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.
Jon, we’ve seen some amazing bravery on the part of people speaking out about the abuses in Scientology. Just yesterday, Jenna Miscavige Hill’s response to Barbara Walters really took guts, and we’ve seen many other examples of people like Lori Hodgson and Monique Rathbun daring to speak out or take on the church in litigation. But you know as well as we do that the vast majority of people who leave Scientology with similar experiences never speak out about them. We’ve talked to people who were shockingly mistreated, but years later they still can’t talk about it publicly. You said you had something to tell us that might help explain that situation.
JON: Some years ago, I came to know a former British Army torturer very well. After his time in the army, he had overcome heroin addiction, spent years in the Sea Org and to all and sundry seemed to be a cheerful, outgoing man. After knowing him for years, I was shocked when he eventually told me he had tortured people. He wept and held his head in his hands as he spoke. He had killed people in battle, but felt no compunction about that — they would have killed him, given the chance — but to inflict pain on a helpless victim had changed something inside him that no amount of auditing had ever got near.
I was reminded of this old friend, while talking to a former long-term Sea Org member. When I left, I felt perfectly able to take on the might of the Organization, and I found it hard to understand how reluctant others were. Surely, we were OTs, who would live forever, and we were obligated to protect the Road to Total Freedom? A few months before I left, I met violinist Malcolm Watson at a charity fete in East Grinstead. He was no longer the exuberant man I’d known just a couple of years before in the Academy Levels course room at Saint Hill. He told me that his brother, Ivan, the Commanding Officer of the Publications Organization in Copenhagen, had been declared Suppressive, and that the declaration could not be more wrong. Ivan had dedicated himself to Scientology, thoroughly and utterly. I asked what Malcolm was going to do to right this wrong, and was told, “Nothing.” Malcolm was on OT VII, and he knew that if he complained, he would be routed off.
THE BUNKER: Let us quickly help out the folks not conversant in Scientologese: A member of the church had spent years getting to the upper “Operating Thetan” levels of spiritual training — which promise superhuman abilities through eternity — and his brother, who held a high office in the church, had been “declared” a “suppressive person,” which is Scientology’s equivalent of excommunication. An “SP” is deemed an evil, damaging person and all others have to “disconnect” from him if they want to remain members of the church in good standing. In this case, Malcolm, even though he supposedly had superhuman abilities as an OT VII, knew he risked being declared and ejected if he didn’t toe the line about his brother being kicked out.
JON: Just so. This paradox baffled me during the ensuing weeks. I thought about the Hubbard maxim that if ethics aren’t “in” then the Tech will not work. Malcolm had a withhold, which would prevent him from benefiting from OT VII. But his fear was far more significant to me. Whenever I disagreed with anything in Scientology, I made noises. Why did he feel that he couldn’t? Soon afterwards, I would hear a Scientologist talk about his fear of “losing his immortality,” as if failure to follow the directions of founder L. Ron Hubbard would cause spiritual immolation. It made no sense to me, but then, I always saw the Bridge as a path towards enlightenment, and I never believed that anyone else could make the last steps for me. If I was immortal, then nothing could destroy me. If the Buddha was right, it didn’t matter if the teaching is lost, because the teaching reflects the truth and the truth is always available. And, despite Hubbard’s ostentatious claim to have made the “only breakthrough” in the field of the mind and spirit for 50,000 years, I still believed in the dhamma of Buddhism and the necessity for compassion in all things. I never felt that there was any choice but to stand up for the truth. If ethics isn’t in then the Tech won’t work, so anyone who avoided or ignored the truth wouldn’t benefit from Scientology anyway.
THE BUNKER: Just to note that by “ethics,” Scientologists really mean obedience, and if a Scientologist is not obediently following the rules, then the benefits of the “technology” will be lost to him. So because Watson had a secret doubt (a “withhold”) he would not benefit from being OT VII, despite the years and money he had spent getting there.
JON: Why was Malcolm Watson so afraid? I came to realize that most of the Scientologists I knew suffered from the same fear. This was certainly not The Way to Happiness. Over the years, I’ve spoken to over a thousand Scientologists and former Scientologists. I’ve been in touch with the highest ranking members from the first Foundation, in 1950, to recent defectors, and their stories are eerily consistent. Fear is a common thread. When I became the first ex-member in the UK to give out his name and address to anyone who was concerned about Scientology, I soon realized that very few people dared to involve themselves in criticism of the cult. Very few people felt able to make a stand, because, as I can attest, the harassment was intense and unremitting. The Net allowed for anonymity, and as the ranks swelled, the level of courage rose, and, now, hundreds of ex-members speak out.
Harassment, including the feared revelation of confidential information, however, was not the essential ingredient of the unwillingness to protest. My involvement with Scientology differed from that of most people in one significant way: I was never on staff. I ran the renovation of the Manchester Org for a month, and I was asked to start a Celebrity Centre, but, to my great good luck, the Guardian’s Office always blocked my recruitment (the “confidential” life histories they asked me to write have long since been published by the cult, for anyone who wants to know how I spent my time up to the age of 19, when I joined). The truth is that I was never humiliated. On the two occasions when a Sea Org member shouted at me, I shouted right back. And I have a loud voice. I only witnessed one Severe Reality Adjustment, when I employed a former Commanding Officer of St Hill and he bawled out my then wife. I was so surprised that it took me three days to sit him down and tell him that what he had done was plain wrong. I asked him to show me where it was written that invective and abuse should be screamed at someone from two inches away. (He had accused my wife of being Suppressive and of secretly wanting to destroy me, because she had not sold any of my paintings that week — in those days, that’s how I made a living.) To my surprise, he burst into tears and admitted that there was no written policy on Severe Reality Adjustments. I shuddered at the new expression. Severe Reality Adjustment. Ugh.
I asked my friend why he had concocted this soul-destroying method. He shook his head and told me that it was what Hubbard did to his aides. That he had learned it at first hand, because Hubbard had subjected him to it, frequently, aboard ship. I think I really left Scientology at that moment — went exterior, so to speak — although it took me a few months to realize it. I cannot and will not accept that any enlightened being would use rage as a weapon to subject others to their will. To me, rage is indicative of emotional problems. Exactly the sort of problems that I expected Scientology to heal, in its early stages. Later, I spoke to many people who had been humiliated by Hubbard. I also learned about his bouts of dark depression and his insecurity. And, of course, his rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Up to that point, my wife had sold about 200 paintings. After her SRA, she never sold another.
Understanding this humiliation is a key to recovery. Scientology promises a perfect world. But, as Hubbard said, “We build a world from broken pieces.” He should have honestly added, “But first we have to break them,” because that is exactly what staff membership does. Looking at the victims and the perpetrators of torture, it became apparent to me that humiliation, the loss of dignity and self-respect, is the most harmful violation possible. To be reduced to the impotence of infancy, bullied and forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, on an inadequate diet, bolstered by massive overdoses of vitamins, this is the reality of the Road to Total Freedom. Self-determinism, so it seems, can only be achieved by giving up free thought and doing exactly what you are told to do. One of the many paradoxes that litter Scientology’s “two terminal universe.”
I used to wonder why publicizing the lies and distortions of Scientology, the catastrophe that it rained down upon its own members and critics at large, was such a lonely pursuit. In the course of twelve years, ex-members contributed a total of less than $40 to my funding. Most of those who offered to help were actually reporting back to GOSA (the Guardian’s Office of Special Affairs). It is ironic, and even tragic to say that for 16 years I depended first upon my business partner and then my family. I am now convinced that this apathy was a consequence of humiliation and the terror of the abuser that this invokes. The hateful sniping of ex-members is often the first stage beyond that apathy, where tearing others down — whether the cult or those who try to help — becomes almost obsessive. It is vital to regain your dignity, if you have been tortured, but the victim often strikes out at anything that moves, like any wounded animal. It is essential to realize that however much you contributed to your own demise, it was never your intention to be reduced to slavery. Recovering the notion of an innocent victim is important. And here is a clue to recovery: you will have to forgive yourself for your weakness and become strong enough to help others. Without compassion, there is nothing. Or, as Hubbard so aptly put it, “A being is only as valuable as he can serve others.”
THE BUNKER: Thank you, Jon.
Witness Lists for the Garcia Evidentiary Hearing
While we wait for further developments in Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit in Texas, we have an update in Luis Garcia’s federal fraud lawsuit against Scientology in Tampa, Florida. On October 3, there will be an evidentiary hearing, a mini-trial to present evidence in the church’s motion to disqualify Luis and Rocio Garcia’s attorneys, Ted Babbitt and Ronald Weil. The church tried a similar strategy in Texas, and it didn’t seem to go very well. But in Tampa, the church’s case against Babbitt and Weil is based on their work with an attorney named Robert Johnson, who had previously worked for Scientology. The church is saying that’s a violation of rules, and its major piece of evidence was a declaration submitted by Brian Culkin, a former church member.
This week, each side provided lists of witnesses they may call during the hearing, as well as lists of documents they may use as exhibits. We have both filings. And here’s the list of names that were submitted.
For the Plaintiffs, Luis and Rocio Garcia…
Ted Babbitt (Garcia attorney)
Tucker Byrd (attorney)
Brian Culkin (former church member)
Luis Garcia (Plaintiff)
Rocio Garcia (Plaintiff)
Robert Johnson (attorney)
Marty Rathbun (Former Scientology official)
Mike Rinder (Former Scientology spokesman)
Ronald Weil (Garcia attorney)
Richard Zabak (attorney)
For the Defendants, (five Scientology corporate entities)
Allan Cartwright (legal director, Church of Scientology International)
Judy Fontana (Flag legal department)
Sarah Heller (legal director, Flag Service Organization)
Glen Stilo (Flag legal department)
Additional for Defendants
Brian Leung (attorney)
Peter Mansell (head of OSA, Flag)
That’s a long list for both sides, and hard to believe that everyone would be called on October 3. But it should be a pretty interesting day in court.
Posted by Tony Ortega on September 21, 2013 at 07:00
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