A detailed investigation has exposed troubling connections between Scientology-affiliated lawyers and anti-GMO, anti-vaccine groups. For years, these forces have colluded to attack safe medicines and pesticides, while slandering scientists and organizations that challenge activist rhetoric as "Monsanto shills."
California-based law firm Baum Hedlund was founded by Church of Scientology lawyers and has had close ties to the cult for decades. It is most notoriously known in recent years for litigation targeting mainstream psychiatry and the use of antidepressants, a money bonanza tort blitz that’s gone on for more than a decade. The flow of settlement dollars in dubious cases has reportedly propped up the finances of a once-tottering cult, setting the stage for the ambulance-chasing litigation by Baum-Hedlund targeting biotechnology advocates.
The connection between the Church of Scientology and the anti-GMO movement is comparatively recent, but their approaches to intimidating critics overlap. Accounts from ex-church members and a series of investigative books and documentaries have alleged financial fraud, harassment of journalists, support for dubious medical practices, criminal behavior, aggressive litigiousness against critics and abuse of its members, both physical and psychological.
Baum Hedlund was one of the first firms to recruit litigants to target Monsanto/Bayer over allegations that glyphosate causes cancer. The firm represented some of the initial plaintiffs that took Bayer to court. It is now poised to reap a financial windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars from settlements in the works.
The lead attorneys in the Bayer litigation, including founder Michael Baum and one of his partners, Brent Wisner, have been active members in the church for years. According to records posted on the Internet, Wisner has been a member since at least 1992. His father Michael Wisner is also a longtime church member, “environmental health activist” and advocate for Scientology’s Purification Rundown, a detox program designed to rid the body of “food preservatives, pesticides, atmospheric poisons and the like.” The senior Wisner praised his son’s efforts against Monsanto in a 2017 blog post, writing that Brent was involved in “a major legal action against Monsanto and its toxic weed-killer, RoundUp ….” A Scientologist since the 1970s, Baum is now the senior managing shareholder of the firm.
Baum has a legally checkered history of alleged corruption and illegal and unethical activities. Along with now- retired founding attorney Paul Hedlund, he was a key investor in one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history, the $593 million investment fraud perpetrated by Reed Slatkin, a minister with the Church, who was convicted and jailed in 2003.
Baum is most notoriously known for his involvement in Operation Snow White, Scientology’s internal name for a criminal conspiracy it conducted during the 1970s in a failed attempt to illegally purge unfavorable United States government records about the Church and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. For more than two decades, Scientology was engaged in a battle with the federal government over its tax-exempt status. A federal investigation led to a raid and the eventual filing of extensive charges.
Apparently looking for a fresh money pot as the Prozac tort bonanza began to fade, Baum Hedlund reportedly set its sites on Monsanto and glyphosate, eventually establishing a close relationship with US Right to Know, an activist NGO created in the wake of California’s failed initiative to label GMOs (see below). It drew on its attack strategy honed over 30 years of rancorous litigation against the US government, anti-depressant manufacturers and its many disillusioned cult members. With guidance from anti-GMO activists, it turned its sites on biotechnology and agricultural chemical companies.
Baum Hedlund is now the central repository for discovery documents turned over by Monsanto through court action, while USRTK has troves of documents using the Freedom of Information Act targeting more than 10 years of communications by scientists, academicians and journalists. The collections are dubbed “The Monsanto Papers” (by USRTK) or “Monsanto Secret Documents (by Baum Hedlund).
Baum Hedlund/Church of Scientology also has deep and ongoing ties to attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., one the country’s most notorious anti-vaccine activists, who is currently spreading COVID anti-vax conspiracy propaganda. Church-affiliated consultants and nonprofits have played a prominent role in the ongoing battle over medical exemptions for vaccines in California, with celebrity Scientologists urging their social media followers to oppose the state’s restrictions on vaccine exemptions. Jenna Elfman, Danny Masterson, Juliette Lewis and Kirstie Alley, all outspoken Scientologists, have lobbied against California legislation requiring all students to be vaccinated.