A Bitter Pill

Vitamin crusaders burned out of a right-wing radio station find the official version of events tough to swallow.

When Suzanne Harris and Peter Ludwell quit their full-time jobs to become crusaders in the fight for health freedom, they expected to draw fire from critics of their conspiracy theories regarding government and big business. But it never occurred to them that their life's work would go up in flames.

The couple had been living in a small office building in tiny Johnstown, fifty miles north of Denver, which also housed KHNC-AM, the American Freedom Network flagship station. Between patriotic call-ins and gun shows, the station also broadcast Harris and Ludwell's Law Loft Report, a program devoted to, as Harris puts it, "news and analysis of the trends that count and news that's important, with a focus on health issues."

Their show occupied KHNC's 6 to 7 p.m. weeknight slot. Until November 29, that is, which is the day KHNC itself disappeared. Harris and Ludwell left Johnstown at 4 p.m. that afternoon and drove to Denver for dinner. Afterward they had car problems, so they returned home late, at about 1:30 a.m. By then, three fire districts had spent three hours trying to save the building that housed KHNC, but to no avail. The radio station was gone, as were the couple's dog and six cats--and five years of work.

Although the fire initially seemed suspicious--particularly given KHNC's politics--the Colorado Bureau of Investigation ruled out arson and closed the case. A hot plate caused the fire, according to the CBI.

But Harris and Ludwell say they're certain it wasn't the hot plate that started the fire--and if it was, they're not the ones who plugged it in. And if the fire was arson, perhaps the perpetrators were trying to shut down not KHNC, but the Law Loft, whose cause is just as controversial as the radio station.

"As I've told the police, Peter and I had a conversation about the hot plate while I watched him turn it off before we left," Harris says. "The hot plate had a black cord, and everything else had a white cord, so it was hard to unplug the wrong thing. And while he was unplugging it, I told him that instead of using a pot of water on this hot plate for humidity, we really ought to get a humidifier."

Harris and Ludwell told Officer Tim Barrett of the Johnstown Police Department of their concerns; he says he'll pass them on to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. "It'll be up to CBI to decide if they want to reopen the case," Barrett says. "As of right now, we consider it closed, unless they convince CBI there's something else to it."

Police sergeant Leno Rodriguez adds that it's sometimes tough to determine arson, but he believes the CBI did a thorough investigation. "Sure, it's always possible someone went in there and burned the place," Rodriguez says. "See, you have to take into account what they were doing over there at that radio station."

What Harris and Ludwell were doing was attempting to stop international efforts that would change the classification of vitamins and supplements from "foods" to "drugs"--and all from their Johnstown headquarters. Their cause, they readily admit, really irritates some pharmaceutical companies, medical concerns and even foreign governments that have a vested interest in taking over the supplement business. For example, Harris says, the Canadian government became very upset this past July when she spoke at a conference of that country's Health Action Network Society. "We forced them to react to us, we blew away their speakers with our information, and then the Minister of Health was defeated in his attempt for re-election the following Monday because we made him look so bad," she says.

Self-styled "health-freedom advocates" point to Canada as a worrisome example of what happens when vitamins and supplements are reclassified as drugs. For instance, since Canada changed the classification of DHEA (the natural hormone dehydroepiandrosterone), which is all the rage in this country as an anti-aging supplement, possession of DHEA has carried the same penalty as possession of marijuana. "Basically, what we're talking about here is that if we allow the vitamins and supplements to change to 'drug' status, everything will have to be funneled through the FDA," says Harris. "The FDA will be required to test every herb, every vitamin, and then decide how much of it the public should be allowed to have. It's just more control for them, less control for us."

Harris and Ludwell claim to have been instrumental in altering or affecting several key pieces of legislation, including the Food and Drug Administration's recently passed Reform Bill (in a paper filed in protest of the bill's language, Harris asked the FDA point-blank why it was throwing the Constitution out the window). The Law Loft's research was responsible for getting dietary supplements excluded from the "harmonization" portion of the bill, which would have officially made them drugs, Harris says. ("Harmonization" is the term the FDA and other agencies use to describe what they want to do to vitamins and supplements: regulate them internationally, so that all countries are in "harmony" with each other regarding what's acceptable and what's not.)

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