Friday, September 22, 2023

"RIP Paul Morantz, Lawyer Who Campaigned Against Cults"

I never heard of this hero until today when I happened upon his NYT obituary from which I am quoting below: 

Paul Morantz, a lawyer and investigative journalist who in the 1970s was so successful at taking on cults, abusive psychotherapists and self-proclaimed gurus around California that one of his targets tried to assassinate him with a rattlesnake, died on Oct. 23 in Los Angeles. He was 77.

Cults proliferated in the post-hippie weirdness that was California in the 1970s, often establishing alternative communities in rural parts of the state where authoritarian leaders, typically men, dictated every aspect of their followers’ lives, down to their clothing and choice of sexual partners.

Mr. Morantz made his name taking down one such movement, Synanon. It had begun as a last-chance drug rehabilitation program in the late 1950s but had, by the early ’70s, become an insular, oppressive organization under its founder, Charles Dederich.

Mr. Morantz’s first big case, in 1974, involved a scheme by a network of nursing homes to kidnap homeless people and keep them drugged up on Thorazine, an antipsychotic, then bill the state and collect the patients’ Social Security checks.

Mr. Morantz filed a class-action law suit, winning $300,000 and setting himself up as the go-to guy for taking on shady, coercive institutions — including cults.
He stepped back from his regular legal work in the early 2000s but remained a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, regaling listeners with stories about California’s cult scene.

When asked how to know when you are in a cult, I said count the number of Hollywood stars in it,” he would tell his audience. “If you get past five, you are in one.

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