Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
Last week, we asked Jon to help us understand Gerry Armstrong’s past — which is one of the most complex in Scientology history. Jon explained that Gerry had been a young Sea Org member who discovered an amazing trove of original documents that L. Ron Hubbard had amassed over many years. He saved the collection of documents from the shredder, and then got permission to begin archiving it. But the contents of that archive shocked Armstrong: it tended to undercut every claim Hubbard had made about his history, and threatened to seriously harm the reputation of the man who had created Scientology.
Disillusioned by what he had found, Armstrong nevertheless was committed to helping Omar Garrison, a writer who had been hired to pen an official biography of Hubbard. And he was still committed to that project when everything went sour. Years of litigation ensued, and that litigation is complex. In order to tell it, Jon brought in an expert to help us get through this next portion of the Armstrong saga.
JON: Gerry left Scientology on December 12, 1981, after making every effort to correct the many falsehoods promulgated by L. Ron Hubbard about his exploits. He made sure, however, to deliver by that date copies of many documents that Omar Garrison needed for the biography that Garrison was writing of Hubbard. The documents included copies of Hubbard journals, letters, the hypnotic Affirmations, and magic ceremonies (such ceremonies include the bizarre Blood Ritual, where Hubbard dedicated himself to the service of the black goddess, Hathor, the destroyer of mankind. Omar Garrison showed me a copy of this deplorable document). Gerry kept nothing for himself.
Despite leaving the Sea Org, Gerry still communicated with Scientology and Garrison to help with the biography project. In the spring of 1982 he transcribed interview tapes for Garrison, assembled binders of material, and did library research. He did all that not realizing that on February 18, 1982, the church had declared him a “suppressive person.” A second declare was issued in April, and Gerry began to realize that he was being targeted in a “Fair Game” campaign. Knowing Scientology as well as he did, he began to fear for his life and the life of his then wife, Jocelyn.
Omar Garrison also became concerned that the documents in his possession might be targeted, and wanted to ensure the safety of them. Gerry made copies of some of those documents, and sent them to his attorneys for safekeeping. It was these documents that he stored which became the subject of the lawsuit that the church filed against him on August 2, 1982. (It became known as Armstrong 1.) By this time, a Fair Game campaign was in full swing against Gerry.
In the UK, court costs go with the case, but in the US, you have to countersue if you are to recover your own costs, so in October 1982, Gerry filed a cross-complaint.
GERRY ARMSTRONG: The Armstrong 1 cross-complaint was not to recover costs. It was a personal injury case for fraud and abuse for 12.5 years inside, and the Fair Game from the day of my leaving to my filing the suit. Scientology always tries to put people — their opponents, their victims, their customers, their slaves — on the defensive. My cross-complaint put them on the defensive.
JON: The cult proceeded to court for trial of its claim in 1984, having separated the cross-complaint for later trial. In June 1984, after a lengthy and detailed examination of facts, and after hearing some eminent former members, Judge Breckenridge lambasted the cult in his decision, and found entirely in Gerry’s favor. As the good judge put it: “In addition to violating and abusing its own members’ civil rights, the organization over the years…has harassed and abused those persons not within the Church whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.” The cult appealed this decision, but offered a large settlement to Gerry and other litigants represented by Boston attorney Michael Flynn.
GERRY: The cult did quickly appeal the Breckenridge decision, but the settlement was 2.5 years later. The cult had engaged Michael Flynn in settlement discussions a number of times over the years. These discussions culminated in the December 1986 “global” settlement. The Scientologists paid Flynn a lump sum, and he disbursed that to his clients according to his agreement with each of them.
I can’t say exactly what was in the contracts with the other litigants. I do know from at least three others, however, that Flynn assured them as he assured me that the silence condition was not judicially enforceable. Flynn’s assurance to me that the liquidated damages penalty and the silence condition were not worth the paper they were printed on was key in my signing, and has been key in my refusal to be silenced.
For many years I have been certain that Flynn was right, and told the truth, that the contractual conditions are lawfully unenforceable, and what the Scientologists got the California courts to do later was unlawful.
JON: The settlement came in December 1986. However, the cult maintained its appeal. I saw Gerry in 1988 — we met at a pie shop in San Jose — and he kept diligently to his agreement with the cult, so we talked about anything but Scientology, with one exception.
GERRY: From the first day, after signing the Scientologists’ contract, I spoke with people relatively freely about my experiences and knowledge that the contract prohibited me from speaking about.
The people who might want to talk to me, of course, were people like yourself who also had considerable Scientology-related experience and knowledge. I did not, however, talk to the media or attorneys or make public statements about my experiences or knowledge.
You were at that time serious media because you wrote A Piece of Blue Sky, and did other investigative writing about Hubbard and Scientology. You had completed Blue Sky, and were not looking for more data or facts from me, so our conversation was probably a mix of some kind, with me speaking obliquely to Jon-the-Journalist and relatively freely to Jon-the-Born-Again-Wog.
The Scientologists, meanwhile, kept Fair Game working.
There have been people who have adversely altered their communications with me out of fear of conditions in the Scientologists’ contract. This bugged me at times, because it gave unnecessary credence to the rightness and lawfulness of these conditions, and I tried to argue some people out of that position and their fear.
JON: I told you that I’d finished my book, and when I told you that I’d taken the title from Don Rogers, you immediately said, ‘Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky’ — Hubbard’s comment to Rogers about fleecing newcomers with membership grades on the day they opened the first Dianetic Foundation, in 1950.
The change in your demeanour was remarkable. When we first met in 1984, you were gaunt and haunted, now you were relaxed, probably for the first time since you joined the Sea Org, almost two decades earlier.
GERRY: Well, I’d taken up long distance running, in fact trail running, and I was getting strong, fast, and fit.
JON: What brought Gerry back into open conflict with the cult were threats from cult attorney Lawrence Heller in late 1989 after Bent Corydon’s attorney had Gerry served with a subpoena to testify in Bent’s case. Gerry then discovered that the Court of Appeal had just activated the cult’s appeal from Breckenridge. The first action Gerry took, because of the contractual conditions prohibiting it, was to petition the Court to participate in the appeal in which he was the respondent. In March 1990, the Court of Appeal granted Gerry’s petition, and made the secret settlement contract public.
In July, 1991, the Court of Appeal affirmed Breckenridge. That October, the cult filed a motion to enforce the settlement contract. In December, that motion was denied, so Gerry could speak freely about the cult and Hubbard.
In February 1992, the cult sued Gerry in Marin County, where he was working with attorney Ford Greene on various cult-related cases. This is Armstrong 2. This case was transferred to Los Angeles in March.
In July 1993, the cult filed another contract enforcement case in LA. This is Armstrong 3. Later that month, the cult filed a fraudulent conveyance case in Marin County against Gerry and his friend Michael Walton.
This is Armstrong 4. Armstrong 2 and 3 were transferred to Marin County and consolidated with Armstrong 4.
In January 1995, the cult obtained summary judgment for $300,000 in liquidated damages and $334,671.75 in costs. A summary judgment is given without trial. As a general rule, if you can survive the paper mountain tactic and evidence is heard, the cult will lose, such is the horror their own documents arouse. But it is very easy to abuse legal process and keep an opponent locked up in pretrial hearings (‘the law can be used very easily to harass’ as the scripture of Scientology states). None of my own cases was actually heard, save for the first, which allowed the publication of A Piece of Blue Sky. A judge, appointed to review the English legal process, as I was being ploughed under, said ‘The case in English law is that he with the deepest pockets wins.’ Scientology hires the best, and most expensive, lawyers, and if you lose a hearing, you can end up bankrupt. I was charged over £16,000 for a single hearing, through this tactic. By the time I withdrew, in 1996, I was used to spending seven days a week briefing lawyers. Luckily, I was able to escape without signing a gagging order. Tens of other critics have been less fortunate.
Gerry himself was going through difficult times.
GERRY: In 1990, unrelated to Scientology, I had given away all my assets, which included interest in three properties in the San Francisco Bay area hills.
JON: Gerry was forced to file for bankruptcy, in April 1995, which stayed the cult’s collection actions. The cult followed Hubbard’s orders to ‘ruin utterly’ anyone who criticized him or his works. I was bankrupted a month after Gerry. David Mayo suffered a similar fate, as did Ron Lawley, who, with a great deal of my help, had actually won the case brought against him by the cult, after eleven years of pretrial motions. Although Lawley won, the court costs wiped him out. His failure to pay my bill took me down with him.
In July 1995, the cult filed a complaint to prevent discharge of the debt through Gerry’s bankruptcy. This is Armstrong 6. In October 1995, the Court granted a permanent injunction on summary judgment, that is, without hearing evidence.
February 1996 found Gerry in a Bankruptcy Court trial. I went through a similar process in 1995, where I was questioned for four days in open court by a barrister with 28 black file boxes of papers on display (about a ten foot stack). The cult was able to show that I had failed to declare about five dollars, at a legal cost of about ten thousand pounds (which had to be paid later, to recover the rights to A Piece of Blue Sky and my life time’s work from the bankruptcy). In Gerry’s case, the Bankruptcy Court found that the debt to the cult was dischargeable, leaving Gerry unencumbered.
However, in May 1996, the Marin County Court issued a judgment, which ordered Gerry to make payment, in spite of the ruling of the Bankruptcy Court, and issued an injunction against his free speech, so enforcing the silence contract and violating the ‘inviolable’ right to freedom of speech, guaranteed by both the Constitution of the United States of America and the Creed of the Church of Scientology. Gerry appealed this decision in July 1996.
The writing was on the wall, so in January 1997, Gerry went home to Canada.
GERRY: The writing might have been on the wall, but what made me go to Canada was my discovery on the Internet of part of the Scientologists’ submission to the IRS on which the cult’s 1993 tax exemption is based. This webbed part of the submission contained a bunch of black PR on me.
I experienced what I believe is known as freaking out, although I kept it together enough to successfully make my escape.
When I read the Scientologists’ black PR to the IRS, I understood the billions of dollars of importance they were putting on silencing me. I also understood that the IRS knew the Scientologists submission contained numerous false statements, but had nevertheless granted the undeserved tax exemption. I suspect that people from the US Federal Government influenced the Marin Court judge to unlawfully silence and punish me in violation of the Constitution.
I left California, and the US, to be able to speak freely about the black PR to the IRS, and about anything else I wanted. Time has proven my decision correct. In Canada, and in virtually every country in the world, the Scientologists’ contract, liquidated damages penalty, and injunction are lawfully judicially unenforceable.
The contract, liquidated damages penalty and injunction are also lawfully judicially unenforceable in the US, but there the courts have unlawfully judicially enforced them.
JON: A month later, the cult applied for an order to show cause, re contempt. That March the Bankruptcy Court discharged Gerry’s debt.
In August 1997, the court issued an arrest warrant for Gerry, with bail set at $5,000. Gerry filed an opening brief in August, appealing against both the injunction and the liquidated damages penalty.
In November, the cult filed a motion to dismiss this appeal. The next month, the cult applied for an order to show cause, regarding the contempt. Gerry’s appeal was dismissed that same month.
In February 1998, the Marin County Court signed a contempt order, sentencing Gerry to 26 days in jail and $2,600 fine for thirteen breaches. This is the second contempt order. In May, the Court issued an arrest warrant, with bail set at $10,000.
In November 2000, the cult applied for an order to show cause regarding contempt. In July 2001, the Court signed a contempt order for 131 breaches, but did not impose a specific punishment. This is the third contempt order.
In April 2002, the cult filed suit in Marin County against Gerry for $10,050,000 for 201 breaches, and against Bob Minton and the Lisa McPherson Trust for aiding him. This is Armstrong 7, for anyone who is still counting.
Around July 2003, Minton and the Lisa McPherson Trust were dismissed from case. If anyone has information about this out-of-court settlement, we would love to hear from you.
Armstrong 7 was consolidated with Armstrong 4 in April 2004, and tried in Marin County Superior Court. The Court dispensed with all jail sentences and fines, but awarded the cult $500,000 in liquidated damages. In July, the cult appealed, seeking the original $10,050,000. The cult also applied to reinstate the jail time and the earlier fines.
After much toing and froing, in October 2005, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion reinstating both the jail time and the fines. Gerry was denied a new hearing by the Court of Appeal, in November 2005. His petition for review was denied by the California Supreme Court, in January 2006.
In September 2007, the Marin County Court reinstated both the jail time and the fines. The next month, Gerry was denied an evidentiary hearing. As far as the Court was concerned, breach of contract trumps constitutional rights, and the cult is not obliged to keep its part of the bargain.
GERRY: I think there might be something here that is often misunderstood.
Initially, the Scientologists claimed in court that the silence conditions were reciprocal. When I showed that they had spoken out to attack me in court, in the media, and publicly before I spoke out to defend myself, however, the Scientologists changed their position and thereafter have claimed that the silence conditions and penalties are completely one-sided.
When the Scientologists filed their motion to enforce in LA Superior Court in 1991, the judge, who had inherited the case from Judge Breckenridge, stated in refusing to enforce:
“So my belief is Judge Breckenridge, being a very careful judge….if he had been presented that whole agreement and if he had been asked to order its performance, he would have dug his feet in because that is one …. I’ll say one of the most ambiguous, one-sided agreements I have ever read. And I would not have ordered the enforcement of hardly any of the terms if I had been asked to, even on the threat that, OK the case is not settled. I know we like to settle cases. But we don’t like to settle cases and, in effect, prostrate the court system into making an order whic is not fair or in the public interest.”
Unbelievably, the Marin County judge then went along with the Scientologists and ruled that the Scientologists’ contract is completely one-sided, and that the one-sidedness is perfectly acceptable and enforceable.
The Scientologists’ position is that all the millions of them, all their companies and groups, and all their lawyers, can say anything to anyone about me, no matter how defamatory or perverse, and I cannot say one word in response. If I say a word in my defense, or a word about any of those Scientologists, entities and lawyers, it’s $50,000 a pop and off to the slammer for me.
I laugh at the whole pack of sociopathic scumbags who would even consider, let alone concoct and use the justice system to enforce such a condition and contract.
JON: And there, for the moment, the story pauses, because Gerry has not been notified of any further action. Perhaps, the membership of the IAS will one day stop pouring harassment monies into the cult, realizing that you cannot actually own blue sky and that the attempt to silence critics is definitely a suppressive act. As the injunction stands, anyone may be fined or jailed for acting ‘in concert’ with Gerry Armstrong. Let me say, unequivocally, that I have acted in concert with Gerry in preparing these responses. It is about time that someone put up an online petition, so that we can all offer our support and express our outrage at this judicial violation of human rights.
Gerry has carefully and patiently made the documents available, for anyone who is curious.
I personally think that Gerry has outdone Hercules, in terms of his labours, and deserves both credit and support for his courageous stand. Gerry could have simply shut up, and kept the truth to himself. I’ve known him for almost thirty years, and I can assure his critics that his stand is entirely unselfish: there is no advantage to Gerry in any of this. He simply could not remain silent, and has vowed to respond, until the cult abandons the practice of fair game. In closing, it is worth pointing out that the cult has signally failed to keep its own part of the contract and maintained its espionage and harassment tactics against an innocent and good-hearted man.
The Lori Hodgson Video Series Begins!
We’ve written several times about Lori Hodgson, who is struggling to get back into the lives of her two children, who have “disconnected” from her according to Scientology policy. But how did that start? Here are some of the startling details that have never been told before…
Posted by Tony Ortega on August 10, 2013 at 09:10
E-mail your tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.