Jonny Jacobsen is a Brit who lives in Paris and writes one of the best blogs on Scientology, Infinite Complacency. He was good enough to provide us with this explainer — tomorrow, a longer version will show up at his site.
[ALSO TODAY: A report from Nathan Baca about Narconon in Nevada.]
Now here’s a twist in the tale: English thriller writer R.J. Ellory, who only last year had to apologise for an egregious lapse of professional ethics, turns out to be a longtime Scientologist.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported in September 2012 that Ellory had been caught using “sock-puppet” accounts to write glowing reviews for his own books. As one wag at the New York Times put it a couple of days later: “His Biggest Fan was Himself.”
That might have been laughed off as a sad combination of vanity and desperation — except he was using the same accounts to rubbish books written by his rivals. Ellory was forced to issue an apology regretting his “lapse of judgment.”
In December, the Telegraph came back with a second helping of humble pie.
This time, he had been caught trying to edit unflattering references to the previous scandal from his Wikipedia page. Wikipedia confirmed to the Telegraph that it had banned Ellory from any further intervention (just as it did to Scientology back in 2009).
Now French journalist Julien Bisson has unearthed the extent of Ellory’s career as a Scientologist in an article for Lire magazine. The French monthly ran the piece in its April edition (which, appropriately enough, was devoted to crime fiction). Such is Ellory’s profile over here, the news weekly L’Express picked up the story, running Bisson’s original article and adding his interview with Ellory.
Ellory told Bisson that he had got into Scientology in 1986 after his brother introduced him to the “purification program,” which had helped him with his drugs problem. He had decided to give it a try because he too, had problems with drugs, he said.
“I stopped taking drugs immediately, and I honestly believe that if I hadn’t done that program I would have been dead before I was 25,” he added. (Our thanks to Bisson for the original English version of his quotes.)
Ellory is presumably referring to the Purification Rundown — the controversial L. Ron Hubbard-devised programme involving aerobic exercise, long sessions in the sauna and massive amounts of vitamins. Ellory said the “program,” as he called it, helped people with drugs problems make spiritual progress.
The Rundown, of course, is a core part of the service offered at the we’re-completely-independent-of-Scientology drug rehab service, Narconon, currently in meltdown across North America because of a series of deaths there.
In the interview, Ellory was careful to mention his work for Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Its website reeks of the heavy-handed earnestness characteristic of Scientology’s work in this field, together with shock facts about drugs, some of which look about as credible as — well, as certain online book reviews we could mention.
Ellory praised Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “humanitarian” work not just in drug rehabilitation but helping develop literacy, a reference to Hubbard’s Study Technology. Ellory’s work with Scientology had also involved “…some fundraising for humanitarian programs etc. — all fairly self-explanatory,” he added.
In 2002 and 2006, a Roger Ellory appears on the Honor Roll in Impact, the magazine of the International Association of Scientologists. Generally that means that someone has contributed significant sums of money to Scientology or recruited a lot of people into the movement, Bisson noted. So, he asked Ellory, which was it?
Ellory said he had helped with some fundraising in the past but he had not earned the Honor Roll status because of money donated, “…and the Church has never been a financial burden to me or my family.”
Bisson had done his homework before approaching Ellory — not unreasonable, given Ellory’s proactive approach to the truth.
Haydn James, who ran Scientology’s “org” in Birmingham, England between 1991 and 2005, told Bisson that Ellory had worked there both as an auditor, providing Scientology’s version of therapy — and then as a senior recruiter.John Duignan provided more details. (Some of you may recall Duignan’s book The Complex, an account of his time inside Scientology. If you’ve read it, you’ll know he is not shy of speaking his mind.)
Duignan, a Sea Org veteran who worked out of Birmingham, knew Ellory for more than 20 years, He told Bisson that Ellory’s talk of anti-drugs work was a smokescreen. His real job, he said, was as a registrar, hard-selling new recruits expensive packages of auditing.
We asked Duignan to elaborate.
“His actual title was Hubbard Executive Secretary… and then he moved to Chief Registrar,” he said. “But he was basically in charge of all sales. That was his job — it was to get money into the building.”
Before moving into sales, Ellory was already an auditor, trained up to a fairly high level, he added — and that gave him a certain gravitas among his fellow Scientologists. “He used that technical insight into the auditing process to get people to cough up money.”
Bisson had a final question. Ellory had been very open about difficult events in his life: he has written of his drug use and a brief spell in jail for poaching. Why then had he kept so quiet about his adherence to Scientology?
Ellroy replied that when on tour to promote his books, he just answered the questions he was asked. “If someone had asked me, then I would have answered those questions, of course,” he added.
John Duignan doesn’t buy that.
“I know Roger very well and to be honest with you I like him,” he told us. “But there are two sides to the coin. I was always irritated as a Sea Org member that he never promoted that he was a Scientologist. Obviously, now that I’m out on the other side ot the fence I’m still irritated — but for a completely different reason.”
So why all the fuss about Ellory in France? Two reasons.
First, Scientology is not terribly popular over here. The 2009 convictions of several Scientologists and two of its organisations on fraud charges were just the latest in a series of run-ins with the French courts over the years.
On the other hand however, the French do like their thrillers — and Ellory seems to be doing good business here. At least four of his 11 books have been translated into French and one of them, A Quiet Belief in Angels, even picked up a couple of French awards.
Ellory reports on his website: “The book was also optioned for film, and Roger has recently completed the screenplay for Oscar-winning French director, Olivier Dahan.”
It’s early days though: the project doesn’t yet feature as in production at the International Movie Database. But Dahan is certainly a hot property in the film world, even if he hasn’t actually won an Oscar as Ellory seems to think (that was his leading actress Marion Cotillard in the 2007 Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose).
Before we light the torches, hand out the pitchforks and march on the castle however, it’s worth remembering that there is another side to Ellory.
“He’s not a shallow person,” says Duignan. “He is much more multi-dimensional than the typical Scientologist. He has got two lives: a Scientology life and then he has got a life where he loves literature — he is very, very well read…
“I admired him because he was able to bridge that gap — because he had those two worlds. I knew the guy for 20 years and he broadened my literary world. He had this bit of himself that was himself, not the Scientology self.”
In other words, he had the mindset of a Scientology Celebrity even before he was a celebrity.
Quick — reg him for a course.
Thank you, Jonny! And now, our coda to this story…
We realized that we’d run into R.J. Ellory before. Back in the summer of 2011, we reported about a leak of information from the Scientology “org” in Birmingham, England. A researcher there had discovered that the org had left its server unprotected, and so he downloaded a huge amount of information from it. We were particularly interested in a series of photographs that had been taken at a rather unusual fundraiser which was done in a tropical island theme.
If you’re unfamiliar with Scientology fundraisers, you should know that church members get hit up for cash so often, the local orgs struggle to come up with new ways of making the experience seem enjoyable, somehow. In this case, the sight of these English parishioners trying to generate some South Seas enthusiasm in order to encourage each other to donate cash toward a new building was rather jarring. Here’s Ellory with some of his fellow tropical pals…
Even more wince-inducing, someone at the org had put Scientology lyrics on a popular disco song, and at one point during the party the church members got up a conga line. There were quite a few photos of the dance line, and some of them featured Ellory, as you can see below.
Later, a clever member of Anonymous combined the song and the photos in a video that became pretty notorious around here. Naturally, we’ll post it again in case you haven’t seen it. Ellory also pops up in it, but only for a second…
At this point, we’re not sure which is more embarrassing — getting caught writing your own Amazon reviews, or being spotted in a Scientology conga line. But either way, we’re glad for his sake that Ellory at least makes a living in a way where he never has to be seen in public.
Nevada Legislature Attempting to Get Oversight of Narconon Facility, Nathan Baca ReportsLast night, we heard from KLAS-TV reporter Nathan Baca, who, the last time we saw him, in November, was reporting on Scientology’s drug rehab facility in Nevada, a place called Rainbow Canyon Retreat.
In that report Baca showed that the facility, in the remote town of Caliente about 150 miles north of Las Vegas, generated the same kind of complaints about deceptive practices that other Narconon centers are plagued with. But Rainbow Canyon Retreat had a special distinction — because it accepted no state or federal funds, it was going completely unregulated by state officials.
(In January, we broke our own news about the Nevada facility, reporting on a troubling case involving a New York 15-year-old who had endured a rough stay at Rainbow Canyon. His parents were suing for abuse they allege he went through.)
In Baca’s new piece, he reports that Nevada’s legislature is trying to do something about its lack of oversight. A new state Senate bill would give Nevada regulators the ability to inspect Rainbow Canyon (or any drug rehab center) regardless of the source of its income.
Baca sent this dialogue he recorded at the state senate which made it pretty clear that the new bill was intended to regulate the Narconon facility, located in Nevada’s Lincoln County…
State Senator Tick Sergerblom (D) Las Vegas: If a facility doesn’t accept state or federal money, does the state have any regulatory oversight?
Marla McDade Williams, Deputy Administrator, State Health Division: Currently, no.
Williams: That is what this bill is intended to do, is to allow us to have oversight over those facilities now we don’t have currently licensed.
Segerblom: Oh, so this would give you — like the facility in Lincoln County where there’s issues come up?
Williams: That’s correct
Baca told us that once the bill becomes law, Rainbow Canyon could only exempt itself from inspection if it claimed to be a faith-based program.
We told him we think that’s unlikely. One of Narconon’s key business practices is to hide its connection to the Church of Scientology. We don’t see it changing that just to escape some oversight by government regulators.
We’ll rely on Baca to keep an eye on whether Senate Bill 501 becomes law.
UPDATE: And here’s the video…
Karen De La Carrier on Scientology’s Abuse of ‘Priest-Penitent Privilege’
Another powerful video by Karen, J. Swift, and Angry Gay Pope…
And finally, our old friend Jim Lippard reviews the three big recent books — by Lawrence Wright, John Sweeney, and Jenna Miscavige Hill — and brings readers of Skeptic magazine up to date on what ails Scientology.
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 9, 2013 at 07:00