Waging War on Medicine: From Nixon to Trump


Photograph Source: Lord Jim – CC BY 2.0

Cancer Wars

Distrust of corporate profiteering by ordinary people has always been a sensible reaction when it comes to maintaining their own longevity; and this explains why alternative cancer treatment like Laetrile managed to assert a firm hold on the public imagination. And while the so-called health and lifestyle magazines promoted by the powerful Rodale stable had done much to undermine public understanding of effective medical interventions, the role of the mainstream (corporate) media in facilitating such confusion should never be underestimated.[1] For example, shortly after President Nixon launched his “war on cancer” in 1971, he reopened diplomatic talks with China, and low and behold, one of the first things that the mainstream media fixated upon was the so-called magic of alternative medicine. One writer who helped catalyze this strange mystical obsession was James Reston, a popular reporter who had accompanied Henry Kissinger on a preparatory visit to China in July 1971. Reston had apparently been taken ill with appendicitis and had allegedly been operated on with only acupuncture for anesthetic – a tall-tale that he wrote about at length in the New York Times. Irrespective of the truth of the matter this misreporting set-in motion much popular intrigue among ruling-elites, and soon all manner of authoritative medical practitioners were traveling to China to witness such miracles first-hand; and one over-awed journalist even reported having watched an acupuncture-assisted heart operation!

The Chinese operations were all cleverly devised fakes, but nevertheless their uncritical reception in the American corporate media led to a resurgent belief in the efficacy of acupuncture.[2] India likewise managed to achieve a similar miracle with homoeopathy, which it re-exported back to the West in the 1970s. Such alternative medical therapies were promoted in the mainstream media as being “an exotic, natural, holistic and individualized form of medicine, and an antidote to the corporate medicine being peddled by giant pharmaceutical corporations in Europe and America.”[3]

A “War on Cancer” may well have been declared by the American government, but the methods by which it was launched and developed continued to be scrutinized by a suspicious citizenry. In an environment of growing skepticism and hostility towards professional expertise, President Nixon’s official promise of finding a scientific solution to cancer, combined with the very real fear that millions of people had of dying of cancer, led many people to search for their own health solutions.

Related to such public anger at the stark limitations of medicine under capitalism, socialists like the Black Panthers had already pioneered a political approach to running health clinics to cater for the needs of the poor,[4] and feminists likes Barbara Seaman and countless others set about experimenting with more democratic forms of health provision. Other socialist groups that formed part of this resistance to capitalist health priorities included the Medical Committee for Human Rights (formed in 1964) and a loose alliance of concerned researchers who established an organization called Science for the People in early 1969. Over the next two decades, this latter group published a magazine with the same name, and they played an important role in arguing that, politically speaking, biology and medicine cannot remain neutral. Illustrating this point, in the July 1971 issue of Science for the People’s magazine, an article highlighted how the Bionetics Lab, a Maryland subsidiary of Litton Industries, was “receiving a large chunk of money from President Nixon’s highly publicized ‘War on Cancer’.” The writer explained:

“What credentials do these organizations have which qualify them to look after the public health? Litton is a conglomerate which has gotten rich primarily on contracts with various governments. Its Minnesota subsidiary has performed studies of delivery of biological weapons, and its Mississippi subsidiary produces nuclear submarines. Litton holds an $800 million contract with the Greek military junta for economic development of Western Peloponnesus and Crete.

“Under a National Institute of Health contract, the Bionetics Lab recently performed a study of the hazards of several hundred agricultural chemicals. Some chemicals in heavy use were found to be quite dangerous, but the Bionetics Lab managed to keep this information hidden from the public. Low doses of 2,4,5-T were shown to produce deformed fetuses in rats. 2,4,5-T is a defoliant widely used in Viet Nam, and recent reports from Viet Nam have indicated a huge increase in the number of malformed babies born. Bionetics said nothing of its findings, and the report might still be secret if a group of ‘Nader’s Raiders’ had not stumbled across it during the summer of 1969. Subsequent attempts by various scientists to obtain a copy of the report met with evasions, ‘no comments’, and being told it was classified.

“With considerable effort a Harvard biologist obtained a bootlegged copy. In December,1970, after much furor from a few scientists, and two years after the original results were in, President Nixon said he would “phase out” the use of 2,4,5-T in Viet Nam. It is also worth noting that some of the other chemicals in the Bionetics study, pesticides used primarily in the U.S., were found to produce cancer.”[5]

Such detailed criticisms of the medical establishment were a common feature within the magazine and in July 1972 Science for the People lambasted the so-called “ethical drug industry” highlighting how:

“The prescription drug industry, with the complicity of protecting and supporting institutions of its corporate capitalist complex; the government and the FDA, the doctors and the AMA, the advertising media, has made the technology of drugs and health care a destructive one, a technology designed to promote the best interests of a small elite in lieu of, and at the expense of, the majority of people.”[6]

Simultaneously, the far-right attacked the “monopoly” of the AMA, government regulators, and drug companies, and pushed “freedom of choice” in all medical treatments. But as the seventies progressed, precisely because the socialist left had been unable to provide a convincing lead to the diverse mass social movements of the day – which wasn’t helped by massive government repression of their activities – too many disorientated progressives found themselves “duped” by the libertarians “’freedom of choice’ dogma” particularly when it came to the contentious issue of Laetrile.[7] Tragically this led to the situation where the ultraconservative leaders of the health freedom movement even managed to weaponize the 1973 legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade to argue that medical patients had the right to choose any treatment they wished.[8] Laetrile thus became something of a cause celebre in the 1970s.

“Derived from the pits of apricots, it could be taken orally but was usually given by injection. It did not attract widespread attention until the early 1960s, when a combination of circumstances-the closing of Hoxsey’s clinic in Dallas, promotion of laetrile by an aggressive manufacturer in Canada, timely publicity in The American Weekly-part of the conservative Heart press] made it better known. When California prosecuted a physician who was prescribing it, the Committee for Freedom of Choice aggressively took up his cause.

“For all these reasons laetrile emerged by the mid-1970s as the unorthodox cancer remedy extraordinaire. One contemporary opponent of the substance called it “the greatest episode of quackery in our history.” So great was popular interest in the substance during its most heralded years-in 1977 and 1978-that Newsweek carried a cover story on it and “60 Minutes,” the television series, devoted a program to it. Polls suggested that a majority of people favored legalization of laetrile in interstate commerce. It was estimated that 70,000 Americans took the substance in 1978, roughly one-fifth of the number of Americans who died of cancer in that year.”[9]

The key authors who pushed forward the Laetrile agenda were the numerous conspiracy theorists associated with the John Birch Society, the most famous being G. Edward Griffin, who published War Without Cancer in 1975.[10] But the far-right drew other apparently non-affiliated writers into their orbit too, commentators whose work enabled medical libertarians to appeal to a much wider political audience than they might otherwise have been able to reach. Three notable journalists who acted in this vein were Ralph Moss, who would publish The Cancer Syndrome (Grove Press, 1980),[11] Gary Null who in 1979 wrote a series of influential cancer-related articles for Penthouse magazine,[12] and Peter Barry Chowka, who wrote about Laetrile for a variety of New Age publications in the late 1970s.[13] Initially at least it would have been difficult for the public to identify the political approach of these authors, as they all made a concerted habit of side-lining or ignoring the central involvement of far-right health organizations in the ongoing Laetrile wars. Yet it is now clear that the politics of all three widely-read commentators did nothing to stop them promoting all manner of right-wing conspiracies throughout their writing careers. Thus, these authors popularized their own Laetrile journalism by couching their arguments within convincing (non-libertarian) criticisms of Nixon’s official “War on Cancer,” taking advantage of the fact that ordinary people were desperate for any relief from the death toll inflicted upon their communities by this dreaded disease.

To be clear, the threat to public health caused by the “Cancer Establishment” inaugurated by President Nixon’s “War” remains very real now just as it did in the 1970s. And one of the best-known writers to document such threats from a left-leaning perspective has been Samuel Epstein, who recently surmised that:

“Apart from well-documented evidence on control and manipulation of health and environmental information, industry has used various strategies to con the public into complacency and divert attention from industry’s own recklessness and responsibility for the cancer epidemic. Key among these is the “blame the victim” theory of cancer causation, developed by industry scientists and consultants and a group of pro-industry academics, and tacitly supported by the “cancer establishment.” This theory emphasizes faulty lifestyle, smoking and fatty diet, sunbathing, or genetic susceptibility as the major causes of preventable cancer, while trivializing the role of involuntary exposures to occupational and environmental carcinogens. Another misleading diversion is the claim that there is no evidence of recently increasing cancer rates other than lung cancer, for which smoking is given the exclusive credit. While the role of lifestyle is obviously important, the scientific basis of this theory is as unsound as it is self-serving. Certainly, smoking is a major, but not sole, cause of lung cancer. But a wealth of evidence clearly incriminates the additional role of other causes of lung cancer, particularly exposure to occupational carcinogens and carcinogenic community-air pollutants.”[14]

Yet by 1982 the once powerful Laetrile movement, which arguably peaked in the late 1970s, was now in decline. This dwindling of interest in Laetrile was partly a result of scientific research that had been published in January 1982: research that had shown that the alleged treatment did nothing to prevent cancer. This proved to be one of the final nails in the coffin of the movement and it built on the positive results of the Supreme Court’s Rutherford decision (made in June 1979) which had unanimously upheld the Federal Government’s authority to ban distribution of Laetrile.[15]

However, the war on science was by no means over, and medicinal treatments like Laetrile were simply replaced by other new non-scientific remedies. These succeeding New Age treatments had the novel selling-point that they were “anti-medicines, emphasizing purification through dietary regimens, detoxification and internal cleansing, or mind control” and so involved “no agents that require FDA approval”. This was the considered view of the up-and-coming integrative health megastar Dr. Barrie Cassileth who at the time had recently published her first book, The Cancer Patient: Social and Medical Aspects of Care (Lea & Febiger, 1979) – a book that helped lay the groundwork for the institutionalization of alternative treatments within the cancer establishment.[16] Cassileth would go on to serve as a founding member of the advisory council to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Alternative Medicine, and in 1999 she was recruited by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to create an “Integrative Medicine” program, which led to her holding the Laurance S. Rockefeller Chair in Integrative Medicine.

Another influential supernatural doctor who charted a similar course to Dr. Cassileth has been the best-selling author Dr. Norm Shealy, one of whose first books was Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life (Bantam Books, 1977).[17] Here it of more than passing interest that the publisher of this text, Bantam Books, was owned by the Italian company IFI, which was run by the immensely powerful and conservative Agnelli family.[18] So, it is not too surprising that in the same year the conservative publisher also printed the work of Dr. John Richardson, a leading John Birch Society member who was the first physician to be prosecuted for treating cancer patients with Laetrile.[19] Dr. Shealy himself however, in contrast to these libertarians, traced his medical inspiration to the New Thought movement,[20] and was most famous for having acted as the first president of the American Holistic Medical Association which had been founded in 1975.

Dr. Shealy, as it turns out, continues to preach occult medicine to this day, but with the advent of blogging his ultraconservative politics are now open for all the world to see. As early as 2013 Dr. Shealy therefore wrote on his blog about his belief in aliens (following the work of Zechariah Sitchin), adding:

“Undeniably our media are owned by the insiders of this Secret force that may best be called The Committee of 300 [citing John Coleman’s anti-Semitic text]. Thus the pap we get from all media and their failure to cover the TITANIC evidence that this is going on leaves most people in the dark or hypnotized and drugged out of reality This is coupled with the Committee’s control of food, energy, drugs, Congress, etc. Unless there is significant Awakening, the future is indeed One World Government By the Elite, For the Elite and Of the Elite!! And remember, those who believe that there is conspiracy are much more likely to be sane!”[21]

The Magic of Supplement Power

But leaving Dr. Shealy’s depraved ravings aside for a moment, with Laetrile’s fall from grace the growth of the medical freedom movement was nowhere near from over. Thus Republican Senator Orin Hatch, a Mormon representing the State of Utah (from 1977 until 2019), who maintained close links to a prominent John Birch Society supporter named Cleon Skousen (who himself was a close friend of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon),[22] had already jumped into action, and along with Senator Samuel Hayakawa (Republican-California) they had sponsored the Voluntary Vitamin Act of 1981 which, if it had passed, “would have eviscerated all FDA attempts to control the unfettered use of vitamins.” This “Vitamin Act,” however, never came to fruition because after President Reagan appointed a new Food and Drug administrator “momentum for the Hatch bill petered out.” This owed to the fact that as far as the supplement industry was concerned the FDA had now been effectively defanged by Reagan’s new appointment.[23]

As a part of the vitamin lobbies ensuing celebrations, in 1981 the National Health Federation gave Linus Pauling another award in recognition of the extraordinary services he had rendered on behalf of health freedom. And the following year Maureen Salaman, an activist who had penned a health column in America’s leading anti-Semitic publication, the Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight newspaper, was then elected president of the National Health Federation. From this position of authority, Salaman quickly built upon her vile political legacy by founding the Populist Party with Holocaust denier Willis Carto, which she followed up by standing as their vice-presidential candidate for the 1984 elections.[24]

1984 also marked the release of a significant government report that summarized a four-year investigation that had been overseen by Congressman Claude Pepper (Democrat-Florida) through his chairmanship of the House Select Committee on Aging. This report represented a scathing attack on the highly profitable industry revolving around the sale of quack remedies. Moreover, the investigation highlighted the massive political shortcoming of both the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in the latter instance observing that their “efforts to control misleading advertising” were “almost nonexistent.”[25] Pepper then “introduced three bills [that were] intended to strengthen the government’s authority to control health fraud,” but health freedom advocates were not backing down for a moment.

“The National Health Federation, with the support of more than a hundred local chapters and 25,000 members, lobbied aggressively against each bill, referring to the proposals as ‘lysenkoism.’ NHF President Maureen Salaman reportedly went so far as to buy a plane ticket on a flight with Congressman Pepper, arranging to have [a] seat next to him so that she could ‘bend his ear’ all the way to his destination. After failing to pass the bills during the ninety-eighth Congress, Pepper decided not to reintroduce them.”[26]

Another significant moment for Reagan’s inaugural anti-regulatory presidency arose when the Kellogg cereal company teamed up with the National Cancer Institute to argue that food companies should be allowed to place misleading health advice on their products. Tragically the so-called regulatory bodies once again sided with the powers that be and “the FDA did everything but outright endorse the Kellogg advertisements” implying that their cereals might help prevent cancer, while the “FTC also enthusiastically endorsed the Kellogg advertisements and recommended that other companies follow suit.”[27]

Having given the green light to food manufacturers to embark on a new advertising extravaganza, the supplement industry however remained furious that they were being excluded from this lucrative marketing opportunity. Lawsuits were soon threatened by the supplement industries trade body, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (an organization that had initially been established in 1973 to help oppose the Proxmire Amendment). This corporate lobbying had the desired effect, and the FDA were consequently blocked by the government from taking any form of meaningful action against the bogus health claims of supplement manufacturers.[28] Nevertheless, the neutering of the government’s regulatory organizations never meant that the FDA’s own staff gave up on trying to hold food and supplement manufacturers to account.

All hell finally broke loose in mid-1992 when a front-page story in the New York Times reported that armed FDA agents had apparently raided an alternative medicine clinic as “part of the agency’s increased efforts to stop manufacturers of nutritional supplements from making unproven claims for their products,” with newspaper editorials referring to the “Gestapo-like tactics” of the FDA. But within just a single week it turned out that this news story was wrong in just about every way. Yet the Times’ subsequent retraction was too little too late. Thus, the lies told within the initially shocking articles now set in chain a series of events that played right into the hands of the supplement industry. Moreover Senator Orrin Hatch once again leaped to the defense of his friends and helped encourage an already supplicant Congress to pass the Dietary Supplement Act of 1992, which effectively acted to block “the FDA from applying its forthcoming labeling rules for conventional foods to dietary supplements for another year—until the end of 1993.”[29]

It remains not at all coincidental that the owner of the ‘raided’ clinic that made the headlines was Dr. Jonathan Wright, who himself was a longstanding health freedom activist, and author of the best-selling Book of Nutritional Therapy: Real-Life Lessons in Medicine Without Drugs (Rodale Press, 1979). In addition to having formerly served as the chair of the National Health Federation’s board of governors,[30] Wright had popularized his libertarian health advice while acting as the nutritional editor for Prevention magazine between 1976 and 1986. This meant that when the raid on Wright’s property eventuated, he was perfectly positioned to become a cause-celebre for the supplement industry, especially when he circulated a video of the law enforcement incident which soon became known as the “Vitamin-B Bust.” Film-star Mel Gibson famously recreated the scene of this bust (with exaggeration and comedic affect) for a one-minute advert that was made by the supplement industry and aired across the country in August 1993.[31] These scare tactics proved highly effective, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets to ward off the FDA’s alleged attempts to stop them obtaining supplements.

From Waco to Natural Solutions

The wealthy far-right activists who were steering this health campaign were of course aided by the horrifying fact that in the month preceding the FDA’s vitamin bust, another federal law enforcement agency had participated in an armed raid at the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians. A raid which caused the death of 78 people, including 20 children. By the time the vitamin bust therefore came to pass, the Waco bloodbath had already become a rallying point for right-wing activists across the nation; although it was only in later years that the conspiratorial interpretation of the sieges event would become immortalized in the militia classic, Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997).

Here, illustrating the close relationship between the two raids, the producer of this film on the Waco siege, William Gazecki (whose occult connections were introduced earlier), had, at the time of the vitamin bust just directed a PBS documentary in support of the supplement industry which was titled “The Natural Solutions: Freedom of Choice and the FDA” (1993).[32] This earlier documentary began with the following blunt statement from Steven Fowkes, a vitamin enthusiastic who was the recent co-editor of Stop the FDA: Save Your Health Freedom (Health Freedom Publications, 1992):[33]

“The reason why I am spending all this time on it is that I think that people are going to die as a result of what the FDA is doing, and to me that is a travesty that an organization that is supposed to protecting the health of Americans is actually endangering our health. That upsets my sense of justice in the world.”[34]

The former Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Susan Stafford who had served as the executive producer and host of Gazecki’s PBS documentary had, it bears mentioning, recently trained as a nutritionist and produced a long-running health talk-show (called Alive) for Pat Robertson’s far-right Christian Broadcasting Network. The connection here to Robertson, the evangelist and hugely popular conspiracy theorist – who was the bestselling author of the 1991 book New World Order — is perhaps fitting as Robertson has been referred to as “the most famous figure to mix religion and supplements”.[35] Stafford’s association with the Christian Right was however not a passing phase in her career and in later years she went on to work as an advisor to a group that in their own words aimed “to educate the public of the need to fulfill our civic responsibilities according to traditional biblical moral absolutes and to bridge cultural barriers.” This group had been headed by Tony Nassif, a Christian businessman who was obsessed with fighting and massively exaggerating the modern evils of child abduction and sexual slavery.[36] Not insignificantly, Nassif had for many years acted as a leading light in Robertson’s theocratic lobbying enterprise, the Christian Coalition.

But returning our focus to the supplement lobby once again: one immediate result of all the frenetic activity in the early 1990s on the part of the ‘alternative’ pill-popping industry was that hundreds of thousands of letters poured into Congress and the FDA giving the illusion of “what appeared to be a large and spontaneous consumer movement”. In reality, the campaign “had been orchestrated by supplement trade organizations, using ‘scare tactics to give cover to lobbyists and lawmakers in Congress trying to free the industry of government controls.’”[37] Yet the effect of the campaign was very real and the lobbying paid huge dividends. With Senator Hatch at the forefront of proceedings, who now had the support of Tom Harkin (Democrat-Iowa), Congress soon passed their Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which President Clinton signed into law on October 25, 1994. With this Act, the supplement industry had effectively created a law that gave them a license to print money, and in “the five years after its enactment, supplement sales in the United States grew from $4 billion to nearly $15 billion” with the latestestimates suggesting that the market is now worth around $56 billion.[38] As one astounded critic put it:

“Breathtaking in its dimensions, DSHEA would end forever the simple legal dichotomy between “food” and “drug” to create a third, hermaphroditic category that was both yet neither: the dietary supplement. And beyond the usual suspects – vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids – the law would permit manufacturers to define a product as a “dietary supplement” merely by saying so, no matter how artificially derived. For this special, magical category of products, DSHEA would specifically exclude all their ingredients from the stringent laws used to guarantee the safety of food additives.

“… With a stroke of a pen, nearly ninety years’ worth of laws dating back to Dr. Wiley’s Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had been gutted for a huge category of products, and all because enough people had become absolutely convinced that nothing deemed ‘natural’ could be unsafe.”[39]

Institutionalizing Alternatives

Unfortunately the passing of DSHEA was not the only victory for what as in effect the occult anti-science lobby. This is because elite lobbying efforts to institutionalize nonsense within the state apparatus had received a boost a few years earlier (in 1991) when the Senate Appropriations Committee — which is responsible for funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — set in motion a chain of events that led to the formation of the Office of Alternative Medicine. The prime mover behind this momentous turn of events was Appropriations Committee chair, Tom Harkin, who apparently had been encouraged to take this legislative step by two of his constituents, the first being his predecessor, the former six-term Democratic Congressman Berkley Bedell and the second, a former recording artist turned alternative health activist named Frank Wiewel. All three individuals however had personally witnessed the alleged curative power of alternative medicine and were now keen to use their political clout to advance their personal beliefs in the efficacy of non-medicines.[40]

Since then, the Office of Alternative Medicine has gone from strength-to-strength, and in 1999 it was re-established as a full NIH center known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The only real lasting benefit of their having burned through more than $2 billion enquiring into the utility of alternative (non-medical) therapies is that they have now concretely demonstrated that such treatments don’t work. Nevertheless, NCCAM’s work is never seemingly done, and they remain well-funded, such that in 2021 they had a generous annual budget of $138.2 million.[41]

With so much at stake and so much still to prove, alternative medicine activists never rested on their unproven laurels. So, in 1998 Berkley Bedell founded the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine to examine the miracles undertaken by ‘marginalized’ health practitioners. One integral person associated with Bendell’s Foundation was their board member George Zabrecky, a chiropractor who purports to treat cancer and is also a scientific advisor to Bernie Marcus, the notorious right-wing founder of Home Depot. Billionaire Marcus, who has the dubious honor of having been the second biggest donor to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, evidently has plenty of money to burn when it comes to pursuing medical libertarianism, and in 2017 Marcus pledged $20 million to Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, to allow it to set up what Zabrecky said was the “first department of integrative medicine at a conventional medical school in the world.”[42]

Yet the real precursor for splicing integrative medicine into the heart of a university’s medical programming occurred in 1994 when the University of Arizona authorized Dr. Andrew Weil to establish a Program in Integrative Medicine within their College of Medicine. Weil, who is perhaps one of America’s most famous health gurus and a millionaire to boot,[43] has, over the years, been able to provide substantial personal financial support to his Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. But conservative philanthropists have joined Weil’s integrative challenge, most notably the notorious ultra-rightwing Adolph Coors Foundation.[44] This interest on Coors’ part has meant that they have additionally funded integrative research at the aforementioned Thomas Jefferson University and at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine. The latter center having been founded in 2001 at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Medicine, with most of the financial assistance coming from the head of Broadcom, Henry Samueli (who happens to be another Republican billionaire); while the Center for Integrative Medicine’s operations were overseen by Henry’s wife, Susan, who is software engineer turned homeopath/ nutritionist.[45] Likewise another alternative project based in California that has been helpfully financed by a right-wing billionaire is Dr. Dean Ornish’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito. The donor and former board member of this Institute was the late Theodore Forstmann, who is credited for creating the ultra-predatory business model that is now known as the private equity industry.[46]

Conservative billionaires evidently see a handsome market in non-scientifically tested remedies, and another billionaire who is more intimately involved in the dispensing of alternative medicine is the investment banker Richard Stephenson. In this instance, Stephenson was quick to recognize the profits to be made from those suffering from cancer,[47] and 1988 he formed a chain of for-profit hospitals called the Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Centers which integrate non-scientific therapies like homeopathy with real medicine. Forbes magazine, not the type of media outlet that usually criticizes capitalist entrepreneurship, made an exception when it came to documenting Stephenson’s callous profiteering. Writing in 2012, a Forbes health correspondent explained that Stephenson’s entire premise for business “sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory,” and it is! But, as we have already seen, corporate elites have a long history of cashing in on the concept of health freedom to “support [their] favorite right-wing causes.”[48] One of these causes in Stephenson’s case is FreedomWorks — a conservative lobbying group that played a central role in building the Tea Party Movement. Stephenson’s interests in such dark electioneering however remains longstanding as he was “an early supporter” of FreedomWorks predecessor organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy – a well-oiled lobbying group that was founded in 1984 by the fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch.[49]

Either way, Richard Stephenson’s lucrative cancer enterprise proved too exciting an opportunity to overlook for one of America’s most famous naturopaths, and in 2001 Joseph Pizzorno Jr. joined the Cancer Treatment Centers of America as one of their most illustrious advisors.[50] I say this because prior to taking up this post Pizzorno had served for more than twenty years as the founding president of Bastyr University: a naturopathic university which was established in 1978 that refers to itself as “America’s largest and most successful accredited institution of natural medicine.” The high esteem in which this institution is held was demonstrated in 1994 when they were awarded a grant by the Office of Alternative Medicine, making history by becoming the first ever natural medicine institution to receive an NIH grant.

Another founding board member of Bastyr University who has  proven quite able to turn a profit from his mystical preoccupation with all things natural is Jeffrey Bland, who in addition to having previously been the head of nutritional supplement research at the Linus Pauling Institute, recently retired from his role as the president and chief scientific officer of the gargantuan nutritional supplement manufacturer, Metagenics.[51]But despite the hard done-by public image of the ever-growing supplement juggernaut, a lie which has been assiduously cultivated by a massive propaganda campaign, it is safe to say “there is essentially no difference between the vitamin industry and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries…”[52]

“Key players include companies like Roche and Aventis; BioCare, the vitamin pill company that media nutritionist Patrick Holford works for, is part-owned by Elder Pharmaceuticals, and so on. The vitamin industry is also- amusingly — legendary in the world of economics as the setting of the most outrageous price-fixing cartel ever documented. During the 1990s the main offenders were forced to pay the largest criminal fines ever levied in legal history — $1.5 billion in total — after entering guilty pleas with the US Department of Justice and regulators in Canada, Australia, and the European Union.”[53]

Scamming the People

Senator Tom Harkin himself, the man who helped the supplement industry get it wings in America, likewise maintains direct and seriously intimate connections to the nutritional establishment through the indomitable support he has given to Herbalife – a company which is “perhaps the nation’s leading marketer of nostrums covered by DSHEA”.[54] In fact, it is a point of record that Herbalife’s employees and PACs were Senator Harkin’s largest contributors between 1989 and 2016; and Amway-style multilevel marketing is the extremely exploitative game played at Herbalife. In this way…

“…the company sells products to large district distributors, who turn around and sell them for piece of the action to smaller district distributors, who so the same to even smaller distributors, and so on down the line until everbody’s Aunt Tilly is selling it to her friends on the block. [Multilevel marketing] has been a boon to supplement companies [“and no supplement company has done better than Herbalife”] because individual distributors can make dramatic personal claims about their products to customers while talking in their living rooms or on the telephone. Best of all from the companies’ point of view, the FDA and FTC are none the wiser if Aunt Tilly steps over the line to essentially practice medicine without a license by pitching the products as cures for illnesses – not that the companies (big money) would ever officially condone such practices (big money) in their official literature or training (big money).”[55]

Fittingly, given the regressive nature of this business model (for pretty much everyone involved except those at the company’s very pinnacle), in 2009 Donald Trump chose to lend his name to a similar multilevel marketing enterprise that was reanointed as The Trump Network. This allowed Trump to rake in millions through the sale of vitamins and other health related products. Furthermore, Amway’s toxic legacy would live on during Trump’s presidency, as his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, was the wife of former Amway CEO, Dick DeVos Jr. – a man whose fortune was made from the marketing of “the world’s No. 1 selling vitamin and dietary supplement brand” Nutrilite which has been sold across America since the 1930s.

For those who don’t follow the twists and turns of the vitamin supplement industry, Amway itself had been formed as a multilevel marketing company in 1949, and their Christian fundamentalist cofounders, Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos, soon became leading distributors of Nutrilite. Federal regulatory authorities including the FDA and FTC attempted to clamp down on the dietary scaremongering that accompanied Amway’s sales patter, but ultimately “legal action against isolated vendors did not hamper Nutrilite’s growth.”

In fact, five years after the 1951 injunction, when the FTC had first “looked into Nutrilite’s sales practices, the force had expanded by a third and totaled 20,000 doorbell-ringing women and men,” such that sales in 1956 amounted to $26,000,000.[56] And owing to their interest in selling supplements Amway soon formed a long-lasting working relationship with the leadership of the National Health Federation.[57] Yet the founders of Amway maintained their own separate political agenda to that of the National Health Federation, which led Amway to support a variety of hard-right and Christian reconstructionist causes, not to mention their ongoing attempts to transform their tens of thousands of “distributors” into relentless and individualistic automatons for capitalism.

As one former Amway salesman put it, once you scratch below the outward veneer that presented Amway to the world as a simple purveyor of vitamins and cosmetics, you soon find that what Amway really sells. It “is a marketing and motivational system, a cause, a way of life, in a fervid emotional atmosphere of rallies and political-religious revivalism.”[58] In recruiting new distributors to Amway’s way of life:

“A speech that might have been used in other times to bring workers into a union, or a socialist political organization, is applied here to sell the idea of “free enterprise.” The imagery of one effort has leaked into the other — the insecurity and monotony of depending on bosses for a living, the poverty of retirement, the contrasting lifestyles of rich and poor. But the assumptions have been reversed. The labor movement organizer would blame poverty on the greed and power of employers; the Amway organizer, by implication, using himself as an example, blames the ignorance and inertia of workers for staying in their Rut. From the labor movement perspective, the way out is through mass collective action. According to the [Amway] Plan, the way out is through individual initiative, directed towards personal goals.”[59]

Amway sold their salespeople a dream, the American Dream, and in doing so they built a mass movement that took America by storm – peddling a mythical and empty dream that thrived on the fabled tale of rags to riches and the lie that a compassionate form of capitalism could ever exist.[60] Yet despite all their smooth propaganda, the house of cards that is capitalism, however, has never been more unstable than now. And this truism is demonstrated by the recent working-class victory in Seattle which succeeded in stopping the billionaire-classes anti-democratic “recall campaign” against Marxist council member Kshama Sawant.[61]What is clear is that the working-class is fully capable of organizing to defend their own class interests, after all we have nothing to lose but our chains.

This essay is an excerpt from the second-half of chapter 6 of The Occult Elite: Anti-Communist Paranoia and Other Ruling-Class Delusions (2022). The footnotes referred to in the text of this essay can be found here.

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