May 6, 2012

Rebuttal: “Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona.”

Rebuttal by John Stillwell.

The below article is a rebuttal that is intended to provide a different point of view, and context, around a recent tragedy in a Buddhist community.

The original story, by Matthew Remski, was summed up by Matthew thusly:

“Abstract for Media Outlets

Ian Thorson, 38, died on the morning of 4/22/12 of apparent dehydration in a cave in southeastern Arizona, after having been banished by the administration of nearby Diamond Mountain University, which is under the leadership of “Geshe” Michael Roach. Thorson’s wife, “Lama” Christie McNally, was rescued from the death scene by helicopter. Thorson had for years exhibited signs of mental illness and violence towards others, including McNally, who had recently stabbed him, presumably in self-defense. The failure to fully report the couple’s violence to local authorities, along with the subsequent banishment of the couple from Diamond Mountain property without adequate psychiatric, medical, and community care, all raise stark questions about the competency  of this secretive and autocratic organization, and call into doubt whether its Board is qualified to protect the safety of the remaining residents of Diamond Mountain.”

For the rest of Matthew’s article, click here.

It is our aim, of course, not to engage in the extremes of character assassination, nor of suppressing truth—but rather, simply to get at the facts and further uplifted, kind dialogue (rude comments will be deleted) in the interests of furthering enlightened, compassionate, sane society. ~ ed.

Here is Mr. Stillwell’s rebuttal.

Mr. Matthew Remski’s article uses inaccurate reporting of a sad human loss as an opportunity to engage in sensationalism and personal attack. An open letter describing events around Ian Thorson’s death is available at Diamond Mountain.

Mr. Remski begins by listing multiple questionable “facts” in his opening paragraph, which then become a basis for his extensive historical review and disapproval of how his former teacher lived his life. Professing that he is writing an article without malice does not make it true.

His statements are the basis for a scathing article, including: failure to report violence to local authorities; banishment of a married couple without adequate psychiatric, medical and community care; and a secretive autocratic organization.

An official letter openly describing the events around Ian Thorson’s death is used by Mr. Remski with incredible selective omission and bias. Facts are clearly established contradicting his yellow journalism accusations:  a report was made to the county police upon discovery that a wife had stabbed her husband while in isolated retreat; the retreat center board sought the opinion of a professional psychologist, and there is a nurse, two physicians assistants and a doctor in residence; anyone may visit Diamond Mountain at any time and all finances are openly posted on that web site. It is easy to verify that the opening statements in this article are false—ask the police, look on the web site, and read the open letter.

Mr. Remski uses the following adjectives in his “agenda-free, malice-free” opinion piece:  fanaticism, psychosis, gross negligence, incompetence, obstructionism, danger, whitewashing, delusions of grandeur, tragically, authoritarian power, considerable thrall, secrecy, cult, buck-passing, power imbalance, mesmerize acolytes, dysfunction, insufferable person, romantic violence, terrible amputation, confused, disappointed, shoddy scholar, manipulative, tawdry, forcing devotees, rebellion, beyond the pale, rupture, catatonic, tragically self-absorbed, underfed and protein deficient, zealous, insecure, crafty, histrionic, profoundly disturbed, grandiose, strange and austere, shadow suppression, subliminal scapegoating, authoritarian control, deranged, psychosis, arcane, neo-colonial, fragile, trauma, critically troubled, ladder of power, dogma, disturbing, banished, mentally ill, terrifying isolation, cult leader, stormy sea, metastasized, criminalize, public humiliation, alienation, physical coercion, power, and Stalinist bureaucrats. Wow, how’s that for being objective and without any agenda?

Further questionable statements by Mr. Remski, which contradict the open letter source he used, include the following, which are followed by accurate openly published details that are easily documented and verified.

“Ian Thorson and his wife were asked to leave retreat within the hour.” Untrue: they were given five days to depart the retreat.

“Retreatants are sworn to silence.”  Untrue: they routinely send and receive letters from family and friends if they wish, and there is no restriction on their communications.  Choosing not to speak is normal for long retreat, and this does not prevent free written communications.

“35 people are camping in the Arizona desert.” Untrue: they are not camping but living in retreat cabins built at great personal expense, and fully permitted by county authorities as permanent dwellings.

“Not one single piece of help was offered to the couple, and there was not assessment, support, or chaperoning of the couple as ‘they were banished into the terrifying isolation of the surrounding desert’.”  Untrue: There is a 3-month transition program for all retreatants who leave retreat.  The Justice of the Peace was consulted on their history, along with a psychiatrist.  Their closest friends were enrolled to assist them and stay close as constantly as possible.  They were offered a place to stay, transportation, support, financial resources, and communication with their friends, parents, and teachers.  The couple left the retreat property with their assistant and strictly wished no contact, or for anyone to have knowledge of their whereabouts.   Her father called and was put in touch with her assistant to try and locate her.

“Retreatants are in retreat under direction of an insane woman.” Untrue: the former retreat director was asked to leave upon discovery of her violence with her spouse.

All of this information is in the same letter that Mr. Remski quotes from so inaccurately and selectively to create a hyped-up tale of horrible, terrible, nefarious abuse.  The truth is that many, many people are working without pay, while on vacation from their jobs, to help and support 35 courageous retreatants who are doing the hard work of being in isolation with themselves to touch the deep recesses of their mind in an effort to heal themselves and their world by becoming more virtuous, loving and compassionate people.

It is deeply saddening that a former student of 12 years ago who says he is over his issues goes so far out of his way to attack a former teacher  and disrupt the hard work of sincere, dedicated practitioners who have in some cases spent ten years preparing for their present retreat.  Of course facts must be evaluated and appropriate action taken to care for everyone.

Hyperbole, selective omission, and distortion of public information do not help anyone.

~ John Stillwell.

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