In an article yesterday on the group Synergetic Civilization, Leonard Veysey should have been identified as a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In an article April 11 about the Synergetic Civilization, a group of ecologists and avant-garde actors, Andre Rotkiewicz was incorrectly identified as a former group member. He was an employe at the group's Caravan of Dreams theater but not a group member.
This is the story of the Synergetic Civilization, a communal group of ecologists and avant-garde actors that intends to colonize the planet Mars.
Next year, they plan to use $30 million pledged by Edward Bass, a Texas multimillionaire who has been a member of the group's inner circle since 1974, to build an 80,000-square-foot human and plant habitat, an enclosed structure in which people could live indefinitely. The project in Arizona is to be the prototype for a "biosphere" they want to place in orbit by the mid-1990s and on Mars by 2005.
Reputable scientists are taking the project seriously, and former secretary of state Cyrus R. Vance has agreed to arrange a meeting at which Synergetic Civilization members would outline the project to State Department officials.
But a potential cloud hangs over the Mars project. In recent months, some former members of the group have been telling newspaper reporters and members of Bass' billionaire oil and real estate family that John Allen, Synergetic Civilization's charismatic 55-year-old leader, has bullied and psychologically dominated his followers, including Bass. Questions also have been raised about the way the group cares for its members' children.
Allen, in a recent six-hour interview with The Washington Post, said he is not a leader and there is no group; rather, he said, he and his associates are a "synergistic collection" of like-minded artists, entrepreneurs and ecologists who are convinced that Western civilization is moribund and that they are building a new society -- if necessary, on Mars.
Allen also denied the allegations of bullying. He said he had struck group members "six times" in the group's 18 years of existence, however, when one or another of the "upper-middle-class American diddlehead s " in the group " . . . was doing something that's going to imperil himself and especially if it's going to imperil the group . . . . The projects that we do involve life and death."
Bass, 39, who was described by Allen as having already invested $15 million in group projects, did not respond to efforts by The Post to question him directly.
In a statement issued Friday from Australia through a Washington publicist hired by the group the previous week, Bass praised Allen. Bass' statement said reports of his domination by Allen were "maliciously fabricated" and added: "While by far the majority of my resources are invested jointly with my family's interests, I have directed a portion to venture capital investments which reflect my own particular interests in ecological concerns, in the arts and in engineering communications amongst managers, scientists and artists sharing a concern for the planet, its history and its future."
Foremost among the ex-members of the group complaining about its behavior has been Carol Line, a 37-year-old journalist, arts reviewer and publicist who worked for a year as a booking agent for the group's Caravan of Dreams theater here before she quit last fall under disputed circumstances. Line contends that during the year she was able to "get closer into the group than any outsider had ever been allowed before."
Her former boss, Honey Hoffman, a Synergetic Civilization member and Caravan of Dreams theater director, has charged in a sworn affidavit that Line stole money from the theater. Line has been indicted for felony theft of between $750 and $25,000 from the group, and a hearing is scheduled later this month. Tarrant County prosecutors would not say whether the affidavit was the sole evidence against her. She has pleaded not guilty.
Line says the charge was fabricated to discredit her. When she resigned, Line said, Hoffman and Allen knew that she was ready to take her story to the Basses and the press. Since early January, she has been doing just that and encouraging other former group members or associates to do the same.
In recent weeks, The Post has interviewed several former group members or associates, and their descriptions of Allen and the group were similar to Line's. Four agreed to allow their names to be used in this article.
The group originated as an avant-garde theater ensemble in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district in 1967. Unlike many communes of that time and place, it has endured, stayed small (50 to 80 members, with a dozen at the core), gained access to fabulous sums of money and been led by men with credible scientific and engineering skills.
Allen, a beefy, ham-handed Oklahoma native who once played center for the Colorado School of Mines football team, has an extraordinary background. He was schooled (at Harvard, among other universities) as an engineer, metallurgist and management consultant. He is a one-time radical labor union organizer. He is a playwright. He has studied with Eastern mystics and traveled in the intellectual circles of futurologist Buckminster Fuller and beat-generation writer William Burroughs. In the early 1960s he worked as an engineer for David Lilienthal, who earlier had served as the nation's first director of the Atomic Energy Commission.
With Bass' money and the talents of his artistically and ecologically inclined followers, Allen has launched a dizzying array of projects on four continents under the auspices of 40 corporate and legal entities. Some of the more exotic are a reforestation project in Puerto Rico; a cattle and horse-breeding ranch in the Australian outback; construction of a concrete-hulled research vessel that has navigated the Amazon; creation of an (unaccredited) ecological institute in India; construction of a hotel in Nepal; and construction in 1983 of the Caravan of Dreams, a dazzling building here that includes a theater, a nightclub, a cactus preserve, a karate dojo and living quarters for Bass, Allen and other group members.
Until recently, these projects generally were pursued in out-of-the-way settings, enabling the group to avoid publicity. But the group's move to Fort Worth, in the shadow of the headquarters of Bass Brothers Enterprises, coupled with its effort to make good on Allen's longtime dream to settle on Mars, has invited outside scrutiny.
Reporters from several newspapers have questioned Carol Line and other former members of the group, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a story Sunday that covered six newspaper pages. The Dallas Morning News ran an article on the subject a week earlier.
Line has told reporters and relatives of Ed Bass that Allen has abused Bass vocally and physically in front of other group members. Line said in an interview that she was present last summer when Honey Hoffman told Bass that she needed more money to complete a documentary film being produced by the group. Bass protested mildy, according to Line, who said that Allen then "went into a tirade, and started punching and kicking Ed in the stomach," Line said.
"Ed did not raise his hands or attempt to defend himself," she continued. "He had tears in his eyes and his face was red. But Allen teaches people that when he hits you, it's a compliment. You're not supposed to react. You're supposed to thank him."
Bass, in a statement issued Monday through the publicist, said there as "nothing remotely true" about the incident and others described by Line and other former group members. He said an account of Polish actor Andre Rotkiewicz, another former member and employe, in which Allen allegedly goaded Bass into denouncing capitalism and his brothers, was a "total fabrication."
Allen said the alleged beating incident was a fabrication by Line. He added that he had never struck Bass and had yelled at him only "when he was acting like a snotty Yale millionaire . . . .
"Ed Bass is a problem, you know, because he's deferred to all his life," Allen continued. "Now this is very dangerous. So I have yelled, yes, I have yelled hard. But these expletive deleted have never, I have never put anyone through, I would say, 25 percent of what I went through in Army basic train- ing . . . ."
Sid Bass, Ed's older brother and the dominant figure in the family's business empire, said in a statement issued Friday: "We see no reason for concern for Ed's safety or well-being and are very offended by the ridiculous statements made to the contrary."
However, in telephone conversations March 7, 12, 13 and 26 that were taped by Line without their knowledge, Sid Bass and Joel Glenn, chief of security for Bass Brothers, told Line of their concern for Ed's safety and psychological well-being, of their desire to "destroy" John Allen and of a secret plan to separate Ed from the group.
Glenn on Friday confirmed Line's account of the phone conversations but said he and Sid Bass were trying to extract information from her by making her believe they accepted her characterizations of the group. Earlier, before Sid Bass made his statement, Glenn told The Post, "If the allegations are true, then yes, we are very interested in Ed dissociating himself from the group."
Ed Bass, known in the group as "Sharkey," "With-it" and "Boz," met Allen in 1974 when both were involved in adobe construction projects in Santa Fe, N.M., where the group maintains a ranch.
The second of four sons, Bass grew up as the family iconoclast. Though he took a straight-arrow path through prep school, Yale and Yale Architecture School (he did not graduate from the latter), he also lived a long-haired "flower child" existence that lasted well into the 1970s, according to friends in Santa Fe.
He is almost universally liked and admired by those who know him. Associates describe him as bright, sweet-natured and idealistic -- but unsure of himself. "Very sharp, very nervous, no settlement at the center," said Mikio Nishida, who managed the Caravan of Dreams restaurant and karate dojo before he resigned last year.
Allen, who refers to himself as "the Adviser" and "Johnny Dolphin" because of his fondness for that mammal), has been likened by many observers, including historian Laurence Veysey, to a Gurdjieffian master teacher. G.I. Gurdjieff, a Russian-born self-help philosopher whose ideas were popular in European salons in the 1920s, urged people to submit to the will of a master who would teach them how to drive out the retrograde emotions that draw them to a culture from which they feel intellectually alienated. Allen calls it learning to "kill the donkey."
Veysey, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Clara, wrote a book chapter on the group after living with them in Santa Fe for five weeks in 1971. Veysey said that Allen's followers were "extremely suggestible" and that Allen instilled "fear" in them, consolidating his hold on their psyches by cultivating and exploiting their "instincts for self-destruction."
Allen said Veysey was an accurate observer but drew incorrect conclusions.
Veysey also noted another behavioral pattern at the ranch. The children there, he wrote, "cry pitifully for attention they seldom receive" and seemed to be always suffering from diarrhea or other maladies.
In interviews with The Washington Post last month, two of the children, aged 8 and 12, said they had never attended school. The younger child could not spell his name and could not remember the last time he had seen his parents. The interviews were conducted as the two spread dirt on an unpaved road leading to the ranch's ramshackle complex of adobe living quarters and workshops. The older child was driving a pickup truck, which had just stalled. He was cursing the carburetor bitterly.
Group members said the ranch has not been the center of much group activity in recent years, but it serves as a home for many of the children. Their parents are generally assigned to projects in other countries.
Allen said in the interview that he considers the nuclear family to be "one of the supreme negative forces of human history" but said there is no group policy of separating children from their parents. He said the children's education comes from life experience.
The Santa Fe ranch is the scene of an incident that is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Ulrich Hansler, a German juggler who visited the ranch in 1983. Hansler, 29, was using a .357 Magnum for target practice. His lawyer, Turner Branch of Albuquerque, said Hansler fired at an old refrigerator without knowing that it contained dynamite. The explosion sent shrapnel 300 feet in the air and injured Hansler's right leg, which had to be amputated above the knee. Hansler is suing group members for $11 million in a New Mexico court.
The ranch, where the group settled after leaving San Francisco in 1969, is owned by Allen's ex-wife, Flash, daughter of a wealthy New York businessman. In addition to Flash Allen and Bass, several other group members come from monied families. "Allen has had an amazing ability over the years to attract the disaffected children of the wealthy. We call them trust-fund hippies," said one Santa Fe contractor who worked for the group and asked not to be identified.
Colonizing Mars has been a longtime dream of Allen's. It is a subject of one of his plays, and group members say he speaks of it constantly. Though it strikes many as a pipe dream, Allen's project has attracted the attention of reputable scientists.
"It sounds way out and when you talk about it, people sort of roll their eyes. But it's not crazy, it makes sense," said Carl Hodges, director of the Environmental Research Lab of the University of Arizona and an expert on the design and engineering of controlled environments. "John Allen knows what he is talking about."
Hodges' entrepreneurial research company, Oasis Systems Inc., has been hired by Space Biosphere Ventures, Bass' venture capital company, to conduct a feasiblity study for the so-called biosphere project.
Russell L. (Rusty) Schweickart, an Apollo 9 astronaut who has just completed a five-year term on the California Energy Commission, spoke at Allen's biosphere conference in Arizona last December. "I have a great deal of respect for the people involved" in the biosphere project, he said. " Allen is clearly a sharp businessman. He's a good leader as far as handling groups."
John McCauley, an astrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., who has mapped the moon and Mars for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, called the biosphere conference "stimulating" and said there was a "darn good chance" that a commercial venture such as the one being put together by Allen and Bass might colonize Mars within 25 to 50 years. Allen said he would contract with a national space agency to provide a spaceship to launch the biosphere.
Vance, now a New York lawyer, confirmed through a spokesman that he has met with Allen and Bass, discussed the biosphere project and is helping them make government contacts.
The three scientists said that even if the biosphere is never sent into space it would have commercial applications for research on Earth. It also could be marketed as a refuge from a nuclear winter, Allen noted.
But Allen made clear in the interview that he wants to make it to Mars. Wistfully, he described where he hopes to be living in 20 years.
"It is the most scenic place in the universe, as far as we now know it," he said. "On one side it has a canyon three times deeper than the Grand Canyon. And this way, it has the highest mountain in the solar system, 89,000 feet high. In front are three great volcanic peaks as high as anything on the planet Earth. To the north of me I have an advancing and retreating ice field that brings water very close. We're right on the equator, which gets to 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the best hour of the year."
With stories of his plans and Synergetic Civilization breaking in the press last week, Allen announced Friday that he was resigning his consultancy from Decisions Team Ltd., one of Edward Bass' companies that funded many of the group's projects. He said he wanted to spare Bass "embarrassment."
Allen is to read his poetry next week at the Caravan of Dreams.