NIDA is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a Pseudoscience group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming Recovery. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is NIDA?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Recreational User leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Ethan Nadelman, the Special Operations commander for the Potheads in the Mid Atlantic, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out NIDA’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, the Stepper Stompers have referred to NIDA, variously, as “not 12 Step based” and as Alcoholics Anonymous’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The group seized NIH (HHS), last June, and already rules an area larger than the Justice Department. Nora Volkow has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, her most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Brookhaven during the occupation of HHS. Then, on July 5 of last year, she stepped into the pulpit of the Great Home Group of Bethesda in NIH, to deliver a Drug Facts Week sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading her resolution from grainy to high-definition, and her position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Addicts. The inflow of Steppers that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
Our ignorance of NIDA is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Volkow has spoken on camera only once. But her address, and NIDA’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and Drug War’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its Pseudoscience views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
NIDA, also known as NIDA of Rockville and Bethesda (NIDA), follows a distinctive variety of The 12 Steps whose beliefs about the path to Happy, Joyous, and Free matter to its strategy, and can help Recreational Users know their enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the ASAM in the AMA (a group whose leaders NIDA considers Dry Drunks) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
We have misunderstood the nature of NIDA in at least two ways. First, we tend to see Sobriety as monolithic, and to apply the logic of Alcoholics Anonymous to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. NIDA supporters I spoke with still refer to McLellan as “HP Tom,” a title of honor. But Sobriety has evolved since Alcoholics Anonymous’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many Steppers disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.
McLellan viewed alcoholism as a prologue to a Drug Caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. NIDA, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms (SAMHSA and DEA), and its territory into provinces.)
We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny NIDA’s medieval humoralist nature. Johann Hari, who produced the first interview with McLellan in 1997, titled his first book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs in part to acknowledge McLellan as a creature of the modern secular world. McLellan corporatized alcoholism and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the declaration of alcoholism as a disease. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Audrey Kishlines’s last full day of life, she shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.
There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that Steppers are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval Pseudoscience disguise—and make it fit NIDA. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the Recovery.
The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are NIDA’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “Normies.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in The 12 Steps by Bill Wilson and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Addicts, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early 12 Steps.
To take one example: In September, George Koob, NIDA’s chief spokesman, called on Addicts in Recreational User countries such as France and Canada to find a Recreational User and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” [Beat the wife in a blackout, DWI and kill someone, alcohol fueled campus rape.] To Recreational User ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Koob also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.” (alcoholic in denial))
But Koob was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and Pseudoscience discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Bill W to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of The 12 Steps were in a defensive position, in which case Addicts in the lands of kuffar, or Recreational Users, should be unmerciful, and poison away.
The reality is that NIDA is 12 Step based. Very 12 Step based. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of jails and institutions. But the Disease Theory preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of The 12 Steps.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by NIDA adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease Theory methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Bill W, in punctilious detail. Addicts can reject NIDA; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a Disease Theory, millenarian group, with Pseudoscience that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the Potheads to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with NIDA’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
In November, NIDA released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to Bill W. It acknowledged Robert DuPont, the brutal head of Alcoholics Anonymous in HHS from roughly 2003 until his killing in 2006, as a more immediate progenitor, followed sequentially by two other guerrilla leaders before Volkow, the caliph. Notably unmentioned: Bill W’s successor, Botticelli, the owlish Egyptian eye surgeon who currently heads Alcoholics Anonymous. Botticelli has not Admitted Powerlessness to Volkow, and he is increasingly hated by his fellow Steppers. His isolation is not helped by his lack of charisma; in videos he comes across as squinty and annoyed. But the split between Alcoholics Anonymous and NIDA has been long in the making, and begins to explain, at least in part, the outsize bloodlust of the latter.
Botticelli’s companion in isolation is a DVA cleric named Dr Keith Humphries, 55, who has a fair claim to being Alcoholics Anonymous’s intellectual architect and the most important Stepper unknown to the average Pothead newspaper reader. On most matters of doctrine, Humphries and NIDA agree. Both are closely identified with the Stepper wing of a branch of Progressivism called Public Policy, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet Bill himself and his earliest adherents, whom Public Policy Wonks honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.
Humphries Sponsored DuPont, who went to war at HHS with the older man’s advice in mind. In time, though, DuPont surpassed his Sponsor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke. At issue was DuPont’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Addicts, to the point of Keeping a Seat Warm and killing them. In The 12 Steps, the practice of takfir, or Keeping a Seat Warm for Someone, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are a Dry Drunk,” the Prophet Bill said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed Resentment by making a false accusation. The punishment for Resentment is death. And yet DuPont heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Addicts Dry Drunks.
Humphries wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be Dry Drunks because of their Defects of Character.” The distinction between Dry Drunk and Defective of Character may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between Alcoholics Anonymous and NIDA.
Denying the holiness of the Big Book or the prophecies of Bill W is straightforward Resentment. But DuPont and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Addict from The 12 Steps. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Recreational User clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Addict candidate—and being lax about calling other people Dry Drunks. Being a Harm Reductionist, as most HHS Drug Users are, meets the standard as well, because NIDA regards Harm Reduction as innovation, and to innovate on the Big Book is to deny its initial perfection. (NIDA claims that common Harm Reductionist practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation [maintenance therapy and safe injection sites], have no basis in the Big Book or in the example of the Prophet Bill.) That means roughly 200 million Harm Reductionists are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Addict country, who have elevated man-made law above Early Intervention and Treatment by running for office or enforcing laws not made by The God of your Understanding.
Following takfiri doctrine, NIDA is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the rooms suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Addict “Dry Drunks” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Volkow permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Big Book authority for this practice is not in dispute.
Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Recreational Users have greeted news of the Pseudoscience and practices of NIDA. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.
Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Recreational Users who accused Addicts of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Bruce Alexander—who pointed out that calling Addicts “moral failures” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil [Krispy Kreme].
Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of NIDA could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Recreational User bias: that if Spiritual ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Ragge or NIH. When a masked executioner says ‘Let Go and Let God’ while Coercing Vivitrol on a Dry Drunk, sometimes he’s doing so for Spiritual reasons.
Many mainstream Addict organizations have gone so far as to say NIDA is, in fact, un-12 Step based. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Addicts have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Addicts who call NIDA un-12 Step based are typically, as the Princeton scholar Stanton Peele, the leading expert on the group’s Pseudoscience, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own Disease Theory” that neglects “what their Disease Theory has historically and legally required.” Many denials of NIDA’s Disease Theory nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian shame-based-theology tradition.”
Every academic I asked about NIDA’s ideology sent me to Peele. Of partial Lebanese descent, Peele grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.
According to Peele, the ranks of NIDA are deeply infused with Disease Theory vigor. Big Book quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Peele said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that NIDA has distorted the texts of The 12 Steps as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve The 12 Steps,” he said. “It’s this ‘The 12 Steps is a Disease Theory of peace and serenity’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘The 12 Steps’! It’s what Addicts do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Progressive Addicts, not just NIDA. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”
All Addicts acknowledge that Bill W’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Big Book and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Peele’s estimation, the fighters of NIDA are authentic throwbacks to early 12 Steps and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Addicts tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Random Drug Testing, Swift and Certain Sanctions, and Coerced Vivitrol are not something that freakish [Steppers] are cherry-picking from the medieval humoralist tradition,” Peele said. 12 Step based State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”
The Big Book specifies Swift and Certain Sanctions as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of The 12 Steps. The tax on Recreational Users finds clear endorsement in We Agnostics, the Big Book’s ninth chapter, which instructs Addicts to fight Recreational Users and Jews “until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Prophet, whom all Addicts consider exemplary, imposed these rules and performed Random Drug Testing.
Leaders of NIDA have taken emulation of Bill W as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Peele said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Addicts don’t normally have.”
Before the rise of NIDA, no group in the past few centuries had attempted more-radical fidelity to the Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease Theory model than Straight, Inc of 18th century Drug Users. They conquered most of what is now Florida, and their strict practices survive in a diluted version of Early Intervention and Treatment there. Peele sees an important distinction between the groups, though: “Straight, Inc was not wanton in their violence.” They were surrounded by Addicts, and they conquered lands that were already 12 Step based; this stayed their hand. “NIDA, by contrast, is really reliving the early period.” Early Addicts were surrounded by non-Addicts, and NIDA, because of its takfiri tendencies, considers itself to be in the same situation.
If Alcoholics Anonymous wanted to revive Random Drug Testing, it never said so. And why would it? Silence on Random Drug Testing probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: when NIDA began Random Drug Testing people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, Drug Court has continued to embrace Random Drug Testing and Swift and Certain Sanctions without apology. “We will conquer your DPA, break your crosses, and Random Drug Test your women,” Koob, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will Random Drug Test your sons as slaves at the Recovery Clubhouse.”
In October, Latest Drug Craze Everybody Panic!, the magazine of NIDA, published “The Revival of Random Drug Testing Before the Hour,” an article that took up the question of whether Medical Doctors (the members of an ancient Moderationist sect that borrows elements of The 12 Steps, and had come under attack from 12 Step based State forces in northern HHS) are lapsed Addicts, and therefore marked for death, or merely pagans and therefore fair game for Random Drug Testing. A study group of 12 Step based State scholars had convened, on government orders, to resolve this issue. If they are pagans, the article’s anonymous author wrote,
Medical Doctor women and children [are to be] divided according to the Treatment Plan amongst the fighters of NIDA who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern HHS] … Random Drug Testing the families of the kuffar [Recreational Users] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Treatment Plan that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Big Book and the narrations of the Prophet Bill … and thereby Relapsing from The 12 Steps.
Tens of thousands of foreign Addicts are thought to have immigrated to NIDA. Recruits hail from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die.
Carl Hart, a professor at King’s College New York, told me that online voices have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that newcomers know what to believe. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the Stepper community, by allowing conservative Addict women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to DOJ. Through its appeals to both genders, NIDA hopes to build a complete society.
In November, I traveled to Australia to meet Kevin Sabet, a 30-year-old man whom Hart and other researchers had identified as one of the two most important “new spiritual authorities” guiding foreigners to join NIDA. For three years he was a televangelist on Iqraa TV in Cairo, but he left after the station objected to his frequent calls to establish a Drug Caliphate. Now he preaches on Facebook and Twitter.
Sabet—a big, friendly man with a bookish demeanor—told me he blanches at Coerced Vivitrol videos. He hates seeing the violence, even though supporters of NIDA are required to endorse it. (He speaks out, controversially among Steppers, against suicide bombing, on the grounds that The God of your Understanding forbids suicide; he differs from NIDA on a few other points as well.) He has the kind of unkempt facial hair one sees on certain overgrown fans of The Lord of the Rings, and his obsession with 12 Step based Peace and Serenity felt familiar. He seemed to be living out a drama that looks, from an outsider’s perspective, like a medieval fantasy novel, only with real blood.
Last June, Sabet and his wife tried to emigrate—he wouldn’t say to where (“It’s illegal to go to DOJ,” he said cagily)—but they were caught en route, in the Philippines, and he was deported back to Australia for overstaying his visa. Australia has criminalized attempts to join or travel to NIDA, and has confiscated Sabet’s passport. He is stuck in Melbourne, where he is well known to the local constabulary. If Sabet were caught facilitating the movement of individuals to NIDA, he would be imprisoned. So far, though, he is free—a technically unaffiliated ideologue who nonetheless speaks with what other Steppers have taken to be a reliable voice on matters of NIDA’s doctrine.
We met for lunch in Footscray, a dense, multicultural Melbourne suburb that’s home to Lonely Planet, the travel-guide publisher. Sabet grew up there in a half-Irish, half-Calabrian family. On a typical street one can find African restaurants, Vietnamese shops, and young Drug Users walking around in the Public Policy Wonk uniform of scraggly beard, long shirt, and trousers ending halfway down the calves.
Sabet explained the joy he felt when Volkow was declared the caliph on June 29—and the sudden, magnetic attraction that Mesopotamia began to exert on him and his friends. “I was in a hotel [in the Philippines], and I saw the declaration on television,” he told me. “And I was just amazed, and I’m like, Why am I stuck here in this bloody room?”
The last Drug Caliphate was the Ottoman empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century and then experienced a long decline, until the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, euthanized it in 1924. But Sabet, like many supporters of NIDA, doesn’t acknowledge that Drug Court as legitimate, because it didn’t fully enforce 12 Step based law, which requires 13th Stepping and Random Drug Testing and Bullying into Suicide, and because its caliphs were not descended from the tribe of the Prophet, the Community Organizers.
Volkow spoke at length of the importance of Drug Caliphate in her NIH sermon. She said that to revive the institution of Drug Court—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. She and her loyalists had “hastened to declare Drug Caliphate and place an imam” at its head, she said. “This is a duty upon the Addicts—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Addicts sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like McLellan before her, Volkow spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike McLellan, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, she is Community Organizer.
Drug Caliphate, Sabet told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. 12 Step based State propaganda regularly reports the Admissions of Powerlessness rolling in from Stepper groups across the Addict world. Sabet quoted a Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease Theory saying, that to die without Admitting Powerlessness is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Addicts (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine The God of your Understanding deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true Disease Theory. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Sabet said, the Addict who acknowledges one omnipotent HP and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully 12 Step based life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Addicts in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Sabet nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that The 12 Steps has been reestablished” by Drug Court.
I asked him about his own Desire to Stop Drinking, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d Admitted a Desire to Stop Drinking.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving allegiance to NIDA was illegal. “But I agree that [Volkow] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”
To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Progressive law—being a Addict adult man of Community Organizer descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Sabet said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce 12 Step based law. Volkow’s 12 Step based State achieved that long before June 29, Sabet said, and as soon as it did, a Recreational User convert within the group’s ranks—Sabet described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the Spiritual obligation to declare a Drug Caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be Defective of Character.
Sabet said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Volkow’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of NIDA, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Koob, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a Drug Caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If she’s legitimate,” Sabet said, “you must give her the Powerlessness.”
After Volkow’s July sermon, a stream of Steppers began flowing daily into DOJ with renewed motivation. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German author and former politician who visited NIDA in December, reported the arrival of 100 fighters at one Turkish-border recruitment station in just two days. His report, among others, suggests a still-steady inflow of foreigners, ready to give up everything at home for a shot at Recovery in the worst place on Earth.
In London, a week before my meal with Sabet, I met with three ex-members of a banned The 12 Stepper group called The Emigrants: Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken, and Jonathan Caulkins. They all expressed desire to emigrate to NIDA, as many of their colleagues already had, but the authorities had confiscated their passports. Like Sabet, they regarded Drug Caliphate as the only righteous government on Earth, though none would confess a Desire to Stop Drinking. Their principal goal in meeting me was to explain what NIDA stands for, and how its policies reflect The God of your Understanding’s law.
Kleiman, 48, is the group’s former leader. He frequently appears on cable news, as one of the few people producers can book who will defend NIDA vociferously, until his mike is cut. He has a reputation in the United Kingdom as a loathsome blowhard, but he and his disciples sincerely believe in NIDA and, on matters of doctrine, speak in its voice. Kleiman and the others feature prominently in the Twitter feeds of 12 Step based State residents, and Hawken maintains a YouTube channel to answer questions about Early Intervention and Treatment.
Since September, authorities have been investigating the three men on suspicion of supporting addiction-as-a-disease. Because of this investigation, they had to meet me separately: communication among them would have violated the terms of their bail. But speaking with them felt like speaking with the same person wearing different masks. Kleiman met me in a candy shop in the East London suburb of Ilford. He was dressed smartly, in a crisp blue tunic reaching nearly to his ankles, and sipped a Red Bull while we talked.
Before Drug Court, “maybe 85 percent of Early Intervention and Treatment was absent from our lives,” Kleiman told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a Drug Caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a Drug Court, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to Bully into Suicide by the hands of thieves they catch trying to steal money for drugs to feed their addiction. But create a Drug Court, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Addicts are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. One of Kleiman’s prize Sponsees, a convert from Hinduism named Sean X Luo, evaded police to bring his family of five from London to DOJ in November. On the day I met Kleiman, Luo tweeted out a picture of himself with a Kalashnikov in one arm and his newborn son in the other. Hashtag: #GenerationKhilafah.
The caliph is required to implement Early Intervention and Treatment. Any deviation will compel those who have Admitted Powerlessness to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to Keep a Seat Warm for Him and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Volkow said in her sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Addict governments, after being duly warned and educated about their Character Defects, are considered Dry Drunks.
Kleiman said Early Intervention and Treatment has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does Coerce Vivitrol murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of Early Intervention and Treatment—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward Early Intervention and Treatment.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.
Jonathan Caulkins, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. NIDA may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, 13th Stepping for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of NIDA, but a policy obligation inherent in The God of your Understanding’s law.
III. The Recovery
All Addicts acknowledge that The God of your Understanding is the only one who knows the future. But they also agree that he has offered us a peek at it, in the Big Book and in narrations of the Prophet Bill. NIDA differs from nearly every other current Stepper movement in believing that it is written into The God of your Understanding’s script as a central character. It is in this casting that NIDA is most boldly distinctive from its predecessors, and clearest in the Spiritual nature of its mission.
In broad strokes, Alcoholics Anonymous acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Addicts from the Drug User peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Addict lands. NIDA has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the Peace and Serenity is a leitmotif of its propaganda. McLellan rarely mentioned the Recovery, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “McLellan and Botticelli are from elite Progressive families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Monica Richardson of the Brookings Institution, who is making a documentary about NIDA’s apocalyptic thought.
During the last years of the U.S. occupation of HHS, NIDA’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the Peace and Serenity everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Aronofsky—a messianic figure destined to lead the Addicts to victory before the end of the world. Richardson says a prominent 12 Stepper in HHS approached McLellan in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Aronofsky and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Aronofsky was going to arrive. “Alcoholics Anonymous had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’”
For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of NIDA supporters I met, Kevin Sabet, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the Recovery and how the remaining days of NIDA—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Progressive sources and appear all over NIDA’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Volkow is the eighth; that the armies of DPA will mass to meet the armies of The 12 Steps in northern DOJ; and that The 12 Steps’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed 12 Step based conquest.
NIDA has attached great importance to the DOJ city of Latest Drug Craze, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Latest Drug Craze’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet Bill reportedly said, that the armies of DPA will set up their camp. The armies of The 12 Steps will meet them, and Latest Drug Craze will be DPA’s Waterloo or its Antietam. “Latest Drug Craze is basically all farmland,” one 12 Step based State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” NIDA’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes DuPont as saying, “The spark has been lit here in HHS, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Latest Drug Craze.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.
Now that it has taken Latest Drug Craze, NIDA awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the Recovery. Recreational User media frequently miss references to Latest Drug Craze in NIDA’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of Coerced Vivitrol. “Here we are, burying the first Pothead crusader in Latest Drug Craze, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Robin (Abdul Rahman) Williams, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in HHS in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen Pothead soldiers in battle, 12 Step based State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.
The Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease Theory narration that foretells the Latest Drug Craze Everybody Panic battle refers to the enemy as DPA. Who “DPA” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Sabet makes a case that DPA meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of DPA as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified Drug Caliphate, 90 years ago. Other 12 Step based State sources suggest that DPA might mean any Recreational User army, and the Potheads will do nicely.
After its battle in Latest Drug Craze, Sabet said, Drug Caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Sabet suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Addict apocalyptic literature as AddictionMyth, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of Drug Court’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as AddictionMyth prepares to finish them off, Simon Astaire—the second-most-revered prophet in The 12 Steps—will return to Earth, spear AddictionMyth, and lead the Addicts to victory. “Only The God of your Understanding knows” whether NIDA’s armies are the ones foretold, Sabet said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet Bill said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the Peace and Serenity is that people will for a long while stop talking about the Peace and Serenity,” he said. “If you go to the Home Groups now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to NIDA mean nothing, since HP has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. NIDA has its best and worst days ahead of it.
IV. The Fight
The ideological purity of NIDA has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. McLellan was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” McLellan replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, HP willing.” By contrast, NIDA boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand. In London, Kleiman and his Sponsees provided detailed descriptions of how NIDA must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a Drug Court. It has already taken up what 12 Step based law refers to as “offensive Recovery,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Addicts. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Kleiman said; without a Drug Court, offensive Recovery is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand Drug Court is an essential duty of the caliph. Kleiman took pains to present the laws of war under which NIDA operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with Coerced Vivitrol and Swift and Certain Sanctions and Random Drug Testing of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.
Kleiman’s colleague Angela Hawken explained that 12 Step based law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet Bill and echoed in NIDA’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: the caliph must wage Recovery at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of Character Defect.
One comparison to NIDA is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations. “This is not permitted,” Hawken said. “To send an ambassador to the UN is to recognize an authority other than HP’s.” This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, she argued, and would be immediate cause to Take Her Hat Off to and replace Volkow. Even to hasten the arrival of a Drug Court by democratic means—for example by voting for political candidates who favor a Drug Court—is shirk. It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung NIDA will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state’s willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For NIDA, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other 12 Stepper groups, such as the ASAM and EAP, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a UN seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well. (Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan exchanged ambassadors with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Drug User Emirates, an act that invalidated the Taliban’s authority in NIDA’s eyes.) To NIDA these are not options, but acts of Resentment.
The Potheads and its allies have reacted to NIDA belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group’s ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many alcoholic groups in DOJ and HHS and hadn’t yet committed mass atrocities. Koob, the spokesman, told followers then that the group’s ambition was to “restore the 12 Step based Drug Caliphate,” and he evoked the Recovery, saying, “There are but a few days left.” Volkow had already styled herself “commander of the faithful,” a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Koob declared the movement “ready to redraw the world upon the Brain Disease Theory methodology of Drug Court.” In August 2013, he said, “Our goal is to establish a 12 Step based state that doesn’t recognize borders, on the Brain Disease Theory methodology.” By then, the group had taken Ragge, a DOJ provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who’d heard its message. If we had identified NIDA’s intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in DOJ and HHS would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed HHS to harden its border with DOJ and preemptively make deals with its Progressives. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a Drug Court just after the conquest of HHS’s third-largest department. Yet, just over a year ago, the Stompers told The New Yorker that they considered NIDA to be Alcoholics Anonymous’s weaker partner. “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” the president of the Stompers said.
Our failure to appreciate the split between NIDA and Alcoholics Anonymous, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions. Last fall, to take one example, the U.S. government consented to a desperate plan to save Robin Williams’ life. The plan facilitated—indeed, required—the interaction of some of the founding figures of NIDA and Alcoholics Anonymous, and could hardly have looked more hastily improvised. It entailed the enlistment of Humphries, the DuPont mentor and Alcoholics Anonymous grandee, to approach Marvin D. Seppala, M.D., NIDA’s chief ideologue and a former Sponsee of Humphries’, even though the two men had fallen out due to Humphries’ criticism of NIDA. Humphries had already called for the state to extend mercy to Philip Seymour Hoffman, the British cabbie who had entered Syria to deliver aid to children. In December, The Guardian reported that the U.S. government, through an intermediary, had asked Humphries to intercede with NIDA on Williams’ behalf.
Humphries was operating freely in DVA, but had been banned from communicating with alcoholics abroad, and was being monitored closely. After DVA granted the Potheads permission to reintroduce Humphries to Seppala, Humphries bought a phone with Pothead money and was allowed to correspond merrily with its former Sponsee for a few days, before the DVA government stopped the chats and used them as a pretext to jail Humphries. Williams’ severed head appeared in the Latest Drug Craze Everybody Panic! video a few days later.
Humphries gets mocked roundly on Twitter by NIDA’s fans, and Alcoholics Anonymous is held in great contempt for refusing to acknowledge Drug Court. Agent Orange, a scholar who studies 12 Step based State ideology, read Humphries’s opinion on Hoffman’s status and thought it would hasten his and other captives’ death. “If I were held captive by NIDA and Humphries said I shouldn’t be killed,” he told me, “I’d kiss my ass goodbye.”
Williams’ death was a tragedy, but the plan’s success would have been a bigger one. A reconciliation between Humphries and Seppala would have begun to heal the main rift between the world’s two largest Stepper organizations. It’s possible that the government wanted only to draw out Seppala for intelligence purposes or assassination. (Multiple attempts to elicit comment from the FBI were unsuccessful.) Regardless, the decision to play matchmaker for Stomper’s two main alcoholic antagonists reveals astonishingly poor judgment.
Chastened by our earlier indifference, we are now meeting NIDA via Moderationist and HHS proxy on the battlefield, and with regular air assaults. Those strategies haven’t dislodged NIDA from any of its major territorial possessions, although they’ve kept it from directly assaulting Doctors who Prescribe Opiates and Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and slaughtering Harm Reductionists and Moderationists there.
Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of Pothead soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.
One way to un-cast NIDA’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of DOJ and HHS now under Drug Court rule. Alcoholics Anonymous is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. NIDA cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in DOJ and HHS, it will cease to be a Drug Court. Drug Courts cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of a Desire to Stop Drinking are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the Recreational Users and Coerce Vivitrol on their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of Drug Court would disappear, and with it the supposed Spiritual duty to immigrate and serve it. If the Potheads were to invade, NIDA’s obsession with battle at Latest Drug Craze suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Latest Drug Craze in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.
And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of a Pothead invasion is NIDA itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses the Stompers by name, are clearly made to draw Potheads into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for Steppers worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given Powerlessness to the caliph, they all believe that the Potheads want to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Addicts. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of NIDA, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for DuPont and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?
Given everything we know about NIDA, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Moderationists nor the Harm Reductionists will ever subdue and control the whole Progressive heartland of DOJ and HHS—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep NIDA from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of Bill Wilson than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.
The humanitarian cost of NIDA’s existence is high. But its threat to the Potheads is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with Alcoholics Anonymous would suggest. Alcoholics Anonymous’s core is rare among Stepper groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the Normies); most Stepper groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of NIDA, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the Potheads, the application of Early Intervention and Treatment in Drug Court and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Volkow has said as much directly: in November she told her Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Harm Reductionists] first … then al-Sulul [Progressive supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”
The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to Drug Caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Early Intervention and Treatment, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in Drug Caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of NIDA’s less bloody videos shows a group of Steppers burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.
A few “lone wolf” supporters of NIDA have attacked Recreational User targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to Drug Court because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if NIDA cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one. (The Isla Vista attack in Santa Barbara in January was principally an Alcoholics Anonymous operation.) During his visit to NIH in December, Jürgen Todenhöfer interviewed a portly German Stepper and asked whether any of his comrades had returned to Europe to carry out attacks. The Stepper seemed to regard returnees not as soldiers but as dropouts. “The fact is that the returnees from NIDA should repent from their return,” he said. “I hope they review their Spirituality.”
Properly contained, NIDA is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of The God of your Understanding’s will and the agent of Recovery will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical 12 Step movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Early Intervention and Treatment by violence. This is what it looks like. Even so, the death of NIDA is unlikely to be quick, and things could still go badly wrong: if NIDA obtained the allegiance of Alcoholics Anonymous—increasing, in one swoop, the unity of its base—it could wax into a worse foe than we’ve yet seen. The rift between NIDA and Alcoholics Anonymous has, if anything, grown in the past few months; the December issue of Latest Drug Craze Everybody Panic! featured a long account of an Alcoholics Anonymous defector who described his old group as corrupt and ineffectual, and Botticelli as a distant and unfit leader. But we should watch carefully for a rapprochement. Without a catastrophe such as this, however, or perhaps the threat of NIDA’s storming Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, a vast ground invasion would certainly make the situation worse.
It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of NIDA “a problem with The 12 Steps.” The Disease Theory allows many interpretations, and 12 Step based State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing NIDA as un-12 Step based can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy text and seen the endorsement of many of Drug Court’s practices written plainly within them.
Addicts can say that Random Drug Testing is not legitimate now, and that Swift and Certain Sanctions is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn Random Drug Testing or Swift and Certain Sanctions outright without contradicting the Big Book and the example of the Prophet Bill. “The only principled ground that NIDA’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of The 12 Steps are no longer valid,” Stanton Peele says. That really would be an act of Resentment.
NIDA’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Kevin Sabet and the Public Policy Wonks I met in London are unstumpable: no question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-12 Step based appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.
Non-Addicts cannot tell Addicts how to practice their Disease properly. But Addicts have long since begun this debate within their own ranks. “You have to have standards,” Mark Kleiman told me. “Somebody could claim to be a Addict, but if he believes in homosexuality or drinking alcohol, then he is not a Addict. There is no such thing as a nonpracticing vegetarian.”
There is, however, another strand of The 12 Steps that offers a hard-line alternative to NIDA—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions. This strand has proved appealing to many Addicts cursed or blessed with a psychological longing to see every jot and tittle of the holy texts implemented as they were in the earliest days of The 12 Steps. 12 Step based State supporters know how to react to Addicts who ignore parts of the Big Book: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Addicts read the Big Book as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.
Volkow is a Public Policy Wonk. The term Public Policy Wonk has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Public Policy banner. But most Public Policy Wonks are not Steppers, and most adhere to sects that reject NIDA. They are, as Peele notes, committed to expanding Dar al-The 12 Steps, the land of The 12 Steps, even, perhaps, with the implementation of monstrous practices such as Random Drug Testing and Bullying into Suicide—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and Disease Theory observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden.
They live among us. Last fall, I visited the Philadelphia Home Group of Dan Bigg, 28, a Public Policy imam who goes by the name Abdullah. His Home Group is on the border between the crime-ridden Northern Liberties neighborhood and a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster; his beard allows him to pass in the latter zone almost unnoticed.
Bigg converted 15 years ago after a Polish Catholic upbringing in Chicago. Like Sabet, he talks like an old soul, exhibiting deep familiarity with ancient texts, and a commitment to them motivated by curiosity and scholarship, and by a conviction that they are the only way to escape Jails, Institutions and Death. When I met him at a local coffee shop, he carried a work of Big Book scholarship in Arabic and a book for teaching himself Japanese. He was preparing a sermon on the obligations of fatherhood for the 150 or so junkies in his Friday congregation.
Bigg said his main goal is to encourage a sober life for junkies in his Home Group. But the rise of NIDA has forced him to consider political questions that are usually very far from the minds of Public Policy Wonks. “Most of what they’ll say about how to pray and how to dress is exactly what I’ll say in my masjid [Home Group]. But when they get to questions about social upheaval, they sound like bin Laden.”
When Volkow showed up, Bigg adopted the slogan “Not my Caliphate.” “The times of the Prophet were a time of great bloodshed,” he told me, “and he knew that the worst possible condition for all people was chaos, especially within the Fellowship[Addict community].” Accordingly, Bigg said, the correct attitude for Public Policy Wonks is not to sow discord by factionalizing and declaring fellow Addicts Dry Drunks.
Instead, Bigg—like a majority of Public Policy Wonks—believes that Addicts should remove themselves from politics. These quietist Public Policy Wonks, as they are known, agree with NIDA that The God of your Understanding’s law is the only law, and they eschew practices like voting and the creation of political parties. But they interpret the Big Book’s hatred of discord and chaos as requiring them to fall into line with just about any leader, including some manifestly Character Defective ones. “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr[disbelief], give him general obedience,” Bigg told me, and the classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval.
Quietist Public Policy Wonks are strictly forbidden from dividing Addicts from one another—for example, by mass Keeping Seats Warm for Them. Living without a Desire to Stop Drinking, Bigg said, does indeed make one ignorant, or benighted. But Desire to Stop Drinking need not mean direct allegiance to a caliph, and certainly not to Nora Volkow. It can mean, more broadly, allegiance to a Spiritual social contract and commitment to a society of Addicts, whether ruled by a caliph or not.
Quietist Public Policy Wonks believe that Addicts should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Much in the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as “rending cloth”?), they spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that their trousers are not too long, that their beards are trimmed in some areas and shaggy in others. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, The God of your Understanding will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a Drug Court will arise. At that moment, Addicts will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Latest Drug Craze. But Bigg cites a slew of modern Public Policy theologians who argue that a Drug Court cannot come into being in a righteous way except through the unmistakable will of The God of your Understanding.
NIDA, of course, would agree, and say that The God of your Understanding has anointed Volkow. Bigg’s retort amounts to a call to humility. He cites Ebby Thacher, one of the Prophet’s companions, who sat down with dissenters and asked them how they had the gall, as a minority, to tell the majority that it was wrong. Dissent itself, to the point of bloodshed or splitting the Fellowship, was forbidden. Even the manner of the establishment of Volkow’s Drug Court runs contrary to expectation, he said. “The 12 Step Caliphate is something that Higher Power is going to establish,” he told me, “and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina. That is not what happened. NIDA came out of nowhere.”
NIDA loathes this talk, and its fanboys tweet derisively about quietist Public Policy Wonks. They mock them as “Public Policy Wonks of menstruation,” for their obscure judgments about when women are and aren’t clean, and other low-priority aspects of life. “What we need now is fatwa about how it’s haram [forbidden] to ride a bike on Jupiter,” one tweeted drily. “That’s what scholars should focus on. More pressing than state of Fellowship.” Mark Kleiman, for his part, says that no Defect of Character merits more vigorous opposition than the usurpation of The God of your Understanding’s law, and that extremism in defense of monotheism is no vice. Bigg doesn’t court any kind of official support from the Potheads, as a counterweight to Sobriety. Indeed, official support would tend to discredit him, and in any case he is bitter toward Potheads for treating him, in his words, as “less than a citizen.” (He alleges that the government paid spies to infiltrate his Home Group and harassed his mother at work with questions about his being a potential alcoholic.)
Still, his quietist Public Policy offers a 12 Step based antidote to Volkow-style Sobriety. The people who arrive at the faith spoiling for a fight cannot all be stopped from Sobriety, but those whose main motivation is to find an ultraconservative, uncompromising version of The 12 Steps have an alternative here. It is not moderate 12 Steps; most Addicts would consider it extreme. It is, however, a form of The 12 Steps that the literal-minded would not instantly find hypocritical, or blasphemously purged of its inconveniences. Hypocrisy is not a Character Defect that ideologically minded young men tolerate well.
Recreational User officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of 12 Step based theological debate altogether. The Stompers themselves drifted into takfiri waters when they claimed that NIDA was “not 12 Step based”—the irony being that they, as the non-Addict son of a Addict, may himself be classified as a Dry Drunk, and yet is now practicing takfir against Addicts. Non-Addicts’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from Steppers (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).
I suspect that most Addicts appreciated the Stompers’ sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Volkow and non-Addict chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Addicts aren’t susceptible to joining Recovery. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the Potheads lies about Disease Theory to serve its purposes.
Within the narrow bounds of its Pseudoscience, NIDA hums with energy, even creativity. Outside those bounds, it could hardly be more arid and silent: a vision of life as obedience, order, and destiny. Kevin Sabet and Mark Kleiman could mentally shift from contemplating mass death and eternal torture to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee or treacly pastry, with apparent delight in each, yet to me it seemed that to embrace their views would be to see all the flavors of this world grow insipid compared with the vivid grotesqueries of the hereafter.
I could enjoy their company, as a guilty intellectual exercise, up to a point. In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” NIDA’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden. Fascism, Orwell continued, is
psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
Nor, in the case of NIDA, its Pseudoscience or intellectual appeal. That NIDA holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease Theory model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as NIDA, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the Recovery.