Biosphere Articles Part 5 
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 Biosphere Articles Part 5
Part 5
     Since publication of the Voice expos three months ago, new
evidence has surfaced that-- as the Voice then asserted--
Biosphere 2 is more theme park than research experiment, more
science fiction than science. The Voice's published investigation
also motivated a number of former employees and even high-ranking
members of the cult to come forward and for the first time tell
of their personal experiences with the group, which included
subjugation to repeated physical {*filter*} and what they now
describe as "brainwashing." This new, dramatic testimony offers
further and detailed confirmation that Biosphere 2's parent
company-- Space Biospheres Venture (SBV)-- is but a facade fo4r
the dark cult founded and still led by SBV's "Director of
Scientific Development," John Allen.
     Science or theater, researchers or cultists, with the
Biospherians in or out of the bubble, i seems to matter very
little to the estimated 5,000 people a week who are paying $10 to
$80 each to trudge around the towering terrarium and to gawk at
it (sorry, to protect commercial photo rights, no tourist cameras
are allowed). And plans are in the works to eventually
accommodate as many as a million visits per year.

Colonizing Earth
     Indeed, on May 15, Biosphere representatives went before
local planning officials, and confirming the Voice's assertion
that SBV was aiming at eastablishing a lucrative Tomorrowland-
like theme park, presented a 42-page plan to commercially develop
3600 acres surrounding the 'experiment' site. And what's on the
drawing boards for this "world-class" research facility? In the
words of the Land Use Plan presented by SBV, the new community
would include two types of activity: "researcher and development"
and "ecological public education." That ecological education will
include "environmental interpetive centers, learning
institutions, technical schools, and accommodations (living
environments, food, and recreation) for students, scholars,
individuals, and families who may visit for periods between one
day and several weeks." And, of course, all these services are
provided in exchange for U.S. currency and led by the SBV cult
members. A truly out-of-this-world marketing idea: Cash in on the
current environmental craze and turn a scientifically anemic
experiment into an amu{*filter*}t park gold mine. If approved by
county officials-- as expected-- the development plans will move
to the construction phase before the end of this year.
     Though cloaked as an "environmentally sensitive community,"
the SBV development envisions the opening up of RV parks,
shopping centers, gas stations, offices, schools, hotels, maybe a
few apartments, and-- yes-- a golf course. The development
proposal divides the community into three zones: a "community
core" that would include eateries, markets, gas stations and
trinket shops; a "transition area"; and an "ecological community"
that would house offices of SBV and its satellite companies, and
inciude a conference hotel and an RV park. The facility would
also include "nature trails, exercise trails, playing fields, and
golf courses." The golf links, described in the plan as part of
an "Arid Grassland Research/Development Demonstration Area" would
feature what SBV contractors call "alternative designs to turf-
related recreational activities such as playing fields, parks and
golf courses. . . Golf course development would be restricted to
a maximum of 70 irrigated acres per 18 holes. . . The objective
is to minimize (or eliminate) the amount of potable water
necessary to maintain golf courses in arid and semi-arid
     Environmental tourists not satisfied with a round or two of
ecologically correct golf after a tough day-- or week-- of
meandering through Biosphere's Arizona village might also be
offered a more intriguing recreational option. The Voice has
learned that negotiations may soon be underway between SBV and
the Dunes Hotel to construct a mini-Biosphere on the Las Vegas
strip. Those gamblers concerned that the megalights of Vegas
might be siphoning off finite energy supplies will be reassured
that at least a part of the electrical flow is being employed to
illuminate our Mars-bound future symbolized by the scaled-down
SBV terrarium.

The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

     The publication of the Voice expos last April brought forth
a barrage of SBV-launched paper attempting to shoot down the
revelation that the Biosphere's management team can be traced
directly back to a 1960s New Mexico-based cult built around the
person of John Allen, today listed as the experiment's director
of Scientific Development. In a long letter to the Voice, Allen
claimed that Synergia Ranch, the cult headquarters, was instead
nothing but a collection of "old friends and business associates"
who "rented space for their individual enterprises." Allen also
asserts, "there was no commune or theater group or any other
entity for them to `join' and move in. There were no [cult]
followers because there was nothing to follow, and there was no
core group because there was no larger group."
     Until recently, the most authoritative look into the
Synergia Ranch group came from a 1973 book written by University
of California researcher Lawrence Veysey, who spent five weeks
with the commune and concluded it was indeed a cult based on a
weird psychotheater manipulated by Allen. Over the years, a
number of people who worked as employees on a half-dozen Synergia
cult projects spread throughout the world or once lived with the
group have now come forward to corroborate Veysey's thesis. But
now, for the first time, former members of the group's most
intimate "core"-- the dozen or so people included in Allen's
circle of power-- have decided to go public with their
revelations. In the past, reporters (including this one) have
been able to contact these individuals, but they have refused to
speak-- always expressing fear of retribution from Allen.
     That wall of silence has now crumbled with the testimony,
gathered by the Voice, from the most damning of all these
witnesses. Forty-year-old Cathleen Burke, known inside the cult
as "Hoolihan," was picked up by Allen in New York City in 1968
when she was 17 years old (and he was nearly 40) and eventually
moved to the New Mexico ranch where she lived-with Allen for
decade as his lover and close assistant. She ran the ranch
kitchen, starred in the cult theater productions, helped manage
the cult printing press (which today publishes the Biosphere's
"scientific" material), worked as "construction engineer" for one
of the cult-run companies, served as saleswoman for a 31-unit
Santa Fe condo complex built by that company, helped supervise
the buiiding of the group's "research vessel," R/V Heraclitus,
and for a brief period managed the cult-owned "ecological
conference center" in Southern France. Most importantly, for
nearly 10 years, she slept with John Allen (nd according to
Burke, shared him with fellow cult member Kathelin Hoffman-- oday
a member of the Biosphere's "Project Review Committee") and sat
at his side as loyal confidante until, after a year's planning,
she "escaped" from the cult in 1978.
     Her harrowing account of life with John Allen and his group
confirms that the Biosphere 2 management team is only the latest
public incarnation of the inner core of the cult. And her
testimony reaffirms and adds new detail to previous reports
characterizing the group as a clan whose primary loyalty is to
leader John Allen, who himself preserves the cult's cohesion not
only with his "ecotechnic" vision but also through psychological
domination and physical {*filter*}.
     Further, Burke's version of life with Allen is substantiated
by a trove of documents, photos, and publications from the period
she spent with him, as well as dozens of notebooks written during
her 10-year stay with the cult. Those notes, which Allen himself
asked her to record, richly chronicle the development and
expansion of Allen's group. Day after day, night after night,
year after year, linked to a regimen of all-important "tasks,"
group members would spend literally hours a day listening to
AIlen's mealtime monologues. No debate, no discussion, no
questioning of the leader. Just his Truth revealed.
     From the notebooks and testimony of Burke and one other core
group member, who still remains anonymous, emerges a disturbing
portrait of Allen's group: originally drawn together in the late
'60s by a rejection of {*filter*} bourgeois culture, Allen's small
group of followers were fascinated by his critique of modern
society. Relying on a strange mix of Sufi philosophy and the
teachings of Greek-born mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, Allen preached
that most of humanity is "asleep"-- a "blank slate" waiting to be
liberated and fully realized.
     Gradually, through the 1970s, Allen's philosophical analysis
transformed itself from a rejection of ruling-class values, to a
rejection of Western society as a whole, to a denunciation of
Western civilization, finally concluding that society on earth as
we know it is doomed and that humanity's only hope it to
transport our "biosphere" (our life systems) to Mars.
     Throughout this time, Allen's followers stuck with him; out
of awe for his genius and from fear of his frequent temper
tantrums, public dressing-downs, and beatings. From the group's
onset, Allen used theater exercises and performances as a
mainstay of the cult's internal structure. Also from its very
origins, the cult learned to adopt a public pose of sometimes
ridiculous sociological and scientific self-importance, assigning
to itself tasks of earth-shaking consequence and showering its
adherents with a never-ending and always-changing string of
fabulously important-sounding-- but, in reality, hollow-- titles.
Hours of recorded interviews with Cathleen Burke provide these
insights into Allen's group:
     "When I met John Allen in New York City, he was rehearsing
his theater group for a performance," Burke remembers. "But right
off it was clear they were a lot more than a theater group. Right
away he gave me a book by Ouspensky and I learned they were doing
Gurdjieffean work."
     Moving to the Synergia Ranch shortly after her 18th
birthday, and after becoming one of Allen's two regular lovers,
Burke was quickly promoted into the group's inner core. "There
was this center of power that became the core of the group, which
was really a collection of concentric circles. Around the core
was a secondary group and so on," Burke says. "Of course at the
center of it all was John Allen. And the core group itself was
made up by Allen, me, [Kathelin] Hoffman, "Flash" [Marie Allen],
sometimes Mark Nelson, with Bill Dempster on the edge."
     Today, with the exception of Burke, all the other core group
members are management officials of the Biosphere 2 project. In
addition, the Biosphere's CEO and "coarchitect," Margret
Augustine, also dates back to Burke's time on the Synergia Ranch
and, in fact, replaced Burke as Allen's lover after Burke's
escape. Other Biosphere leaders, including marketing director
Robert Hahn, Biosphere crew member Bernd Zabel, director of Space
Applications and chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics Mark
Nelson, director of the Synergist Press Deborah "Tango" Snyder,
"tissues culture expert" Steven Storm, and, of course, Biosphere
chief financial backer Ed Bass-- who is also chairman of the
cult-- run Decisions Investment Corporation and Decisions Team
Incorporated-- are all longtime cult members who lived for years
on the Synergia Ranch. All participated or starred in many of the
cult's theater productions.
     Much of this same core group, described by Burke as
dominating Synergia Ranch in the '60s and '70s, is today at the
core of the "Project Review Committee" of the Biosphere 2. This
committee, in the words of SBV, "established. . . to oversee the
project, review its progress and provide consultancy inputs,"
includes a number of prestigious scientists and public figures,
including an official of the Smithsonian, former astronaut Rusty
Schweickart, and a former researcher from the Jet Propulsion
laboratory. But these establishment figures are mere window
dressing and are asked to convene no more than once or twice a
year. The other half of the Project Review Committee is formed by
longtime Allen followers, all of whom live on the site of the
Biosphere project. These decision makers consist of Ed Bass, Mark
Nelson, Marie Allen, Kathelin Hoffman, and, of course, John
Allen. And while SBV spokespersons insist that ultimate power
over the project is held by CEO Margret Augustine, they forget to
mention that the three most powerful women on the project--
Augustine herself, Marie Allen (once married to John Allen) and
Kathelin Hoffman (according to Cathleen Burke)-- all have
something in common: they are current or former lovers of John
Allen, who, by all reliable accounts, remains the real power
behind Biosphere 2.
     "The core group was the elite. It was the performing theater
group that traveled the world," says Burke, who starred in a
number of cult productions. "But everyone, without exception, had
to attend Saturday and Sunday theater exercises. It was there
that John Allen would probe you, identify your psychological
vulnerabilities, and later exploit them," Burke says. "There was
no TV, of course, on the ranch, no music ever allowed, it was
never said out loud, but you weren't allowed to leave the ranch
at night, you weren't allowed to have a relationship with someone
outside the group, and even the couples within the group were
broken up every few months [by John Allen]."
     "It was Hitlerian. Like we were the chosen people to build a
new civilization," Burke continues. "There was a task or job for
every hour of the day, a real mechanism of control. You have no
time ever for yourself. You were only supposed to work on your
own enterprise for four hours a day. And two hours a day on
collective tasks. And John talking at you for two hours at every
meal, you wind up `listening' to him for four, five, six hours a
day. And the rest of your time is supposed to go to 'inner work.'
But that inner work is measured only by your performance of
tasks, tasks, and more tasks. And the evaluation of your tasks
and your inner growth was the exclusive domain of John. Will,
will, will. John loved Nietzsche."
     Those tasks, as is the case today with the Biosphere,
frequently had an ecological or what Allen called ecotechnic face
to them. But also like the Biosphere, they were scientifically
less than solid, says Burke. "We had no real education about
ecology. No real education or debate, are you kidding? John
talked to us a lot about what he called ecology," Burke says.
"And we all had little projects. And I use the diminutive because
everything we did was took God-awful seriously but it was always
done on the most superficial level. We'd produce goods out of our
ceramics workshop, for example, and we'd set up two or three
tables on the ranch with four or five pots on them. But this was
called, are you ready? A BioTechnic Bazaar! Ridiculous!"

Birth of Bunco

     More than the handiwork, the cult members themselves also
passed themselves off for more than what they were. In an adobe
room on the ranch, Allen founded what was called the Institute of
Ecotechnics, run then as it is today by Mark Nelson, once known
in the theater group as "Green" but then renamed "Horseshit" by
Allen in one fit of rage. The Instltute had no facilities-- other
than one meetlng room, no faculty, no textbooks, no currlculum,
no teachers, and no students. It did convene conferences, as it
still does today.
     More to the point, it issued a number of "degrees," all of
them meaningless. Burke, a high school dropout, recelved a degree
in nutrition based on her work in the ranch kitchen, and "after I
read Eat Well to Live Right," she says. She says she got her
degree at the same time that Biosphere CEO and "co-architect"
Margret Augustine got her "degree"-- her only degree-- in
"architecture." Today Burke still possess an Institute ID card
from the early '70s, which lists her not as a student but as a
member of the "Faculty. "
     "We actually had what were called party line meetings,"
Burke recalls. "Because there was always a discrepancy between
what we said and what we did. We were always trying to
desperately act out being something we were not. We had different
hats and even different business cards to present to the outside
world. Depending on what I needed I could be either a faculty
member or a student of the Institute of Ecotechnics, or even a
construction engineer of a firm called SYNCOPO. These titles were
real, but they meant nothing."
     That same tradition continues today. The slick Biosphere
public relations brochures list the Institute of Ecotechnics
right alongside the Smithsonian, the University of Arizona, and
the Bishop Museum of Entomology as "project participants."
Biosphere management describes the Institute (IE) as something
akin to JPL: "IE, an intemational ecological development firm
chaired by Mark Nelson, presented the original concept of
Biosphere II. . . and has been engaged as project consultant for
total systems ecology management. Incorporated and registered in
the United Kingdom, founded in the United States in 1969, the
Institute of Ecotechnics develops and implements total systems
management and research models in internationally ecologically-
oriented projects spanning many of the biomic [sic] regions
around the world."
     Beyond this rhetorical smokescreen, the Institute today is
housed in second-floor rooms above a London art gallery and caf
run by the cult. It still has no faculty, students, or courses.
And the international projects it "manages" are a half-dozen
cult-run businesses, including a mansion{*filter*}conference center in
Southern France where Burke worked for a time and never saw a
slngle conference.
     As to the Institute having cooked up the Biosphere idea,
Burke has shown the Voice what she says are the original drawings
of the Biosphere, which date from around 1972-- and were penned
by John Allen.
     That comes as no surprise, since virtually the entire living
and working experience of the group that was born on Synergia
Ranch and today manages the Biosphere is determined and regulated
by its stern master, John Allen. "It's real difficult to descrlbe
the depth of psychological control and fear that goes in that
group," Burke says. "John could and would emotionally rip people
apart like no one I've ever seen. And then there's the beatings.
John would beat mostly the core members of the group. He'd beat
me regularly in front of other people. He'd slug me. He beat me
maybe a hundred tlmes. But you've got to understand, you don't
count them. You've got to understand that when you are living in
that kind of group it's normal, normal, normal to get beaten.
There'd just be a scene, always a scene, and then you'd get
slugged by John."
     "Say there's 13 or even 30 people sitting around," Burke
continues. "And they are all being conscious of what's going on,
say there's a big project at stake and it's time for John to
talk. And he sits there and he's quiet. And then something will
come up and, ah, someone will accuse someone of something or
other, and John will already have it planned out who he's going
to get. And there's the scene and the blows just start coming.
And everybody's so quiet and even supportive of him. It's so
demented and distorted. It'sso horrible."

Cult Redux

     In fairness, Burke left the group in late 1978. But since
publication of the first Voice expos, another former Allen
follower has come forward and told her full story to the
mainstream Tucson Citizen, which ran its own five-part
investigative series last month incorporating much of the
material made public in the Voice. Melissa Toomim, who joined the
cult's Texas-based Caravan of Dreams Theatre in the mid-'80s,
lived and performed with the group at the same time Allen was
beginning work on the Biosphere.
     Much of Toomim's account of Allen's and his group's behavior
closely matches Burke's testimony, indicating that the inner
workings of the Synergist cult have changed very little over the
years lToomim and Burke have never met each other and gave their
accounts separately and without knowledge of the other's
     "One of the characteristics of them that I ldentified as
cultish was the fact that they take up all your time," Toomim
says. "You really have very isolated free time." Just as Burke
did, Toomim describes very long work days, theater exercises on
Saturday and Sunday and ritual time-consuming "Sunday dinners.

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Wed, 09 Nov 1994 10:50:52 GMT
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 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Articles Part 1

2. Biosphere Articles Part 3

3. Biosphere Articles Part 2

4. Biosphere Articles Part 4

5. Biosphere Articles Part 6

6. Biosphere Articles Part 7

7. Biosphere Articles Part 8

8. The Biosphere II articles

9. The Biosphere Articles

10. Looking for Biosphere II articles

11. Biosphere Part II

12. Biosphere Part III

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