr. Donald Ian Macdonald, M.D. became The White House Drug Czar for Ronald Reagan. 

 While in Washington Dr. Macdonald's daughter Sally worked for Florida Republican Congressman Michael Bilirakis shown with George Bush above at a Straight Open Meeting.  [Saint Petersburg Times, Jan 17, 1989, Section: National, p. 1A,] It was during his time as the White House Drug Czar that he invited his old mentor Dr. George Ross over to the White House and admitted to a reporter that he knew "almost nothing" about drug addiction before meeting George Ross. [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, March 2, 1988, page B1, SECTION: CITY/STATE ] 



        Richard Lawrence's article on Dr. Schwartz

Richard H. Schwartz, M.D.  In 1984 Dr. Richard H. Schwartz, a Fairfax, Virginia pediatrician agreed to be interviewed for The Fairfax Journal for an article that was subsequently published on July 31, 1984. Dr. Schwartz had a son named Keith in Straight-DC. The article showed a full page photo of Keith, Dr. Schwartz, his wife Rose Lynn, and Keith’s sister Keira. Keith is a tall, clean-cut guy and yet there’s a solo picture of Keith Schwartz saying "You can’t con a con", which is a part of the Program lexicon that goes all the way back to Reverend Chuck Dederich's Synanon.  In the article Keith admits he is "chemically" dependent, that he stole from his family to support his drug habit–"money, a Hanukkah gift, a movie camera, liquor." He admitted that he had once held a knife to his sister’s Keira’s throat (but "I was just fooling around."). And then in 1988 writing in the Journal of Pediatrics Dr. Schwartz told the world that Keith had relapsed after 17 months in treatment at Straight and had been arrested for shoplifting and given a two year sentence on probation.

And there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Once again Straight has exposed a fine young man–and forever. Straight is gone now–at least under the name Straight, but while it lived it coaxed this doctor into allowing his son to be quoted in print, admitting to the world forever that he was chemically dependent, that he stole from loves ones to support his habit, that he held a knife to his own sister’s throat, and that he had stolen and been sentenced to two years on parole. 

In 1974 the US Senate had concluded that the Seed concept of getting a teenager to adopt the desired behavior of a large Group was itself a medical experiment  and had directed Robert DuPont's NIDA, which was funding The Seed,  to require Seed clients and their parents to sign human consent forms acknowledging that the child was participating  in a medical experiment.  Robert DuPont went on to become a paid consultant for Straight and was frequently called upon by Straight as an expert witness in many of the civil suits brought against Straight for violations of civil rights and child abuse. 

Dr. Schwartz became the Director of Research for Straight-DC. Dr. Schwartz had been a medical researcher of pediatrics and a professor at Georgetown University where Straight’s consultant Dr. Robert DuPont was also a professor. So perhaps he had been an easier snag for Straight than Donald Ian Macdonald. As Straight-DC’s medical director and later research director, this medical doctor teamed up with many Straight employees in his various studies. He did one study on Marijuana intoxication of pets with Straight-DC’s executive director Mel Riddile who had a Phd. in education. There was another study with a straight graduate named Dean Mistretta and another Straight-DC director named Page Peary on Pot use and teenage girls. There was a study done with Page Peary on Rush use by kids, and another with Mel Riddile, this one on Laboratory Detection of marijuana use.

In 1991 author Richard Lawrence Miller of Kansas City Missouri did a 24 page study on the research methods employed by Straight-DC's medical research director Dr. Richard H. Schwartz in which he questions whether  children at Straight were forced to participate in a medical study against their will.     Wesley Fager and the Oakton Institute for Cultic Studies do not necessarily agree with the claims made in the Miller paper,  but we include the document in its entirety with grateful permission from the author.  Please see:   TEENS AND MARIJUANA:  ETHICS OF RESEARCH by Richard Lawrence Miller (c) 1991.