Reader's Digest Article,
Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult
by Eugene H. Methvin
In the late 1940s, pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard declared,
"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a
million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."
Hubbard *did* start his own 'religion,' calling it the
"Church of Scientology," and it has grown into an enterprise today grossing an
estimated $100 million a year worldwide. His churches have paid him a percentage
of their gross, usually ten percent, and stashed untold riches away in bank
accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere under his and his wife's control.
Surrounded by aides who cater to his every whim, he reportedly lives on
church-owned property, formerly a resort, in Southern California.
Scientology is one of the oldest, wealthiest -- and
most dangerous -- of the major "new religions" or cults operating in America
today. Some of its fanatic operatives have engaged in burglary, espionage,
kidnapping and smear campaigns to further their goals. Says Assistant U.S.
Attorney Raymond Banoun, who directed a massive investigation that resulted in
conspiracy or theft convictions of nine top Scientology officials in Washington,
D.C., last October: "The evidence presented to the court shows brazen criminal
campaigns against private and public organizations and individuals. The
Scientology officials hid behind claims of religious liberty while inflicting
injuries upon every element of society."
In 1950, Hubbard, then 39, published Dianetics: The
Modern Science of Mental Health. In 1954 he founded the first Church of
Scientology in Washington, D.C. By 1978 the organization claimed 38 U.S.
churches, with 41 more abroad, and 172 "missions" and 5,437,000 members
worldwide. These claims are highly doubtful; critical observers have estimated a
hard core of around 3,000 full-time staff and no more than 30,000 adherents in
the United States.
Even so, Hubbard may live more regally than did the
Maharajah of Jaipur, whose 30-room mansion and 57-acre estate in England Hubbard
bought in the late 1950s as "world headquarters" for his growing movement. His
retinue includes young women, known officially as "messengers," who light his
ever-present cigarettes and catch the ashes. They record every word he says,
including his frequent obscene outbursts of rage. They help him out of bed in
the morning, run his shower, dress him. They scrub his office for a daily "white
glove" inspection and rinse his laundry in 13 fresh waters. (Former members say
he erupts volcanically if he sniffs soap on his clothes.)
Hubbard attracts and holds his worshipful followers by
his amazing capacity to spin out an endless science-fiction fantasy in which he
is the supreme leader of a chosen elite. He tells them he is a nuclear physicist
who was severely wounded while serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II.
"Taken crippled and blinded" to a Naval hospital, he claims to have "worked his
way back to fitness and full perception in less than two years." In the process,
he developed the "research" that led him to discover "Dianetics" and
Scientology, the answers to most of mankind's ills.
The truth is something else. Hubbard did take a college
course in molecular and atomic physics, which he flunked. He served in the Navy,
but Navy records do not indicate he saw combat or was ever wounded. He was
discharged and later given a 40-percent disability pension because of an ulcer,
arthritis and other ailments. About this time he was petitioning the Veterans
Administration for psychiatric care to treat "long periods of moroseness and
suicidal inclinations." He was also arrested for petty theft in connection with
checks. When he wrote to the FBI that communist spies were after him, an agent
attached a note to one of his letters: "Make 'appears mental' card."
Since Dianetics, Hubbard's bizarre "philosophy" has
expanded into a 25-million-word collection of books, articles and tape-recorded
lectures. Hubbard claims to have traced human existence back 74 trillion years,
suggesting it began on Venus. Today's earthlings are material manifestations of
eternal spirits who are reincarnated time and again over the eons. But, Hubbard
claims, our earthly troubles often result from ghostly mental images which he
calls "engrams" -- painful experiences either in this life or in former
Hubbard's original book created a sensation; he claimed
to have "cleared" 270 cases of engrams, thus greatly increasing the subjects'
I.Q.s and curing them of assorted ills from arthritis to heart troubles. Later
Hubbard said that Scientology eradicated cancer and was the only specific cure
for atomic-bomb burns.
To detect engrams, Hubbard adopted a battery-powered
galvanometer with a needle dial wired to two empty tin cans. Charging $150 an
hour, a Scientology "minister" audits a subject by having him grip the tin cans
and answer detailed questions about his present or past lives. The needle's
gyrations supposedly detect the engrams. By causing the subject to "confront"
the engrams, the 'minister' claims to "clear his memory bin," thus raising both
body and mind to a superhuman state of "total freedom."
The Scientology auditor also carefully records any
intimate revelations, including sexual or criminal activities or marital or
family troubles. According to the church's own documents and defectors'
affidavits, such records are filed for blackmail purposes against any member (or
member's family) who becomes a "potential trouble source" by threatening to
defect, go to the authorities, or generate hostile publicity.
Of course, new prospects are never asked to swallow the
whole ridiculous story at first gulp; they get it in timed-release capsules. The
process transforms them into what one who went through it calls a "robot-like"
Typical was the experience of 17-year-old Julie
Christofferson, a high-school honors graduate who was invited by an acquaintance
-- actually a shill -- to take a "communications course." (The church advertises
that these "field-staff members" get ten-percent commissions on all money their
recruits pay.) Unknowingly, Julie hooked herself onto a mind-scrambling conveyor
belt of hypnotic "training routines" developed by Hubbard. The recruit,
cynically referred to as "raw meat," sits knee to knee with a "coach" for hours,
her eyes closed. Next she sits, eyes open, for hours. Then the coach tries to
find "emotional buttons." Hours of commands follow: "Lift that chair." "Move
that chair." "Sit in that chair."
As Margaret Thaler Singer, a University of California
psychologist who interviewed Julie and over 400 former members of cults,
observes, "These routines can split the personality into a severe, dissociated
state, and the recruits are hooked before they realize what is happening."
Julie found that the next step, auditing, continued to
erase the boundary between reality and fantasy. In this phase, Julie exhausted
all $3000 of her college savings. Then she was told she could take college-level
courses while going "on staff" and working full time to recruit and process new
raw meat. She ended up working 60 to 80 hours a week, at a maximum salary of
$7.50 [per week]. She had now reached the "robot-like" state.
Julie felt superior, one of the chosen elite of this
universe. She was one of the faithful who are promised they will "go with Ron to
the next planet." Thus, they are conditioned to the "us against them" outlook
that characterizes so much religious and political fanaticism.
Julie Christofferson was among the lucky, however.
After nine months, her parents removed her from the cult and snapped her out of
her zombie-like trance. Last August, a Portland, Ore., jury found the church's
conduct so fraudulent and outrageous that it awarded her $2,067,000.20 in
Less fortunate was Anne Rosenblum, who spent nearly six
years in Scientology. During her last 15 months she was in the church's
punishment unit, the "Rehabilitation Project Force." There, prisoners are
guarded constantly, never left alone or allowed to speak to any outsider without
permission. They eat leftovers, sleep on the floor, and fill their days with
strenuous physical and menial labor, classroom study of Ron's works and grueling
auditing to detect "crimes against Ron" in "this or past lives."
As defectors have attested, subjects become hysterical
and psychotic in their auditing. Then they are locked in isolation. Not
surprisingly, suicides occur. Last January in Clearwater, Fla., for example, a
Scientology member hurled herself into the bay and drowned.
Through the years, Hubbard has continually added new
grades and "levels" of belief. The "clearing course" costs $3812, but to get to
the highest level, the devotee shells out $14,295. Hubbard has punctuated his
policy letters to staff with exhortations to MAKE MONEY, MAKE MORE MONEY, MAKE
OTHER PEOPLE PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MONEY. When numbers of recruits and receipts
fall off, Hubbard orders staffers onto a diet of rice and beans.
But revenues appear to have been consistently high. In
1974 the church spent $1.1 million for an old Jesuit novitiate in Oregon. In
1976 the IRS turned up $2.86 million in cash aboard Hubbard's 320-foot flagship
Apollo. Moving secretly, the church paid another $8 million for a hotel and
other properties in Clearwater, Fla. A top Hubbard lieutenant who recently
defected has attested that the Clearwater organization alone last year was
grossing as high as $1 million per week.
In 1966 Hubbard created his own "intelligence"
organization, called the "Guardian Office" (GO) [now called OSA]. He had
convinced himself that a "central agency" was behind attacks against
Scientology, and his suspicion focused on the World Federation for Mental
Health. "Psychiatry and the KGB operate in direct collusion," he declared. He
seemed to think they worked through the FBI, CIA, various newspapers and other
groups. He named his third wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, to direct his own
counterattack from the Los Angeles headquarters. She defined the GO's objective:
"To sweep aside opposition sufficiently to create a vacuum into which
Scientology can expand."
The GO training program included instructions in how to
make an anonymous death threat to a journalist, smear an antagonistic clergyman,
forge phony newspaper clips, plan and execute burglaries. Public-relations
spokesmen were drilled on how to lie to the press -- "to outflow false data
effectively." A favorite dirty trick: making anonymous phone calls to the IRS,
accusing enemies of income-tax cheating and thereby inducing the IRS to audit
them. Big targets were organizations that investigated Scientology or published
unfavorable articles about it -- newspapers, Forbes magazine, the American
Medical Association, Better Business Bureau and American Psychiatric
Individuals were also targeted. In 1971 Paulette
Cooper, a New York free-lance writer, published a book called The Scandal of
Scientology. The church responded with an elaborate campaign of litigation,
theft, defamation and malicious prosecution. She got death-threatening phone
calls. According to church documents later revealed, this campaign was aimed at
"getting P.C. incarcerated in a mental institution or in jail."
It came incredibly close. Miss Cooper and her publisher
were sued in several U.S. cities and foreign countries. In order to call off the
Scientology legal war, her publisher agreed to withdraw the book. "It just
wasn't worth the legal expenses," he explained.
The worst thrust, Miss Cooper says, came after a
Scientology agent stole some of her stationery, faked bomb-threat letters and
framed her. She was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of making bomb
threats [and purjury]. She went through two years of torment until she
volunteered to take a Sodium Pentothal "truth" test. Only after she passed did
the government drop the charges. Defending herself cost her $28,000.
In 1976 the FBI discovered that two Scientology agents
were using forged credentials to rummage through a Justice Department office at
night, and thereby uncovered the tip of a widespread espionage operation in
Washington. One agent, Michael Meisner, after nearly a year as a fugitive,
offered to cooperate with the government. Meisner said that in 1974 Scientology
had mounted an all-out attack on U.S. government agencies the church thought
were interfering with its operations ["opperation Snow White"]. He himself
supervised Washington operations. With another agent, he broke into the IRS
photographic-identification room and forged the credentials that they used to
enter various government buildings, steal and copy keys left carelessly on
desks, pick locks, and steal and copy government files.
With Meisner's testimony, the FBI obtained search
warrants and, on July 8, 1977, raided Scientology headquarters in Washington and
Los Angeles. Agents in Los Angeles seized 23,000 documents, many stolen from the
U.S. government, plus burglar tools and electronic-surveillance equipment. The
scope of the espionage operation was staggering. In a Justice Department agency,
a Scientology employee-plant actually worked in a vault containing top-secret
CIA and defense documents. Other Scientologists entered on nights and weekends
and ransacked offices, including the Deputy Attorney General's, stealing highly
secret papers and copying them on government copiers.
On October 26, 1979, nine high Scientology officials
stood before a federal judge and were found guilty of theft or conspiracy
charges arising from their plot against the government. Heading the list was
Mary Sue Hubbard, 48, who had supervised the operation. Hubbard himself and 24
other Scientologists were named as unindicted co-conspirators.
Since the convictions, many former Scientologists have
come forward to tell stories they had previously kept secret for fear of
Hubbard's Guardians. In Boston, attorney Michael Flynn has filed a $200-million
federal class-action suit for fraud, outrageous conduct and breach of contract
on behalf of a former Scientologist and others who have been abused by the cult.
But Hubbard and his Scientologists have not been
deterred. After last fall's convictions, they issued an appeal for volunteers
for the Guardian counterattack, "to ferret out those who want to stop
The lessons of Hubbard's Church of Scientology are
many. As history demonstrates, when a fanatical individual employing powerful
communication skills gathers an entourage of followers, infects them with his
own delusion, persuades them that the outside world is hostile and they alone
can save the world, and exacts blind obedience, the collective may break the
fabric of civilized restraints and descend into terrifying crimes. Convictions,
seized church documents, stipulated evidence and defectors' affidavits
demonstrate that Scientologists have already indulged in burglary, espionage,
blackmail, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and conspiracies to steal government
documents and to obstruct justice; some have committed suicide. The parents of a
teen-age girl, after following her into Hubbard's entourage for several weeks,
issued an urgent appeal last January to help prevent "what we believe could be
another mass murder or suicide."
Above all, the 20th-century record of leader-cults
demonstrates that such collectives need watching. Nothing in our legal tradition
requires us to shut our eyes to a racket religion simply because it masquerades
and claims immunity under our First Amendment. As the late U.S. Supreme Court
Justice Robert H. Jackson pointed out, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.